Another week, another book. Another Keith Waterhouse classic, in fact, resurrected for your edification and delight. It’s the third of Waterhouse’s own favourites, following Waterhouse on Newspaper Style and The Theory and practice of Lunch.
This one is The Theory And Practice of Travel, and it has little, directly, to do with newspapers – except of course that it was this business that generally picked up the tab for his perpetual peregrinations. As you’d expect, it’s a delight. Ian Skidmore has had a sneak preview.
Alan Shadrake also had a book out this week – it was actually published on Wednesday, the day he started a jail sentence in Singapore for writing it. JoeMullins tells the story behind Once a Jolly Hangman…
But enough of the news, what about history?
Plain John Smith’s obit of ArthurBrown last week prompted Mike Kiddey to apply fingers to keyboard again (an achievement in itself, methinks)with memories of Arthur’s predecessor as northern editor of the DailyHerald, and of the drinking traditions in that once great newspaper hub.
Better still, the very by line reminded Mark Day, keeping up with his Rantersreading while otherwise engaged on a European tour, of another PlainJohn Smith – only in Sydney. And that, in turn, reminds this correspondent of a story about Bill Shakespeare (one of the more memorable by-lines on The Times), allegedly stumbling through the hedge of Anne Hathaway’s cottage in Stratford and being asked by a policeman… well, you can guess the rest. If that isn’t a true story, all we can say is that of course it should be…
Chris Roberts continues our How I Got Started series with the disclosure that his introduction to journalism possibly involved a dodgy handshake.
And KevinJesson reveals How He Got Finished… with what is surely a unique farewell to the print.
All that, plus Rudge, holding the whole thing up.
And here’s a reminder that the memorial service for Terry Wynn will be held in St John the Baptist RCChurch, Annitsford, Northumberland on Saturday, June 11 at 10.30am, followed by drinks at The Hind in Cramlington where old chum JohnBailey is threatening to display, among other treasures, Terry’s DailySketch cuttings books and even some old school reports…
By Ian Skidmore
My settled view is that is better not to travel than to arrive, which is hell. It is a view share with Socrates of whom Plato said ‘…Never made a trip abroad as some men do, nor were you seized by a desire to know another city, or other laws, but we and our city were enough for you.’
For two decades I hosted a radio programme called The Armchair Traveller and when my doctor warned me that moving about at my weight was dangerous, I stopped moving about.
Sadly this places me at at odds with one of my revered masters, Keith Waterhouse, whose book TheTheory and Practice of Travel has nonetheless enlivened my summer.
Waterhouse admits it is the very foreignness of foreign places that captivates him
‘New York smells of Danish pastry, Athens of sweet coffee, Venice of drains, the entire MiddleEast of barbecued kid,’ he maintains. I hate baking smells because I am on a perpetual domestic induced diet. I dislike sweet coffee and barbecued kid. Venice? – The raddled old queen of the Adriatic where everyone has terminal catarrh and the hills are alive with the sounds of hawking throats.
After the war I spent two years in a Germany that contained one bar of soap; Bruges is a bowel movement made flesh. I do not know what Paris smells of, but I wish they would find it and remove it. For me abroad smells. Full stop.
Add that abroad is a long way off, even when it is round the corner.
Admittedly even if like me you disagree with every word you will have to admit the book is a joy to read, By the same token, a prescription written by Waterhouse would contain more laughs than the average comic novel. Even the better than average comic novel. Oh, let’s face it, any comic novel not written by Waterhouse.
He knows his stuff when it comes to armchair traveling. Could be me talking;
Ideally, there should be a Sherlock Holmes fog without and Billy Bunter muffins within. There should be an atmosphere of leather armchairs and warmly glowing lamps, and the floor should be littered with maps, guides and brochures.(These are optional -ed.)
What is travel for, he asks.
I was seized with a burning desire to cross the Atlantic from the moment when, at the age of ten or eleven, there fell into my hands an American comic book containing a mouth-watering advertisement for a caramelised confection known as Turtles, so-called because they were fashioned in the shape and size of terrapins. To one confined to a diet of aniseed balls and sherbet dabs – and even these were in short supply with wartime sweet rationing – these exotic boxed candies were as a mirage.I yearned to go to America and stuff myself with Turtles.
