Issue #62

Obiter dictum

The local vicar, when I was a teenager, was a total tosser but he was kindness personified when my granny died. He told me not to be sad for her, because ‘she is absolutely ok, now – and you needn’t worry about her or feel sorry for her.’

He said: ‘You can feel sorry for yourself, because you miss her. But don’t go on about it. She wouldn’t expect you to do that.’

So since then I try to think of funerals – and especially of obits – as celebrating life, rather than mourning death.

This is just as well, because we have more than the usual amount, this week.

Read on – and be thankful that (if you did) you knew and worked with these people. We are unlikely to see their like again.

This week we have Roy Greenslade’s piece (from Media Guardian) on David ChippDavid Dawson on his old PR mate Norman MartlewJeffrey Blyth on some memories of filing for Press Gazette before its ‘demise’ as the weekly organ of the trade… and of course Bill Hunter and others on Harry Pugh – whose funeral is being held today.

As I say, it helps if these pieces can prompt happy memories, rather than feelings of misery and loss.

Prompted, meanwhile, by reading in Ranters, we also have John Izbicki on Carol Thatcher and her mum, Bernard Smyth with more about the enigma that was Stanley Bonnet, and Dave Brammer on some memorable headlines.

It’s only a personal thing, but we’d prefer it if none of our readers died next week. Apart from anything else, it tends to screw up the sked.

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Harry’s game

By Bill Hunter

This morning ex-Manchester Ancoats journalists and photographers who lived through the great days of the Daily Express and its later sister paper the Daily Star, along with others who worked with or against him,will head for Leek in Staffs for a final farewell to one of their best and finest, Harry Pugh.

Harry died at home last Thursday after a long illness surrounded by his family – wife Barbara, their son Mark, daughter Julia, her husband Simon, and his three grandsons, Adam, Daniel and Joss. He was 74 and until a sudden collapse, had been as fit as somebody half his age.

As a young journalist I never forgot a quote from the great Hannen Swaffer who walked away from the press pack at Buckingham Palace and switched on his new-fangled radio. He wrote the inspired intro: ‘Marconi took me by the hand last night and led me to the bedside of a dying King…‘

Harry’s illness was such that he was not up to visits from the mass of friends who were painfully aware of his plight. And so it fell to me to sit occasionally by his bedside on their behalf and take Harry by the hand as his condition slowly deteriorated.

It was a humbling experience for me, and a privilege, to receive the countless emails from the Ancoats press pack and many more of Harry’s friends and ex-colleagues responding to the condition reports I sent out.

In those final months Harry never complained and held on to that familiar hallmark smile almost to the end before slipping quietly away.

What a contrast to the man we will say our farewells to today. He was noisy, he was garrulous. He was argumentative, enthusiastic. He was the eternal optimist, widely read. He was the life and soul of any party. Above all, he was a bloody good journalist, admired and respected by everybody who met him on the road and who worked with him.

This is the man we will remember, a man for all seasons, the very epitome of the complete reporter with all the skills, and cunning, humanity and wit that are essential parts of the whole.

Harry learned his trade in Mid-Wales and after a spell on Picture Post and the LondonIllustrated magazine he moved up to Manchester where he quickly established himself on the Daily Express.

With his extrovert character he achieved almost legendary status in the north of England and during his many trips across the water to Ireland. He also survived several months on the National Enquirer in the States working for Ian Calder.

He was an active member of the union and took part in redundancy negotiations more than 20 years ago.

Probably the story he will be best remembered for was the scoop he pulled off under the noses of local and world-class opposition on the birth of the first test-tube baby, Louise Brown.

Harry also played a leading role in the notorious Moors Murders for the Express and with his great ability for ferreting and making contacts contributed reams of background copy. There are few major stories from that era he did not cover.

Like others Harry took the golden handshake and he moved with Barbara to Hereford where he started freelancing from a converted stable. Here he turned his hand to authorship and succeeded in having two books published, along with writing news and feature material for the nationals.

