The Gentlemen Ranters site is a brilliant compendium of reminiscences of the great days of Fleet Street. – The Times


Issue # 195
May 6, 2011


This Week

What you’re all bursting to know is how many times the royal wedding was mentioned in last week’s papers.

You don’t give a toss? That can’t be right, otherwise those worthy charity workers at the Media Standards Trust, who are devoted to protecting the readers from declining levels in the blatts and on TV, would be counting them for no reason.

The answer, apparently, is 867 times. Actually the figures are pretty meaningless, because they don’t define ‘newspapers’, so we don’t know whether that figure is for the nationals alone, or English rather than British, or whether it includes the regionals and weeklies (but, surely, they don’t buy and read them all… just to count their stories… do they?)

Whatever it is they are scanning, a figure for comparison is that there were 93 articles on Libya and Gaddafi over the same period. And apparently only one mention anywhere of Belgium becoming the second country to ban the burqa

Anyway, we think you probably can’t get enough of it, and start with a rant from Revel Barker, who hasn’t seen a royal wedding in the flesh since 1961 (when the Duke of Kent married another kissable Kate at York Minster). Katherine Worsley was the veritable Yorkshire rose and daughter of the president of the county cricket club, no less. That inspired a spoof headline in the Yorkshire Evening Post – ‘Katherine Worsley opens for Kent’. And the editor warned that heads would roll if word of it ever got outside the building. As far as we know, this is the first time that embargo has been broken.

In all the excitement of royal nuptials, another story that might have been overlooked was the end of the typewriter. (Ker-ching!… Just changing paper.) It prompted Harold Heys – never one to miss a landmark occasion like this – to dust his down, and fiddle with it. That in turn reminded him of probably the best put-down in the history of literature: Capote’s observation on Kerouac’s work: ‘That’s not writing; it’s typing.’

And the old upright’s demise (we’re still talking about typewriters, here) didn’t escape the attention of Neil Marr, either. He’s the guy who has made a couple of our Ranter books accessible on screen. He explains for the Luddites what it’s all about.

For those who yearn for yesteryear, rather than peering into the future (or even into the present), which is probably most of us, Liz Hodgkinson is giving a talk, based on her book Ladies Of The Street, at the Idler Academy. Check the place out. Its website suggests it might be right up the Strasse for many Ranters, although it’s actually in Westbourne Park Road. It describes itself as a ‘bookseller, coffee house and school…’ And it looks like fun. The ‘headmaster’ is Liz’s son Tom, who edits The Idler, a book-shaped magazine devoted to the practice of doing nothing, constructively. And Liz’s book, as you know, is about the contribution of the fairer sex to the success of newspapers. What’s not to enjoy about such a mixture as that?

Still harking back, John Weinthal recalls from Down Under how he got a start in newspapers, proving yet again that it’s not necessarily what you know, but who…

Peter Preston reviews the book that started this how-I-got-started string, The Ideal Occupation by Walter Schwarz, in the Guardian. And he says the shade of William Boot is never far away from this charming memoir by a former colleague.

Then Rudge props up the rest of the page by sending a reporter under cover.

That’s it.

#

How was it for you?

By Revel Barker

There are still a few things the Brits do better than anybody in the world, and high among them is pageantry. Who could fail to be impressed by the way that everything – from getting her to the church on time to the totally brilliant (and impossible to rehearse) crowd control in The Mall – was organised?

[And isn’t it wonderful to watch a million people converge on a royal palace to support the people who are inside it, rather than to try to overthrow them?]

The wedding was said to be watched by two billion people, worldwide. And if they were watching our TV cameramen’s work, they were seeing the world’s best exponents of that art.

But if they were listening to our TV commentators, what can one say, except, Oh dear…?

For the most part it was – to use a technical expression – piss-poor.

In broadcast journalism, as in print, there are horses for courses. Some do reporting wonderfully; some do what we used to call ‘descriptive writing’. Some are good at one thing, less good at others. Some are useless, whatever they’re given to do. Royal weddings don’t (thank God) come along very often, but when they do, you wheel out the guys for the job.

In newspapers that used to mean Mulchrone, of course, or Cassandra, Donald Zec, John Knight, John Edwards and yes, even Paul Callan. There’s a reason that I kept collections of writing by Cassandra and Mulchrone in print – simply so that future generations could see how it was done when it was done properly.

Their talent was not in telling us what we saw yesterday, so much as telling us things we didn’t see, or didn’t notice. Might one of them have mentioned that, as the Spitfire, Lancaster and Hurricane flew overhead, all the engines on the ground were made in Germany or Japan? There wasn’t much evidence of that sort of thing in Saturday’s blatts, although I was grateful for Peter Hitchens, in the Daily Mail:

On the way back, the Life Guards (trained killers to a man) for some reason had to be escorted down the road by mounted police. Even Majesty must now be governed and pestered by the twin menaces of ‘security’ and ‘health and safety’.

I don’t know who their broadcasting equivalents might be, these days. I assume they have the people, but if they do, they must have been given the day off.

I was reminded of my old dad, moaning about some dreary-sounding radio announcer. ‘I wouldn’t want them to fire him,’ he said. ‘But they should keep him in reserve, for announcing abdications.’

Look, I’ve never done it, but I’ve watched a lot of it, and it occurs to me that there are three parts of covering state occasions on TV.

There’s the commentary, which needs a voice of authority, explaining the bits that are not obvious. I don’t need anybody to point out which is Elton John; I can recognise my queens, but there were 1,800 faces in the Abbey that I didn’t recognise and – if anybody knew who they were – it might have been interesting if they were identified. Cassandra wouldn’t have agreed, but my guess is that most people over, say, 60, must watch all of these occasions and wish they could have dug up Richard Dimbleby, or his worthy successor Tom Fleming, for the job. There’s a world of difference between commentary and cue-cards.

When there’s a lull, when we’re waiting for the bride to arrive, I don’t mind being told which of his many uniforms the Duke is wearing, and why, and what his medals are, and how he earned them. When the Guards are marching, I don’t object to being reminded how to distinguish between the different regiments. What I object to is seeing Kate on the back seat of a car, smiling, and being told nothing more than that I am seeing her on the back seat of a car, smiling. It’s telly, not radio: on the small screen silence is often golden.

The second bit is the set-piece interview and of course it’s necessary on these occasions to get the expert view on The Dress, and the other dresses (and especially, on this occasion, The Sister’s Dress). But, a tip here: don’t ask presenters to do interviews; that’s a reporter’s job. Presenters read stuff off paper, like actors; they don’t do thinking, and don’t understand anything that’s not written down.

Fiona Bruce had lined up Kate’s former headmaster, bravo. ‘I’m told the Beckhams have just arrived,’ said Huw Edwards. Heave-oh. Oh, and talking of pageantry, as I was at the top, Mr Edwards used that p-word word more than once in every minute. I started counting, then thought of something better to do (switch channels).

And the third part is the vox-pop. And here, oh dearie, is where it all sank to pass-the-sick-bag proportions on all channels.

I don’t know where they found the people they sent out into the crowds; my guess is they came from pre-entry level for a media studies course in Somalia. To describe the questions as inane would be to flatter them. A troupe of Butlin’s redcoats would have done a better job.

‘What was the best part, for you…?’

And the inevitable ‘How did you feel, when…?’

Even – and being less charitable than my Dad I sincerely hope the culprit has been fired by now – ‘Do you think their marriage will last?’

There’s a simple trick to this (perhaps it’s no longer taught, and they’re not bright enough to see it for themselves), which is that you work out what you want people to say, then you frame your question in a way calculated to get them to say it. The men and women in the street don’t know what they think, or what they’re supposed to think, so they need guidance. And the interviewer (the poor sod who’s lumbered with the joyless task) has to try to make their answers interesting.

Fearne Cotton was nearly an excellent example of how to do it. ‘I can't believe I've got this close to the palace,’ one beaming flag-waving celebrant told her. Next question from Fearne, quick as a flash: ‘Can you believe you've got this close to the palace?’

Mmm. A bit late, pet, and in the wrong order, but you’re getting the drift.

If people are laughing and cheering and waving flags, let’s watch them laugh and cheer and wave flags. We know how they feel; you don’t need to ask them. And if you ask them, they can’t describe it. They’re not bloody feature writers.

Ian Skidmore tells the story of falling asleep while doing a radio interview. The interviewee just rattled on, uninterrupted. Skiddy thought he’d get the sack, but a postbag full of letters praised him for allowing the subject to talk without inane interjections.

There’s a lesson there.

If you’ve got nothing to say, do us all a favour and STFU.

#

Clackety-clack, don’t look back

By Harold Heys

Right then. Hands up all of you who have portable typewriters gathering dust in the attic or under the stairs. Can’t bear to part with them, can you?

Daily Mail columnist Tom Utley stirred a few memories recently with a piece about the last manufacturer of manual typewriters ‘shutting up its production line – almost certainly for good.’

It doesn’t need much of a peg for an experienced columnist to rattle off 1,500 sparklers. Liz Jones can dash off a thousand words on a bird nesting in a tree or the newest shade of mascara. But this particular Utley peg was a bit thin.

Conglomerate Godrej & Boyce of Bombay (I’m far too old to think of it as Mumbai) actually stopped the production of typewriters a couple of years ago. It seems as though they had a few dozen machines to flog off so they floated the ‘Goodbye’ tale in the Indian media and papers such as the Financial Times picked it up.

Clackety-clack! Ping! Kerrrunch! Thud! Ah, how much more satisfying than lightly-fingered flutterings over crunch-free keys.

I must admit I didn’t think much of the giant Remingtons and Underwoods that slumbered menacingly in the offices where I used to work. But my battered, pre-war LC Smith & Corona portable was probably the best present I was every given. Ahead of a boxer puppy (when I was 10), a second-hand snooker cue (16) and a large box of oil paints (21). Since then it’s been racing books and memorabilia and ties.

I was about 12 when my parents bought me the old Smith & Corona from a Blackburn philatelist called Harold Stroud. It cost £12 and that was a lot of money in 1953. I’ve just dug it out of the loft and I’m looking at it now. And smiling. Black and silver and very stylish. Yes, the slight drop on the P and the weak l/c E are just as I remembered them.

It did sterling service over 40 years before I bought my first Mac. I’m an avid Mac fan but the new world of near-silent keyboards is a long way from Clackety-clack! Ping! Kerrrunch! Thud! My poor young wife, back in the mid-60s, did her best to sleep through my rattling out evening council meeting reports well into the early hours ready to hit ‘copy’ a few hours later. She can sleep through anything now.