The book also contains A ConciseDictionary of Brochurese. Or put it another way: A good reason to buy an armchair:
ALL WITH BATH OR SHOWER –yours is with shower.
AMENITIES – noun used to make what is singular sound plural, eg, shopping amenities = shop.
BRAND-NEW COMPLEX –unfinished.
BUFFET-STYLE – queues.
BUSTLING HOTEL IN ONE OFTHE LIVELIEST AREAS – conga line under your window at 3am.
CLOSE TO NIGHTLIFE (ORNITELIFE) – over disco.
COLOURFUL – fruit and veg.
COMMANDING VIEWS – up a steep hill.
COMPLIMENTARY COCKTAIL ON ARRIVAL – ill-printed voucher on arrival, which may be exchanged in bar for foul green drink.
COURTESY COACH TO POINTS OF INTEREST – out in the sticks, no buses.
EXTENSIVELY RENOVATED –concrete mixer on sun deck…
Fora traveler Waterhouse is particularly sound on Those Who Don’t:
…there are those who genuinely and literally cannot stomach foreign parts. Abroad makes the mill. It brings them out in a rash. It plays havoc with their alimentary tracts. Arriving thankfully back to the sanctuary of Dun-roamin they speak feelingly of food that was ‘swimming in oil’, which to their delicate systems is as if it had been covered in axle-grease. If there is a tummy bug around, they get it. If there is sunstroke around, they get that too. Foreign travel affects their health and they should be excused it as servicemen with bunions used to be excused boots, with a special chit which they could carry as their anti-passport.
There are several sub-categories such as the never-again (beach was polluted, plumbing didn’t work, the place was full of Germans) and the never-before (nearly got run over, couldn’t understand what they were jabbering about, didn’t like all this tipping business), but we are not going to make converts there either…
Mind you, some people love to travel. Or do they?
They like the weather, the cobbles, the garlicky smells. It is the company they do not take to. They believe that foreign parts are too good to waste on foreigners.
They would concede that arrogant Frenchmen have every right to barge around their own cafes with their coats draped over their shoulders, shaking hands with all and sundry, kissing one another on both cheeks, shrugging in Gallicmanner, and generally making an exhibition of themselves. But wouldn’t be nice if Les Deux Magots were in Kingston-upon-Thames? And yes, Italians little better than Venetians are fully entitled to disport themselves around St Mark’s Square – but how much more seemly if the Grand Canal flowed through the Wirral.
Apart from being a rollocking good read, apart from being written with style, wit and wisdom this book is unique of its kind.
Itis the only travel book ever written that persuades you that to holiday at home is a far, far, better thing to do than you have ever done before… And we all know what happened to him.
The Theory and Practice of Travel by Keith Waterhouse is published today by Revel Barker at £9.99, and is available from the BookDepository (with free postage worldwide), from amazon, Waterstones, Barnes & Noble, and any half-decent bookshop.
Hanging around Singapore
By Joe Mullins
When Alan Shadrake left Las Vegas and went off to Singa-bloody-pore a few years ago, I wondered if he’dbe OK. He’d more or less recovered from colon cancer, had a bit of adicky ticker but loved to put in a few disciplined hours down at the gym trying to keep in shape. He was 70-ish, had a good voice and loved to sing karaoke.
Without much encouragement, he did a mean My Way or Mack the Knife. Out there, way south of Mandalay, I could see him wooing almond-eyed women with Rose,Rose I Love You, Flower of Malaya, you stole my heart, and all that.
He always liked the ladies. Confession: I thought that cherchez-la-femme was the east’s real attraction for Alan.
What I’d completely forgotten, ofcourse, was the fact that he was such a terrific reporter with a dogged tenacity and a wonderful track record. A compulsive newshound, he attacked stories like a terrier goes after a bone.
But at 70, who the hell goes out slaying dragons and tilting at windmills, journalistically speaking?
Well Shadrake does, did and isnow making the news as well as writing it. By the time you read this, Alan will be in jail starting a six-week sentence for contempt of court and ‘scandalizing the judiciary’ of Singapore in his book, Once aJolly Hangman.
He told me at the weekend in an email, ‘I check in to the jail at 9am on June 1 – the same day the British edition of my book is launched.’
Because he can’t pay a fine of20,000 Singapore dollars he’ll probably have to face another two weeksinside… although he’s hoping he’ll get some time off for good behaviour and might be out in about five weeks total.
