Issue #67

When Irish eyes are smiling, on us

One of the finest sports writers of his generation, Alan Hoby, has died at the age of 94. Hoby was an elegant impeccably dressed character, famously entertaining off duty but a masterful wordsmith during his long years at the Sunday Express, where he was brought in by the late Sir John Junor. How that once great newspaper could use someone with his talent now. He came under the ‘must read’ category that so many big names currently fail to fulfil.

Before television he crafted the words that created their own pictures in our minds whether it was from a Muhammad Ali fight, a World Cup football match, Wimbledon or the Olympic Games. He was also a jazz enthusiast, attending festivals into his 90th year, and loved walking. He served in the Royal Marines during the 1939-45 war.

Alan’s funeral will be at Mortlake Crematorium (West London) on Monday, November 3 at 11 30am. He died with no known relatives but many old-timers from journalism and sport are expected to show their respect and affection.

– James Mossop



What’s on in Hackville, UK

Unless rumours of its demise have been greatly exaggerated, the once famed, once proud, newspaper city of Liverpool is to cease being a press centre any time now. Apparently, after maybe 150 years somebody has discovered that it’s easier (for which, presumably, read ‘cheaper’) to print the Daily Post and the Liverpool Echo in Oldham.

Well yes; that makes a lot of sense.

According to reports, you’ll be more likely to find a Sun reader than an inky finger on Merseyside after Christmas.

The Trinity Mirror (they get everywhere) statement to staff, as we saw it, said: ‘It is anticipated that the transfer of work will present an opportunity for some Liverpool employees to move to Oldham.

‘However, around 100 roles are expected to be made redundant over the next 15 months…’

Aw, come on! What are a hundred jobs (sorry: roles), when there are ‘opportunities’ like a move to Oldham on offer?

So it’s All Our Yesterdays time, again, folks.

For the Pool has a great tradition and a wonderful reputation as a rearing ground for hacks and snappers, like a giant riverside cloche for prize-winning vegetables, forcing future star journos like rhubarb.

And many of them are planning a return trip on Friday, November 28, when the city’s renowned Press Club celebrates its 125th birthday.

What stories will be retold beneath the flying bread rolls, or even the disappearing roles? Maybe some of them (the stories) will find their way home to Ranters.

Like the twins who sang One Alone Is All I Own at the Club’s Christmas panto… or the visiting fireman from Fleet Street who stopped a guy on the docks, said he was looking for the urinal, and elicited the reply: ‘I dunno, pal – how many funnels has it got?’

…Or Bill Marshall setting up home underneath the club snooker table because he was practising to become a hermit; he and Skiddy running an illicit (and non-profit) casino on the premises, and the pair of them shaving off half a guy’s beard before hanging him out of from the balcony.

All human life was there.

Colin Myler, editor of the News of the World – and rarely out of the news himself these days – will be guest of honour at a long lunch hosted by this year’s club president, Ken Bennett.

I suspect that nobody will be greatly surprised if Ken Ben dons a German uniform to great his chief guest, just for the video.

It all starts of course at Lime Street, smack opposite the station at the Holiday Inn which stands on the site of the old Wellington, where the club operated in pre-war days, and beyond.

Who can predict how, or where, it will finish?

Southerners will as always be welcome, and will be relieved to see that the menu choice includes prawn cocktail (presumably still considered pretty exotic up north) and that wine starts at only ₤12.95 a bottle. There’s also a ‘specially discounted rate’ at the hotel for people who know they won’t make it home, of ₤85 a room.

Generous to a fault, the Holiday Inn people.

The grub itself is a modest ₤22 a head (you don’t have to choose the prawn cocktail) and tickets are available from Chris Johnson of Mercury Press: [email protected] or call him on 0151 709 6707.


When Irish eyes are smiling, on us

Those effete southerners who could always jump on a plane heading anywhere south but found it inappropriate to venture north of Watford will possibly feel more at home, staying closer to base camp, on Tuesday November 4.

This is the date of the annual soiree at the Irish Embassy, hosted this year by the ambassador, David Cooney.

