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Friday, August 24, 2007

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best wishes -
the editors

Friday, August 17, 2007

The stuff that legends are made on

There’s a story (probably apocryphal – and we try hard to avoid those because the true ones are often difficult enough to believe) – of a professor of journalism calling a newspaper and telling them he had photographic evidence that Elvis Presley was alive.

A team was immediately despatched to his home and he handed them a photograph of himself, taken in his study.

So how was this ‘photographic evidence’ that The King was not dead?

‘Oh’, said the professor, ‘Mr Presley took the photo...’

And he turned up, Mr Presley, often in burger bars in America, more frequently than George Best turned up at Old Trafford - although not as frequently as he (Mr Best) turned up at Tramp.

Two of our guys were on the case following his (Mr Presley’s) reported death which occurred, or not, 30 years ago this week. PAUL BANNISTER was on coffin duty and reports on the tricks his snapper mates got up to, and JOE MULLINS was on the follow-up, getting Elvis himself to explain the sightings.
Both of them somehow missed the Weekly World News exclusive (see Issue 4 for that newspaper’s winning ways) interview with him.

What would the legendary John Junor have made of it all? I think we should be told. It’s a fair guess, going by the account related by his grandson, the Daily Telegraph’s literary editor SAM LEITH, that Beaverbrook would have said: ‘Do you know why I don’t believe all this? It’s because Mr Presley is bloody dead.’ And the same with silly season stories about Lord Lucan, Cornish sharks and giant dogs and cats.

A legendary news editor – it’s a remarkably flexible adjective – was Bob Blake. When he retired from the desk Bob’s colleagues on the Daily Express had a book of his sayings printed. It ran to 208 pages, and its publication is recalled as a fond memory by STANLEY BLENKINSOP, another er, legendary figure who succeeded him.

And IAN SKIDMORE gets fired by legendary news agency boss Jimmy Lovelock.

But we start all this with a Rant, because that is what we do, with REVEL BARKER on the expensive lack of logic in firing Old Farts – some of them legends in their own lunchtime – in the name of cost-cutting.

And we close with a short about a reader who claimed in a phone call to legendary news editor Dan Ferrari that he could go back in time (as if that is something that we aren’t all doing, all the time, on this site).

Sam Leith reminds us, off-screen, that Peter McKay once proposed forming an early version of Gentlemen Ranters, a ‘JJ Dining Club’ (while JJ was still alive), to swap stories about him – ‘the only criterion for membership being that you weren’t the man himself...’

See also: Letters, Links, and The Spike

Cut costs, sack hacks

By Revel Barker
Our American cousins are currently going through the sort of cost-cutting experience that we endured a quarter of a century ago, and they, more noisily than we did – but with no more apparent effect – are kicking up about it.

Cost-cutting in bean-counting-speak means job-cutting, mainly of older and more experienced (and therefore usually more expensive) staff; if you want to increase profits you look at where the money is haemorrhaging and the easy answer is to identify editorial as the culprit. The green-eyed accountant looks at the high wages, the lavish expenses, the cost of air fares to places that he couldn’t afford even on a once in a lifetime holiday, the level of entertaining… and the number of journalists who seem to spend most of their shifts either sitting around idly or – worse – decamping to the pub.

If that’s your yardstick, cutting costs is simple.

Editorial spend rarely relates directly to profit. If circulation increases, the circulation department gets the credit; if advertising income goes up, the space salesmen get the plaudits. If either of these revenue streams reduces, they all blame a poor ‘editorial product’.

We can’t argue that we were overmanned. We had writers who never wrote a word, because they were bone idle, and subs who were never asked to sub a story because they weren’t up to the task.

It was a problem by no means restricted to editorial, though. If all the inkies rostered for a shift had actually turned up on any one night, there wouldn’t have been standing room for them, which is why some comps were officially working a 26-week year (at least one of them did only 22 weeks, because it took in holiday time).

But all eyes turned naturally towards editorial where the inkies protested to management that there was something called ‘evening dress allowance’, which they believed meant a special payment for working after dark.

The first pronouncement of Clive Thornton when he arrived as chairman was that the Daily Mirror had more journalists in Holborn than the Sun employed world-wide. In fact the paper had more journalists in Manchester than the Sun had worldwide, and there were so many subs in Withy Grove on some nights that if one of them went to the lavatory he would return to find that somebody had nicked his chair.

But in those days the Sun and the Mirror were – this was our excuse – different papers. One had a deadline around lunchtime each day and the other had editions running through most of the night; at the weekend or on night matches there were different editions for almost every first division football club area (not altogether a brilliant scheme, if readers in Liverpool couldn’t get a full account of what was happening in Manchester, or Leeds didn’t know what was happening in Sunderland, before meeting them at Wembley).

I remember one night when the Sunday Mirror did 35 different changes, which may not have been a record.

So Thornton asked for, and got, non-automatic replacement and Maxwell demanded the same deal.

Montgomery had a totally different idea; he seemed to enjoy sacking people anyway, believing that two 20-year-olds on ₤20grand each were obviously twice as useful as one guy of 40+ on 40grand-plus.

But there’s a reason for paying old farts more than tyros. And perhaps there’s no better proof than the Daily Mirror’s cock-up over the faked pictures of ‘British soldiers torturing prisoners in Iraq’.

When the paper announced its scoop by putting the photos on TV, Eddie Rawlinson did a screen grab at home and – before the paper even hit the streets – was telling his email cronies that he suspected there was a rabbit off, somewhere.

Eddie had been on the streets of Belfast and elsewhere and he knew what soldiers were supposed to look like.

The lacing on a soldier’s boots was WRONG, he said. The rifle held by one of them was the WRONG type.
The vehicle in the picture was the WRONG vehicle for Iraq.
The fastening on a soldier’s webbing was WRONG.
The trousers, at the ankle, were WRONG. The flow of urination (the soldiers were supposed to be peeing on the prisoner) was WRONG.

If Eddie had still been running a picture desk those photos would never have got across it.

The editor, Piers Morgan, would not have been fired. The paper – once the most highly rated and respected by soldiery of all ranks – would not have been brought into shocking disrepute.

But in the old-fart clear-out schedule, people like Eddie had been too expensive to keep. How do you put a value on experience? Does it matter that you have a newsroom staffed almost entirely by people who have never actually seen a soldier in uniform? How much are proprietors prepared to pay out in legal costs, rather than paying far less money in salaries to people who can save the company bacon?

And wherever the Mirror went, the rest of Fleet Street inevitably followed. It had been the same with pay deals; the Mirror always went in first, and upped the money, and the others all made their claims on the back of that, with no other justification or negotiating tactic than that the Mirror had got it.

So when the Mirror reduced staff, everybody else did the same.

Before Maxwell, a typical cost-cutting exercise asked on-the-road reporters to forgo the second round of vintage port and of Havana cigars at the end of lunch.

The point that they missed upstairs, however, was that the apparently indulgent lifestyle meant that reporters (this would apply to about half of them, I’d guess) would actually go out of the office and make and meet contacts – and would spend the money, and often come back with stories that were several hundred times cheaper than those that were bought-in, and rewritten by their colleagues who just pocketed the same level of exes and never ventured further from the newsroom than the office pub.

Dan Ferrari, in contemplative mood, once told me that if each of the hundred or so on-the-road men (this was early 70s) ‘went out of the office and spent their expenses and returned with only two exclusives each - every year - they would be far more use than sitting at their desks rewriting PA, and we would have a better paper.’

Far better to have a deserted newsroom, with staff out on the road, than have a roomful of people hanging about in case a Boeing crashed on Buckingham Palace.

But in the States, when a bridge collapsed in Minneapolis this month, the local paper sent 75 reporters, writers and photographers off the editorial floor and out to cover it. This was a paper that had reduced its editorial staff by – coincidentally – 75 earlier in the year, and everybody had moaned about it.

Whether the people who were standing idly by were any good, or had any experience in covering instant news, is difficult to judge from this distance.

But I somehow suspect that there won’t be too much sympathy among London editors for the tribulations currently being experienced by their opposite numbers across the pond.
Pictures: Edward Rawlinson

Coffin fit

By Paul Bannister
Vince Eckersley was one of the Leigh Boys when we both attended De La Salle College, Pendleton, a fact unearthed at 5,000 feet on a desert mesa.

It wasn’t that Vince was in the habit of holding high-level converzationes, just that we were on a two-week muleback assignment together on the Baja peninsula of Mexico. We were seeking cave paintings of ancient flying saucers, a not-atypical National Enquirer venture.

To the background accompaniment of our three muleteers’ gastric rumblings (they’d eaten freeze-dried beef bourguignon too enthusiastically) we found we’d attended the same grammar school, a few years apart.

It was a small surprise that explained much. The contingent at DLS who travelled daily from Leigh was noted for its lawlessness, cunning and skilful interpretation of rules. All that made an admirable grounding for a photographer.

Vince had worked for Tillotsons’ Leigh Journal and Bolton Evening News before graduating to the Manchester offices of the nationals, but his taste for safari clothes and SCUBA diving (not indulged at the same time) led him to Florida and the Enquirer.

There, he and such as Scotsman Jimmy Sutherland (later Star photo editor) were among the handful of larcenous staff snappers who bought and sold their less-guileful American cousins week after week, smiling as they did it.

This is an homage to their breed, a modest account of just one episode. I’m proud to have worked with such as Vince, and Jimmy, and Jim Selby and Jeff Joffe, and … but not that Illinois idiot who gave the Guatemalan cop his driving licence…

After Elvis Presley died, the Enquirer had a stampede of approaches from his nearest and dearest, offering Last Photographs of the singer in his coffin.