Alan had the temerity to get an exclusive interview with Darshan Singh, Singapore’s chief executioner for almost 50 years. It is estimated that he had personally dispatched over 1,000 men and women, once hanging 18 people in a single day. Compared to Mr. Singh, hangmen in Britain like Albert Pierrepoint and harry Allen were just learning the ropes.
Even getting to Mr. Singh was a direct challenge to the Singapore authorities. They would prefer that their judicial system remain in the shadows. A 2001 UN study showed the city-state has, per capita, the world’s highest execution rate. Alan’s exclusive interview, splashed in The Australian (Singh was about to hang an Aussie citizen) and then round the world, caused a furor.
Despite knowing that he could be in big trouble, he didn’t leave it at that. Larger questions remained. Who were these 1,000 people sent plummeting to death by Mr. Singh, often for drug offences? Alan began to investigate and did the reporting that made his book, subtitled True Stories from Singapore’s Death Row, such a compelling read.
His conclusion was that politics, big business and international trade often determine who lives and who dies on Singapore’s gallows. Alan wrote, ‘My own research confirms that justice in Singapore is patently biased against the weak and disadvantaged while favouring the wealthy and privileged.’
If you’re a penniless drug mule, it’s almost inevitable that you will get to meet Mr. Singh. But if you have connections or come from a valued trading partner of Singapore, you might just escape the drop.
Alan’s book essentially called for reform of the judicial process.
The morning after a party to celebrate its launching in Singapore on July 17 last year Alan got the knock on the door that reporters dread but seldom experience. He was arrested by officers from Singapore CID.
He spent almost two sleepless days at the Central Police HQ answering questions. After that – his passport confiscated – Alan had to report back daily for a while, often for up to 12 hours of intensive interrogation. He was ordered not to leave Singapore. The nightmare has gone on through a trial and an appeals process. He now he has to serve his time.
Alan has always refused to apologize or admit any fault. He just did his job as a reporter and wrote what he dug out through solid investigating. In his email at the weekend, he poured scorn on the Singapore authorities. ‘Amazing that they would do this and draw so much attention to themselves again…helping to promote the book. I’m not afraid of them and they know it and they have finally lost face… while giving me ‘hero’ status.’
That made me smile. When Alan left Las Vegas seven years ago, I told him that he was my hero for starting a new life at nearly 70.
I’ve known him for nigh on 50years. He’s a tough old bird. But a Singapore prison is no spa. It will doubtless take a toll on his health.
His book is a testament to his reporting cred and a great read. Well worth the thirteen quid in paperback.
Life on Mars
By Mike Kiddey
Arthur Brown was a gentleman journalist of the old school and while I remember little of NormanWilson, his predecessor as northern editor of the Daily Herald, I’ll never forget Norman’s farewell.
It was shortly after I’d joined the People in London when news editor Laurie Manifold sent me on a temporary basis to Manch.
Barely out of my teens, working for a fantastic news editor on a paper with a circulation of more than five million, here I was, off on my first foreign trip – that’s how London hacks viewed the northern metropolis in bygone days…
And I discovered there WAS a distinctly continental feel to Manchester. Less prosaically, there was total disregard for normal licensing hours.
There was no Fleet Streetstampede for a five o’clock conference drink. No need to rush to the pub. Up North you could drink at any time of the day or night – at pub prices.
In the evening and into the early hours clubs such as Dino’s and Mr. Smith’s featured big names of the period including Dusty Springfield, Tom Jones and Freddie Starr, but itwas the bistros that fascinated me.
OK, bistros might be pushing it a bit. Most were just rooms with a bar, blacked-out windows and unmarked doors with a spy hole, but they mushroomed throughout the city andopened from around midday until everyone went home.
Here reporters shared aperitifs with detectives who kept an eye on villains who cavorted with perfumed ladies who flirted with well-dressed gentlemen who had no visible means of support – literally and figuratively.
The Daily Herald and the Peoplerelaxed in one of the more respectable bistros – a converted shop as I remember near the Rogers and Lamonte School of Ballroom Dancing in oxford Road and just round the corner from the office. Here Ray Mills and his fellow subs would gambol and gamble the afternoons away before starting their shifts.
Pubs also took a relaxed attitude to closing time – which brings me back to Norman Wilson’s farewell.