In Hereford Harry also had more time for his other interests, in particular fell-walking, cycling and the occasional angling trip. He helped form a local ramblers’ group and with his exceptional navigation and map-reading skills he was soon leading walks all over the county and beyond. The crusader in him inevitably prompted him to get involved in local battles over rights of way and get himself appointed as press officer.

Everybody has a story about Harry and many will be related in his local, The Flying Horse, this afternoon after the funeral service. Here are a few snippets from my e-mail postbag.

Pete Wilcock, ex-Star photographer: ‘I went with Harry and a donkey on an ‘Eldorado’ feature to pan for gold in Wales. I have never spent so much time with sides aching from unremitting laughter. ‘

Mary Duffy, now retired to her native Ireland: ‘Dear old Harry – without him I would never have survived my first few weeks in Ancoats. At that time he was my ghost writer, and I paid him in Embassy-Tipped cigarette coupons. A lovely man.’

James Mossop: ‘We meet many “characters” in our meandering careers but there have been precious few as richly entertaining as Harry Pugh. On arriving at the Ancoats branch of the Sunday Express he and that other Mancunian legend, Don
Blankley, swept the newcomer down to Sam’s Chop House and introduced him to schooners of sherry, telling those who had noticed rapid incapacity that
the rambling one was an out-of-work poet. For all that, once the Tuesday
lunchtime sessions were over Harry slipped into the inimitable mode that made him a true master of his craft and a captivating raconteur.’

George Dearsley, ex-Star reporter now lecturing in journalism, I think. I’ve subbed this one: ‘Harry had this wonderful ability to work the system without compromising his professionalism…

‘Scene – executives return – flush-faced from jolly – full of ideas. Dearsley declares ideas a ‘bag of ****!’ Pugh enthuses – goes off for a week – good hotel – good expenses – knocks idea down on return with tear in his eye when it’s been all but forgotten.’

Dearsley’s conclusion: ‘His consummate handling of the situation – and the laughter it generated in the Crown and Kettle – was worth every moment of covering for him for a week. What a star!’

Maybe we’ll hear the full story today but this one comes into the totally hilarious category.One of Harry’s friends who shall be nameless wrote:‘Once when I was locked up by Manchester’s finest, Harry arrived looking every inch a lawyer, with a dark suit and borrowed briefcase… but that’s a story to be told over a pint.’

Harry, ex-Sunday Mirror northern editor Bill Freeman, and myself have enjoyed one another’s company for many years, usually fell-walking in the Lakes where we bagged all the Wainwrights, plus the Derbyshire Peaks, Snowdonia and the Scottish Highlands.

One of Harry’s few unfulfilled ambitions was to collect the coveted award for the prize-winning letter in the quarterly ramblers’ magazine. On our outings he stretched our long-suffering patience to the limit with his endless plans for yet another attempt such as the art of Irish bog-trotting, wider styles for those with challenging waistlines, how to make an Indian Curry on a camp stove etc etc…

In a moment of desperation I wrote a letter to The Rambler about The Pugh’s letters, pleading for relief from his dogged determination and interminable ideas.

I thought the lifelong friendship was over when I won the prize of a fine pair of walking boots. He yelled down the phone: ‘Get your tanks off my lawn Willie. This is war,’ and roared with laughter.

Laughter and flowing pints will be around in equal measure this afternoon. Harry would want and deserve nothing less.

Photograph: John Knill

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Thatcher and the baby snatcher

By John Izbicki

Liz Hodgkinson’s beautiful tale of Carol Thatcher’s prance among the nudists of Bangkok took me back to the time when Carol was still a student at the London School of Economics and I was running education on the Daily Telegraph. Together with other education hacks, I was invited to join the audience for the recording of the first Dimbleby Lecture. Mrs Thatcher, who was then still Secretary of State for Education and Science, was sitting in a place of honour among the other celebs to hear Lord Annan’s delivery.

Drinks were served prior to us all trouping into the giant studio and Margaret Thatcher spied me across the crowded room and beckoned me over. ‘Now John, I want you to meet my daughter, Carol. And I want you to look after her till after the broadcast. Will you do that?’