Godrej & Boyce confirmed that they wouldn’t be making any more manual typewriters (as opposed to stopping production – a subtle difference) at the factory that once churned out 50,000 machines a year in several languages and dialects. It has been revamped into a refrigeration plant.

The announcement created more than a stir of interest on the Internet, a lot of it by youngsters who didn’t really know what they were yattering about. Yes, there’s a firm in New Jersey still manufacturing typewriters but they are the electronic jobs so beloved by PAs in the days when they were known as ‘secretaries’. No Crash-bang-wallop Ping! about those insipid stealth machines.

Biggest problem keeping our old portables serviceable – just in case? Yes, the ribbons. Twenty-odd years of inactivity will have dried them out so you will be lucky to make much of an impression if you decide to give the grandchildren a demonstration. I searched for years before I finally found some new ones – in a little shop in Prague. I bought a dozen. God knows why.

Not a thing went wrong with my Smith-Corona in many years of severe punishment. I never had to have it mended – and I never lost a single story. It never suddenly stopped working. I never had to wade through an inch-thick manual to work out what the problem was; because there was never a problem. I didn’t have to call ‘Frank’ or ‘Philip’ in Hyderabad to ask why my keying was suddenly going from right to left in what looked like Danish.

I spilled coffee over it more than once; crop-sprayed fag ash on it. I splattered it with brandy, dropped it, lost things for ever in its hidden depths, tripped over it and once I threw up over it. And it still smiled back and kept going. Bloody magnificent! Of course if anything did go wrong you just whipped open the top and you’d soon spot the trouble – perhaps a spring had come loose. Fixed in moments! You can’t do that today.

And where would Sherlock Holmes and his sleuth pals be these days without being able to tell at a glance that the blackmail or death-threat letter had been typed on a particular machine. ‘Look Watson: The lower-case ‘e’ has a slight nick in the bar and the ‘h’ key drops slightly. The letter was clearly written on this machine!’ Amazing, Holmes! Piece of piss, Watson.

This sort of technology was used in several important police investigations including the Leopold and Loeb murder case in 1920s America. Police dragged a beat-up Underwood portable from Jackson Park Harbor on Chicago’s South Side and proved that the ransom note had been written on it. They’d struggle these days!

So then, would I – would we – go back to the happy days of manual typewriters? Back to the days when journalists had to be able to spell, just with the occasional help of a handy dictionary, instead of relying on the awful spell-checkers that lull today’s kids into a false sense of expertise and safety?

Back to the days when the news editor stood over you menacingly and ripped each separate par out of your machine? Back to the days when hard-pressed reporters could mop their brows and smash the legend ‘E N D’ with a final flourish?

What a daft question…

#

Electric books, shock, horror?

By Neil Marr

Confronted with his first fax machine, an old-stager I knew at the Daily Mail in Glasgow discovered, well within a month, that he didn’t really need to stick first-class postage stamps on his London-bound copy.

Those of us long enough in the tooth to remember ‘new’ technology will also recall how easily we adapted. So why do electric books hit us like a high-voltage shock?

Readers switched from clay tablets to papyrus, to scrolls, to hand-copied codex, took to Gutenberg’s idea when he knocked an old wine press into a primitive flat-bed in his cellar six centuries ago, and even survived the advent of cheap, mass-run paperback when even our granddads were young fellers. As tale-spinners, we coped with web-offset and photo-comp.

The world’s last standing typewriter factory (Godrej and Boyce in India) closed last week. We no longer sit-up-and-beg to write. And when was the last time you swapped insults with a bored copy-taker while his tea went cold at around take-three?

In the beginning, we’re assured, was the Word. And how the Word is presented is about as significant as whether a good pint is hand-pumped into a straight glass or into a dimpled mug with a handle on it.

But with no expenses to fritter any more, surely the price of content is a consideration. One point for ebooks. And you’re already screen readers... or how else would you be seeing this week’s GentlemenRanters? Point two scored.

Many of Ranters hack-lit authors agree. Notably Ian Skidmore, who adopted the ebook in his majestic eighties. He wears a handlebar moustache that once put Jimmy Edwards to shame (Prof Jim cheated in the contest), a bow-tie the size of a kite, a Black Watch tartan three-piece suit innocent of volume controls, and he carries a Kindle ebook reader in his pocket – with the capacity to tote a virtual library that’s even greater than that housed in the East Wing of Castle Skiddy itself.

So Ranters first venture into ebooks was with the enthusiastic approval of Skiddy, and Forgive Us Our Press Passes went digital... a faithful reproduction of the revised and extended paperback edition: http://bewrite.net/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=B&Product_Code=FUOPP

Next on board was Anthony Delano. His Slip-Up was released in all ebook formats and at all major and minor ebook stores last week. His Manacled Mormon (the naughty Joyce McKinney yarn) will go electric in June.

We see others from his growing hack-lit catalogue being offered in ebook form fairly regularly from here in. The books are identical to the paper editions... only the means of presentation and the target market has changed.

The hacks and hackettes who wrote these books possess the knack of enthralling the general reader, by the million and day-by-day. So why should their books not appeal just as generally and as widely? Why ‘books by journalists FOR journalists’?

Ebooks make them international and as exciting to the man at the bus stop as they are to us. Some sushi chef in Tokyo might well be reading Slip-Up right now... on a mobile phone while he waits on a railway platform to be shoe-horned onto the bullet train to work. Some jolly swagman is chuckling over Skiddy’s exploits, while sitting beside a billabong under the shade of a coolibah tree (knowing he has 7,000 pages of battery life in his Sony, so she’ll be right).

When lunches, liquids, lurches and life caught up with me in the nineties, I could no longer hack the trains and boats and planes that on-the-move journalism involved and had to quickly learn how to fly a desk. First I authored and ghosted books (for everyone from Random House to more obscure small press), then I became an editor (mostly of fiction – no surprise), and then a small-time publisher in 2000.

From the start, I insisted on ebook cover of every paperback released by BeWrite Books. I’m one of your original ebook evangelists. My wee team has seen over two hundred new and exclusive titles published internationally in the past eleven years. Now BB is so well ahead of the ebook game that, last year, we withdrew all ebook titles from Ingram – the biggest book distributor on the planet – and soon found we had even greater reach than they have.

So Revel took notice and – with a handshake over a virtual bar-top – decided to give ebooks a whirl in cahoots with BeWrite Books. Apart from one recent release (also by an old Fleet Street pal), RBP Hack-lit is our only ebook-only venture.

Downloading and reading an ebook is as simple as falling off a high bar stool, ol’ chums. So here goes...

*Although to enjoy the experience fully, anywhere, anytime, you should lay hands on an ebook-dedicated reading device (there are about 100 on the market; from Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Sony, Kobo, Apple’s iPad to lesser known gizmos) you can read an ebook on your PC, laptop or netbook... as well as on your Blackberry, smart phone, iPod or even TV screen if you know how.

*You can buy ebooks in many digital formats. Mobi is especially for Kindle, ePub is pretty well industry standard and will present well on most machines. PDF is, in essence, a for-print digital file, but it is also ideal for PCs, laptops and netbooks. Good for tablet computers like iPad and Galaxy, too.

*You can buy ebooks from scores of ebook stores. The Kindle store will offer only Amazon’s proprietary Mobi format for its Kindle machines. Other stores will offer you a choice of download options.

*With a device that has internet access, you can download direct to your ebook-reader. If your device doesn’t have this wi-fi facility, no problem; you simply save your ebook to your PC or laptop desktop and read it there or upload it to your reading device in seconds using a USB cable (price of a packet of crisps). My advice is to download the free and superb Calibre Library software (www.calibre-ebook.com). This will store and catalogue your virtual library of tens of thousands of books. It will even automatically convert from one digital format to another at the touch of a key.

*All Ranters hack-lit ebooks will be priced at the local equivalent of $5.95 (as are all BeWrite Books digital editions). That’s less than the cost of two pints in real money. If you’re not US-based, you might find an Amazon loading of $2 (UK) or even $4 (elsewhere) on Kindle editions. This is not true of other stores. And at BeWrite Books own bookstore (www.bewrite.net) the price is fixed at $5.95 and you’re offered the full range of digital options... as well as a link to ours and Ranter’s paperbacks.

*Most stores will also link to book notes and reviews. If you go direct to BeWrite Books, you get this, plus author bio, pix, fuller reviews and also a free download of a generous extract to sample.

*Then you read and have fun.

There are a few tricks and shortcuts and, in the early stages, you might even hit a hitch or two (remember the first time you came to the end of a typewriter ribbon and had to call for help?). If so, just drop me an email and I’ll talk you through.

Pretty well the only things you can’t do with an ebook that you can do with a newspaper is wrap fish and chips in it or strip its pages and hang them for use in the privy.

Edinburgh-born Neil Marr kicked off on evening newspapers in the mid-60s and was a staff reporter and freelance in Manchester, Glasgow and Fleet Street. He freelanced around Europe and the USA before opening Riviera Media Services in France in the late 80s. When ill health forced him off the road, he took to books, and has headed the editorial team of BeWrite Books for the past ten years, working from a home office in Menton.

#

The law of contacts

By John Weinthal

As the eldest son of a string of eldest sons going back at least five generations, it was hardly surprising that I set my sights on continuing a male-line family tradition – a life in the Law.

Oddly, my father teetered between neutral support and discouragement.

His argument made some sense in spite of his having made a tidy fortune by age 45 through his country town soliciting and a golden-touch investment nous.

Essentially he averred that while one could become richish, and be a big fish in small pond – that was about it.

He reckoned that achieving and retaining a successful legal practise curtailed world-wide rambling or even easy relocation in one’s own land. Success was built on reputation and that took a goodly number of years of some hardship to build. And nor was knowing everybody’s secrets an easy small-town burden.

To hell with this. I had little imagination and had always assumed I would be a lawyer. There followed a couple of years as an articled clerk – during which Dad dropped dead at 48 leaving Mum with 6 kids ranging from me at 18 to a 3 year old and a three-monther.

I soon decided that the Law was indeed not for me, and told Mum so.

Firmly informed that I would remain in articles at least until I was otherwise gainfully employed, I bussed the 60 miles from our northern NSW home to Brisbane, the capital of Queensland. There I bought The Courier Mail, (to this day ‘The’ with a capital T), the major daily, and studied the jobs columns. Plenty there, but all seemed to require serious effort … not my strong point.

So I retired to my childless Aunt Bett – a sort of Aunty Mame to various nieces and nephews – while waiting for a bus home and back to articles.

Not so fast, John. Aunt Bett had a friend over. Said friend went on and on about her son Jackie who was chief sub editor of The Courier Mail. She made it sound like a great life. I was hooked.