The Enquirer ran one on the cover and sold more than seven million copies, which wasn’t a bad return for the $20,000 it paid to the family member – one of the people we called the Memphis Mafia - for the negative.
A couple of enterprising Enquirer employees later tried to lift that negative to print Elvis-in-a-box T-shirts. They were caught in a sting operation by the stork-like editor and a couple of fat cops. The story went that the editor unfolded out of a motel closet screeching ‘Aha! You rogues!’ and scared them half to death.

The publisher wanted another profitable Elvis cover, and hit on the idea of having a pic of the grieving widow, Priscilla, kneeling in prayer by the grave in Graceland.

Vince was given the job of getting that unsanctioned shot, for which Priscilla was to be paid.

The wily ex-Leigh Boy kitted himself out with a priest’s shiny black suit and dog collar, hollowed out a fat Missal and inserted a baby Rollei camera. Who’d question a priest in prayer?

Vince hung around some Holiday Inn in Memphis for a week, as Priscilla’s feet chilled so much that she never did that shoot.

Meanwhile, word came from Madrid. Bing Crosby had died and his body was being shipped to California for burial.

Eckers was told: Scramble. Get yourself to Los Angeles and get a picture of Bing in his box.

Observers at dusk a day later might have seen a portly priest busy with a pocket knife. He was removing a diamond-shaped pane of glass from the window of St Paul’s, Westwood, just at a place where a long lens might be inserted to get a fine view of the nave.

The next morning, the service was held early, to deter crowds, and that portly priest could now be seen at the back of the church, kneeling and murmuring over his Missal.

‘I looked up, and a big black-bearded priest was striding towards me with the light of battle in his eyes,’ Eckersley recalled. ‘I lowered my head, then cautiously looked again. It was Enquirer reporter Frank Zahour.’

Zahour was the only reporter inside the church, thanks to the ‘funeral director.’

That, in sober suit, was the late Gerry Hunt, another Enquirer reporter, (and ex-Daily Mail, Manchester) who was at the door, diligently keeping the media in its place outside while graciously accepting Kathryn Crosby’s thanks for his work.

Any indignant metro daily writer who protested at being excluded soon realised from Gerry’s demeanour that he’d best stay out. Gerry was noted for his short fuse and Pearl Harbour attacks at the office pub, and his air of menace wasn’t faked.

The service ended, and as Zahour exited, one of the humble excluded asked him for the name of the officiating priest. ‘Father Ellwood Kieser,’ said Zahour, who then spelled it, adding: ‘But, my son…’ (pause while the obedient hack waited, pen poised) ‘Check it. Check it!’

At Holy Cross Cemetery, the Enquirer team were back in mufti and the reporter who’d asked Zahour for the priest’s name did a mouth-breather’s double take.

‘A miracle, my son, a miracle,’ said Zahour, waving his fingers in blessing.
Former Daily Mail reporter Paul Bannister is shamelessly exploiting the Ranters blog in hopes of finding a publisher for his new memoir, from which this is an extract.

The King: 'I'm still visiting earth..'

By Joe Mullins
Yesterday (August 16) was the 30th anniversary of Elvis’s death and most people can remember where they were when they heard the news that day in 1977. I was on the Pennines looking up towards Holme Moss. But I’m more likely to think about the last time I spoke to him, which was 12 years later.

We – me and the King, that is - were in a Sheraton hotel room in Toronto. Why Toronto? It was the home of Ian Currie, the man who wrote You Cannot Die. Ian’s dead now though.

Along with Presley’s stepbrother, Billy Stanley, I flew to Canada to set up a séance.

At the time Currie was the world’s top researcher into life after death. He wrote his book after studying a century’s writing about reincarnation and contact with the dead. He was a university lecturer and it was a scholarly work.

Currie and Elizabeth Paddon, a local medium, crossed the great divide and seemed to speak to the dead long before the current crop of TV seers made a mint doing it. They were serious and sincere in what they did. I was a tabloid reporter.

Billy Stanley, then 36, was there to blow them out of the water – or authenticate whatever they channeled.

His mom Dee married Elvis’s dad Vernon after Mrs Presley died. Billy and his two brothers, David and Rick, lived at Graceland and Elvis treated them as both friends and flunkies, often taking them on tours. Billy is a sweet and simple guy who clearly loved his big brother.

Before the séance, Billy told me that he had one big secret and a few smaller ones that only Elvis would know – would the King come across with the details?

As Ian Currie sets the scene by recalling Elvis’s death, English-born Elizabeth slips into a trance and tries to contact his spirit.

Suddenly he’s through. It’s Elvis on the line. Billy scowls skeptically. Me too. But then Elvis hooks him.

Elizabeth relays a question from the King. ‘Do you still have my shirt, the one you cried into?’

It turns out that just before Elvis died, he gave Billy a white shirt that he often wore. Billy kept it as a souvenir. He came across it a few years after Elvis’ death.

‘I had the shirt in my lap,’ he said. ‘I started crying and my tears dropped onto it. I never told a soul about the shirt or weeping. Elvis must be among us.’

I ask Elvis why people keep reporting that they’ve seen him. He says through Elizabeth that he’s responsible for the sightings that occur outside hardware stores in Alabama, supermarkets in Nebraska and truck stops in Tennessee.

‘I’m still visiting earth,’ he says. ‘There are things I’ve been trying to do. I always wanted to bring love to people and I left without achieving that.’

He admits that he sometimes tries to approach people and that’s why so many fans think he’s still alive. It seems the fallen star is in a limbo brought on by his rock n roll lifestyle.

‘I want to move on,’ he says, ‘Mama and Daddy are waiting. My brother too.’ [His twin Jesse was born dead.]

It isn’t his voice, of course, just words coming from Elizabeth to Currie, who repeats them.

The King goes on to reveal more information to Billy, like some of the shenanigans they got up to on the road. He also knows that Billy is working on a book and says he’s nervous about what it might reveal.

‘Just do your work with love,’ he tells Billy. Ian and Elizabeth close the séance by sending my thanks. Elvis says, ‘Joe, remember the music.’ What it means, I don’t know.

Afterwards Billy says he believes Elvis came through with information that nobody else could have known – ‘It sent chills down my spine almost too much to bear,’ he says. He’s shaking slightly and there are tears glistening in his eyes.

What about the big secret? No, Elvis didn’t deliver there. Billy wanted an apology from the King. It seems hound dog Elvis shagged the love of Billy’s life – and the younger brother wanted to hear him say, ‘I’m sorry, I was wrong to take your girl.’

He’s sad that Elvis didn’t understand what the brotherly betrayal meant to him. ‘Maybe he thought that she didn’t love me,’ he says, trying to make excuses.

In the bar later, I wonder why people have a need to believe in some afterlife. Instead of taking the piss, I play Don’t be Cruel on the jukebox. Maybe that’s what Elvis meant. The girls crowd around Billy when they hear he’s Elvis’s stepbrother. The Presley magic still works. As the night draws on, a hooker with an angel face comes on to him.

Ian gives the $1,000 fee I paid HIM for running the séance to Billy so he can be Elvis for the night. I learn later that Billy pays over the cash to the hooker just to talk because he still has the girl that Elvis seduced on his mind. ‘I told her all about Elvis,’ he explains to me the next morning. ‘We talked for hours.’

Elvis has been gone 30 years now and the sightings in rural America seem to have stopped. Maybe he couldn’t get out of Canada.

