Not so grim fairy tales
By Ian Skidmore
There was the girl for whom we bought fifty tickets on the Liverpool ferry and then photographed plying across the Mersey to New Brighton and back. The story we sold our news editors was that her doctor had ordered her to take a cruise for health reasons: the ferry trip was the only one she could afford.
Then there was the dog we tied to the railings of the police Bridewell, a note attached to its collar ‘My daddy threatens to shoot my dog. Please Mr. Policeman would you hide him somewhere safe?’ Which we signed ‘Simon 11’ after cleverly misspelling ‘threaten’.
Both stories were page leads in our newspapers and aroused much comment. Animal stories always caused comment.
I almost lost my job by suggesting the Daily Mirror motto should be ‘Every Day Has Its Dog’. In my defense, I pointed out two stories that we had run the day before. One on page one told how stray dogs were moved from cages each day at the RSPCA kennels until they reached the one labeled ‘Tuesday’. When a dog reached the ‘Tuesday’ cage it was put down. The day that ‘Tuesday’s Dog’ appeared, the paper was snowed under with cheques and postal orders to pay for its continued life; our phone lines jammed with calls. One caller offered a thousand pounds to have the dog brought out to Italy and a life of luxury. In the same issue, I’d written a story of some limbless ex-servicemen who after superhuman efforts got themselves a workshop to make things to sell. They were a month behind with their rent and their landlord threatened to evict them. Only five readers rang up about that story and not enough cheques arrived to meet the arrears.
Liverpool district reporters on national newspapers in those days would have got a ‘first’ on any Creative Writing course. Nor were we without help. We had to find a story a week for our sister Sunday papers. Bert Balmer, the city’s assistant chief constable, and a Press Club member used to make them up for us on request, over a convivial glass in the club bar.
So it might seem a bit odd that I have canceled my subscription to Daily Mail newspapers in disgust at their treatment of Lord Triesman, the chairman of the Football Association. I think little of the FA and when I saw the photograph of the Lord and his lady (?) Melissa Jacobs I thought of the judgment of a commanding officer on one of his subalterns: ‘One would hesitate to breed from this officer’. But love is allowable, even among the unsightly. What is not allowable was for her to pass on an innocent remark he made about his fear of bribery of referees to the Mail on Sunday and for that paper to give her £75,000.
I wasn’t sorry to see the paper go. I had been reading the facsimile edition on-line and, though in bribery the Mail group is second to none, it has yet to turn out readable facsimiles. I see The Times is offering a similar service. I will try it without hope.
Certainly, it is time our newspapers caught up with the computer world. As I sat at my news desk surrounded by the most modern gadgets, I used to reflect on the expense and labour involved in gathering, illustrating, printing, and publishing the day’s news. Yet all depended on a small boy on a bicycle. If he slept in or forgot to deliver the morning paper, the whole costly process collapsed.
Now that news has been largely supplanted by the vapourings of celebrities one wonders whether my trade deserves to survive.
Ian Skidmore, former reporter, news editor, freelance, broadcaster, columnist and the author of 26 books including Forgive Us Our Press Passes, is marooned weekly on his own delightful and rantful beach on Skidmore’s Island.