Until that morning had I even thought about newspapers I’d have reckoned they were some sort of creative effort between god and newsagent who lobbed the product fresh on our lawn in the early early morn from a Mini Moke. It never occurred to me that real people actually sat, phoned or drove around to chat up people, attend their favourite sports, shows, concerts and movies to turn out all those thousands of words and dozens of pictures each day… What a life!

Jackie’s Mum said he had even spent a couple of years in the Courier offices in London and New York.

Home again, and immediately I wrote a letter of self-sale to the editor. Incredibly I got a positive reply and a date. But that could have been the start and finish of my journalistic ambitions. I clearly knew nothing about the processes. Writing of any kind had never been my dream. And living in another state I had rarely seen a Courier Mail, much less read the editorial. Editor Ted – much later Sir Theodore – Bray was less than impressed, I sensed. Worst of all, I also sensed, was my negative response to his ‘Who do you know here?’

The thanks but no thanks letter came as no surprise.

However, Aunt Bett was aghast. How could that rag improve if it turned down such a golden opportunity so cavalierly?

‘Wait,’ she told me. ‘I believe Felix (her doting but rather distant-to-children husband) went to school with some chappie who is rather high up there now.’

And so it was that I found myself summoned again a few days later to be chatted up by chief-of-staff Alan – he of the independently suspended eyes – Cummins. ‘Ah… Yes, Felix and I were chums at Hutchins School in Tasmania’ (modestly described on its latest website as ‘one of Australia's oldest and most distinguished schools‘). His uncle was Governor I recall.

‘Could you start on Monday?’

And so I was on the journalistic path. Right place, right time, right names etc. What a life!

I am sure Dad would have approved, especially as it allowed me 18 glorious years in London from where I saw a fair chunk of the world at others’ expense. And way later I find myself in impecunious-but-who-cares retirement in Malaysia.

#

The Ideal Occupation

By Peter Preston

Walter Schwarz is a specialist in self-deprecation studies. ‘I never became a roving commentator, free from the pressure of news,’ he confesses, almost insouciantly. ‘I never won a prize and was not promoted to the Washington office. I have written comment pieces, but never became a pundit.’ So how would the Guardian's former correspondent in Nigeria, Israel, India, France and Germany define his talent? ‘Notebook in hand, I was a good listener.’ And – oh yes! – he generally had a wonderful time in the jobs of which he had always dreamed.

Readers of this relaxed, pleasantly meandering memoir will have a pretty entertaining time themselves. It doesn't aspire to pomp or circumstance. Indeed, it often seems an idiosyncratic little stew of family reminiscences and moments of history. You follow the family Schwarz from Vienna to Manchester, as Hitler spreads his menace. You watch the young Walter get a place at Oxford (too young) and then learn about life on national service in Malaysia. He's a reporter on the Oxford Mail, a hack on the Evening Standard Londoner's Diary, a freelance in Jerusalem, a failed publisher in Lagos: the shade of William Boot is never too far away. But you also know he's much cleverer than he lets on, because he quotes at length from many of the tales he wrote from far away. In prison or out, during the Biafra breakaway, he was brave and shrewd and eloquent, the best man in the thick of it. He should have had a prize for that.

And he didn't get that long, tough list of foreign postings by luck either. He won them because he could do all the things that mattered – news, analysis, features – with a pinch of something extra. What was it he had, and still has, that others couldn't match? A certain enthusiastic quirkiness, a sideways slant on newspaper life that served him well when he finally came home to write about religion and the environment. He's an original.

Who (a question that Walter might not think of asking for himself) is the audience for this book? It's a long list. Students of journalism who want to see how the digital rush has changed everything (including time to think). Students of foreign affairs who want to have old crises brought back to life. Guardian readers who want to explore the pleasures of the past. Anyone who wants a glimpse of a different, more private world. This isn't just the story of reporter Schwarz, it's a domestic comedy, and tragedy, featuring his five children – and starring the dynamic Dorothy, Mrs Schwarz: beautiful, clever, passionate keeper of horses, writer of what her husband calls ‘a gruesome, unpublished novella’ and undefeated champion of memorable marital rows. There's a Peter Mayle touch to their years in France as the caravan moves from one château (in need of renovation) to another. There's a sitcom script writing itself when a kitchen fire in Château Two means hunting for the next slightly decrepit pile. There's a gurgle of joy later on when, back in Essex, Dorothy starts keeping parrots instead. And there's terrible sadness over the death of a beautiful daughter.

What happened to the 60s' hippy generation, Schwarz asks himself. His autobiography is answer enough. He, and Dorothy and the kids, had a rare old time. Sometimes they found money and were rich enough to pay the bills. Sometimes they were on their uppers. Often Schwarz found a story that fired his imagination: sometimes the bloody kitchen was on fire again. But always, through laughter and pain, he was gentle and listening and somehow wise, a round peg in a round but vanishing hole, an ideal man in an ideal occupation.

#

Rudge

###


Keep up to date with Ranters

If you are not already on our journalists’ mailing list (or if you used to be on it and have mysteriously fallen off) and want to be reminded when the site is updated, send your name and email address (in the body of the copy) to

ranters1@gmail.com

Use the same link if you have recently changed your email address.

We do not send any other emails and do not share the address list with anybody.


The Gentlemen Ranters site is a brilliant compendium of reminiscences of the great days of Fleet Street. – The Times


Issue # 196
May 13, 2011


This Week

It could be something to do with an issue date of Friday the thirteenth, but it’s been a bit like an undertaker’s parlour at Palazzo Ranti this week. Although we’ve frequently complained about a dearth of obits (that’s not to say, of course, that we want to hear of anybody being transferred to the Celestial Editorial Floor, but, when they are…) we’ve been overwhelmed by death notices in the last few days. Peter Batt and Leo Clancy were elevated as we put Ranters to bed last week; Terry Wynn went this week. And then there’s Charles Dickens

We all thought that Batty was indestructible (irrefrangible is another way of putting it) – he’d pushed the self-destruct button for long enough, getting the old tin-tack from even the most benevolent and indulgent bosses. His mate Bryan Cooney tracked him down to an old folks’ home and to a chat about everything, including death.

Philip Jordan has a story that involves Batty, a loss of trousers, a pub lock-in, a bus and Fleet Street so, as he says, it may well be true.

A London bus also figures in the Leo Clancy story. According to Paul Bannister, after journalism Leo took to driving one.

Most of his mates had lost track of Clancy by the end; apparently the cops broke into his home and found him dead. You think they won’t die, or even get old, and it had a sobering effect on Geoffrey Seed, for one.

John de Berry tracks him from the early days through to his absconding, complete with office credit cards, from the National Enquirer.

And for those children who don’t understand what The Great Days really meant, Jim McCandlish finds that Clancy’s death brings back fond memories of them.

John Bailey was there at the end for Terry Wynn with a comforting handful of mates and the wit to check all the dates in preparation of the – by then – inevitable obit.

It may be a bit late for an obit of Charles Dickens. Next year is the bi-centenary of his birth and there’s an ambitious plan to get ALL his work on-line and freely available to all. The problem is that the originals have been scanned using text-recognition software, so it all needs checking. Dr John Drew at the University of Buckingham needs help, urgently (Dickens wrote millions of words) in order to get the job done before the birthday, and he’s looking for volunteers. The editor of Ranters has a private bet with him about how many of this site’s readers will offer to help. But… when your grandchildren ask what you did during the Word War, wouldn’t you like to tell them: ‘Well, I subbed Charles Dickens…’?

And for those among you who remember Chapel Power, our cartoonist Rudge meets the old FoC.

Normal service (whatever that implies) – including the continuation of our How I Got Started series – will resume next week.

#

Batt – a 4-letter word

By Bryan Cooney

You sincerely hope the funeral directors responsible for delivering Peter Batt to his celestial home via Morden next Monday are insured against the possibility of resurrection.

Many segments of society, including various police forces, newspaper executives, football managers, lawyers, bookmakers, nightclub bouncers, bartenders and a few she-devils, attempted to crush that irrefrangible personality. All failed abysmally.

Batty, alias the Wine Merchant and one of Britain’s finest sportswriters, was an elemental force over whom nature had no control. That personality, particularly when it was substantially stocked with alcohol, tended to fill amphitheatres and auditoriums, never mind bog-standard rooms.

Our last meeting of any consequence was in the forecourt of Wimbledon railway station about four years ago. I alighted from the train; he from a red bus. I’d anticipated seeing that familiar figure clad in the obligatory dark suit and tie. Instead, I was greeted by someone impersonating a vagrant. Peter wore a long white coat that flapped against his shinbones. He was sporting a jockey cap and clutching a Waitrose plastic bag.

But if his dress sense had been ambushed by eccentricity that day, the personality had stayed resolutely intact. ‘Over here, my son,’ he shouted with all the inhibitions of a town crier. ‘Let’s grab a flounder!’ Protocol demanded he was going home by taxi. Not that he could have afforded one.

At that time, through impecuniosity and illness, he was so far down on his luck that his next step might have led him into the gutter. In spite of this, superficially, at least, he was a symbol for happiness, as robust and pugnacious as ever.

We headed off to his adoptive home – a residential establishment for the elderly, set in a quiet backwater. Now there’s an oxymoron. Could any backwater be declared peaceful with Peter in situ? He’d once inhabited grand homes in Sevenoaks, Cuckfield and indeed a fashionable town house near Westminster. His lovely wife Heidi having divorced him for his excesses, he now was ensconced in a demonstrably less privileged world. His room, complete with tiny en-suite, was compact and cluttered with old newspapers, the atmosphere polluted by tobacco fumes.

It was evident that the congestion in his lungs was comparable to Piccadilly Circus in rush-hour and yet he lit up a filter tip. Ignoring my incredulity, he lay back on his single bed, inhaling deeply and sorting out the old days. He had discovered sobriety and, as a consequence, had a clear mind. So we reminisced about our time on the Sun together where, for once, I’d managed to get sacked before him.

We moved onto the various cataclysms during our times at the Daily Star. We further explored his freelance stint as an Eastenders scriptwriter, and fell upon a glorious moment with the guy who played Pete Beale. Peter Dean had a slight speech impediment and couldn’t quite wrap his tongue around a few lines. Dean blamed the script, Batt blamed the actor. Insults, if not punches, allegedly were thrown in another incendiary day in the life of Peter Batt.