Letters to the editor

In what old Mirror colleagues insist on referring to as my ‘less than glorious’ period of editorship of the Daily Mirror I was ‘required’ to farewell a large number of journalists: some of them Big Names, some of them Good Operators, some of them eminently losable.
Anne Robinson (Misfired, by Brian Bass, last week) fell into a couple of those categories, as did Paul Foot and Alastair Campbell.
My recollection of Annie’s departure, however, does not coincide with the claims she made when interviewed on TV by Piers Morgan.
Bulimia? A big, fat porky, if you ask me. Annie wanted a pay rise which I was loath to grant, given that she already out-earned the editor and the Mirror Group was in receivership.
We conducted a gentlewomanly negotiation but my resolve was irrevocably firmed when a little bird on Mahogany Row told me that ‘certain employees’ were paid an extra salary, kept secret from the editor, from Bob Maxwell’s purse (or, as we soon discovered, from the pension fund!).
Princess Diana was never mentioned. Neither I nor, as far as I know, anybody, ever took irate calls from the Palace.
The only bulimic activity that occurred was mine when I puked at the thought of staff making a mint while the Mirror followed Maxwell to the seabed. – David Banks
I enjoyed your rants last week – none more than Eddy Rawlinson’s tale (Pubs and publishing) of the Motoring Gazette. I recall those happy days of the late fifties when we were colleagues at the Daily Express and he would talk with great enthusiasm about publishing a motoring freebie – and I would be invited to make an investment.
These were the days before give-away newspapers took off and I had my doubts as I saw a couple of printers go bust in the forties when they tried to compete against local paid-for publications, such as those owned by the Westminster Press and Kemsley’s.
I eventually moved to Newcastle and Eddy took over the pub so neither (?) of us became millionaires.
The story of Bill Rowntree and Knox Johnston (Gentlemen, that reminds me, Revel Barker, July 27) also reminded me of a story told to me by Harry Benson during his early days as the Express staff photographer in New York.
He got a call from the London picture desk one morning: ‘Get a plane down to Chile, you should be in time to get Francis Chichester coming round the Horn…’
But London would do that: ‘Well it’s only a couple of inches on my map, old boy!’ - Gordon Amory
Does anybody remember a young sub on the back bench of the Manchester Evening News in the mid 1950s - a guy who even in those days we realised was going places?
I ask because he asked me to take pictures for what was to be his first book. It was about Ken Stanley, a renowned table tennis player in those days.
I would love to find out whether the book was ever published, and if so how it sold.
He left the MEN for the Northern Echo then I heard he went to London. Harry something. Welsh-sounding surname.
Anybody heard what became of him and if he is still around he could let me know by writing to Gentlemen Ranters? - Eddy Rawlinson
Remembering Tony Wilson
I see the late Tony Wilson is hailed as Mr Manchester by the Sunday Times. He was an even worse TV presenter than that master of self indulgence, Bob Greaves, who had been a fine reporter. I once heard Wilson begin an interview with an author by saying ‘Of course, I haven’t read your book...’
Of course?
I do not know what Granada did to its presenters. There were those two newspaper brothers (Daily Sketch and free lance), nice Jewish guys whose names I forget whose heads were turned by working for Granada. Even Smithies, a man of extraordinary talents as a photographer, singer and crossword compiler, had delusions of grandeur.
He told a priest to whom I introduced him that Bernstein hired him to revamp Granada and never made a decision without first consulting him.
But Wilson Mr Manchester? Not Lowry, Howard Spring, Walter Greenwood, or that whole school of Manchester writers? Not Barbirolli, Charles Halle?
Not Lord James the educationalist and former High Master of Manchester Grammar; not Gerald Illes or indeed the Founder of Belle Vue, John Dalton, Alan Turnig who virtually invented the computer, Chaim Weizmann who won World War One with the invention of artificial nitrate and was given a new kingdom, Israel as a prize.
Not the Guardian’s own C P Scott or Neville Cardus, not Harry Evans. Not stars like Robert Donat, Alan Bates, Pat Kirkwood.
Not those lovely gangsters who started the Manchester night club scene and kept the London bosses at bay – in one case tying one naked in a tree with his face pointing south?
Not the little man , double barrelled name with a Smith in it somewhere (another name that escapes me) who gave us the Unnamed Theatre and a host of other amateur companies that were better than the professionals ?
Not the man who first brought London shows by people like Novello, Coward; and shows like West Side story?
The guy, Paddy ------ (yet another whose surname I forget) who started wonderful jazz clubs, superb chefs like Roland Genty and a score of others and pastry cooks like the genius in Sinclair’s whose chicken pies used entire farm yards. Whitney Rowlands, George Harrop, Strangler Lewis, Bob Blake, Albert Clarke Storey, Ronnie Jeans, Frankie Charmain…
Wilson was not to be mentioned in the same breath. His contribution? - A record label and a night club? Both went bust.
If he was responsible for turning Manchester of the 40s and fifties with its orchestras and little theatres, wonderful pubs, talk-fests and out of town premieres, regular visits by all the musical greats, Basie, Brubeck, etc and jazz clubs into the puffs paradise it has become he should be rotting in hell. – Ian Skidmore
My best memory of Tony Wilson was in a pub in Holyhead where all the scribes had gathered covering a story about the arrest of a former RAF pilot for spying. Wilson left the company with his crew but then dashed back into the pub where he breathlessly announced: ‘I forgot my handbag.’
Howls of laughter all round. – Harry Pugh

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The wit and wisdom of Bob Blake

By Stanley Blenkinsop
In the wordy world of newspapers a unique volume, printed 25 years ago, still takes pride of place on the bookshelves of former Expressmen and women throughout the world. Its title: The Best of Blake.
The 208 pages, now well thumbed and dog-eared, are devoted to the words of Robert Blake.
Now 89, Bob is a Member of the Order of the British Empire for ‘services to journalism’, holder of the British Empire Medal for WWII service, and a retired Daily Express man who in 35 years filled every position on the news desk.
In that time news desk secretary Jean Kershaw kept a verbatim – and secret – note of the lugubrious Robert’s remarks to staff.

A few examples:

‘…Bottle washing. That’s what you university graduates have got to do here. And I’ll certainly see that you get a few dirty bottles to wash. Especially you women graduates.’

To a reporter who had gone into town for lunch: ‘So what would I have done if Martin Bormann [once wrongly ‘discovered alive’ in the Brazilian jungle by the Daily Express] came to the front lodge and asked to see a reporter - give him a taxi chit and send him down to the Danish Food Centre to find you?’

Commenting on pictures of a young Princess Anne leaving a London night club at 2 am: ‘No, well, I don’t hold with it, do I? If my taxes are going to be squandered I don’t want them squandered in swinging Soho clubs, do I? I want them squandered on pomp and panoply….I mean that’s what we pay for, isn’t it?’

Questioning a reporter on her expenses claim: ‘I’m told that you didn’t go to that fire in Bradford but did it on the phone… or to Sheffield for the three drowned children… and the nearest you got to Liverpool for that court case was the Crown and bloody Kettle. Please try again.’

To a reporter claiming ‘breakfast for friendly dustman’: ‘Are you asking me to believe that you went up to this chap in the middle of his round at 7 am and said: “Hello, friendly dustman, come and have bacon and eggs with me?”….’

To reporter regularly claiming afternoon tea allowance: ‘No wonder we can never get hold of you from four o’clock – you’re always eating bloody crumpets and drinking pots of China tea.’

On facial hair: ‘I always think people with beards have something to hide; and I always think people with moustaches have something to hide too.’

To new reporter sent from London: ‘You do realise that you're surplus to my requirements. I didn’t ask for you. You were foisted on me...’

‘Judging by the number of expenses claims about tanker crashes on the M6 I reckon we're getting pretty close to a national petrol shortage.’

‘I have no objection to women on newspapers, I think women on newspapers can be a good thing for us. Just so long as they are on other newspapers.’

On eventually raising a district man and being asked to hold on: ‘No, that’s all right… If I can wait five hours for a call from you, five minutes more isn’t going to make much differences, is it?’

On not hearing from a Belfast staffer till early afternoon: ‘We thought you’d been kidnapped.’

To mark Blake’s 1982 retirement, picture editor John Knill had the secret collection of quotes printed. They were illustrated with cartoons drawn specially by the legendary Giles, Bill Caldwell, political cartoonist of the Sun, and Tom Dobney, deputy art editor of the Express.

The Best of Blake went to the then Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Field Marshal Lord Carver, who had been Bob’s tank commander in the WWII North African desert campaign. Bob was his tank driver in the Battle of Alamein of which Churchill wrote: ‘Before Alamein we never had a victory - after Alamein we never had a defeat.’

His Lordship wrote back to Ancoats: ‘I have never laughed more in my life. The Giles cartoon of Rommel and Bob was first rate.’

Another copy was sent to the Burgomaster of Düsseldorf, son of the Afrika Korps leader Erwin Rommel. Although Bob had fought long and hard against the forces of the Desert Fox, he held him in the highest personal regard and a framed picture of the field marshal was among Bob’s retirement gifts.

Young Rommel, fluent in English, replied to the Express: ‘Very funny - father would have been delighted by the cartoon in which he appeared with Herr Blake.’

And more fragments from the BoB…

After hearing that a man due for arrest in a major crime had gone on a fortnight’s holiday: ‘Yes, well I expect they’re giving him an opportunity to shoot himself. After all, an inquest’s a hell of a lot cheaper than a trial.’

‘There is no cure for a hangover…’

To reporter complaining of a shilling cut in his expenses claim: ‘Ah well, we do have to wield the axe somewhere.’

‘When I was a boy we threw pennies to the veterans of the Great War who begged in the streets of London. My father told me that on a clear day you could also see the queues of starving miners in South Wales. He advised me not to be a war hero or a miner.’

‘Yes, I went to King’s School at Canterbury – England’s oldest public school. I got there because my father said we were an Anglican family. It wasn’t true - if we’d been anything we’d have been Congregational. So I said I thought religion must be pretty cheap if you could change it just to go to school, and he laughed.’

And after going to a ‘forward planning’ meeting only to find the room deserted: ‘What’s become of the think tank then? It’s like a sort of journalistic Marie Celeste in there. And there’s still a cigarette burning…’
FINALLY a footnote – too late to make the book - from Bob in a letter to The Times about the Iraq war in 2003:
‘When I was in the Army I worked briefly as a reporter on the four-page Iraq Times run by the British military public relations unit in Baghdad in 1943.
Three pages were in English, the fourth in local Arabic. As none of us could read Arabic, the back page was produced by an Iraqi sub editor
Production was stopped one day by a man from the British Embassy who pointed out that the headline on the back page report read: ‘Death to Churchill – British go home!’
# Picture research by John Knill
Stanley Blenkinsop was northern news editor of the Daily Express from 1969 till he took early retirement at 54 in 1986 to study at Manchester University. He graduated in 1989 with a BA Honours in modern history and politics.

In the line of fire

By Ian Skidmore
News agencies, weekly papers, evening papers, trade magazines, national dailies and Sundays, Kemsley Newspapers, J P Taylors Colour Printers, The Black Watch (RHR) – twice, which I think may be a record – one school and two clubs…

I have been sacked by experts.

My shortest period of employment was a day and a half, working for Jimmy Lovelock, proprietor of Stockport News Service, owner of the only fornicatorium in Cheshire and the only man to organise an abortion on the National Health, when abortions were not even legal.

Editor of a weekly newspaper in his early twenties, he had been crippled with polio as a child, but nevertheless became a mountaineer, a pot-holer and a member of the expedition that climbed Nuptse, Everest’s smaller sister.

A remarkable man.

Jimmy introduced me to the staff, which took up most of the first day.

The staff was an odd little chap called Mickey. First of all we had to find him, and that was never easy. A year after his arrival no-one knew Mickey’s surname and I don’t think anyone ever found out where he lived.

He was invariably respectful and called Jimmy ‘Master’.

Mickey had a single purpose in life: to discover how millionaires made their first thousand pounds. Their memoirs, said Mickey who had read them all, always included the phrase, ‘with my first thousand pounds I bought…’ but never explained where the thousand pounds came from.

He suspected they had nicked it; but, scorning that as being too easy, he tried dealing. He only really mastered the art of acquiring. Disposal escaped him. To Jimmy’s puzzled chagrin he used the agency’s office as his warehouse. There were racks of clothes of improbable sizes, a job lot of stringless violins picked up for a song, inevitably tuneless, twenty gross of heavily tinselled cards wishing A Happy Xmas for 1948, which he bought in 1951, and other less saleable items.