Proceeds go to the Journalists’ Charity (which you and I know as the Newspaper Press Fund) so it’s a steal at ₤25 a ticket – especially as ‘wine and light refreshment’ will be provided.

In the manner that only the Irish can do that.

If the newspaper world had a Season, the Irish Embassy function would be its Derby Day. Last year it raised more than ₤4,000 to assist our less-advantaged colleagues.

A great thrash, with great craic. Kick-off, 6pm.

Tickets and more info from [email protected] at the charity office or Bob Warren at: [email protected] .


All there, in black and white

Next Friday, October 31 (and yes, I realise I am going backwards, chronologically) all those newsmen who once considered Geordieland as their home will be back on Tyneside at the annual lunch of the Newcastle plc (Pens and Lens Club) organised brilliantly as always by former Daily Express snapper Gordon Amory…

  • That’s enough piss-ups, thank you – Ed. The Geordie Boys don’t need to advertise; you have to beat them away from the door with a shitty stick. There’s free beer, for God’s sake, courtesy of those wonderful people at The Brewery.

We mention it chiefly to explain why, next week, this website will be published a day early. Attendance at St James’ Park has always been considered mandatory. And who knows – if we’re early, we might get a game.


Black and white and read all over

While on the subject (not of parties) could we once again mention our BOOKSHOP – the link is over there at top left?

Well, yes we could.

According to the technology attached to this site, few readers have bothered to check it out.

But it comprises a list of four CLASSIC books that should be on the shelves of every reader who calls himself a journalist (or a reporter, a photographer or a sub) or who’s reading this site for the sheer hell of it.

What’s more, there are two more coming: our first venture into fiction – and it’s a belter – and our first commissioned work, about women who worked The Street.

All priced at just under a tenner, with special rates for Ranters. If you miss checking out the site you are missing out on the literary equivalent of letters from home.

Our six authors this year are: Cassandra (Bill Connor), Tony Delano, Liz Hodgkinson, Vincent Mulchrone, Murray SayleandIan Skidmore.

You know it makes sense.

We’ll make it even easier. Just click on the author’s name. Or click here (to go to the full listing) – then click on the back arrow at the top left of your screen to return to this site.


While on the subject of, er, culture… a friend once went for an interview for a job on The Guardian and was asked by the editor (I suppose Harry Whewhell) what she thought of the paper. She naturally said she thought it was excellent; but maybe, she ventured, it could sometimes do with a few more pictures.

‘We have thought about that,’ said the editor. ‘But then we reckon that, in the space a photograph would occupy, we could get… oh, maybe a thousand words.’

Here’s the follow-up:

If a picture tells 1,000 words…

By David Brammer

A couple of years back, Manchester Art Gallery held a photographic exhibition. It was a retrospective of the work of the celebrated Guardian photographer Don McPhee and concentrated on how he captured northern life through the lens over 30 years.

A group of colleagues and I. working for the newspaper at the time in the Ad Design department, decided to pay a lunchtime visit to the exhibition. Before we went, Don, who was a regular visitor to our department, called in. I told him of our plans and invited him to join us, maybe to offer a commentary on his work. Although he agreed, his acceptance was subject to his work diary. As the exhibition ran only for a month, it wasn’t to be. Don was too busy covering assignments.

A few weeks later, after our visit to a remarkably enjoyable display, I bumped into Don again and congratulated him on the exhibition and his work in general. The 1984 miners strike being a case in point. No one captured the anger, the frustration and even the wry humour in the way that Don did.

He appreciated that we had taken the time to walk across to the gallery and spend our lunch hour wandering around admiring his work. Although he was unable to join us, he took the time when I caught up with him to explain some of the background to a few of the shots that stood out in particular.

What has now made it more poignant, as I’m sure all Ranters readers will know, is that Don passed away last year after a battle with cancer.

Now the exhibition has been revived and expanded and will run throughout the winter at The Lowry in Salford.

A Long Exposure: 100 Years of Pictures From Guardian Photographers in Manchester, is a show that Don and former colleague Denis Thorpe started to put together last year before Don’s untimely death. It came about after Don discovered a box of photographs taken by Walter Doughty, the Guardian‘s first photographer.