So, what about a night of chaos at Kenilworth Road, where Luton were entertaining Watford in the FA Cup? Batty was representing the Daily Express on this occasion and me the Star. Having spent the afternoon in the City Golf Club, both our faces were rubicund when we arrived in Bedfordshire and headed towards the bar for a top-up. An hour later, there were only two vacant seats in the press box, one perilously close to the directors’ box. Peter elected for pole position. It was soon evident that we were not witnessing football of European Cup calibre, so he spent the first half trying to attract the attention of the Watford chairman, Elton John, who was sitting less than four feet away.

‘Elton!’ he shouted, ‘whaddya think of this crap, eh? Elton, f****** Elton! What a load of old f****** polish. You’ve misspent your f****** millions! Call these footballers? They’re wankers and polishers! Poofs and ponces!’ These profanities were possibly not what Mr John wanted to hear as his team attempted to take a dignified step towards the hallowed ground of Wembley.

The originator of the hissy fit, however, wisely decided against recrimination and spent most of the first 45 minutes hiding the left side of his physiognomy under a large hat. Significantly, he took up another position after the break, which was just about as far away from the source of aggravation as was possible.

And so we moved on. I reminded Batty of my time as head of sport at the Daily Mail. Hadn’t he presented me with the bones of a great story about a new horse racing track on the Costa del Sol, which came complete with criminals and dodgy dealings?

I’d fancied the proposal so strongly that I despatched him immediately to Marbella to put some skin on the skeleton. A few days and some huge expense claims later, I asked our sports news editor Bob Driscoll how the narrative was progressing. Tentatively, he handed over a print-out.

My mouth had been watering in anticipation of cops, robbers and criminality on the Costa. But what I read had me quivering with rage. It was no better and no worse than a travel feature. Peter had succeeded in pulling more wool over my eyes than Pringle‘s of Edinburgh had ever achieved.

Hindsight permits you to laugh at such things. But, suddenly, in that confined space in London, SW 19, the amusement arcade closed: we were now in the arms of a serious seductress called Mea Culpa. Peter recounted the events that caused him to be caught up in such austerity. He had survived ‘horrible operations’ and admitted: ‘F*** knows how I‘m still alive. But all this the pain… maybe it‘s God‘s turn to pay me back. I‘ve done so much harm…’

Batty confessed he‘d taken a rather large pile of crispies from Mick Channon, the footballer-turned-racehorse trainer, for writing his autobiography. Instead of distributing the money among his family, his self absorption took over. So he hired a minder – he inevitably needed an accomplice during those frenzied drinking escapades – and set out on an extraordinary wining, dining and gambling trip to Australia. First class travel, of course.

When the money evaporated as if authorised by the Magic Circle, he returned to England and, incredibly, tried to persuade his wife that she should sell her flat and split the proceeds with him. The recollections, I could see, troubled him greatly. He told me that Heidi had finally cut the bond that held them together for so many years. There were no tears. Batty didn’t participate in that form of emotion. But genuine contrition? Yes, even he was appalled at himself.

Until this time, he had monopolised the conversation, while I occupied the post of wide-eyed listener. Now it was time for me to speak… and thus place my size ten in a compost heap of trouble. ‘You know, Peter, this story would make a fabulous TV documentary. Why don’t I put it to the Beeb?’

Enthusiasm encouraged those fading eyes to sparkle, Then he said: ‘But would they be interested in an old c*** like me.’ I assured them, if they had any common sense, that they would indeed. After all, I had made a documentary on Sir Alf Ramsey for Channel Four back in 2002, and Peter had played a seminal role in it.

I left Batty and returned north, where I was completing a series of interviews for BBC Radio Scotland. I phoned a senior producer and told her of these remarkable confessions; she recommended that I email a London colleague. This I duly did. I never heard another bloody word: it had obviously been disregarded by some PC-driven sort, or simply lost in the vast layer cake of the BBC.

Peter had been pestering me for a result. I phoned him and delivered the negative news, holding the telephone at a discreet distance from my ear. The response was predictable. ‘D’you mean that I f****** wasted 90 minutes of my time pouring out my conscience to you? And there’s f*** all to show for it?’

All had been forgiven when I met him at Driscoll’s 70th birthday celebrations in El Vino’s in April of last year. He had aged terribly, but at least he was onside with respectability again. The vagrant had vanished. We had a short but warm conversation.

Later, in the last few months of his life, I phoned him on his mobile and tried to fill the vacuum of his loneliness (Fleet Street can be adept at forgetting its own). We compared our various ailments. His voice was weak but his humour would not be subdued. ‘Death, me son? Well, I ain’t what you might say scared of it… but I gotta say I don’t particularly fancy it.’

Sadly, due to circumstances, I cannot be in Morden on Monday. I have my own demons to fight and, to that end, I’ll be visiting an oncologist in Glasgow. But I’ll be thinking of a funeral service in South London, and of a guy who possessed a wonderful talent but elected to volley it into touch with a lunatic lifestyle.

There won’t be any tears for a friend. Enough have been shed already. No, it’s more likely I’ll be smiling, remembering the great times and even the bad ones. Like that crazy night at Kenilworth Road. Peter, of course, exacted his revenge for Elton’s insistence on copping a deaf ’un. When the match ended in a draw, he wrote: ‘If either of these teams gets to Wembley, then they‘ll have to fumigate the old place!’ Quite brilliant.

Had Watford possessed any semblance of humour, they would have dismissed it as another excess from a Fleet Street original. Instead, they banned Peter from the replay. The Express transferred their chagrin down the food chain, and the Wine Merchant’s freelance days at Black Lubyanka were over.

His days, here on Mother Earth, are also over, but you imagine the celestial celebrations are about to begin. Batty will demand it.

#

The ultimate lock-in

By Philip Jordan

There is a story about Batty, which may have already been told better elsewhere, and which may be true and may be apocryphal. But either way it captures his character perfectly.

Need I say that he used to tell it against himself?

It seems that Batty was drinking one night in a pub in London where he was known when, during the course of a rumbustious evening, he managed to rip the trousers of his battered suit (apparently while falling off a bar stool).

The landlady of the pub, who knew Peter well, offered to mend the trousers for him if he could wait. Batty said could she put a spurt on because he was due for drinks elsewhere.

While sitting, trouserless, in the pub bar, he was suddenly taken short and went and locked himself in the cubicle of the gents, and promptly fell asleep.

The landlady came back with the repaired trousers and found Batty gone. Knowing Batty and thinking nothing of it, she went about her business, taking the trousers with her.

When Batty woke up, some hours later, the pub was empty and in darkness and locked up.

Though he shouted for help, no one came and he was unable to leave the premises. Un-tempted by the potential of being locked up with all that accessible booze, a massively hung-over Peter – realizing that it was bright morning outside – decided instead that it was his sworn duty to get to the office.

He went back into the loo and found that he could open a small window high in the wall. While wriggling out through it like some escapee from Colditz, he lost his grip and plunged down into the street (alleged by some to have been Fleet Street itself) and rolled, still trouserless, into the road directly in front of a London bus.

The bus screeched to a halt as he prepared to end his days under its wheels. But the driver managed to brake before it hit our hero. Batty, whose eyes had been scrunched closed waiting for the end, opened them wide when he discovered himself still alive.

He rolled on to his back and looked up at the bus. Plastered across the front of the vehicle, on either side of its destination display, were two posters for the Sun. Each carried his smiling picture and proclaimed boldy:

Watch out for
Peter Batt:
The Voice Of Sport
.

#

Just the ticket

By Paul Bannister

My memories of Leo Clancy are fond ones. He was indeed an original, a charmer, a wild man and a journo who wrote like an angel, a talent not needed at the formulaic National Enquirer when he rolled up there in 1974.

Leo and his near-incomprehensible Irish growl fascinated the office lovelies, intrigued interview subjects and disguised the fine intellect that let him assess and land even the toughest stories.

His persuasive skills also led him, emotionally overtired and stopped by Lake Worth’s Finest after destroying a set of traffic barricades at a reported 100 mph, to convince the responding officer that the barricades, not Leo, were the real threat to the public. The wild colonial boy soon slipped off into the night, leaving another crumpled problem for Mr Hertz to unravel.

The Enquirer and its rigid ways were not for Leo, and he, John Burke-Davis and Martin Turner exited the paper with a set of corporate credit cards for unauthorised adventures in South America. Before mailing the cards back Leo reportedly charged air tickets and other sundries to them, on the not-unreasonable grounds that the paper owed him comp time and severance pay. At least two executives were left unable to decide whether to grind their teeth in fury or be relieved that after Leo’s departure the building was still standing.

In Colombia, the red-haired gringo escaped a drugs bust by a squad of heavily-armed Medellin cops who unsuccessfully ransacked his hotel room hoping to confiscate everything he owned. If they’d have been as streetwise as Leo, they’d have checked the bowl of the overhead light.

Leo dropped off my personal radar, surfacing only once to say he’d been driving a London bus by day and writing a novel at a table in a Notting Hill pub by night. It is a measure of a man who lived every bit of his life to the fullest, who was a shining talent and a warm-hearted human, that only a short friendship left such good memories.

#

Remembering Leo Clancy

By Geoffrey Seed

If life is a beach then growing older is nodding off and being trapped by a tide you never imagined would actually come in.

So I get phoned by Tom Hendry, ex Mirror news editor, to say our former Daily Mail colleague, Leo Clancy, has died aged 70 or 71.

Leo Clancy... in his seventies and dead? How can this possibly be?

He was his twinkle-eyed, subversive self when I saw him last – a Park Drive in one hand, a packet of Polos in the other and as rumpled as ever in a suit no charity would let hang in its shop.

Yet Leo's scruffiness was all part of his act. He might have looked like he'd been waiting for Godot then Godot had turned up and they'd spent the night in a Moss Side shebeen. But he had all the wit and loveable impudence of a journalistic shnorrer – the artful beggar of Jewish folklore.

A shnorrer calls to a house.

'I haven't a penny,' says the woman who answers. 'Come back tomorrow.'

'Tomorrow?' the shnorrer frowns. 'Lady, don't let this happen again. I've lost a fortune extending credit.'

Blokes wanted to be Leo's mate, women wanted to warm his bed. He could charm great quotes from a deaf mute, conjure stories from the air – and all with a lightness of touch Mulchrone himself might admire.

I left newspapers for television in 1974 and lost contact with Leo. Maybe the gods never intend hacks to grow too old. Life, tragedy, illness – this is what happens to other people, not those who report from the privileged sidelines.

It's often quite a shock to see that some who have survived the riotous, boozing, womanising ways that made them legends in their own lunchtimes have now taken to dyeing their hair grey or using walking sticks or talking endlessly about how many times they get up in the night to pee.

Thankfully, Leo – and many others – remain fixed in my memory as we all were in those wonderful, anarchic, free-wheeling days before accountants inherited the earth and we didn't care how many bridges we'd left unburned.