You could never find a pen there, or even a typewriter; but anyone in need of a stringless violin was easily accommodated.

Next he tried gambling, a curious reversal. Disposing was child’s play. Acquiring he never quite mastered.

He had one suit that he wore to the office, except on the days when he wore a mackintosh, in the hope that ‘Master’ would not notice he wore only a shirt, tie and underpants beneath, having pawned the suit. The gartered socks were a give away.

By the time I arrived Jimmy had taken to paying him by the day.

The second day there I got an out-of-town job; I was after all the only member of staff who could be relied on to turn up in a suit. Wilmslow Magistrates court, which in those days could be reached from Stockport by train, was hardly outer space but Mickey anxiously took me for a couple of pints to stiffen the sinews. One pint led to another and by the time I got on the train I was exhausted, fell into a deep sleep and woke up in Crewe. I had seen enough Hollywood newspaper films to know what to do. I rang Stockport on a transfer charge call and asked Jimmy to wire me my fare back to the office.

I was touched that he went further. He drove all the way to Crewe to collect me. I see now that it gave him a greater opportunity for an in-depth character assessment, but at the time I thought it a charming gesture.

We were nearing Stockport when he ended his assessment.

‘Skiddy,’ he said. ‘We have two options. Either I employ you or we stay friends.’ Again I was very touched, it was my friendship he valued.

He generously paid me for a day and a half but despite the joint urgings of Mickey and myself refused to add the one and a half hours holiday money to which we felt I was entitled. After nearly sixty years the debt remains unpaid, though I have over the years mentioned it many times, even sent bills to his retirement home in Spain. He always cops me a deaf ’un.

In the fullness of time he came to work for me, doing shifts when I ran the night desk on the Sunday Pictorial. I tried to have my holiday pay docked from his shift money, but the linage department was obdurate. No amende honorable, not even when he made a fortune doing night shifts for six nationals outside a vicarage in Cheshire, in case the Vicar of Woodford sneaked back in the night.

In fairness he did bring me a kukri back from Nepal when he climbed Nuptse and I treasure it to this day.

I was especially touched because he was very cross. Picture editor George Harrop and I had sent him a telegram as soon as the news broke of his successful attempt. ‘Is there froth on the top?’ it read, rather cleverly we thought.

We didn’t know that it would take the Sherpa who delivered it three days to climb the mountain.

Mickey? No idea. The last time we met we were having lunch with Lord (Tony) Moynihan when his wife’s tits fell out and somehow, in the excitement of that, I never got round to finding out whether Mickey made his first thousand, but I was pleased to see he was not wearing his raincoat.

It wouldn’t be summer without sighting Lucan

By Sam Leith
Many years ago my late grandfather John Junor – a newspaperman, in his day, of considerable clout – found himself in possession of one of the scoops of his career. He was editing the Sunday Express, when one of his reporters announced that they had been offered the clearest shots yet of the Loch Ness Monster.

It was about this time of year. A pair of lads had been walking by the loch with their Box Brownie, when there she was: Nessie, her majestic plesiosaur neck arching gracefully from the still, silvery waters of the loch. They had the presence of mind, just, to snatch a picture. She was blurry, but she was unmistakably the beast. The camera had not been tampered with.

JJ cleared the front page and prepared to make history. The presses were all but rolling, the Champagne all but open, and the eye of the Sunday Times all but wiped. JJ telephoned his proprietor, Lord Beaverbrook, to trumpet his achievement. He finished his excited monologue, and waited for the congratulations to come. There was a pause.

‘Mr Junor,’ said the Beaver. ‘You must not print this story.’

The Junor jaw dropped. A chill took up residence in his spine. Ping! A single hair on his head turned grey.

‘Pull the story, Mr Junor,’ he repeated.

‘But, but–but-but-’ my late grandfather riposted.

‘Mr Junor. The photograph is a fake.’


‘I know, Mr Junor, that the photograph is a fake,’ continued the thumb-sized Canadian megalomaniac. ‘And do you know how I know? Because, Mr Junor, there is no bloody Loch Ness Monster. Good evening.’

The front page was killed. And the following day, the young men turned out to have been students on rag week.

This story springs annually to mind as I open my morning newspaper in the August sunshine to read about the discovery of a bearded Lord Lucan playing canasta or selling handmade ethnic trinkets in some distant province of the empire; a great white shark being sighted off Cornwall; or a plague of wasps the size of frogs, frogs the size of dogs, or dogs the size of horses.

Would its like take place now? Would Rupert Murdoch ever demand a story be withdrawn from the Sun on the grounds of a conviction that it was, though harmless, untrue? You’d have to wonder.

Would it even matter? When, halfway through the day, it emerged that the ‘Lord Lucan’ the Evening Standard had found was 10 years younger and five inches shorter than the one who disappeared in the 1970s, the newspaper relegated the story from the front page to page three. The implication was that the paper thought these facts may have made it less likely that their man was the missing earl, but didn’t kill the possibility altogether. (My colleague Christopher Howse this week murmured: ‘You know you’re getting older when Lord Lucan starts to look younger.’)

That reminds me, incidentally, of a heavenly cock-up on a Sunday red-top a few years ago. A paparazzo had taken a photograph that was splashed on the front under the headline ‘Who’s The Mystery Blonde With Rod Stewart?’ Then, too late to pull the story altogether, someone noticed that the man in the photo wasn’t Rod Stewart at all. The following morning, readers were invited to wonder: ‘Who’s The Mystery Blonde with the Mystery Blond?’ Genius.

When a television company transposes two pieces of footage in the editing process to make the Queen look grumpy, there are calls for mass seppuku among its executives. Yet when a newspaper finds its umpteenth Lord Lucan, or insists that Jaws is prowling off Padstow, the reaction is no more than a shrug of the shoulders.

I think there’s something slightly subtler than hypocrisy or simple bad faith at work. The reason that there’s no outrage is that nobody is fooling anybody. Do the editors who assemble these confections really believe for a nanosecond these stories are true? I doubt it. Nor do their readers. We are collaborating in a ritual of belief, or at least of the possibility of belief. This newspaper, too, added to the gaiety of nations by reporting the brouhaha surrounding the ‘discovery’ of Lord Lucan.

Something in us enjoys pretending to believe. ‘Silly season’ stories are the comical manifestation of an essentially benevolent instinct: the same instinct that keeps us searching the faces of the customers in the chip shop for Elvis, that keeps many in the Anglican Communion going to church, and that keeps us looking, in Portugal, for a child missing now for 100 days.

This year, I think, I shall be taking a late summer break in my grandfather’s honour, on the banks of Loch Ness. I’ll bring my camera.

Sam Leith is Literary Editor of the Daily Telegraph
[This article first appeared in the Daily Telegraph]

Time travel

It [Time travel] is an intriguing prospect worthy of an H G Wells novel: but, of course, it must be complete rubbish. – Daily Telegraph leader, Aug 9

The Daily Telegraph may dismiss the theory of time travel but the Daily Mirror, when I worked on it, was always prepared to keep an open mind on the subject.

I remember when a reader phoned to say he had invented a time machine that could take anyone back or forward in time.

News editor Dan Ferrari said that was wonderful, and that he would love to see it.

The inventor asked when he should come to the office to discuss his invention and Ferrari told him: ‘Come in and see me - yesterday.’
Revel Barker

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Dempster Memorial - ticket only

A memorial service to celebrate the life of the Daily Mail diarist Nigel Dempster will be held at St Bride's church on October 17.
Attendance will be by ticket only, and applications should be made in writing (by September 2) to the head of corporate affairs at Associated Newspapers, Northcliffe House, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT. - Daily Mail

Friday, August 10, 2007

World exclusive – then fired, TV viewers told

We start again with a Rant. BRIAN BASS, former features editor of the Daily Mirror, watched Anne Robinson telling the paper’s ex-editor Piers Morgan on TV this week how she was ‘effectively’ fired after revealing to the world the secret of Princess Diana’s problem with bulimia.

Her very own world scoop – she had spotted it, and got James Whitaker to stand it up - apparently brought the wrath of the Palace down on the Mirror and she was forced out, she says.

It may have helped justify the programme’s title, You Can’t Fire Me, I’m Famous – but, says Basso, that’s the not way he remembers it.

One of the great advantages of an on-line publication like this that we never enjoyed in real life is the ability to make corrections – in original copy.
Thus we have been able to adjust the date of the first appearance of Andy Capp in the Daily Mirror to August 1957 (we’d had it as 1958); and the News Chronicle cutting of Roy Spicer’s review of West Side Story turned up in a shoe box, so it has been amended. His actual intro was:
‘Slick, sparkling, spectacular, and with some of the most brilliant dancing seen on the English stage, this colourful musical drama has a weakness - its songs. It has no songs to hum or remember.’
You can, should you be so minded, check the revised copy by clicking on Andy Capp or Roy Spicer in the Archive in Column 1.
They now both have the appearance of having been right all along.

