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Thursday, July 26, 2007

In God’s name

By Patrick O’Gara
Although the name of God, and of his Son, would be invoked frequently during times of stress or even of sheer bewilderment, or when a story stood up, or when one fell down, I can’t say I was ever greatly aware of the presence of much religious fervour in any of the editorial floors on which I have toiled.

The final stages of the Sunday Mirror (and the Pictorial, before it) seemed to be put together almost entirely by Jews, working before sunset on Shabbat. Presumably they had a perpetual dispensation to do that, in the same way that in the old days the Romans among us were allowed to attend functions on a Friday where fish was unlikely to figure on the menu.

Good Friday – the most holy day in the Christian calendar - was a normal working one for us, with the added magic of providing a traffic free opportunity for driving to the office, and even parking on the street outside it. There’d be a service at St Bride’s for those committed people who couldn’t get along without one: posters usually advised that entry that day would be only via the Rector’s office (usually some wag would add ‘just step over him’, or alter the wording to orifice).

Apart from that, Scotsmen and Geordies, being all considered heathens, were expected to allow God’s Englishmen the day off on Christmas Day, in return for being encouraged to go home to celebrate their pagan festival of Hogmanay. And that was about as religious as we ever got.

So why, in God’s name, did the Mirror Group employ a chaplain? A perpetual stream of them. Not just on call, but on the payroll, each full-time with his own office and, for all I know, his own choirboy. Perversely, it was the only department in the company not controlled by a chapel, so far as I recall, but there was no need for one because most of the incumbents, like the rest of us, tended to congregate on the other side of New Fetter Lane and mass at the altar of Bacchus.

Some of them seemed pleasant enough coves wandering the corridors, not surprisingly, with a perpetual air of astonishment.

But I remember one, less bright even than the rest of them, less pleasant, and far less (if the word is assumed to have any element of the idea of giving) Christian.

He might even have passed relatively unnoticed if the story hadn’t got round that he had asked Felicity Green for advice concerning a friend of his who he described as being persecuted ‘by a frightful little Jew’.

I have to report that her response was not overly helpful.

He also started to frequent the Oak Room on the ninth floor. This was the executive dining room which offered rather good and, more importantly, highly subsidised meals at canteen prices but with tablecloths and silver service, and a wine list.

Lawyers, circulation managers, production bosses and senior bean-counters took full advantage of its amenities but editorial folk seldom used it, preferring pub culture, or restaurants where they could perform out of sight of the boss class.

The journalistic exception was Reg Payne, when he was deputy editor of The People and then editor of the Sunday Pic/Mirror.

He would go there most days with people like Mark Kahn and Cyril Kersh and a small clique of execs and hangers on – usually about six of them.

The Mirror chaplain, being head of his own department – at least in this world – was also allowed to use it and became a regular. Being, to put it charitably, of a frugal disposition he would lunch alone, then - when other diners were calling for the brandy - would wander over to their table, hovering and hoping to be invited to join them in a glass on their tab.

Possibly, he had tried it successfully before with Reg. But on one memorable day Reg's cup of Christian compassion runneth not over.

‘Listen, Vicar,’ he said, before the man of God could utter a word to get himself invited to pull up a chair, ‘Why don't you just bless us all and fuck off?’
Paddy O'Gara worked on the Daily Mirror for 23 years before joining the new Today. He left that to help start up HELLO! magazine then spent a few months on The Star before joining The Toledo Blade to redesign it, becoming editor (Americans call it managing editor) in 1990. He retired, exhausted, in 2003 and now lives in Spain. He has also has a blog,