So roll a joint, raise a glass and think of Leo. Then crank up the volume on Dylan's Last Waltz gig. It's later than you think.

May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous,
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young.

#

Leo the legend

By John de Berry

One of journalism’s greatest legends – Leo James Clancy – has died aged 70.

Leo made his national reputation when he worked for the Daily Mail – first in Manchester and later in London.

Then in 1973 he took up an invitation to join the journalistic staff of the National Enquirer in Lantana, Florida. His remarkable talents were quickly spotted and he was soon dispatched to India to interview a man who fluently spoke more than 40 languages!

With his own eloquence of the English language, he was destined for a lucrative future with the Enquirer.

But the irrepressible Leo, who later wrote two highly-acclaimed crime novels – Fix and Juice –and who was destined to become Britain’s answer to top American novelist, Elmore Leonard – had other ideas.

Together with two of his best pals – Martin Turner and John Burke-Davies – commonly known as JB–D – they all absconded from the Enquirer for the adventure of a lifetime.

The three of them took a titanic journey throughout Central America before they headed to South America

‘It was an epic journey, fraught with danger and sheer excitement,’ recalls JB-D. ‘For example, we were arrested three times for being alleged spies. Fortunately, although Leo had a fiery temper he also had a remarkably smooth tongue and always managed to talk us out of the most tricky situations.

‘I’m proud to say the three of us embarked on two memorable voyages – one down the River Orinoco and the other up the River Amazon.’

JB-D first met Leo in 1965 while working for the Rugby Advertiser; Leo was on the Coventry Evening Telegraph

‘But it was three years later when I worked for the Bristol Evening Post that I really came to know Leo. He sat opposite me working on the Post’s sister paper – the Western Daily Press.

‘Martin hadn’t ventured into journalism at that time; but he, too, became part of the trio as we all shared a house. Leo was my mentor and I owe more to him than any other man I have met in my life.

‘I – and anyone else who knew him – will miss his charm, his wit, his generosity and above all his friendship.

‘He was not just a man. Knowing him was an unforgettable experience and an education.’

After their South American experience, Martin, Leo and JB-D all ended up working for the News of the World.

Like JB-D, Martin still cherishes his memories of the South American escapade.

‘We arrived in Mexico in early 1974 to begin our adventure,’ he recalls. ‘But within a few months we found ourselves in the middle of the Amazon jungle in Columbia.

‘It was here that we boarded a dilapidated twin-propelled plane, which was to take us on a flight to the edge of a green hell.

‘There was a lightning conductor from the cockpit to the tail of the plane

‘Once on board we noticed the seats were made of canvas and apart from the three of us, there was a group of Columbians carrying chickens in baskets, others carried bags of corn while others were carrying goats on their shoulders.

‘On the third attempt, the pilot, who was wearing a crash helmet, managed to get us airborne after we bounced along the runway – a field in the middle the jungle. We were stood at the back of the plane, which is just as well, because as soon as we took off, all the seats collapsed, throwing the passengers to the floor.

‘Once we were several hundred feet in the air, a potential catastrophe awaited us as the clouds were black and there were flashes of fork lightning. We were in the middle of an electrical storm. One bolt of lightning hit the plane and we began to plummet towards the jungle below – so low, in fact, that we could see the tops of the trees. The pilot carried on nursing the plane through out nightmarish flight, skimming across the tops of the trees – but it held no fear for Leo.

‘He sat with us on the floor of the plane gently smiling at us.

‘Eventually, we touched down at our destination – another field in the middle of nowhere. The passengers, including us, disembarked and then they surrounded the plane. They all applauded the pilot, who emerged still wearing his crash helmet, while some even sank to their knees in prayer.

‘Leo turned towards us with a huge grin on his face and said, “Piece of piss, lads!”…

‘Leo was one hell of a man. We will all miss him greatly.’

Leo is survived by his three brothers – Clive, Michael and Dermolt – and two sisters –Joan Deidre.

The funeral service for Leo is due to take place today (Friday, May 13) at 3.30pm at West London Crematorium, Harrow Road, Kensal Green, London W10 4RA, followed by celebratory drinks at the Orchard Pub in Askew Road, Shepherd's Bush, West London.

#

Once upon a time in the West

By Jim McCandlish

The stunning news of the death of gifted reporter and Irish wild man Leo Clancy brings back vivid memories of a bizarre time in the history of our craft.

He was one of the hordes in the 1970s who joined the quest across the Atlantic to work for the National Enquirer.

And, oh, what a ripsnorting parade it was!

Through the doors of a nondescript building in the middle of a verdant oasis in sandy Lantana, Florida, marched the most rambunctious cavalcade of pranksters, con men, and rapscallions – in other words, damn fine journalists – our oddball trade has ever seen.

From barrooms all over the English-speaking world – in London, Glasgow, Jo’burg, Sydney, Singapore and beyond – they stumbled, drawn like moths to the flame that once was the National Enquirer.

Crazy money, wild women, unlimited travel to exotic places, stories to die for – that was the draw.

And the gentlemen of Ranters played a big part in this once-in-a-lifetime journalistic circus.

Why? The owner of the paper, ‘godfather’ Generoso Pope, loved Brit journos and their Commonwealth cousins. ‘Dese guys can get it done. Let’ s get more of ’em,’ he instructed his top honchos, Scotsmen Iain Calder and Bill Dick. And the floodgates were opened.

Let’s throw in a few names that will ring a bell in most Ranterian minds...

Brian Hitchen, Noel Botham, Mike McDonough, David Wright, Paul Bannister, Bill Burt, Bernard Scott, Malcolm Balfour, Jeff Wells, Neil Blincow, Lee Harrison, Vince Eckersley, John Bell, Dick Saxty, Jimmy Leggate, Harold Lewis, Mike Kerrigan, Bruce Camlin, Ken Potter, Brian Hogan, John Latta, Donald MacLachlan, Pat Gregor, Jan Goodwin, Tony Brenna, John South, Alan Smith, Mike Irish, Phil Smith, Joe West, Chris Pritchard, Terry Willows, Les Wilson, Simon Lewis, Malcolm Boyes, John Cooke, Phil Bunton, Bill Cole, Gavin Bell, Jack Grimshaw, Bob Smith, John Hiscock, John Burke-Davis, Dougie Thompson, Stewart Dickson, Alistair Gregor, Jimmy Sutherland, Paul Jenkins, Brian Wells, Mike Miller, John Webb, Mike Hoy...

Apologies to any I’ve missed – maybe it’s for the best...

Even Ranters favourite Colin Dunne confesses to having made an appearance as one of the month-long Enquirer ‘try-out’ holidaymakers.

Oh, and a couple of others showed up too – Rupert Murdoch and a bloke named Cudlipp.

Murdoch was kept cooling his heels for several days in the early 70s trying to buy the Enquirer, but never even got to see the paper’s elusive supremo, Mr Pope.

Hugh, a prospective ‘consultant’, had better luck, spending the best part of a week swanning around in a yacht, swigging untold gallons of claret and champagne on the Popian buck.

Some Brits are still around including Tony Frost, (Evening News, Sunday Mirror) current editor of the Enquirer; Mike Irish, (Mirror) editor, American Sun; Paul Frances (Globe ace writer), son of famed Mirror lovely, Jill Evans; plus John South and Alan Smith still out on the west coast for the Enquirer. David Wright (Mirror) is still, just retired at 72, pulling in front page splashes as an Enquirer freelancer.

Back in the early days, one tough Fleet Street gal had a legendary ‘try-out’ at the Enquirer. Somehow she hooked up and took off on a road trip with a bloke who turned out to be a crazed serial killer. After a week on the road with her, he escaped unscathed.

So many Brit hacks were pouring into Lantana, you never knew who you’d be drinking with at the end of the day.

One night I wandered over to the bar on the ocean at the Hawaiian Inn and bumped into Pat Mullarkey, my old colleague and sometime boss on the Scottish Daily Mail in Edinburgh who went on to the newsdesk of the Mail in Manchester. Drinking at the bar? Mancunian Express hero Harry Pugh.

Both were enjoying the aforementioned month-long all-expenses-paid Enquirer ‘try-out’ vacations.

Ace Mailman Harry Longmuir was another Fleet Streeter who made the trek. I seem to recall him chasing Martin Luther King killer James Earl Ray through the mountains of Tennessee after he (James, not Harry) escaped from Brushy Mountain Prison.

Bob Smith (Express, Scotland), the Rowdy Roddy Piper of journalism, arrived at Miami airport with his shoes in his jacket pockets and brandishing a bottle of Johnny Walker Red (this was way before airport security). He raised such a rumpus that immigration officials stamped ‘undesirable’ on his passport. But the Enquirer found him eminently desirable as a reporter – until he ran off with a blonde interpreter during a team expedition to a medical convention in Austria.

Three well-known Brit operators scarpered to South America with company credit cards, portable typewriters, tape recorders and anything else they could carry. Yes, dear old Leo Clancy was the leader.

One of this trio wrote to editor Iain Calder years later claiming he’d reformed, seen the light, got married and wanted to come back to the Enquirer. Calder replied: ‘John (was that his name?), I’m glad you’ve changed your ways, but as for the second part of your letter asking for a job, the answer is NO.’

Former Sunday Mirror man Jeff Samuels had his 15 minutes of fame when he and another couple of Brits were caught trying to flog the Enquirer’s world-exclusive Elvis-in-the-coffin picture to a T-shirt manufacturer.

Enquirer editor Calder was tipped off and watched the deal go down through FBI surveillance from an adjacent hotel room. ‘Why did you do it?’ demanded Iain. ‘You’ve got a great, high-paying job.’

‘I wanted a motorcycle, didn’t I,’ chirped Jeff, in his best Cockney.

There was a Canadian defrocked priest on the staff who instantly became the exorcism expert. After a gruelling two months on the road uncovering the secrets behind the Exorcist movie he came home and, I remember the line vividly because I’ve used it many times since, told his girlfriend:

‘Take a good look at the floor, girl. Because you’re going to be looking at the ceiling for the next 24 hours.’

Former Enquirer stringer Robin Leach who became famous as the man fronting TV’s smash Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous caused us untold grief when he filed a front page story claiming Walter Cronkite, CBS-TV’s most trusted anchorman in America believed in UFOs.

Walter was not amused, called Pope personally, and tore him a new rear end. Pope, livid, banned Robin forever (great career move, Robin) but ordered that from then on, every word in the Enquirer had to be on tape. It caused great conflict between reporters and the Enquirer’s new Stalin-like research department– but never underestimate the abilities of a British hack.