Back to the current edition and JOHN GARTON recalls one reporter’s seemingly endless quest – on exes - to find Paradise on earth.
Why are we not surprised that there were jobs like that, when we were working?
It was of course the mad, Mafia-related Generoso Pope who inspired that one. We also have two more loony publishers this week: JOHN IZBICKI recalls being sent to Paris where part of his job was to baby-sit the wife of Lord Kemsley, and EDDIE RAWLINSON recounts his own short stint as a press baron and publican.
Eddie is effectively the godfather of this site, or perhaps a foundling father. He would stagger home around midnight from his local (known as The Clog, because regulars had objected to a name-change that would have had them going into The Queens by the back passage) and file an email rant to a select few old friends. His rants became the basis of Gentlemen Ranters long before it was taken up by a larger (now averaging 200 a day – thank you all for spreading the word) readership. So now he’s gone from Clog to Blog.
And the Westminster Hotel in Rhyl baked a cake for IAN SKIDMORE to celebrate his appointment as night news editor, half-way through coverage of the Mummy in the Cupboard Murders.
Encouraging news, when some of us remember pub landlords who trousered thousands of our fivers and bought up parts of Norfolk without ever buying a round. ‘I’m selling drinks, not giving them away,’ said Bill Pearce when his meanness was remarked upon at the bar of The Stab.
Elsewhere KEN ASHTON recalls the days when he was winningly fleet of foot but snapper ALBERT COOPER protests that he couldn’t keep pace with a winning racehorse (carrying the camera bag was his handicap, apparently), and picture editor ALUN JOHN books a rabbit into business class to gain asylum from Colonel Gaddafi’s Libya.
All human –and some furry – life is here.
As are some new and hopefully interesting LINKS, new LETTERS and a new section called The Spike for items that don’t otherwise have a natural home.
Find them all by scrolling down or clicking on the Archive references and by-lines at top left.
Comments and letters (and contributions) please, to

As we go to, er press, we learn that regular contributor IAN SKIDMORE is about to have his 26th book, Kyffin, published in time for Christmas.
This is the ‘unpublished’ work referred to in his letter this week, commenting on our story about the Queen Mum in last week’s posting.


By Brian Bass
Could it be that the years of non-drinking have started to wipe clean the memory banks of winking Anne Robinson?

She appeared on Piers Morgan’s BBC 1 chat show on Tuesday claiming she had been sacked from the Mirror - after dire representations from the Palace - because she dared to break the story, on the one night she was editing the paper, of Princess Di’s bulimia.

We old hacks who were there at the time, and have not let non-drinking befuddle our brains, remember no such event.

We do remember, however, the Sunday when Annie was editing (she was never, as she claimed on TV, ‘number 3’ at the Mirror – Richard Stott and Terry Lancaster were both higher in the pecking order), and against all back bench advice she insisted on splashing on a story about how Persil wrecked your washing machine. Persil were not amused and proved the story to have been blown out of all context.

Nor did she then disappear to television as the programme insisted, but continued for some years to write her weekly Mirror column. She later decamped briefly for The Sun and even later The Daily Telegraph before becoming the world-wide star of TV that we all now love.

Considering the whole basis of the programme was bollocks, it doesn’t say a great deal for the investigative talents of Piers, either.

Paradise found...

By John Garton
If you’ve been reading Ranters regularly, you’ve already enjoyed several tales of the larger-than-life Generoso Pope, founder of the American supermarket tabloids and boss of the
National Enquirer.

I was a late Brit arrival on the American tabloids in Florida and as news editor of the National Examiner I inherited an ex-Enquirer reporter, John Harris, a soft-spoken Carolina mountain man who always brought me a jar of his family’s lethal ‘Carolina Moon’ concoction whenever he returned from his annual jaunt to his relatives up in the backwoods.

John was modest man and not one to boast of any past achievements. But he had a reputation for one particular assignment and he eventually told me the whole amazing story.

At the height of the Enquirer’s success John was hired by one of its editors from his news beat in Cincinatti for a special job. It was one of Pope’s brainwave ideas that his editors and reporters were expected to make a reality.

This one was a doozy. Pope wanted to find Paradise. The Enquirer would reveal this nirvana to its adoring readers.

John was fully briefed for his monumental task. Pope’s editors compiled a long list of exotic places round the world that they thought were likely to match Pope’s idea of paradise... Madeira, Hawaii, Bora Bora, the Seychelles, Fiji, Bali and many more.

After a lot of planning John was dispatched on his round-the-world quest, pockets full of Pope plastic and cash.

Arriving at each port of call, John inspected it carefully, spoke to local experts and eventually filed his piece to the anxiously awaiting Pope executives in Lantana, the Enquirer’s base in south Florida. The big guns examined it, pulled it apart, put it back together again and made their judgment that this place was or wasn’t paradise. They’d then pass it to the boss or they’d spike it.

Whatever happened, it was a long drawn-out process that caused the editors and Pope a lot of heartache and several editors’ heads rolled when they didn’t toe Pope’s line.

Meanwhile, the intrepid Harris pressed on. The journey took many months, hours of writing, editing, Pope rages and lots more besides. Every time Pope was presented with a Shangri-la candidate he declined it and Harris was urged on to yet another stunning destination. John, of course, was having the time of his life.

Eventually he reached some heavenly Pacific island and Harris thought he’d cracked it. No doubt about it...this was Paradise. He meticulously composed his magic words. The Lantana editors received them and their excitement mounted. They went through the copy over and over again and agreed that this was The One. They confidently strode off to Pope’s office and presented the big man with the precious copy, declaring:

‘This is it, Gene.’

Pope sat back to read while the editors waited anxiously, praying that this was the end of it all and the boss would be delighted.

He finished reading and agreed that yes, this was it, run it. Huge sighs of relief and smiles and the editors retreated from the inner sanctum.

As they were leaving Pope called after them: ‘By the way, how did we get Harris’ copy?’

‘By phone,’ they chorused.

‘What?’ said Pope, ‘By phone? Kill it. Ain’t no phones in paradise...’

End of story. Harris was summoned home. Not one word of his worldwide odyssey was ever printed in the Enquirer.
Former Daily Mirror journalist and publicity man John Garton eventually left the US tabloids, ‘went straight’ on a Florida daily and is now happily retired in his own paradise in St Augustine, Florida.

Race issues

By Ken Ashton
It’s a small world, as we like to say when we are stuck for an intro.
Graeme Huston, editor in chief of a group of newspapers in South Yorkshire, emailed to say he’d spotted our rants and picked up – well-spotted! – the fact that Skidmore and I had once graced (should that be dis-graced?) the fair town of Doncaster and requested from each of us some memories.
Mine were sporting and Skidmore and I could be read reliving the good old days in the Doncaster Free Press last weekend (August 3).
Inspired by that, I delved again with this gem, which has links to sport and newspapers, with a toast to an old editor and Peter Keeling, who splashed my success in the Manchester Evening News and caused me some embarrassment…
The night Dad and I were arrested had all the elements of pure farce. We go back to the 1950s, when I was running like the wind as an amateur athlete in Lancashire and a budding journalist. Dad, who had been a marathon man in his own young days, was my trainer, bag man, adviser and masseur.
In those golden days of real amateurism, there were athletics meetings all over the country, organised by businesses, councils, even the police. One of the biggest on the running calendar was Manchester City Police Sports, staged at the old White City stadium.
In that glorious summer, I had been winning everything I entered and, as a result, was down for the 100 and 220 yards – long before metres – in this prestigious event. But on this occasion, there was a snag. This was a Wednesday evening meeting and I was working as sports editor on the Manchester City News and the event clashed with press night.
I did the unforgivable. I left my running gear in a left luggage locker at Manchester’s Piccadilly station, complained of stomach ache around mid-afternoon, was allowed to go early, grabbed a sandwich and met Dad at the White City gates.
Four hours later, I had won both events and was on the way home from Manchester to St Helens by train. We didn’t own a car. Dad, a carpenter by trade, had his bag of tools, I had my bag of running gear and a guilty conscience to go with the euphoria of winning.
One prize was a tea-trolley, the other a canteen of cutlery. I also had prizes team-mates had won and wished to exchange, as they were ‘doubles’. I’d volunteered to take them back to the prize secretary the following day. So I was loaded with goods…
We left the last train at St Helens Shaw Street station and started the thee-mile walk home. Now the way home was via a road known as Croppers Hill – and it was steep. As I puffed and dragged aching legs up the hill, Dad’s tool bag on the bottom shelf of the tea-trolley with a watch and clock – my friends’ prizes - and my running kit on the top, a policeman the size of a Welsh prop forward stepped out of an alleyway.
‘’Ello, ’ello, ’ello. What’s all this then?’ I let go of the trolley, which ran down the hill, scattering Dad’s tools, goodies and cutlery in its wake. We were on hands and knees picking up cutlery and sorting out hammers, chisels and saws by streetlight, the policeman standing hands on hips and handcuffs at the ready. Dad was spluttering explanations and I was trembling with fright.
And, of course, when the bobby asked where we had got the cutlery and what we were doing with tools, my explanation that I’d won them – and at a police force sports event – was met with raucous laughter. We had a laughing policeman.
They also laughed at the cop shop, before phoning Manchester police to confirm the story. We got home around 2.30am and were back on the Manchester train the following morning at 8.0am.
I shuffled into work, was greeted with sympathy because I still didn’t look well and, red-faced, said I felt somewhat better. I did…until the Manchester Evening News hit the office around mid-day.
There, on the back page, was a photograph of yours truly winning the 100 yards in style. Complete with glowing write-up from my friend Peter Keeling. Ernie McCormack’s voice boomed my name… He let me off with a caution and I never missed another press night.
A week later and we are at our local track for St Helens Police Sports and I’m down to run the 100 and 220. The 100 was a runaway for my old mate Sammy Clemson, but the 220 was a doddle for me. I may have started as back marker, but I scuttled through the heats and semi-final and nicked the final by a stride at the tape.
I strolled up later to collect first prize, a luxurious rose-coloured eiderdown, something my mother had had her eye on as she inspected the prizes. The burly guy handing it over gave me one of those looks, as recognition dawned. ‘Go straight home with that,’ he grinned.
This prize steward was the copper who’d stepped out of the alley on that tea-trolley night.
Joe Humpreys, Mirror rugby league writer, was at that meeting. A week later, the Mirror offered me a sports subbing job… I hit Withy Grove running.

Give ’em two 10x8s and they want a mile

By Albert Cooper
What is it that makes sports editors think photographers are super-human?

When I joined the Sun as northern sports photographer in 1965, one of my first horse racing assignments was to photograph the start of the flat season, the Lincolnshire handicap, at Doncaster Racecourse.