I looked at Carol who appeared decidedly embarrassed. ‘I’m not a child, Ma, I can look after myself.’ But, of course, the request was obeyed and Carol and I sat together in seats reserved for the also-rans.

During Lord Annan’s speech – which I had already reported from the advance sent to hacks that morning – I started to consider my luck. Here, after all, was the Minister’s daughter, an LSE student. What did she think of her Mum? Did she share any of the vicious criticisms launched at ‘Thatcher, Milk Snatcher’ by her fellow students? Had she perhaps been attacked, verbally or physically, by the vociferous Left?

As soon as the applause had died away and the lights slowly returned to normal, I turned to her and said: ‘Carol, you and I should have lunch. How about early next week? Let me have your phone number and I’ll give you a ring to fix a date…’

Carol was too clever to fall for that. ‘That would be nice,’ she said with a smile. ‘I’ll call you when I have a free moment.’

Well, I thought, one had to try. I returned her to the ample bosom of her mother. ‘There you are, Carol, safe and sound.’

And then I made a dreadful mistake. ‘Carol has agreed to have lunch with me,’ I announced.

Margaret Thatcher beamed: ‘Oh, how lovely, John,’ she crooned and added, still beaming: ‘How’s your lovely wife John?’ And turning to Carol, she said: ‘He’s got the most charming wife, you know.’

I had no intention of seducing her wretched daughter, just having lunch with her. But Margaret Thatcher showed herself to be jealously protective.

And Carol’s telephone call never came. The next time we met was when she joined the Torygraph as a reporter.

*

PS: Roy Stockdill’s lovely recollections of Peter Earle took me still further back… to the days I wrote for the Sunday Empire News. He was a living legend even then and edited the Peter Nelson column, the paper’s diary. I used to contribute the odd snippet. But Peter also used three paragraphs from an exclusive feature I had written from Paris (I had been sent there to cover France for the Kemsley group of newspapers). The feature began: How would you like to meet the richest man in the world? It was written following a three-hour interview with Paul Getty – long before his story hit Time and Newsweek magazines. I was furious. A damn good story virtually spiked! Some two or three months later, when the Getty story broke in America, I was phoned by my boss, Ian (007) Fleming, Kemsley foreign manager. ‘Didn’t you write something about Paul Getty a while ago? Be a good chap and send me a copy…’ It never made it. But, when Roy Thomson took over Kemsleys and I was recalled to London, I joined the Empire News. Peter Earle was a super reporter and a good friend. When the Empire News closed (at the same time as the blessed News Chronicle) I was offered a job by the NoW along with Peter and several others. Like the young fool I then was, I refused the offer and remained jobless for about three months. ‘Twas ever thus…

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A great publicist

By David Dawson

Norman Martlew, one of the PR greats of the 60s and 70s, has died in a north Wales nursing home, aged 85.

A former journalist on the Manchester Evening News and Manchester Guardian, Norman then joined the Daily Mirror in London before being made press officer for Littlewoods Pools in the early 60s when jackpot winners were seldom off the front page.

After a spell with the Ford Motor Company, he was appointed publicity controller at The Rank Organisation’s Pinewood Studios, a position he held for many years dealing with internationally famous stars, producers and directors, when the company was the world’s largest entertainment corporation.

I worked at both LittlewoodsPools and Rank Films, and the important think about Norman was that you didn’t work for him, you worked with him.

Whichever yardstick you use, he was a truly great publicist of the old school who understood how journalists worked and what they needed. He was a quiet, modest man whom people trusted.

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Friendly Bonnet falls on Slough

By Bernard Smyth

Reading Colin Dunne’s piece about Stanley Bonnet brought back memories…

After some of his travels, he turned up at the Slough Observer again in about 1954 and was my first news editor when I was starting to learn the business. I was fresh from national service, listening to the Russians as my contribution to the Cold War during my stint in the Royal Navy. Because of my mastery (ha!) of Russian, I was the natural choice to cover a delegation of Russians to ICI Paints in Slough. You couldn’t make it up…

I found the visitors and had only just begun to chat to one or two of them when a large man in a military macintosh came over and told me to push off. That KGB intervention was the end of that encounter.