‘The boxes which contained glass negatives were destined for the skip and Don rescued them,’ said Denis. ‘Doughty joined the Manchester Guardian in 1908. Don saw the opportunity to celebrate the work of Walter Doughty and the staff photographers that succeeded him.’ Remarkably the Guardian only employed eight staff snappers during the century covered in the exhibition.

Another photographer included is Tom Stuttard who joined Walter in 1925. Tom worked with him for 11 years until 1936 when it was decided that the paper had too many photographers in the north and that he should transfer to Fleet Street!

Stuttard went on to photograph Neville Chamberlain’s historic return to the UK in 1939 after signing the Munich peace agreement. He photographed Chamberlain’s waving of the white piece of paper as he proclaimed ‘Peace in our time,’ which followed his ill-fated meeting with Adolf Hitler.

Although renowned for recording northern life, Don McPhee was also a witness to another of the great moments of the 20th century. He was in South Africa in 1990 to capture Nelson Mandela’s ‘Long Walk To Freedom’ following his release from Robben Island.

Additional works featured include those of the exhibition’s compiler along with Graham Finlayson, Neil Libbert, Christopher Thomond and Bob Smithies. Smithies was something of a character who in his spare time used to compile crosswords for the paper. He later went to become a newsreader on Granada TV.

The exhibition covers a wide range of subjects. Featured portrait pictures include playwright Arthur Miller, ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev and politicians Enoch Powell and Winston Churchill. Stark monochrome images of German prisoner of war camps to Strangeways Riots in 1990 are also included in the exhibition.

Denis Thorpe remembered his time covering the Manchester prison demo with particular clarity. ‘It started at night with all these helicopter searchlights circling overhead,’ he recalls. ‘It gave me the opportunity to create some incredibly moody pictures.

‘The Guardian had a way of making witty comments with their photographs,’ says Denis who retired in 1998. ‘Don was a master at it. I was determined this show would happen for him.’

A Long Exposure: 100 Years of Pictures From Guardian Photographers in Manchester runs from now until March 1, 2009 at The Lowry, Salford. Admission is free.


Two: Bob

By Stephen Claypole

I first met Bob Friend 35 years ago in the newsroom of the Sydney Morning Herald where I worked as foreign editor. My counterpart on the news desk called me to say there was some Pommy throwing a strop

Well, he said a bit more than that, actually.

In the middle of the newsroom was this big, blond BBC correspondent objecting furiously because he had been denied entry to the Herald archive.

One of the most dangerous places in journalism was to get between Bob and a story. The BBC now has hostile environment courses for such circumstances.

It was Bob at his most impatient. I sorted everything out and he grumpily invited me to lunch. I then wondered whether he could become the bane of my life.

Sometime later my editor Guy Harriet called me and asked me whether I knew some bloke called Friend. Bob it seemed had gone to a party at Fairwater, the harbourside home of our proprietor Sir Warwick Fairfax and caused another scene

He had positioned himself in front of a huge bust of the Herald founder John Fairfax and claimed that it was his death mask.

‘They had huge heads in those days,’ he intoned without a twitch of a face muscle. This was a bit awkward because he’d addressed a group consisting mainly of Imelda Marcos, Christina Ford, Bubbles Harmsworth and the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire.

I told my editor that there was no point in complaining to the BBC because the organisation was full of nutters and pinkos. This seemed to satisfy him. As I put down the phone I remembered Bob’s invitation. This was one lunch I was not going to miss.

There have been countless lunches since and they were always uplifting, side-splitting, bewildering and very beneficial to the manufacturers of paracetemol.

Bob was never a lush or a man with a ruinous craving but lunch with him was the bon viveurs’ north face of the Eiger… without ropes!

Martinis at the Ritz, the afternoon at Langan’s, a cleansing lager at the Reform with Ramon or Scribes with Van Hay… Who knew what was going to happen?

Bob himself once ended up in Honolulu after a good lunch; a leading PR. was taken off the train at Niagara Falls after boarding what he thought was the Hudson River Line. And a notable BBC presenter awoke one morning with his garden gate in his arms.