It was held on a balmy summer evening (told you there was a continental feel to Manchester) in a pub where now stands the equally redundant New Broadcasting House on OxfordRoad.
The pub was crowded. Inkies (dowe still call them that?) relaxed in their overalls supping pints in both the bars and on the kerb outside.
Sometime after what would normally be considered closing time, People northern news editor Mike Gabbert suddenly thrust his drink into the hands of a surprised customer standing next to him and beckoned for me to follow him rapidly towards the exit.
Simultaneously one of the ‘inkies’ bellowed for silence and then announced ‘This is a police raid.’ The hapless customer with Gabbert’s drink was among those nicked.
In the saloon bar next door Norman Wilson was thumping the piano keys, unaware of the drama, until another policeman in overalls tapped him on the shoulder and said:‘Excuse me sir, are you drinking?’
‘Yes thanks, I’m fine at the moment,’ replied Norman, who was also promptly nicked.
The raid was one of many ordered by a chief constable who had his eye on the top job at the Met but needed first to make a name for himself in Manchester. His ferocious campaign, which even included raids on his own police social club in Platt Lane as well as the Manchester Press Club, brought chaos to ourcafé society.
With no bistros, reporters missed out on stories from their contacts, detectives moaned because they couldn’t keep an eye on the villains and the perfumed ladies complained of financial hardship.
The clamp-down didn’t last of course. And afternoon drinking eventually resumed, albeit more discreetly.
The now long-forgotten chief constable didn’t get the Met job. Norman Wilson, having been fined ten shillings along with everyone else for drinking outside licensing hours, moved on to run a bar in Spain.
And I learnt a valuable lesson from Mike Gabbert. If your boss thrusts a free drink into your hand –look over your shoulder before accepting.
By Mark Day
The lead item (or was it the splash?) in last week’s Ranters carried the by-line of PlainJohn Smith. I have not had the pleasure, but the name reminded me of what could possibly be his antipodean cousin, John Smith.
John Smith was the chief photographer and photographic editor of the Sydney Daily Telegraph for many years until the late 80s. He’s retired now and boasts his role meant he did not pick up a camera for 20 years.
But there was a time, he used to tell, that he was on the road making pictures for the Tele and making merry hell after the paper had gone to bed.
One such occasion was a royal visit to Canberra, the Australian bush capital, in the late 50s. Smithy and his sidekick John Jones drove the old picture gram truck from Sydney to Canberra – three hours on a freeway these days, but a full days drive in an old tub that rattled itself to pieces at more than 30 mph. This was not a good idea when the back of the truck was filled with darkroom chemicals (remember film, children?)
After Her Maj and Phil did their bit, Smithy and Jones developed their negs, blew up their prints and grammed them lickety-spit to Sydney. Assignment finished, they opted for the one at the Wellington Hotel. As these things do, one became a few, but not so many that they couldn’t manage to wrestle the old truck to their digs a few miles away at the Ainslie Hotel.
The few did, however, take their toll. Smithy announced he would like to stop for a leak.
Jones, at the wheel, thought he had a better idea. ‘Why stop?’ he asked. ‘Why don’t you piss in the sink?’’
Smithy declined, citing hygiene issues. Jones thought he was a wuss, and kept driving.
‘I was busting,’ says Smithy. ‘SoI opened the rear door on the truck and, hanging on to the ladder that ran up to the roof, I proceeded to evacuate the old bladder.’
But during this exercise a VWBeetle came up behind the lumbering truck and the driver began honking his horn. ‘I was half way through my endeavour, but the Jones boy thought it would be a jolly lark to see if he could shake me off the truck,’ says Smithy. ‘He started weaving and accelerating, which rather agitated the driver of the VW who pulled alongside and waved us over.’
It was then that Smithy grasped the true enormity of his situation. He looked down and saw there were four Federal police in the car. One of them went to the drivers’ door, pulled it open and confronted Jones.
‘What’s your name, son?’ he demanded.
‘John Jones, sir.’
One of the other cops grabbed Smithy, shoved his arm up his back, and said: ‘Yeah and I suppose you’re John Smith are you?’
To which Smithy, a man with a rapier wit and a gift for the quick quip, replied: ‘Yes, officer.’