Back in the office, Stan took me to one side to help me as I faced the daunting task of writing something interesting about the delegation.

‘What did they say when you spoke to them?’ asked Stan. I said precious little as the KGB man had pounced.

I said I’d asked one of them, in the forlorn attempt to get a local angle, using what I could remember of my Russian, what he thought of Slough

‘What did he say?’ asked Stan

‘He said prekrastny.’

‘What does that mean? asked Stan.

‘Beautiful,’ said I, wondering how the visitor came to that conclusion amid the stink of ICI Paints.

‘OK, said Stan, ‘that’s your intro. Beautiful – full point. That’s what the Russians think of Slough… ‘ The rest of the story flowed easily after that and I’d learned a valuable lesson in writing intros from a lovely man.

When I told my father this story, he recalled how Stan used to visit his office years before when Dad was Labour Party agent in Slough for Fenner Brockway. Dad said: ‘He told me ‘I don’t need these specs, you know, Matt. I wear them because they make me look older…’Stan wore glasses with ugly big frames but the lenses, he confessed, were plain glass.

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The man who trod on Mao’s toes

By Roy Greenslade

David Chipp, the former editor-in-chief of the Press Association, who has died aged 81, was one of those rare journalists who combined a talent for reporting with leadership skills, unruffled organisational abilities and an aptitude for diplomacy. Added to these was a highly developed sense of humour and a memory for detail that made him a wonderful lunch companion at the Garrick in recent years.

As he recounted endless anecdotes of reporting exploits during his days in China or his industrial relations problems at PA, his eyes twinkled as if to suggest that he always knew more than he was revealing. And he probably did.

He often said he was saving all the best bits for his memoirs, which he had been writing for ages, often explaining that he would write faster if he was given a deadline. One friend believes he may well have left a mighty tome. It might also prove to be a valuable historical record. For the best part of 40 years, he met and mixed with the great and the good, and was on first-name terms with prime ministers, judges, military leaders and leading actors.

Chipp was born in Kew, Surrey, but was educated in Australia, at Geelong grammar school in Victoria, the alma mater of Rupert Murdoch. Though Murdoch was four years younger, Chipp always claimed to remember him as a contemporary.

Chipp was only 17 when he returned to Britain, but managed to join the Middlesex Regiment before the end of the second world war, serving for three years before going up to King’s College, Cambridge, in 1947 and graduating in history. Within a year he joined Reuters, firstly as a sports reporter, until he was sent to south-east Asia and opened a Reuters bureau in Rangoon, Burma.

In 1956 he became the first non-communist journalist based in Peking (now Beijing) and later wrote a memoir of his adventures there, entitled The Day I Stepped on Mao’s Toes. Backing into Mao Zedong at a reception was not the reason Chipp was recalled by Reuters to London in 1960 to begin a rise that led to his becoming the agency’s editor in 1968.

By now Chipp’s reputation as a reporter who could manage, and a manager who respected reporters, had spread. So, after a year in editorial control at Reuters, he was asked by Lord Barnetson, then a director of both agencies, to take the job as editor-in-chief of the floundering Press Association (PA).

Chipp rose to the challenge. He helped to raise its profile, expanding coverage to serve national titles as well as the regional press. He also ensured that the output was up to scratch, appointing better executives.

He remained a reporter’s reporter throughout, fighting for the rights of journalists to report freely, railing against the parliamentary lobby system and playing a key role in ensuring that more reporters were sent to cover the Falklands war than the government wished. He was also mischievous. When the Labour MP Dennis Skinner accused PA of rightwing bias and seeking to undermine the then Labour government and trade unions, Chipp ran Skinner’s statement in full but added his own comment: ‘We have issued this drivel from Skinner because otherwise he would accuse us of censorship. His accusation is an insult to every journalist working for PA.’