Bob was one of the funniest, most zany characters that any of us have ever met.

Like many children in the wartime forties Bob had a difficult time and personal demons from those days followed him for most of his life.

Yet, he pushed aside all the early adversity to become one of the biggest success stories in radio and television news.

He was a deeply intuitive man, the sort of reporter who knew which cupboards contained the skeletons. He could spot a bad ’un before he or she came over the horizon. He could think round corners.

Nicholas Tomalin, the great Sunday Times writer, once infuriated journalism training organisations by saying that a good reporter needed three characteristics.

  • A plausible manner.
  • Ratlike cunning
  • Slight literary skill

Bob possessed all three but his literary skill was formidable. And he had a fourth quality, a true fighting spirit. It was something Rupert Murdoch remarked on when he wrote to Bob at Charing Cross Hospital

It took big organisations like the BBC and News Corporation to give free rein to Bob. I was once notionally his boss but it never felt like that. He was always up before the rest of us and usually two steps ahead of the desk. He was gloriously unmanageable.

Bob’s mantra was ‘always be yourself.’ He was infuriated when somebody told him to watch himself when John Birt paid his first visit to BBC New York. Bob immediately invited him to lunch.

A sandwich will do, said Birt. Then we’ll go to the 21 Club, said Bob.

Do you go there often, asked Birt. Every day said Bob. In fact Bob had never been. The 21 wasn’t his sort of place. He preferred Gallaghers with the sides of beef hanging in the window.

Birt was wearing a kind of Ho Chi Minh tunic made by Armani. We had better get that ironed before we go, said Bob.

They strolled across to the restaurant and Bob greeted Walter the celebrated maitre d’ with ‘Good afternoon George, my usual table please and bring us a Martini.’

John Birt was later to ask how Bob had been allowed to slip away to Sky News.

Bob also took on one of the most tyrannical figures in TV – Sam Chisholm, the managing director brought in by Murdoch to stop the flow of red ink at Sky.

The Daily Mail’s John Edwards recently reminded me of a quote by the late David English. He said that if Sam had been in Germany in the 1930s Hitler would not have got a look in.

Bob told Sam to jump in a vat of boiling water at a Sky Christmas Party. John O’Loan had to separate them but Bob became the No 1 member of ‘Sam’s Talent.’

I think Rachel Attwell got it about right when she said Baron Sacha Cohen should be sued for stealing Bob’s character. But was Borat ever in the same league as Bob?

Sam Chisholm used to refer to Bob as ‘The Rock.’ I think that described well his role in personifying Sky News in the early days.

Again it took courage. At the age of 50 it was not the ideal moment to learn the ropes as a presenter on Europe’s first 24-hour news channel. Bob worked tirelessly at his screen persona and the studio gizmos and after a while his warmth and occasionally off-piste presentation became a must-watch for much of the audience.

It’s almost 20 years to the day since John O’Loan backed his hunch that Bob would be good and started the negotiations to hire him.

Beneath all the jokes, mischief and repartee there was a wise man.

Many of us in the TV business sought him out whenever the going got rough. He was a great strength in recent years to his neighbours at Brentford Dock. His advice was always solid and intuitive.

He made friends until the last. We were deeply touched when his nurses Declan and Matthew came into see him on their days off.

Bob’s fighting spirit remained strong throughout his short illness.For a man who pushed back the frontiers of hypochondria during his adult life, he was completely without self-pity.

Bob tackled his illness like he pursued a story. He was determined to scoop the Grim Reaper but to our great sorrow it was not to be.


Desert disease comes to Darlington

By Colin Dunne

On those Friday mornings, I fairly skipped down the road past the castle. I couldn’t get to the office fast enough. From the shop below, I would snatch up the magazine, clatter up the stairs, and seconds later have it spread out on the desk. All the world lay before me.

Almost literally. In the 1950s, the World’s Press News, the trade mag, was the market place for jobs in journalism. I was combing its columns because I had become the first victim of the credit crunch. With their £2-a-week investment in me threatening financial meltdown, the Craven Herald and West Yorkshire Pioneer had, in the nicest possible way, suggested that the world was now ready for my stupendous talent. In other words, move on.