And the stories. You’ve heard some of them, like Kentucky John Harris spending 9 months travelling the globe looking for paradise in places like Fiji and Bermuda only to have all his stories spiked by the mercurial Pope. When he heard Harris was filing his stories by telephone Pope snarled: ‘How can he be in paradise – they’ve got phones!’

I was sent to Germany for two weeks on a story fishing expedition. I ended up living the life we all should experience at least once -- roaming anywhere I wanted to go in Europe, all expenses paid, with my German-speaking girlfriend for six months.

When I finally turned in my rented BMW at Munich airport, the bill turned out to be more than the car was worth. The hotel and entertainment expenses would have had any other newspaper accountant looking for a gas oven in which to stick his bonce.

Decapitated German tourists in the mountains of Peru... drawings of UFOs in the caves of the Baja Peninsula in Mexico... hunting for the Abominable Snowman in the Himalayas... chasing celebrities around the world... we poor sods at the Enquirer were forced to do it all.

And yes, we were ordered to drink like somebody else was paying for it. If not in hostelries grand and low, where else were we going to find our stories?

Of course it wasn’t all cognac and cigars – wholesale firings on Friday nights, living lives that depended on a megalomaniac’s whim.

But it was an unforgettable journalistic ring-a-ding-ding that never happened before and is unlikely ever to happen again.

Any complaints, boy?

You gotta be joking.

Right, Leo?

#

Voice of the North

By John Bailey

It was perfectly possible that you heard the voice long before you spotted the distinctive outline or unconventional attire of ace reporter Terence Wynn.

Depending on the era, the by-line may have been for any one among a dozen publications down the years. But maybe ‘Wynn, reporter with Daily Sketch (1953-58)’ was his favourite.

Those were days when covering big stories on the northern patch meant days away from base, staying sober with the pack while striving for a new line of your own on long-running stories. Mention Windscale, October 1957 and you have the perfect example.

‘Terry’ was reserved for those special friends like Gordon Amory, Stanley Blenkinsop, Johnny Learwood and Leo Dillon. Terence could weave yarns about Leo’s Mancunian dry wit, Wilf Kerr’s legendary shorthand and Johnny Learwood’s lethal right hand.

Terence, for that was the preferred form of address, could also clear a corridor with that developed, thunderous, trained voice of his, especially when he was excited.

The new sub on a Church national paper recalled an occasion when Terence invited him to a Southend United home game against the sub-editor’s own club Sunderland during their short sojourn in the old Third Division in 1988.

Terence provided a guided tour of the stadium and had the air of the proprietor instead of editor of the match programme. When the timid sub hesitated to follow Terence over the barriers and onto the pitch because of the attentions of diligent stewards, the Wynn voice boomed out: ‘It’s all right – he’s with me!’

Sad to relate, that sonorous voice has been suddenly stilled. Terence Bryan Wynn died in Southend University Hospital in the early hours of Wednesday, May 4. He was 82 and had unaccountably contracted throat cancer. He had never been in hospital in his life or suffered any major illness, he said, and wondered aloud what had caused the disease.

Throughout coping with his sickness, Terence never complained and was grateful for everything done for him. He accepted his situation with calm and dignity and died peacefully. He was not alone at the end. He received the Sacraments of the Church, was visited regularly and five friends kept him company for most of his last day.

Terence had a full career, always engaged with the word. He worked for local, regional and national newspapers, regional independent television and the BBC, a range of civil service Government appointments as senior information officer, edited Liberal News for the old Liberal Party and ended his full-time career handling Press and broadcasting matters for the Lord Chancellor’s Department during the Thatcher era.

He retired in 1988 to start his own news and PR agency, which he called More Publicity – named after his favourite saint, Sir Thomas More.

And that was a clue to another side of his life, though it was completely interwoven with his journalism and good works. Terence was a man of faith, completely unafraid to speak about it, or defend it vigorously if called upon to do so.

It led him to work in his spare time, unpaid, for most of his career helping the communications effort of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, including five years as editor of what was then the UK’s premier Catholic newspaper The Universe.

In 1956, as chairman of the newly-founded Newcastle branch of the Catholic Writers’ Guild of St Francis de Sales, Terence helped photographer Leo Dillon (who died so recently), Jim Dollan, Joe Cummings and others to found Northern Cross when Bishop of Hexham & Newcastle RC Diocese, the Rt Rev Joseph McCormack, wanted an outlet for the news being generated in his 160 parishes from Berwick upon Tweed to Stockton-on-Tees.

The Catholic monthly, still flourishing 55 years later, was a first among RC regionals, now the norm. Years later, when he had retired, Terence helped launch another Catholic monthly, Brentwood News in Essex, his adopted county. He edited that title for 11 years, along the way winning a 1996 newspaper-of-the-year prize.

Whatever he was about, Terence never lost that affection for his early grassroots days. He still subscribed to the Hexham Courant, where he started as a junior reporter. And he was forever sending pieces to the Cross taking issue with someone else’s facts, providing historical background or stirring a reaction – all typed on his trusty Remington portable.

Not enough noticed in 2000, he scooped everyone to land the first interview with the BBC’s then new Director General, Mark Thompson. He chose little Northern Cross to publish it, lifting both the confidence and reputation of the Catholic monthly.

He was a founder member of the national Diocesan Editors’ Forum, its first chairman for three years, and was later elected life president. He was honorary vice-president of the Catholic Writers’ Guild and its national chairman in 1967 and served five years on the Mass Media Commission of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England & Wales.

It was as he retired as editor of Brentwood News – when the newsprint tabloid switched to its present magazine format – that he was presented with his medal to become a Knight of St Gregory, an honour from the Pope. The presentation was made by the Bishop of Brentwood, the Rt Rev Thomas McMahon in 2001.

Testimony to the seriousness accorded the honour by his Pens & Lens Club colleagues, was the pewter tankard Terence’s buddy Gordon Amory organised to present at that year’s November lunch at St James’ Park, Newcastle upon Tyne. Gordon trailed the presentation by announcing the Club now had its very own Papal Knight.

What many friends wouldn’t know was that Terence was also a playwright. He wrote Walsingham, a modern mystery play about Our Lady of Walsingham, to whom he had a lasting devotion.

Terence came from a theatrical background, his mother and aunt and their parents and Terence’s father all being stage performers. He had his own stage act, which developed his voice projection.

That trait became a trademark characteristic, whether addressing gatherings, proclaiming Mass readings at his home parish of Holy Family, South Benfleet, or clearing a restaurant when sharing a convivial conversation over a quiet lunch.

He was a character who embraced life through his craft and his faith, but he was a retiring man in private life. A bachelor, he lived alone at home in Essex for the last 20 years of his life after his mother died in 1990. His two cocker spaniels, Chips and Spot, and canary Birdie kept him company in later years.

He used to list his interests as reading, writing and talking. He liked wearing hats – Russian-style, baseball cap, deerstalker, he wore them all in turn. A neighbour said she could tell the season by his headwear.

Later he added theatre and ‘soccer’ to his hobbies. Terence loved football and was both a Newcastle United fan, which reflected his upbringing on Tyneside, and a loyal Southend United supporter. He wrote regularly for the club’s match programme and was still involved with Southend’s centenary match edition just five years ago.

He might also have added motoring. He maintained a 1968 cherished car, a blue Jaguar in which he once drove Leo Dillon’s son James to a schoolboy cup final. Jim still remembers the pride he felt being given a lift in a blue Jag – ‘real cool’ for the time. It was popularly known as ‘the workers’ jag’ while Gordon Amory had ended a last letter asking Terry how his ‘Morse’ Jaguar was faring.

Terence was a regular letter-writer to The Times on public or Church matters, but only on topics where he was able to bring a specialist view and always citing his editorship of The Universe when relevant.

Piecing together much of this while sitting beside his hospital bed in Southend, it was gradually coming together while striving desperately not to give away the purpose of the exercise. Terence, of course, had his news nose on, razor-sharp wits undimmed.

Dates became blurred as we honed the sequence of junior reporter on the Hexham Courant (1945), Blyth News (where he and Gordon Amory shared their start in journalism, 1947-48), Shields Evening News (1948-50), Sunderland Echo (1950-53), Daily Sketch (1953-58) and then Tyne Tees Television – he was the station’s first news editor (1958) then head of news and current affairs (1960-66), editorial planning at BBC Television News, Alexandra Palace (1966-67), senior press and information officer posts at the Land Commission (1967-71), HM Customs and Excise (1971-72), editor of The Universe (1972-77), editor, Liberal News and head of the Liberal Party’s press office (1977-83), regional press officer MSC and COI, London and SE (1983-85) and editor, Your Court at the Lord Chancellor’s Department (1985-88)… when that distinctive, now somewhat muted Wynn voice dismissed the whole effort with: ‘It’s all in Who’s Who!’

A Requiem Mass will be offered for Terence Bryan Wynn at Holy Family Church, 661 High Road, Benfleet, Essex SS7 5SF on Wednesday, May 18 at 10am. A memorial Mass, planned for his friends in the North, will be offered at St John the Baptist Church, Annitsford, Northumberland NE23 7QR on Saturday, June 11 at 10.30am. Both will be followed by gatherings for friends to reminisce and recount those Wynn stories.

#

Great expectations in hard times

By John Drew

According to Lord Northcliffe, Charles Dickens was ‘the greatest magazine editor of his own or of any other age.’ With the bicentenary of Dickens’s birth looming next year, a new free online archive of the two magazines Dickens edited from 1850 until his death in 1870 has been created at the University of Buckingham.

The project is appealing nationally for online proof-readers, with sharp eyes, an altruistic nature, and a love of Victorian journalism.

With help from individual donations, the Dickens Fellowship, and the Leverhulme Trust, the Dickens Journals Online (DJO) project has digitised more than a thousand 24-page issues of Household Words and All The Year Round, using text-recognition software to convert the scanned pages into words. Serialised within the magazines’ pages are some of the most-widely studied and influential of Dickens’s novels – Great Expectations, Hard Times, A Tale of Two Cities – as well as hundreds of articles and leaders by Dickens himself.

Most of Britain’s digitised newspapers and periodicals are sadly only available through subscription to commercial publishers, but along with NCSE, Dickens Journals Online is an exception. It is free to access, and – something of a first – displays both high resolution images of the magazine page, and a searchable transcript of the text.’

But text recognition software isn’t perfect, and there are about 10 mistakes per page, which the project has set about eliminating through an appeal for online volunteers. About 10% of the work has been completed since January, to a high standard. This is a terrific boost, and will help us apply some really interesting technology to the material, but we do need more people who love journalism and good writing to join in. It’s much more fun than you might think!