Chipp’s professionalism was high-lighted in 1979 when PA’s editorial staff were called out by the National Union of Journalists during a provincial pay strike. Though many senior journalists worked on, the then powerful print union, the National Graphical Association, insisted that every story must pass through the editor-in-chief’s hands before they would transmit it. This involved Chipp subediting and initialling the copy, which meant that he had to work round the clock for the best part of seven weeks.

He snatched some sleep in a nearby flat and took lunch at the Garrick. But he kept the news flowing to the agency’s clients. ‘I did the lot,’ he said later, ‘parliamentary reports, court reports, racing results, everything.’ Newspaper proprietors remained ever grateful to Chipp for his efforts, and the majority of his staff were impressed too.

After retiring from PA in 1986, he was offered a host of positions, becoming an independent director of the Observer, joining the boards of TV-am and Teletext, and working tirelessly for the Reuters Foundation and the Commonwealth Press Union.

He was a founding member of the Press Complaints Commission and is fondly remembered by its youthful first director, Mark Bolland, for introducing him to his wide range of political contacts. He also proved to be a wise counsel during the PCC’s early, turbulent period.

Meanwhile, Chipp was able to enjoy his passion for rowing, as a spectator and steward at the Henley regatta, and opera. But conversation was his forte. He loved to tell stories and pass on gossip. He was a mainstay of the regular meetings of ex-editors at the Garrick, known as the Old Codgers. No one could top a Chipp anecdote.

· David Allan Chipp, journalist, born June 6, 1927; died September 8, 2008

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Bye-bye, American Pie

By Jeffrey Blyth

I first heard of Press Gazette, as a new magazine for Fleet Street, aboard a Thames riverboat. Colin Valdar, former editor at the Sunday Pictorial, invited me for lunch on one of the two floating clubs moored alongside The Embankment. In those days I was the Daily Mail New York correspondent, working alongside the then famous columnist Don Iddon.

Would I be interested, Valdar asked me, in writing a weekly column from America? I was but there was one possible snag. Would the Mail approve? We solved that by agreeing that I would write the column, but it would carry the byline of my American journalist wife Myrna (who was then working for the magazine Family Circle, and then edited Ladies’ Home Journal for 20 years).

When UK Press Gazette, as it was originally titled, was launched, the column was given a whole page under the title Dateline New York. Copy was sent to London by mail, updated by Telex. Wherever my travels for the Mail took me, Thursday was the day I wrote the column and posted it.

After a few weeks I learned the Mail had no objection to my writing for Press Gazette – as long as I didn’t reveal any company secrets. So started a more than 40-year association with the magazine – with my own byline.

In the early days we wrote mostly about new developments, papers being launched, papers folding, in America. Yes, they were closing even in those days.

Before the internet it was easier to be ahead on such stories, before they landed as they do now in the Telegraph or the Guardian. But we also reported on the gossip from such New York journalistic hangouts as Costello’s, PJ Clarks’ and Toot Shor’s – the doings and misdoings.

We also reported the successes of former Fleet Street colleagues working in the US, such as former Express photographer Harry Benson, who came over with The Beatles and stayed on. How he got his famous picture of Bobby Kennedy, dying from his assassin’s bullets, on the kitchen floor of a Los Angeles hotel, cradled in the arms of his wife.

Other tales I told included how Express man Iain Aitken and I rode into Havana with Fidel Castro (a story I recounted only recently on Castro’s relinquishing power), and how the rebel leader wanted to talk more about baseball than the success of his revolution. How I was standing just a few paces behind Lee Harvey Oswald, JFK’s assassin, when he was shot by Dallas night-club owner Jack Ruby in the basement garage of the Dallas Police headquarters.

At the time I thought it was flash bulbs popping, until they carried Oswald’s body past me and laid it on a desk top. Even then I had to watch a replay of the shooting on TV before I really understood what had happened.

How we got to Dallas after the JFK shooting is another tale from that distant era… It happened on a Friday. Early afternoon in New York. To my dismay there were no planes from New York to Dallas that afternoon. It was a TWA clerk who suggested ‘Why not hire a plane?’ How much? $15,000, he replied. First reaction: No way! On reflection maybe that might be an idea.