I stood by the winning post and photographed the winners of the first two races. Then walked the mile back to the start to capture the required ‘start of the first flat classic’.

I was very pleased with they way things had gone, and rushed off to do my Sterling Moss driving bit, to get the film back to the Manchester office as quickly as possible in a 1100cc Ford Popular – as photographers did, in those days.

Back in the Oxford Road office, I took the results of my labour to the sports desk, and proudly laid my prints, one by one, in front of the sports editor. A good sharp picture of the winning horse passing the post, in the first race, and a similar one of the winner of the second.

Then my masterpiece, my photograph of the start with the horses as they leapt forward to take their place under the traditional back page headline, ‘They’re off!’

No compliments, just dismay on the face of the sports editor, as he said, ‘Templegate had the treble today. Where’s the photograph of the winner passing the post to win the third race?’

To which I replied: ‘I couldn't keep up with it! Carrying the camera kept slowing me down…’

Thursday, August 9, 2007


Richard Stott
Understandably, there have been quite a few email criticisms of the Daily Telegraph Richard Stott obit. ‘Mean-spirited’ and ‘snidey’ are two of the descriptions that come to mind. It was also inaccurate.
To describe Richard as Maxwell’s protégé was an insult. And Maxwell did NOT appoint Richard to the editorship of the Sunday People - Tony Miles did that, on January 14th, 1984.
Maxwell didn’t arrive at the Mirror until six months later and I remember a leader written by Richard during that time, signalling his opposition to the looming Maxwell takeover. Hardly the action of a man waiting to welcome his patron!
Fortunately, all the other obit writers recognised the real Richard Stott and the true nature of the stormy Stott-Maxwell relationship. But there are people out there who read only the Daily Telegraph and two of them are my friends. When they commented on that obit the day after its publication I guided them to the Gentleman Ranters version.
Playing a small part in putting the record straight made me feel just a little better. - Allan Davies
[See LINKS for other Stott obituaries]
Talking of Obits (Richard Stott, July 30), anybody recall that Cudlipp got Aneurin Bevan to write a 3,000 word obit on Churchill for the Daily Mirror?
Bevan died first.
The Mirror, with the most convoluted piece of reasoning you ever saw or heard about, printed the Churchill obit on Bevan’s demise as part of his own obit.
From memory the strap said something like ‘How great the man was is shown here in his appraisal of Churchill’s life, a man whose politics he hated but whose ability he admired.’ – John Edwards
Your stories of the Queen Mum (The Queen and I, Revel Barker, last issue) reminded me that my greatest failure - apart from booze - as a reporter was that I failed to stand up a story told me by Sir Kyffin Williams RA.
He claimed that the QM was the daughter of a Welsh servant by the Earl of Strathmore. Kyffin, who was a bit of a snob, knew more about aristocratic scandals than Dempster had dreamed about. When I wrote his – as yet unpublished - biography I checked some of the more alarming ones out and found they were true.
The only printed reference I have seen was in Kitty Kelley’s book, Royalty, but there were all sorts of interesting clues. We all know of the mystery that surrounds her birthplace and her christening and how the Earl was fined for not registering it. Less widely known was the nickname the Windsors gave her. It was ‘Cookie’ and she was incandescent when they gave the name to one of their dogs.
In one of his diaries James Lees Milne recalls a conversation he overheard between them when the Queen told the Queen Mother, ‘The difference between us is that I was born royal.’
When I interviewed Lees Milne I taxed him about it but he said he had no memory of writing it.
I was consoled and flattered that in the last days of his life he found time to mention me kindly in what proved to be his posthumous diary.
Revel claims to be one of the two pressmen to whom the QM spoke.
Inadvertently she spoke to many more. I remember a story when I was on the Mirror and the Royal Yacht was cruising round the Highlands. For some reason the ship to shore radio from Britannia was on the same wavelength as the trawler fleet. The trawlermen - of all people - complained at the bad language the QM used when talking on the line.
The Daily Record listened in to a man, I with admiration.
I do not seek to denigrate her. I have loved her since I covered a royal visit to Manchester in the very early fifties and noticed how as she walked along a line of waiting dignitaries she always gave a quick glance at the photographers to make sure they were all in position.
…Unlike the Duke of Edinburgh who has rightly been called the most upwardly mobile Greek since Icarus. I had the temerity to ask him at Oulton Park during a polo game what he had scored.
‘Who is fucking counting?’ he replied.
Tommy Lyons, whom heaven preserve, said ‘If the c**t is going to talk to you like that, don’t tell him that a dog has just pissed in his hat.’
Tommy rarely took photographs as a matter of principle; but I recall the Express had one of the luckless Prince with dog piss rolling down his face.
May I say how flattered I am to find myself in such august ranting company. - Ian Skidmore

Rabbit stew

By Alun John
When Colonel Gaddafi broke off relations with the UK, all our diplomats had been recalled, together with their families. As with all expats, there was a lot of personal stuff to get home. One thing that couldn’t be brought home, however, was one family’s pet rabbit. It was going to be left behind to the mercies of the populace of the people’s republic of Libya.
‘We will rescue the rabbit,’ announced a confident Stewart Steven at the Mail on Sunday’s Tuesday conference.
The chosen rescuer was my old friend Keith Waldegrave. He was sent first to Paris to arrange a visa as we had no means of getting a Libyan visa in London, and then onward to Tripoli. He arrived safely, found the family and called with the news that the family members actually weren’t that bothered about the fate of the wretched rabbit after all. In fact, they were quite happy to leave it behind. This, of course, was not what Stewart wanted to hear – so I didn’t tell him.
Waldegrave was told to persuade the family and find a vet to provide the rabbit with the necessary papers and injections for travel. It also needed a flying case. Things went well and the rabbit was ready to fly by Friday.
Stewart was becoming more excited by the day. We had pictures of the rabbit in the garden of its Tripoli home and with the little girl that looked after it, and Waldegrave was booked on the Paris flight. Stewart was pacing the floor on Friday as take-off time neared. He went into deep conversation with John Butterworth on how best to display this latest exclusive gem.
Then I took a phone call and on a crackly line Waldegrave could be heard from Tripoli airport. Major problem. The airline was adamant the cage be placed in the hold. Keith was concerned that the rabbit, which had already been disturbed enough, would not survive the flight. I told him to insist the rabbit came into the cabin with him. No way, said the airline, it was cargo.
I told Keith to buy the rabbit a ticket and then it could fly on the seat next to him. Cellists did it all the time for their delicate instruments. A few moments pause and he reported the rabbit had successfully been bought a business class seat on the plane.
I also forgot to mention this slight hiccup to Stewart and he retreated to his office to busy himself with something else.
The flight went well. I don’t know what the rabbit was offered for lunch, but at least it didn’t actually become lunch. Keith carried it off in Paris, and then on another short hop (pardon me) to Gatwick, where the rabbit was placed in six weeks’ quarantine.
Stewart was delighted with the story. It made both the Front and the spread. We ran a competition to give the rabbit a new home and a new name and it made the paper once again. Following this, however, Stewart quite rightly lost interest – and threatened me with rabbit pie if I ever suggested a follow up on the anniversary of the flight.
The Mail on Sunday went from strength to strength and the circulation climbed. It was a great place to work, with exclusives thick on the ground and no lack of resources. However, I didn’t always make the best use of them.
Another week in charge, but this time things weren’t going well. Not much about and continuous pressure to produce. Stewart demanded to know on the Friday afternoon what I had in mind for page one and again, in a flash, I answered back with an instinctive idea. ‘The Princess of Wales will go into hospital to have her baby tonight’ I blurted out. Peals of laughter from the rest at the conference.
I came out of the meeting and called Lynne Hilton, a persistent girl photographer, and sent her to ‘doorstep’ St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, where the Princess was booked in. I finished the day, went home and waited. I got up in the morning and drove my usual route along the elevated section of the M40 in west London. Just as I got to the stretch where you can see the hospital, on cue came the news on the radio that the Princess had been safely delivered of a son in the night. ‘YES!’ I shouted and punched the air. Into the office and a warm glow at having made a good decision. In came the Back Bench and geared themselves up for a chance to be nice to the picture desk for a change. Everyone was positive, everything was fine.
Well, not everything.
I hadn’t actually spoken to Lynne yet. This was in the days well before mobile phones and I would have to wait to hear from her when she called in. She called. I answered. ‘What had it made?’ I asked. ‘What could you see? What did you get?’
‘Nothing,’ came the crushing reply. She had not seen the Princess arrive. She had been there all alone and simply could not be watching every possible entrance at once. Not her fault. Entirely mine. I should have backed my hunch fully and put more people on it. There would have been no problem putting six photographers there, but I just hadn’t backed my instinct. My mistake, pure and simple – and no excuses.
When the Back Bench heard this there was no holding them in their weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. It was the longest Saturday I have ever endured. Thereafter every time there was the slightest query about a picture it finished with: ‘If we haven’t missed this one as well!’ It was no consolation that all the other papers had missed it. That simply was not good enough.
Stewart, to his credit, later did offer a sympathetic word to me quietly in the corridor. I wouldn’t do that again though. If a story is worth covering, it’s worth covering properly.
After the Mail on Sunday Alun John became picture editor of The Independent, assistant editor of The European, and later managing director of Syndication International. He has been described by Private Eye
as: ‘A fat, red faced Welshman ceaselessly gorging himself on an endless round of awards dinners and lunches.’
There’s more of his memories of Fleet Street in the Eighties at