Do you know, I’m not sure that this wasn’t the most exciting time of my life. My first job was down to chance. But this time it was my choice, and there were dozens of jobs out there. And – as I saw it – I was good and ready. Oh those Friday mornings, scouring the ads, the fun and fear of leaving home, getting away from parents, meeting new people, meeting new girls, finding a flat that would soon be the scene of multiple seductions…

All in all, the second job was the one that packed the most potential.

After more than three years in the front-line of weekly journalism in the Yorkshire Dales, I was battle-hardened and teak-tough. Wedding reports? I’d typed out thousands of ’em. Golden Wedding interviews? Hundreds. (Secret of 50 years of marriage? Give and take.) As for Addingham Parish Council, I liked to think that my rival from the Ilkley Gazette turned pale when I walked in with my rapier-sharp HB.

I was worldly too. Women? Don’t talk to me about women. I’d removed Maureen Barrett’s specs in the back row of the Plaza Cinema to make sure they didn’t clash with mine. How many people could say that?

I was almost 20, I shaved most days, I had 80wpm shorthand, and I was all set to conquer the world’s press.

Actually, maybe not the whole world. Not just yet. The truth was that although I may be a living legend along the boulevards of Grassington and fashionable soirees of Giggleswick, I had never been south of Leeds. Or, for that matter, north of Sedbergh.

So the ads I saw before me were about as familiar as the mountains of the moon. The Surrey Comet? No thank you. That was the south, wasn’t it? Where they couldn’t play cricket, the beer was rubbish, and they know nowt. The Bath Chronicle? I’d need tuition before I could say Barth. Where the hell was Oban? Could Dudley possibly be as exciting as it sounded? I quickly realised that the Hartlepool and Barrow papers seemed to advertise every week which seemed to suggest that those who could read and write were leaving Hartlepool and Barrow in droves.

But what was this… The Northern Echo was looking for a young reporter.

Now bear with me here a moment, children. At that time England had a string of mighty regional dailies, publications of great distinction and importance, each one like a regional version of The Times. Birmingham and Liverpool and Yorkshire had their Posts, there was a Press in York and others in Norwich and Bristol, the North-East had its Journal, and just south of that, covering Durham and North Yorkshire, was the Northern Echo.

At that time – scarcely believable now – It had a six-figure circulation, which rather outgunned the Craven Herald’s 12,000. There was only one problem. ‘Does anyone know where Darlington is?’

I found it. I even got there for the interview with Mr Reggie Gray, the editor. ‘We are following,’ he said, indicating a portrait on the wall, ‘in the steps of the legendary W T Stead.’ The only Stead I knew played scrum-half for Upper Wharfedale, so it seemed unlikely. However, rendered dumb with excitement, I got the job.

Two weeks later, feeling pretty superior, I left my pathetically old-fashioned weekly to join a mighty daily. Where I was going, I rather fancied that Charlie Ayrton the printer didn’t clump upstairs with a piece of oily string to indicate how much space was left. Those days were behind me.

Even so, I found my eyes strangely moist as I took one last look around the old Herald office with its worn lino, shabby paintwork, typewriters the size and weight of agricultural machinery. I said my farewells to everyone, including Mr Waterhouse, Methodist chief reporter, who had taken personal responsibility for my virginity since I was 16. Every time I found a girl to go out with, he sent me to some distant parish council meeting. ‘You don’t have a personal life in this job, Colin,’ he’d say, with immense satisfaction. It was code for you’re not getting your leg over in this town.

As I went down the creaking stairs, his voice followed me with one last piece of advice, a tip that I was to ignore for the next 50 years.

‘Don’t forget,’ he shouted, ‘allus check your copy.’

With my one suit (blue hopsack, Burton’s. £9) in the back of the 1934 8hp Jowett (black and rust, £15), I pointed north. A suit, a car, and soon I would have my own flat, a magnet for women crazed with desire for nine-stone Dalesmen. Then we’ll see about a personal life, Mr Waterhouse.