While the voice of wisdom suggests it may be difficult to get online proof-readers working for nothing, the example of the Australian Newspaper Digitisation Program – for which volunteers have corrected some 30 million lines of newsprint in little more than years – gives hope to the Buckingham project.

About a third of the articles are anonymously published, and there are grounds for believing we may come across new material by the editor, who frequently added to or rewrote articles by other writers. Our volunteers may find themselves correcting pages that turn out to contain unrecognised work by Dickens himself.

The magazines sold between 40,000 and 100,000 copies a week in the UK alone, with some commentators putting circulation in America at upwards of 3 million.

Anyone interested in giving the journals a new readership in the 21st century, or contributing as a volunteer to their sub-editing, just has to click through to www.djo.org.uk.

#

Rudge

###


Keep up to date with Ranters

If you are not already on our journalists’ mailing list (or if you used to be on it and have mysteriously fallen off) and want to be reminded when the site is updated, send your name and email address (in the body of the copy) to

ranters1@gmail.com

Use the same link if you have recently changed your email address.

We do not send any other emails and do not share the address list with anybody.



There are more than 7.600 words on this page.


If you are still short of reading matter, click here.


The Gentlemen Ranters site is a brilliant compendium of reminiscences of the great days of Fleet Street. – The Times


Issue # 197
May 20, 2011


This Week

It’s not too hot for the old folks back home, is it? One asks because the Grim Reaper has got another triple up, this week.

Mike Kiddey remembers Eric Purnell of the Daily Telegraph (and elsewhere); Paddy Byrne recalls running up against Terry Newell (Daily Mirror and other places); and we hope to have words about Arthur Brown of the People, next week.

We have yet more on Leo Clancy, this time from Roy Stockdill. And even more memories, prompted by Leo’s obit last week, about the old days on the Enquirer, from Harry Taylor.

Funny old week. We’ve even got another obit on the typewriter, this time by John Shone.

But let’s start at the beginning, with the beginnings.

Neville Stack joined the business for the romance… meaning that he thought it was the sort of job that would automatically pull birds. His piece is the latest in our continuing series about how people started in the Great Game – prompted by Walter Schwarz’s excellent memoir, The Ideal Occupation, which is getting flattering double-page reviews all over the place.

James Lambie also had a book out recently (not one of ours, but it was reviewed here). His history of The Sporting Life was voted British Racing Book of the Year and he reports that collecting a prize at the Savoy was a night to remember – but for the wrong reasons.

And Rudge (cartoonist James Whitworth) holds up the column with a memory of industrial action (as we used to call industrial inaction).

#

Bouncing with Bernadette

By Mike Kiddey

Eric Purnell, former chief northern reporter of the Daily Telegraph who died two weeks ago aged 75, was one of the most cantankerous characters ever to come out of Withy Grove.

He was blunt to the point of rudeness but he could also be incredibly generous to anyone in genuine need, particularly fellow hacks – but it was something never mentioned. Eric wanted to maintain his macho Yorkshire image

When he moved on to BBC Radio Manchester, where he regarded all management as ‘pillocks’, Eric’s own management style as deputy news editor and producer often landed him in hot water.

On one occasion, after producing a Citizens Advice Bureau phone-in Eric, was hauled before the pillocks after horrified volunteer social workers reported him for berating callers as ‘whingers and moaners’ and refusing to put them on air.

The BBC eventually despatched Eric to a room in the basement – where they put him in charge of PR. To everyone’s astonishment he was a success.

He learnt his craft at what must surely have been one of the best schools in the business, the Doncaster office of the Yorkshire Evening News whose alumni included David Baird, Philip Finn, Ivor Key, Frank Clough and Jim Davis as well as a number of Daily Mirror executives.

I first met Eric at the start of the Northern Ireland troubles .At that time the conflict was covered almost exclusively by the northern offices of the nationals

Having recently transferred from Fleet Street to Manchester I l knew few of the Manchester staffmen, so on arrival in Belfast I headed for the best hotel in town. In pre-bean-counter days it was the obvious place to find them.

I walked into the Royal Avenue just as a bedraggled character, shirt tails flapping and tie askew, staggered across the plush foyer, slammed a bottle down onto the reception desk and bellowed: ’Call this wine? Its effing cat’s piss.’

I said: ‘Good afternoon. Mike Kiddey, Daily Sketch.’

‘Eric Purnell, Daily Telegraph,’ came the reply.

Eric, a good operator, held the distinction of being the only journalist to my knowledge to conduct an interview with a Member of Parliament while bouncing up and down on a spacehopper.

It took place at the City Hotel in Derry, where the business of reporting was normally conducted through a fog of CS gas and Powers whiskey.

Eric had bought his son the spacehopper for Christmas and was taking it for a test drive.

Fuelled with Powers and bouncing around the hotel with gusto he spied Bernadette Devlin, the Republican firebrand and Westminster MP later to be jailed for rioting, as she was sneaking into a lift.

Eric, a good operator and never one to miss an opportunity for a story, cried out: ‘A word please, Miss Devlin.’ And with one almighty bounce landed alongside her just as the lift doors closed.

Five minutes later he bounced out again muttering: ’Bit embarrassing... Only thing to do was to keep bouncing right through the bloody interview hoping she wouldn’t notice.’

A few nights later the rioters in Bogside targeted Her Majesty’s Press ensconced in the City Hotel.

As petrol bomb and bricks rained down Eric and his equally irascible photographer.Bert Imlah took a break from the bar to nip out to the toilet where a brick promptly came through the window, causing Bert to pee on his shoes.

‘Have ye NO manners?’ screamed Bert. Purnell said later: ’I thought Bert was bollocking me but he was yelling through the broken window to the rioters.’

Eric retired with his wife Barbara to a converted chapel in the wilds of Wales where many of the locals attended his funeral at Aberystwyth Crematorium last week.

Some of the chapel folk were a little bemused to find, instead of an order of service on each chair, there were the following extracts from Eric’s will:

‘I REQUEST that my body be cremated and that my ashes be scattered over the fourth green of Bramall Park golf course if possible – or one of the fairways – to help generate grass for a sport which brought me moments of great joy.

‘I REQUEST that on my death the fastest hearse in the area shall be hired – given the legal speed limitations appertaining at the time – to take my addled remains to the nearest crematorium as quickly as possible and disposed of, without religious music or other religious nonsense (no matter what the god squad say I will face).

‘I REQUEST that wailing and weeping at my demise shall be kept to a minimum or banished altogether, and that my wife shall throw a party for relatives and friends within a fortnight after the funeral.’

Barbara added her own postscript which read:

‘So, no weeping and wailing please… Any ideas on how we can smuggle Eric's ashes onto one of the poshest golf courses in the UK would be greatly received.

’As for the fastest hearse – Alun put your foot down.’

Alun, the funeral director, did as requested and the party was held back at the converted chapel after the cremation. There was no weeping and wailing, nobody was prepared to risk the wrath of Eric. But there were some tears.

#

Marathon Man

By Paddy Byrne

Terry Newell was the Marathon Man at the Daily Mirror – verging on the unique among a mainly heavy drinking and chain-smoking fraternity, he competed in the first 28 London marathons.

He’s probably best remembered, though, for his equally enthusiastic – but considerably less successful – attempts to run rings around the editorial executives on the third and fourth floors. His running mates were the loony left-wingers in features, running (it must be said) largely against brick walls, for those were the days of a relatively compliant management, that tended to concede to most – certainly to the most sensible – claims submitted by the NUJ chapel under FoCs of the calibre of Steve Turner and David Thompson.

But his heart, which gave out last week at 75, was always in the right place.

Terry had started in the late 50s as a freelance sub and sometime reporter on magazines, including Health & Strength, before moving to the Daily Sketch and the Morning Advertiser. In 1970 he started shifts at the Daily Mirror and joined the staff as a features sub where he remained until being sacked in the mid 1990s. He also did Saturday sports subbing shifts for more than 15 years for the Sunday Telegraph, occasionally writing rugby match reports. He was also a regular at TV Times for many years.

After the Daily Mirror he started shifts at the Kilburn Times where he worked until October last year.

Terry's funeral will be held at the church of St Peter and St Paul in the village of West Clandon, Surrey on June 3 at noon. After the service and burial the wake will be at Clandon Park which is next to the church. It would be helpful to advise his daughter, Jane, if you plan to attend. Donations can be sent in his memory to Cherry Trees, a respite care home for children at School Lane, East Clandon, Guildford, Surrey, GU4 7RS.

#

Animal house

By Roy Stockdill

Leo Clancy and his chum Martin Turner (Ranters, last week) both worked for the News of the World as freelances on regular shifts in the 1970s/80s – the pre-tabloid, pre-Wapping days – in Bouverie Street.

They were two of a motley crew of freelances, all of them 'artful dodger' characters who were widely regarded with deep suspicion by the staff reporters and deliberately kept at arm's length by editorial executives. Besides Clancy and Turner, they included Gerry Brown, Clive Cooke, Ray Chapman and the photographer Ian Cutler.

Their value as contributors was recognised by successive NoW editors, but who didn't want to know too much about how they got their stories. So, the regular freelances were allotted their own office, a small, windowless, dingy room well away from the full-time editorial staff, which some wag among them dubbed the 'Animals' room'. The 'Animals' room' became part of Bouverie Street folklore and was referred to by everybody as such – to the chagrin, especially, of Derek Jameson during his editorship.

As then deputy features editor under the late Rod Tyler, formerly the Daily Mail education correspondent, I had the great good fortune – or should that be misfortune? – to be one of Leo Clancy's bosses.

One day, Tyler commissioned Leo to go on the dole for a month and write a feature about his experiences. Leo duly went off and signed on. We saw nothing of him for a week –on the following Tuesday he appeared in the office and presented Tyler with a claim for a week's freelance shifts and expenses.

Rod Tyler was apoplectic, no doubt foreseeing himself being charged as an accessory to a benefits fraud, and informed Leo in no uncertain times that he really had meant him to spend a month drawing the dole, with no pay from the NoW. Poor old Leo was forlorn and dismayed but duly did as he was told, and I can still remember the intro to his story to this day. He wrote: 'It's bloody hard work being on the dole!' (The 'bloody' may not have got into the paper).

The other story about Leo concerns the fact that he found a house in the Notting Hill/Shepherds Bush area that had an absentee landlord nobody could trace, having disappeared abroad somewhere. Leo squatted in the house, letting rooms out to mates, until the requisite legal period – 12 years, if memory serves me right – had expired, after which it became his. I believe he eventually sold it for a lot of money.

There were no flies on Leo Clancy...