At this stage Jones produced his press pass and established his identity. Fed 1 said to Fed 2: ‘Hey this one is John Jones.’ And when Smithy produced his pass an incredulous Fed 2 said ‘And this one is John Smith.’
Fortunately, this amused all parties. The cops told both lads they were bloody idiots and lucky they were off duty otherwise they’d both be in gaol. They told them to get off the road ‘and don’t let us see you again.’
‘You can imagine,’ says Smithy, ‘that we did some deep breathing and of course went home to our pub fora few more jars. Fortune favours the brave… Or the stupid.’
By Chris Roberts
Think Phil Silvers as ErnieBilko, minus the glasses, and with wisecracks delivered in a boomingWelsh accent. The US army uniform is replaced by a bus inspector’s smart navy blue suit with a civic crest in gold on the lapel. This was another Ernie — my uncle, Ernest Teague, ex-wartime London copper, part-time concert party impresario, and… freemason.
The wartime history and the showbiz connection I knew about. His masonic links divined only years after he had launched my journalistic career (invited to do so by his baby sister, my mother). So now, more than half a century on and in the spirit of Nick Clegg, I blush to reveal that I was probably a beneficiary of what the Pythons used to satirise with rolled-up trouser legs and secret handshakes.
The lodge Uncle Ernie belonged to also entertained some senior editorial figures from Kemsley’s morning WesternMail and evening South Wales Echo, then in their old Cardiff building on St Mary Street before they moved to Thomson House near the city bus station after Lord T took over.
One of them was Walter Grossey, the short, stout, and fearsome Echo news editor who smoked a fragrant pipe almost as big as his head. He was the one who called me in for interview and organised my indentures. For years afterward, whenever I caught a whiff of Balkan sobranie, I was back in his office, summoned to buy a replacement tin at the tobacconist next door to the Echo building (during my days as a copyboy) or about to receive a bollocking for some misdemeanor (as a junior reporter).
That was how I started. For the why: the careers master at the grammar school where I scraped a few O-levels suggested I could be either a librarian or a journalist. It’s fancy that I was nudged toward the inkier option by a tangential connection on my father’s side of the family. A cousin was a darkroom technician in PA or one of the big picture agencies and during childhood holidays in my grandmother’s house, I was given boxes of his high gloss prints, mainly rugby, football, and cricket, to keep me amused. My knowledge of the verbal side of the business was absolutely zero. At 15, I was a fast reader and good at English and French précis. That was it.
As it turned out, the masonic intervention might have been unnecessary because my great pal NormanRees, a year ahead of me at school, was also wondering what to do with himself. He applied directly to the Western Mail because there were, er… no more vacancies on the Echo and was rewarded with copyboy’s job on nights. The day/night clash was more than inconvenient for us: we were part-time musicians, which not only made practice difficult but forced us to turn down many paid gigs.
Within two years of the end of my indentures, I was in The Street, albeit as an imposter – writing for MelodyMaker, then shaking off its rather severe Odhams image as the jazz-lovers’ bible to give me a few memorable years at Mirror Group, socializing with the stars and covering 1960s rockin’ pop. I also played guitar with, among others, the MM All-Stars. Our pianist was roly-poly Mirrorshowbiz writer Pat Doncaster, who craftily featured the band in a picture spread for his own column one weekend. Other visitors from real newspapers included the journalist-poet Adrian Mitchell, one of many left-wingers drawn to our bohemian world, and the Mailcartoonist and Django-worshipping guitarist Diz Disley.
After that (several chapters in fact), I became a bomber pilot among Ranters’ fighter aces – a damned sniveling little sub – and apart from a couple of pieces in the Mailand Indie in the 90s, never wrote again.
Among my copyboy contemporaries who, as far as I know, we’re not given a parental leg-up, Peter Tate (SWEcho) retired a few years ago as executive editor of Bournemouth’s Daily Echo, and the late Con Atkin (WesternMail), who worked elsewhere in MGN and shared many of my Londonescapades, returned to his home town of Swansea to edit the Heraldof Wales.
And only a couple of years after I left Cardiff, Norman was recruited by ITN following his brilliantAberfan coverage for the local TV station he had moved to, and within a few years was ITN’s Washington correspondent and thereafter a fixture on our screens.
So much for secret handshakes.
