By Roy Stockdill
Geoffrey Mather’s piece on intros reminded me of a couple of stories from the old News of the World – the broadsheet NoW, that is, with the lovely scroll-type masthead, long before it became a tabloid publicity sheet for bed-hopping actresses and models, druggie pop stars, fornicating footballers and Max Clifford.
Fleet Street old-timers will remember a near-legendary woman journalist called Nancy Spain, who was a household name in the 1950s and ’60s.
Spain started her career as a sports reporter – highly unusual for a woman in those days – was a feature writer and columnist on the Daily Express, wrote a score of books, did many BBC radio broadcasts, and was a star of TV panel games like Twenty Questions and Juke Box Jury.
Having gone to the posh girls’ school, Roedean, she wore mannish clothes, joined in with the lads in boisterous singsongs in the pub, lived with a female magazine editor in the days when such liaisons were not exactly flaunted, and was a friend of Noel Coward and Marlene Dietrich.
In the early 1960s, Nancy Spain was prised away from the Daily Express and crossed Fleet Street to Bouverie Street, having been hired to write a column for the NoW.
She began her very first Sunday column with what was surely a classic intro: ‘Mother always said I would end up in the News of the World.’
Can’t say fairer than that, can you?
In those days the paper used to sponsor lots of curious and parochial events, among them a giant leek show in Durham. Spain, sent to write about it, included in her story: ‘Then in came a man with the biggest one I’d ever seen.’
Sadly, I never knew Nancy Spain, except by name, because I didn’t join the paper as a reporter in Bouverie Street until 1967 and she had died three years earlier in a light aircraft crash on the Grand National course at Aintree while on her way to cover the race.
However, a News of the World stalwart with whom I worked for many years was Ron Mount, one of the old-style Fleet Street heavies and a classic foot-in-the-door man.
Mount, a tall, burly man from Romford, Essex, with short, crinkly, iron-grey hair, always dressed in a dark suit and many unwitting interviewees took him to be a copper – an impression Ron, naturally, did not go out of his way to dissuade them from.
A favorite question of his that he put too many villains and conmen, and which became virtually a catch-phrase among the other reporters, was: ‘What’s your game then, nosh?’
He did many of the paper’s major exposés and had a standard intro that he trotted out on a number of occasions. This went: ‘He’s just an ordinary-looking sort of bloke.’ Mount, exposing some conman or other, would then go on to describe someone who was anything but ordinary.
I recall one memorable story which had begun with the aforementioned ‘ordinary-looking sort of bloke’ intro and then went on to relate how the hapless victim was wearing an outsized flat cap and munching on a giant cheese sandwich.
As the rest of us were having a good old laugh about the Mount intro in the Top of the Tipperary, the NoW reporters’ pub, the late Bob Warren dreamed up what would have been a highly amusing stunt.
He suggested we should all sit at our desks in the newsroom wearing outsized flat caps and eating a giant cheese sandwich. When Ron Mount came in and demanded to know what was going on, there would be a chorus of ‘What’s up, Ron? We’re just ordinary blokes.’
Sadly, it never happened. Probably we all got drunk and forgot about it.