Mummy in cupboard, budgie in cage

By Ian Skidmore
I hate sharing rooms. In PR, in the army, I shared a room with a chap who was called, not unfairly, ‘Filthy Sykes’. Admirable in many ways, he amassed a collection of single socks, all indescribably dirty, that would have had any decent incinerator retching with desire. They festooned every surface, door top, window frame and light fitting in the room and made cosy nests on most surfaces.
After the army, Sykes went to work for a newspaper in Canada and died, which is as near as life gets to an oxymoron.
My greatest regret, however, is the night I shared a room in the Westminster Hotel reporting on the ‘Mummy in the Cupboard Murders’ in Rhyl, with Terry Stringer.
I hasten to point out that Terry was the most fastidious of men, whose carefully matched and laundered socks were beyond reproach.
It was an unlucky room. I had it to myself before Stringer arrived and it was the scene of bitter humiliation.
From Rhyl I was sentenced to being Northern Night News Editor of the Mirror, an experience much worse than my earlier incarceration in an army prison.
The assembled reporters gave me a dinner and the management of the hotel were so pleased with us, they baked me a cake. Understandable - we had spent more behind the bar than they had taken in bookings, so far that season.
The cake was topped by a tasteful mummy, wrapped in embalming clothes in a marzipan coffin.
One day I hope to identify the guest who sold the story - ‘shocked hotel guests appalled by gruesome cake’ - to a Sunday paper.
During the dinner I sat next to a lady who had set up a slimming couch in one of the suites. When you lay face down on its moving panels, it gave erotic sensations of such intensity the late Tommy Cooper of the Daily Telegraph wanted to get engaged to it.
The lady asked if there was anything I regretted about leaving the road and I said, yes there was. I said everyone else came back from out of town jobs with tales of love making that would make your hair curl.
Me? Nowt.
She said well I will tell you what. After dinner go off to your bedroom and as soon as I can I will join you.
So I did. I bought a bottle of wine, I put on my silk dressing gown, scattered Old Spice about the room like May Blossom and waited.
She arrived.
I leapt into bed.
She followed.
Then she whispered in my ear. ‘You will have to hurry up. I am meeting (name deleted) at midnight.’
The last week on the road wore on. Terry Stringer was sent out to take over and we had to share rooms. Naturally I gave him most of the work and I spent my last days wandering about Rhyl hurling gold coins at stall holders, winning teddy bears, sticks of rock and on the last Sunday, a budgie.
In a plastic cage. .
I was sitting at a bar table in the Westminster chatting idly with the budgie when we were joined by Reg Jones of the Daily Mirror.
‘What’s that?’
‘It’s an ostrich,’ I said with heavy irony.
‘No. The cage. It’s disgusting. The poor bird can hardly move. You want to get it a decent cage.’
‘Its Sunday, the pet shops are closed.’
‘Then find out the home address of one and get him to open his shop.’
So I did. It wasn’t easy. But I did.
‘Now are you satisfied,’ I said.
‘No’ he said. ‘It’s got nothing to play with. Budgies like little mirrors and see-saws and bells they can ring with their beaks’
‘It’s Sunday and I am not getting the poor bugger out again. He’ll be having his dinner.’
‘Use your initiative. Go to an amusement arcade and win them on one of those grab cranes.’
So I changed a fiver into low dimension coinage, went to the amusement arcade, found a grab crane that offered various novelties on a hillock of liquorice torpedoes, and set to work. Winning nothing but grabs full of liquorice torpedoes
I had amassed enough torpedoes to sink the German navy when I felt a tap on my shoulder.
I turned round and saw a man in a brown dust coat. At first I took him to be the Mayor of Blackpool. But it wasn’t a chain of office he had round his neck; it was a string of keys.
He questioned me abruptly and I explained I was trying to win some toys for my budgie.
Pushing me to one side, he opened a window in the machine and collected a variety of plastic toys, thrust them in my hand and said,
‘Now piss off and give these kids a chance.’
For the first time I noticed the queue of impatient children, clutching their pennies
That night in its palatial cage, surrounded by toys, the budgie passed a sleepless night.
I had to wake Stringer twice to complain that his snores were keeping my budgie awake and the next day I had to tell the desk to recall him. It was the only way the budgie could get a decent night’s sleep.
Two days after I got it home the budgie was eaten by the cat.
I think it was the cat. But, in those days, I had a very funny wife…
More Skidmore memories at:

The Spike

nibs, snippets, odds and sods…

The power of the Press...?
The Times, November 28, 2006
Missionary position
Sir, Now that Mr Blair has expressed regret about Britain's involvement in the slave trade, is any nation going to apologise for eating our missionaries?
Gozo, Malta GC
Now see:;jsessionid=NBGJ100S5I4EJQFIQMGSFF4AVCBQWIV0?xml=/news/2007/08/16/wpapua116.xml
Congratulations to young James Mellor who has been poached from the Sunday Telegraph newsdesk by Colin Myler to become news editor at the News of the World.
He follows in the footsteps of his father Phil Mellor, the legendary deskman at the Sunday Mirror – a man who’s been around so long some of his bylines are in Latin.
But has there been a mix-up at Wapping? Mellor senior has been telling chums: ‘Colin wanted me, but I’m too young!’ – Axegrinder, Press Gazette

When the Daily Express sent the dark presence of one Peter Baker - a powerful and fearsome name at the time – to Manchester office he was received in the news room by Geoff Brennand.
Who are you? – ‘I am Peter Baker, from London office.’
What are you doing here? – ‘I've come to organise things.’
Good. Then would you organise me a cup of tea? - GM
William Randolph Hearst, always in search of sensational stories, once sent a telegram to a leading astronomer: ‘Is there life on Mars?’ it read. ‘Please cable 1000 words.’
The astronomer’s reply - ‘Nobody knows’ - repeated 500 times. - KA
PERKY reporter Amy Jacobson, who worked for Chicago's NBC station WMAQ-TV and also does stories for Today, has been ‘let go’ by the windy city station after videotapes showed her in a bikini at the home of a woman whose mysterious disappearance she was covering. Tapes made by rival CBS station WBBM showed Jacobson at the backyard pool of Lisa Stebic, who vanished on April 30. She was with Stebic's estranged husband, Craig, whom police have questioned in the case. Neighbors told WBBM that Jacobson has visited the Stebic house ‘frequently’ since she began covering the story. - AB
One of Cudlipp’s first jobs as a reporter on the Penarth News was to cover a performance of Handel’s Messiah by the local choir. Though he knew nothing about the Messiah he just managed to scrape together 2,000 learned words by diligent research in Grove’s Dictionary of Music. But his editor had asked for no fewer than 3,000 words. Cudlipp had an inspiration. Opening a new paragraph he wrote: ‘The names of the choir were…’ His editor was delighted. - KA
Find more from The Spike, in the Archive