My knees were knocking through the blue hopsack when I checked in to the reporters’ room on that Monday morning. The other new reporter was Ian Irving, the tragic victim of a shoe-store accident. He came from Wimbledon. As I remember it, it was there that the front of a Freeman Hardy and Willis fell on him as he was walking past. One large stone landed on his foot, an injury that prevented him from swimming, sprinting and playing football for England. Since he had never done any of these things, the loss was bearable, particularly since he also got enough money to buy a Triumph Mayflower and was exempted from National Service. After that, he always slowed down outside shoe shops in the hope it would happen again. I think that’s how it happened. And I also think he ended up at PA, no doubt still limping.

In charge of the room was Dick Tarelli, who later bobbed up on the Journal in Newcastle. Andrew Grimes was there, whistling bits of Beethoven, and a chap called Colin Pratt, on his way to the Express. The immaculate dandy with the lapelled waistcoat and cuffed jacket reported football beneath the byline of ‘Robjay’. In later life, didn’t he become Bob James, a biggish wheel in training journos?

At first the reporters’ routine there was a savage shock. For a start, there were only about 10 of us which didn’t seem many for a major newspaper. And there was no newsdesk or news editor – Dick Tarelli was chief reporter.

In the morning we’d go to the magistrates’ court, write up all the cases, no matter how trivial, for the evening paper, the Despatch, and the bigger ones for the Echo. We’d take turns to run the hand-written copy back to the office.

They did have copytakers, of course. Two girls with earphones who took it down in shorthand and then typed it up later.

We worked split shifts, so we had the afternoon off and then came back in the evening to cover for the Echo. If anything major blew up – and it really had to be a big one for this – the evening reporter had to go to Maurice the night editor, explain the urgency of the story and, if Maurice judged it sufficiently important, he would authorise the use of the office Ford Popular.

It was the only paper I ever worked where you had to pin bus tickets to your expenses.

There was even shabby paintwork and more typewriters like Massey Fergusons.

That was how one of the biggest daily papers functioned. When was this? It was 1957, but it could easily have been 1857.

It seemed to be strangely like… well, like the place I’d just left. It wouldn’t have surprised me to see Charlie Ayrton walk in with his piece of oily string.

Neither was my personal life developing as I had hoped. Because of a permanently flat battery, I was obliged to park my Jowett on a small hill so that I could start it in the morning. One night, a couple of Borstal escapees stole it.

At the first corner, they desperately spun the steering wheel but the car went straight on. They weren’t accustomed to cars, stolen or otherwise, with ten inches of play in the steering.

I did have great hopes that I would be able to make progress with my treatise (Young Ladies’ Frontal Bumps: A Detailed Investigation and Comparative Report) because I had found a small and cosy flat on the North Road in which to conduct my research. I moved in one dark November evening when the curtains were drawn. When I opened them the next morning I saw that I was about four feet away from a gas holder. Open the window, inhale, and it took you straight back the trenches on the Somme.

No matter. From the Darlington teacher training college I had recruited Lesley, a blonde so tiny that if teaching didn’t work out there was always a career option with Bertram Mills. Poor little thing. I almost felt sorry for her smiling innocence as I smuggled her back into Gasworks View.

As I began my research, she gave a sudden and startling yelp. ‘Eeeeee,’ she went. All women in the north-east open every sentence with a mouse squeak. ‘You’ve got desert disease, you have.’

‘Really?’ I yawned, with casual sophistication. ‘And what might desert disease be, exactly?’

‘Eeeeee,’ she replied. ‘Wandering palms, of course.’

Mr Waterhouse would’ve been proud of her.

Within six months I’d taken my wandering palms, my old Jowett, my blue suit, and my 80wpm shorthand off to the Yorkshire Post where they were paying me a fiver more. ‘Nearly £12 a week! Outrageous!’ snorted Mr Gray. ‘No wonder young men get into trouble.’

If only, I thought. As I left I found myself thinking that perhaps one day a dynamic young editor, ablaze with ambition and new ideas, would come to this old office in Priestgate, Darlington, and turn it into a bright, brilliant modern newspaper.

He’d probably be called something like Harry Evans.


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