There were at least a dozen British journalists, including David English, then working for the Express, also trying to get to Dallas I started calling them up. Soon we had at least 15 ready to divvy up the cost at a $1,000 apiece.

The pilot had radioed ahead and there were a dozen taxis waiting for us at the airport. First, stop Police HQ. We arrived just as Oswald, his face bruised, was being paraded for the cameras, and denying he had shot anyone.

A new lead for the story, but more important it enabled London to change the dateline to ‘Jeffrey Blyth, Dallas’ – and also to justify that old Daily Mail slogan ‘Wherever there is a story there’s a Daily Mail reporter.’

When we were not reporting shootings and riots (sometimes it seemed that was our main occupation) I did find time to report for PG the rising fortunes of other former Fleet Street colleagues now working in the US, such as Anthea Disney, Harry Evans and Tina Brown and, of course, Anna Wintour, whose father Charles briefly edited PG after he left the Evening Standard.

One of the most bizarre stories we reported was the ghoulish gang of thieves who stole and sold body parts for medical purposes, among them the body of Alistair Cooke.

The gang was recently sentenced to long jail terms, but of course the Cooke family didn’t know about the desecration before the cremation of what remained of his body. That was an after-tale.

For years as the Guardian correspondent in America and then for the BBC, Alistair had written his columns and Letters from America from his apartment on New York’s Fifth Avenue, overlooking Central Park.

After his cremation the family wanted to scatter his ashes in the park. But officially that’s forbidden. What did they do? I discovered they had popped into a nearby Starbucks, bought three cups of coffee which they drank and then poured the ashes into the paper cups. Walking into the park, when no-one was looking, they scattered the ashes, as I reported, under the bushes and trees

For a short while, a few years back, my American column for PG was dropped. Then Phillipa Kennedy was appointed editor and decided to revive it. I like to think it was because of popular demand, but she renamed it American Pie, a title which I never really liked, but felt it would churlish in the circumstances to complain about.

Then came the internet age which, as an old ink-and-paper journalist, I did not welcome at first. That was until I saw how quickly our stories – and the occasional exclusive – made it to PG readers, not just in the UK but around the world.

One of them has been how much Fleet Street-style journalism has taken over in the USA. And it is not just the Rupert Murdoch effect.  Though the Wall Street Journal is beginning to take on the look of a British upmarket daily, British-style editing is also apparent in the celebrity magazines and Brit editors now head several top publications .

Then there is the paparazzi, notably in Los Angeles, where Kevin Smith – the son of People journalist John Smith –runs Splash News, one of the more aggressive and successful photo agencies.

The only clouds in recent years had been the increasing number of obits I have had to write about old Fleet Street colleagues who have died either while working, or in retirement, in the USA. Also somewhat disturbing is the decline in the size of the British press contingent here. 

At one time it was the biggest, when papers like the Telegraph, the Mirror and the Express each had as many as five or six reporters in New York alone. Today the British press corps would be hard pressed to field a cricket team.

The biggest foreign press contingents in New York today? If membership of the Foreign Press Association is any indication it’s Germany (57 members) and Italy (45).The UK has 16.

And my happiest memory? Apart from my 20 years covering news in Europe, Asia and America for the Daily Mail, I am happy to have been associated with Press Gazette since day one.

  • Editor’s note: Although Press Gazette is now monthly, and availably only by subscription, Ranters can still keep up with the news on its website at http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/where, among other things, there’s a daily blog by Grey Cardigan with updates from his in-tray at the Evening Beast, plus stories like the sacking of a journalist allegedly following ‘financial irregularities’ involving a SIX-figure sum, that appeared briefly but now seems to have disappeared (that’s the story that’s disappeared, not just the money).

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Slick as a parrot

By David Brammer

I enjoyed reading Harold Heys’ recollection of erstwhile colleague Phil Smith and his ability to create the perfect headline. It reminded me of another glorious Smithy moment during the days of the Sunday People sport office spanning the 70s and 80s.

One evening during the 1986 World Cup, England were preparing for a potential ‘banana skin’ encounter with Paraguay. Because the tournament was taking place in Mexico, the time difference meant that the game wouldn’t have finished until the first edition was off stone.