Memories of an Empire

By John Izbicki
Shortly before I was sent to cover France for Kemsley Newspapers by Ian Fleming, then foreign editor of this powerful empire, one of its segments managed to lose a major libel action – all because the owner’s wife was sickened by the sight of a bull’s penis.
Lady Kemsley, with whom I was to become closely acquainted, was in the habit of visiting ‘her’ newspaper offices at 200 Grays Inn Road on Saturdays, when the Sundays – Sunday Times, Empire News and Sunday Graphic – were being busily put to bed. As she passed by the Graphic’s picture desk, her eyes pounced on that of a magnificent bull. ‘What is zees?’ she demanded, pointing at the bull’s superb protuberance.
‘It’s a prize bull, m’lady,’ the flunky at the desk informed her. ‘It won first prize at the Smithfield Show today, ma’am.’
‘And you intend zees to go into my newspepper? Jamais! Jamais!’ Lady K, who hailed from Mauritius and spoke with a thick French accent (her otherwise excellent French miraculously had distinct traces of an English accent) expressed her shock-horror at the prospect of such a picture finding its way into the pepper at all.
Her reaction was immediately transmitted to the editor, who was not to be ordered about by the proprietor’s silly wife. Instead of spiking the bull, he ordered it to be ‘slightly adjusted’. Out came the paintbrush and with a gentle stroke, the beast was, well, emasculated.
When on the following day the ‘prize bull’ made its appearance, the picture became a red rag to its owner. The farmer, who had been expecting thousands of pounds for his animal, sued – and won more than £40,000 – a fortune in the mid-Fifties.
Gomer Berry – the first Viscount Kemsley – who had built up his newspaper empire from scratch, was not a happy man but he loved his wife deeply and would not have a word said against her. Instead, he took her to Paris where he booked a suitable suite at the Ritz Hotel in the Place Vendôme – which is where I got to know her.
I shared an office with Stephen Coulter, who was the Sunday Times man in Paris while I looked after the rest of the Kemsley empire, ranging from the Sunday Graphic and the Sunday Empire News to the scores of provincials that served so many towns and cities throughout the UK. The office was immediately opposite the Ritz, which, to my misfortune, was found to be ‘handy’.
‘Ah, Izbicki, glad to find you in…’ one of my very first telephone calls greeted me. The gruff Welsh lilt continued: ‘Lord Kemsley here. Come over will you? You’re new so I’d better get to know you.’ He hung up, leaving me totally perplexed. I was young and at that time didn’t know whether to stand to attention (I had done my National Service just before starting in newspapers) or panic. Come over? Where’s ‘over’? I had no idea. Luckily, Steve came to the rescue and pointed out the Ritz. He thought the whole episode amusing and wished me luck.
Kemsley was an elderly highly imposing figure of a man. During my first brief interview, Edith Kemsley lounged on a sofa in the background and said nothing. My employer sat behind a small table, drinking tea. I was not invited to sit but received my instructions standing almost to attention.
‘Now listen,’ the Welsh lilt said. ‘Each morning when you get to the office, I want you to bring the day’s papers over here, addressed to Lady Kemsley, so she can read them. All right? That’s all the English daily papers, Telegraph, Times, Mail and so on – oh, even the Manchester Guardian. Right? Also some of the French papers – Figaro, Le Monde, France Soir etc. Then, before you leave the office in the evening I want you to telephone and ask Lady Kemsley if there’s anything she needs. Right? Good. Well, goodbye…’
I was somewhat dumbstruck but managed to think sufficiently to say: ‘Yes, Sir, thank you, Sir – but what if I happen to be away from the office?’
‘Away from the office?’ The Welsh lilt had taken on a kind of Lady Bracknell rasp.
‘Well, Sir, I am supposed to be reporting for the Group…’
‘Ah, yes, quite forgot. You’re quite right to mention it young man. Well, in that case, of course, you can’t phone from your office. But the papers. These you’ll have to make arrangements to have them delivered here to Lady Kemsley. Right? Good. Well, goodbye again.’ I was dismissed. But, just as I had reached the door, he called out: ‘Oh, Izbicki, one more thing. The bill for the papers. You’ll pay that and put it on your expenses. Right?’
Much later, Lady K became ill. During her travels, she had started to suffer from severe headaches. In Switzerland she was operated on and a nerve was severed. I never knew which particular nerve but it was obviously the wrong one, as the operation had left her face partially paralysed and still painful.
She used to call me over for a chat and a drink when I was not too busy and I found her a charming old woman. She would always offer me a dry martini (shaken, not stirred, as my boss’s character, James Bond, would have said). It was the only drink she knew. But she was clearly in pain and once asked me to find someone to help her.
‘Please, Monsieur Eesbeekee, please try to find this man for me,’ she said and handed me a slip of paper with a scribbled message: ‘Jean-Louis Bonsard – Magnetiseur’. It did not take me long to locate Monsieur Bonsard and to explain his task to him. He was only too delighted to come to the Ritz and help Her Ladyship regain her strength with his little magnet.
The visit turned into something akin to a Georges Feydeau farce. As Bonsard sat on Lady K’s bed, gently swinging his magnet from side to side across her face, her Austrian maid Riesa, stormed into the room. ‘M’lady, Professor Lévy has arrived for his appointment. He is in the next room.’
There was no way out for Monsieur Bonsard. But, being French and used to every possible embarrassment, he calmly put his magnet in his pocket, looked round the room and opened the door of an inbuilt wardrobe. He entered, waving Edith Kemsley a fond farewell, and closed the door. Professor Lévy, one of France’s most eminent neurologists, was able to enter and entertain Her Ladyship to his well known bedside manner for some 20 minutes, give her a piqûre, and depart. Monsieur Bonsard, sweating profusely, exited, stumbled back to Lady K’s bedside and, with a weak smile, resumed his magnetism.
I often felt sorry for Gomer, Lord Kemsley, for his wife (she was his second; his first, Mary Holmes, died in 1928) did not altogether treat him well or return his profound love. Often, when he entered the suite at the Ritz, she would pretend to be fast asleep and he would eventually leave the room on tiptoe as not to disturb her.
Once he was in London lunching with his great friend, Max Beaverbrook, owner of the Express group. Lord Beaverbrook told Gomer that he was anxious to get rid of his Bermuda villa. ‘I’ll buy it from you,’ said Gomer and took out his chequebook. ‘How much d’you want?’ I do not recall the price but one was rapidly agreed and after lunch both men drove to Max’s solicitor who drew up the relevant papers.
When Lord K returned to Paris and the Ritz, he gently awakened his wife. ‘Edith…Edith, my love,’ he said gently. ‘I have a little present for you.’ And he drew the Beaverbrook deeds from his pocket and handed them to her.
When they visited the villa for the first time, he immediately executed one vital change. He went to a carpenter and had a special board made. The name of the villa was altered to: Kemsley House.
Sad, for the many other Kemsley House signs around Britain were soon to be destroyed following the sale of Gomer’s empire to Roy Thomson in 1959.
But before that sale was completed and to show his gratitude for my help over the past three-plus years, Kemsley phoned me. ‘Ah, Izbicki. Come and join Lady Kemsley and me for lunch. Book us a table at Maxim’s – and ask them to give us one that’s private. You understand?’ Of course. Edith didn’t want people to see her looking the way she did. After all, she was born Edith de Plessis, one of the nobler families of Mauritius. She was a proud woman.
The lunch was a good one, even though everything I wanted to order I had to abandon. ‘Twenty-five minutes waiting for that dish,’ the waiter would whisper each time and I ended up with poulet à la crème, a course I could have eaten at any little bistro.
At the end of that enjoyable ‘thank you’ session, M’Lord turned to me and said: ‘You’ll take care of the bill, won’t you dear boy? If you’ve not got the cash, I’ll lend it to you. But I want this to go on your expenses…’
Ah, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…
John Izbicki started in journalism at the Manchester Evening Chronicle as a graduate trainee on the day he was demobbed from National Service. He was sent to France for Kemsleys for three months but stayed three years. He later worked for the Daily Telegraph for 23 years -- three as deputy industrial correspondent, 17 as its education editor and three as head of its Paris office. He wrote a column on education for the Independent and still writes columns for Education Journal.

Pubs and Publishing

By Edward Rawlinson
Many have sat back and thought how nice it would be to run their own pub, others have day-dreamed about going into publishing.
Without a thought of the pitfalls of running a pub or dreaming what it would be like to publish a paper I plunged into both at the same time: I went into a pub and established a small publishing business.
After moving from the editorial department into the publicity department of the Daily Express, Manchester, and becoming northern publicity manager I realised management certainly didn’t work like editorial. They had a different attitude to my previous way of life with the clock an important piece of office furniture and having a warm meal at home around 6.00pm was part of everyday life.
I should imagine it would have been a similar experience had I worked in some local council office.
After a second successful year in publicity, although suffering with a few scars to my back, I decided to take up an offer from the managing director of a brewery and be landlord of one of their better pubs. With a family to feed it needed some serious thought but the management job hadn't worked out and I wanted a move. My wife and three small children could still enjoy living in a similar tree-lined environment to the one they would have to leave.
I would then be able to plan what had always been my life long ambition, to go into print and publish a successful free motoring paper. In 1965 it would be a first as no publication was concentrating on people who were investing in a motor car for the first time.
There were the well established paid for and expensive glossy magazines but something was needed to advertise affordable wheels for the working man. A free paper distributed in petrol stations, car showrooms and of course my favourite distribution point, the pub.
I had already formulated my plans when at the Daily Express while coping with fashion shows, contents bills, grocer's exhibitions, advertising layouts and general promotions and a staff of eight. I said my farewell with a memorable send off, not by management, but from my old mates in editorial
When finally in the pub I soon realised that having to organise beer, wines and spirits, lunchtime catering, three full time staff with another fifteen part timers at the weekend and all the unseen extras I was dragging my feet.
The main plan of going into print was well behind schedule. After a year my free motoring weekly paper was launched and I remember the gathering with our printer, our advertising man - who was a retired motor trader and knew all the garage owners - the manager of the Odeon cinema who was to arrange circulation, and myself with four of the pub part time staff helping out in distribution. What a team.
Three thousand copies was our first print run and the distribution went well although I did find copies being used as wrapping paper in of all places the chip shop opposite my pub. The manager of the Odeon, our acting circulation manager, was the suspect as he had reneged on his promise to give out papers when the audience left his cinema. He had dropped off some copies into shops that were open after the cinema closed and it was an error of judgment he confessed later in a ‘after time’ editorial conference.
Our advertising manager (the ex-motor trader) was doing well through his contacts and I think it helped him by being a freemason. Business was booming, except the accounts and payment for advertising did not equal out.
The pub had a very good clientele, it was in a posh part of Rochdale and one of the customers was our bank manager. He sorted out the accounting side of the business by recruiting a retired employee from his bank and everything was then on a straight run. Money wasn’t rolling in but it started to trickle through the front door and we were in profit.
During the day my wife looked after running the catering side and we had a nanny for the three children, our daughter the youngest was eighteen months old. She had only just learned to go down stairs from our living quarters and with an open door being a big temptation she sneaked out and ran towards the busy main road.
When about to cross the road fortunately she was caught by a motorist when he saw her standing at the road side. Neither my wife nor the staff had any idea she was out until the driver returned with her to the pub. The culprit was a cleaner who had left the safety door wide open.
That was it. Following what could have been a fatal accident the pub was of no interest and with my wife becoming more worried about the safety of our children, despite having a nanny we decided to quit. One thing we learnt in those two years was you can’t run a pub and care for your children. Motoring Gazette was doing well and by quitting the pub we would have to look for some place in which to live so I decided to run the paper and work as a freelance photographer.
Ron Ashurst, an old friend, offered me work at the Daily Mirror and a customer who owned the Rochdale Advertiser came out of the blue and made a very good offer for Motoring Gazette. It had run for more than a year and as there was a house to buy his money would come in handy for me to ‘go private’ as they say in the pub trade. The money offered by the Daily Mirror to work for them as a freelance was far greater than I had expected. Of course I regret getting rid of Motoring Gazette and with many free motoring magazines about now, more glossy with much larger circulation figures, forty two years ago it was a first in its field .
Twenty years on I was then Picture Editor of the northern Daily Mirror and my son Peter had become a journalist. After three years working for a local paper he started a national freelance news agency we took over a successful print shop with further ideas of producing a free paper. The first edition was in its embryo stages when he asked me would I mind if he took a job offered to him on a motoring magazine. It was quite a shock as I was about to live again those earlier years and my ideas of becoming a mini press baron went out the door with the staff and printing machinery.
His move South worked out well and instead of collecting adverts from Bury, Rochdale, Bolton and Burnley and keeping northerners, now wearing their baseball caps back to front, informed about expensive wheels he is doing it worldwide.
Maybe I did the right thing by saying to hell with pubs and publishing.
I had only one memorable Front Page. Two girls who were regulars in the pub posed on the bonnet of my MG. One had dark hair and she was a beauty; the other, a blonde, had the most beautiful legs and I wasn't to know at the time she would go on to be a famous TV actress – landlady of her own pub in Coronation Street.