Nobody called me William
By John Waddell
Back in April in Ranters, I discover, Anthony Peagam made what, for him, was a most unusual porridge of his facts. He credited me with having given the first half of my name to a column he described as ‘John London of the Evening News’. True there was a John London column and for a couple of years I ran it but it was in the dear old News Chronicle, not the Evening News. Moreover, it was started while I was still slithering around on the paper’s political staff failing to mimic my masters Douglas Brown and Ian Trethowan so I have no idea who dreamed up the column’s name.
I later did a similar stint running the William Hickey column in the Daily Express but sadly nobody called me William which I would have rather enjoyed.
One of the interesting things about gossip columns then was that far from being deb’s delights we proved to be rather a serious bunch. On my News Chronicle team, I had Patricia Rowan who finished up as the long-time editor of the Times Educational Supplement and Corinna Ascherson, at the time married to Neal Ascherson and who still pops up from time to time in the New Statesman. Then there was Mike Andrews who pioneered legal PR.
The Hickey crowd of my day spawned two of the Daily Mail’s top brass, the late Brian Vine (who had also been on the Chronicle dairy) and Robin Esser. Not a bad result.
Ranting away about the group Walter Hayes pulled from Fleet Street in the sixties to help strike-bedeviled Ford of Britain present a more cheerful face, Anthony could have added a few more names. As well as myself there was photographer Ken Denyer from the Daily Express and, a bit later, Alan Gardner (formerly editor of the Daily Mail Paul Tanfield column) and Peagam himself as well as a whole host of irregulars, Dennis Hackett and John Goldsmith among them.
Walter Hayes could at the time claim to have been the youngest ever editor of a national newspaper, the Sunday Dispatch, and his impact on Ford was immediate and lasting, helped by the fact that he became a close confidante of Henry Ford. As Walter moved up through the organization, eventually becoming the European vice-chairman, I inherited several of the jobs he vacated. He proved a very hard act to follow but the umbilical cord to Fleet Street and its progeny was a great help.