Time was tight trying to get the match report into the second edition, Smithy, as was the norm, schemed two back page leads; one for an England win and one for a defeat. (There may have been a third for a draw but it doesn’t matter…)

Putting the positive spin on a glorious victory, the back page lead read: It happened in Monterrey(Monterrey, of course, being the Mexican city where the game was taking place.)

But what if England lost. How would Smithy lift the gloom of the People sport readership?

Sick as a Paraguay read the alternative headline. Do you know, I still think that he was secretly praying for an England defeat just so he could run the headline.

Another People sport stalwart of that time was rugby league writer John Robinson. One morning he received a call from the editor of a newly launched rugby magazine circulating in Yorkshire. The caller was keen that Robbie wrote a regular column. However, being ‘The Voice of Rugby League’ the People man was naturally cautious and wanted to have a look at a copy before making a contribution. ‘No problem,’ said the editor. ‘I’ll post a copy over to you.’

A week later, I asked him how his new job was going. ‘Nah, I don’t think it’ll amount to much’ he said, holding up a copy with a concise and punchy headline that read: York not yet got a coach.

Prior to joining the People, Robbie was a Jack-of-all-trades journo with the Wigan Observer. One day during the 60s, the regular pop music reviewer was on holiday. The features editor threw a few singles in his direction. ‘Have a listen to these and give me 50 words on each by Wednesday.’

However one record, in Robbie’s opinion, barely merited a dozen words. ‘Average song by an even more average working men’s club singer’ read the terse review.

The record? It’s Not Unusual by Tom Jones.

Needless to say, Robbie’s music review career met an early demise and rugby league world found one of its star writers.

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Clive Entwistle adds:

To pick up on my old mate, Harold Heys, on greatest headlines reminds me of the famous one many moons ago in the Oldham Evening Chronicle.

It was above a feature on the Commonwealth Trans Artic Expedition in which Sir Edmund Hillary, led a New Zealand Team and Sir Vivian Fuchs was head of a British team. The media at the time dressed it up as a race to the South Pole.

The Chron features editor was a devout churchgoing spinster of mature years and no one (including the editor) dare explain to the poor dear how the headline would be interpreted.

It read: Hillary reaches pole – Fuchs 200 on the way.

Needless to say the Chron sold out within two hours of hitting the streets.

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Dunrantin?

By Mary Duffy

Gentlemen, you certainly are – but where’s the rant of your title? Have you all gone mellow in your old age? Or is it just that having heard it all, you can no longer be bothered with the BBC News?

There is no other explanation for the fact that superannuated journalists though we all are, none of you seem to have noticed the extraordinary thing that is happening to the Beeb’s once admired journalistic standards.

These seem to have fallen victim to a curious brand of celebrity reporting exemplified by their business editor Robert Peston. Young Mr. Peston seems to be suffering from rampant egomania. He even starts his reports with the personal pronoun and never wanders far from referring to his part in any scoop.

For example ‘When I revealed’, or ‘As I told you some weeks ago – this can only get worse’.

When news of the Lloyds merger talks hit the headlines, young master Robert was so excited with the alleged scoop that he rejected the traditional role of the BBC of informing the audience in favour of the newer, sexier approach of the star emoting to camera.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the brass at the troubled financial giants stayed stum until they could get Robert on the blower.

The news, no matter how serious it is, takes second place to the fact that Robert Peston is notching up a scoop.

Remember the derision that met John Simpson’s appearance in Kabul in a burkah? But he didn’t pretend that he had single-handedly trounced the Taliban. It was the story, not the man in the frock that was important, no matter how jolly that image was.

Peston is reversing this important role and the mystery is why the BBC is allowing him to get away with it.

Getting scoops is wonderful – but it’s only part of the job. Being able to put the news in the context of a huge and complicated story is surely at least as important.

Peston doesn’t seem to be able to do this – unlike Evan Davis – his predecessor.

Or anyone of an illustrious line of great journalists who toiled in the old tradition.

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