Chris Roberts (not the ITV reporter of the 80s, nor, spookily, the doppelganger on the MM in the 90s) made a slight return to the SW Echo and went on to work for The Times Business News, the EveningEcho (now the Daily Echo) Bournemouth, the Mail on Sunday, the FT and The Sunday Times.
By Kevin Jesson
Derek Jameson must hold something of a record for being ‘banged out’ – the ritual newspaper farewell. He was banged out in London and Manchester by Mirror and Expresscomps.
But even a legend such as Jamesoncan’t match my banging out… Of which, more later…
The first time I came across it, I was 14-years-old and working on the People in Manchester as a Saturday messenger; the year l959. The last time, I was 64 and still working on the People; the year 2009.
I had been sent to the stone, the area where the compositors set and made up type, for some page proofs. The comps’ area was always very noisy but as I picked up the proofs the noise stopped completely for what seemed like minutes but was probably only seconds. A totally eerie silence. I hadn’t a clue what was happening.
And then it began. Slowly building up to an ear-splitting crescendo of metal on metal. Longgalleys (they held slugs of type) were being banged on the tops and sides of the metal ‘stone’. If there were no empty galleys to hand then the base of a heavy spike came in handy. Mallets and planers; anything! There must have been at least 150 men in that room all creating an enormous din – apart from one chap.
Wearing an overcoat and carrying a bag, he was walking slowly through the room on his way home for the last time. It was the end of his final shift before retirement – and he was being banged out in the old printing tradition. It was a kind of standing ovation from his colleagues; a collective goodbye to one of their own that expressed what they felt but would never have put it into words. It was very moving.
Fast forward to November 2009. The only person working a shift on the People in the Oldhamoffice is me. And it’s my last one. It’s home time so I ring MickWalsh, the chief sub in Canary Wharf to check he has everything he needs. Is it OK to leave? He asks me to hang on a little longer; he’ll ring me back.
Shortly afterward the phone rang. I picked it up and at first, I couldn’t hear anything – and then it started, quietly at first and then the noise built up. Mugs and rulers, flat hands, and fists. Anything to make a racket.
I was being banged out over the phone.
I listened, said ‘Thanks,’ at the end, turned out the light, and closed the door on 50 years of working in various People offices.
The emotion the banging out ceremony arouses can be compared to listening to a certain piece of evocative music or hearing a brass band play; the hairs standing up on the back of your neck. Or, as in my case, being told you have just won the Xperts Trophy pools competition in your retirement season.
After I finished working the Saturday shift in 2009 I still continued to provide the People, from home, with their forecast which I had been doing since l990.
The Xperts Trophy is a competition organised by The Football Pools open to pools forecasters working on national dailies and Sundays. On a weekly basis, they monitor the tipsters’ predictions and calculate in percentage terms the success rate of their tips for pools matches that result in draws and translate this into a league table.
I managed to reach the top of the league in October last year and remained there through the last day of the season on May 21. I’d never won the competition before but I’ve come second twice and third twice. The last person to win it for the people was Len Poynter in the l966-67 season. My prize – the XpertsTrophy and a cheque for £1,000. A grand finish to any career!
The Pool isn’t the game it was. The man in the street used to think it was an easy way to land a fortune. After all, you only needed to fill in a coupon and predict eight draws. Someone would call at your house to pick up your entry. You didn’t even need to post it.
Filling in a coupon became a ritual every week for millions of people. And at around 5 o’clock on a Saturday they would be glued to the radio listening to the results. Their coupon could have been with Vernons, Empire, or Zetters, but the big one was Littlewoods.
Hundreds of women were regularly shown on black and white newsreel film, checking the millions of entries. You knew that if the Man From Littlewoods knocked on your front door it was likely to make all your dreams come true.
Newspaper forecasters would be followed slavishly by thousands of readers. It was a very responsible job.
On Monday last week, the Man FromLittlewoods knocked on my door – well he rang me up. The first words I heard were: ‘Choose your restaurant.’ It was Phil Watkins, product controller of The Football Pools which, basically, used to be Littlewoods. ‘You’ve won the Xperts Trophy!’ he told me.
It’s true – when the Man FromLittlewoods calls you do feel as if all your dreams (well, some of them) have come true. Phil said it was ‘most fitting’ and a tribute to my perseverance that in my retirement year I had finally made it. He could have said ‘about time’ but is much too nice.