#

Enquirer directory

By Henry Taylor

I can supplement your National Enquirer reminiscences (last week) with a few earlier ones. I am old enough, at 78, to have worked for the Enquirer for a couple of years in the early sixties when their office was on 60th Street and Madison Avenue (yes, in midtown Manhattan) and long before the wild days that Jim McLandish writes about (Ranters, last week). The paper later moved over to New Jersey, then down to Florida.

I emigrated to the US in 1963 (it was easy under the old quota system) because I couldn't get a job before I went. Once in New York I did the rounds trying to get work, when someone I was talking to in the New York Times office asked me if knew Ted Mutch, a sub at the Daily Mirror where I had been a sub in the fifties. I said I did, and was given the address of the Enquirer, which I had never heard of.

Ted, managing editor, hired me as one of four articles editors (three Brits, one American) who sweated blood trying to get off-beat and human interest stories out of American freelances, who seemed to have no idea what they were. The publisher, Gene Pope, was desperately trying to change the image of the paper because he wanted it on sale in the supermarkets, but they wouldn't take because in those days it was little more than a gore sheet – crime stories, usually murders, accompanied by pictures of mutilated bodies.

The nearest we came to having a riotous time in those days was when someone suggested we got all our stringers, from home and overseas, and entertain them for a day or two. Laurie Wilkinson, ex-Daily Mail, flew over from Rome, Henry Thody, a former staffer on several British papers, turned up from God knows where, somebody whose name I can't remember popped over from Paris, and a handful of lushes from papers around the States joined in. In was great while it lasted, lavish lunches, huge bar bills, expenses unlimited.

Of the people I remember: Mutch, Wilkinson, Thody, long dead. Robin Leach, then aged about 22, did some freelance work for us, and as far as I know is still in Los Angeles, having made his fortune in television. Iain Calder and Bill Dick were running the London office, which was over a coffee shop off Bond Street (I did some freelance work for them when I returned to the UK). Calder and Dick joined the Enquirer in the States, Calder becoming publisher after Gene Pope retired and Dick dying of heart problems in New York, where he had gone to work for another tabloid.

And me? I joined the Sunday Telegraph as a news/features sub where I remained until, well, not death just yet, but until I retired.

#

The tender touchtype

By John Shone

In response to Harold Heys’s excellent piece about the demise of the manual typewriter (Issue 195, May 6), I have to confess that there’s still a portable tucked away in our attic… just in case.

Until we moved house a year ago, I always carried it in the boot of the car… just in case.

Actually, in the months leading up to the turn of the century, and for some time afterwards, my little Fiesta was home to four machines… just in case.

As news editor at BBC Radio Shropshire, with special responsibility for ‘contingency planning’, I knew that my rusty and trusty hoard of vintage typewriters could be relied upon to keep listeners up to date at the dawn of the new millennium… just in case the dreaded Millennium Bug infected the station’s computer system and wiped out our news bulletins.

As North Wales news ed at HTV Wales in the 1990s I was the last of the Luddites, resisting any change to new technology, until eventually they forced me to use a laptop.

But then I’ve long been in love with typewriters. In a Ranters edition several years ago I recalled how I was the only boy in the shorthand and typing class at secondary school in North Wales, circa 1959, before leaving at 14 to fulfil my journalistic ambitions in London. What I didn’t reveal then – but can unburden now – was the physical violence used against me as we sat at our desks in rows, hands poised over the covered keyboards of our sturdy Remingtons.

Those quirky, qwerty keyboards were hidden from view by a small cloth apron, or sometimes a wooden shield, so that we didn’t peep as we strived to master the skills of touch typing.

The trouble was, I couldn’t resist peeping – not only at the keyboard, but at the ample busty delights of my nearest neighbour, Jean. She was a major distraction as hatchet faced Miss W began dictating from the Pitman’s commercial typewriting manual.

Dear Sir: In reply to yours of the 29th ultimo, asking for a gratuity of one year's salary, I beg to state that I cannot even give consideration to this...’ she’d intone.

Amid the clumsy clatter of the trainee typing pool it was a real struggle to concentrate and, all too often, I would give in to my lustful pubescent urges. As my quivering hands began to wander in the direction of shapely Jean, the hawk-eyed Miss W would suddenly strike… hard with a wooden ruler across my knuckles.

‘Behave, you horrible boy, and pay attention!’ Oh, the pain of first love!

Not long afterwards, my affections for Jean began to fade in favour of Joyce. She was the daughter of Billy, our local coalman, who delivered large quantities of nutty slack to our house through the 1950s as my mother battled to keep the home fires burning.

One day, while lurking around Billy’s coalyard in pursuit of his daughter, I set eyes on something much more desirable – a ‘sit up and beg’ Underwood typewriter which, I discovered later, had seen considerable active service in those years of conflict between 1939-45.

Apparently, armies in the Second World War took typewriters with them into battle and typed with them in the field on little tripod stands. It was even reported that among the ships sunk off Normandy during the D-Day invasion was a cargo vessel carrying 20,000 Royal and Underwood typewriters intended for the use of the Allies. As far as is known, all 20,000 are still down there.

But Billy the coalman’s Underwood managed to survive the war unscathed and there it was, sitting up and begging in his dusty wooden shack, just waiting for me to take it home.

‘How much do you want for that old typewriter, Mr Hughes?’

For a moment, Billy looked puzzled, but quickly realised that the ubiquitous Underwood might be just enough to divert my attentions away from his daughter. Without further ado, he agreed to sell it to me for a fiver. It was delivered the following Monday, perched incongruously on a blackened set of scales on the back of his old Bedford coal lorry.

My Dad loaned me the money to buy it and – until I landed a job as a copy boy on The Sporting LifeI paid him back at half a crown a week from my meagre earnings on a Saturday bread round.

My affair with Billy’s daughter fizzled out before it really began. But my loving relationship with Miss Underwood lasted until my mid twenties. I couldn’t keep my hands off her and she responded beautifully to my tender caresses as I stroked her keyboard. It wasn’t long before I reached 60 wpm. Oh, how quickly the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog…

In 1963,when JFK was assassinated, Miss Underwood was there to support me as I hammered out a short piece for the Mirrorhand-delivered to Holborn from my home in Islington – giving an 18-year-old’s perspective on the death of a global icon.

Then, there was the time I thought I could make a fast buck and supplement my wages on the Islington Gazette by typing envelopes at ten bob a thousand. The advert in the Friday edition didn’t mention that all the names and addresses were Arabic.

But my faithful war veteran delivered the goods, until I got fed up.

Eventually, the letter T snapped off and, after months of ploughing through late night copy from council meetings to ‘write in’ the most common consonant in the English language, I finally conceded defeat and acquired an Olivetti.

I still couldn’t bear to part with my dear old lady and it was another two years or so before she was consigned to the scrapyard. By then I’d met Pam, a secretary in classified ads, who let me fumble with her all-electric model.

But that’s another story.

#

Old romantic…

By Neville Stack

Even at 13 I had a vivid idea of what career I wanted.

It was the one that would make me attractive to women.

So, hey diddleydee it was a reporter’s life for me. Gorgeous maidens would seek my company; the less appealing would yearn for me. Lesser men toiling in banks would envy my raffish charm

So when I grew up and got demobbed from the RAF, I bought myself a trench coat (to which I was not entitled), turned up the collar and sported a cigarette at a rakish angle.

I knocked at the door of the Ashton-under-Lyne Reporter and begged for a trial. Bliss! I was taken on the strength for a few shillings a week and warned that if I didn’t pull more than my puny weight I would be dumped. (Eventually, I was.)

How well I remember the egregious Jack Middlehurst, banging on about how he was once mentor to my fellow RAF conscript Harold Evans, who was destined to become editor of the mighty Sunday Times and a knight to boot. God, what a bore Jolly Jack was.

Yes I found that the depressing fact of literary life, far from being dashing, was a dreary round of trudging round the dreaded Calls, picking up the unconsidered trifles that made up the life of the gloomy end of a gaunt grey town in the gaunt grey days of the post-war years, when it always seemed to be raining, except when we were stifled in yellow coal-smog.

Which is why my trench coat often got wet and my Woodbines got extinguished by the drizzle.

Alas for my adolescent dreams, the ladies of Lancashire were oblivious to my charms. Perhaps it was the grubby trench coat. Or maybe the ever-present fag. Or my rotten job.

Yes, I did get to meet some memorable people, I suppose, though not memorable enough to stay in my memory.

But stay… I recall how used to buy my cheap cigarettes from my former flight-lieutenant James Sherwood, who now ran a sweetie shop. He was kind enough to mention that it was ‘no wonder that such a scruffy conscript as you never made commissioned rank’... ‘In fact,’ he would say, ‘You were the lowest form of military life – an aircraftsman second class.’ And add spitefully ‘if there had been a third-class, you’d have been it.’

And I never did make it with women of the WAAF, except to speculate with my comrades-at-arms about the anaphrodisiac nature of their RAF-issue undies

Did I get any news from the gallant wartime bomber pilot? Nope. All a scoop meant to him was a tin thing he used to shovel up liquorice all-sorts

And did being a reporter on a crappy weekly make this weedy youth a bird-magnet? No, it did not.

Unsurprisingly the local lasses soon twigged that the scrawny fellow in the gangster mac, trudging round the shops and vicarages looking like a rent-collector, was unappealing in the extreme.

Seedy, yes; glamorous no way.

Especially by comparison with all the returned heroes with their spectacular moustaches.

So when I finally got the message that I had been misinformed about reporter appeal, I took the bus to Manchester and conned news editor Roly Watkins into taking me as a temp on the Daily Mirror to replace (some hopes) the late, great Keith Waterhouse. That was a lifetime ago, and I suppose I’m still on trial.

So, in despair, I then gave up the dreams of romantic encounters and concentrated upon becoming a virtuoso in Creative Expenses, with a bit of reporting on the side.

On the whole, I think I did the right thing.

Neville Stack became northern news editor of the Sunday People then the Daily Herald and the IPC Sun. He was a sub on the Daily Express, Manchester, then editor of the Stockport Advertiser before being appointed editor-in-chief of the Leicester Mercury. He spent a year as Press Fellow at Wolfson College, Cambridge, then joined the Straits Times group in Singapore, returning to the UK to be their Europe correspondent. He retired to his native Ireland, but still wrote columns for newspapers overseas.

#

The porker’s revenge

By James Lambie

It was not the best of times to go down with food poisoning – the porker’s revenge for turning him into sausages.

It was, after all, the big night; the culmination of years of dipping into hundreds of books at the British Library in St Pancras and scanning through thousands of microfilms and bound volumes in the BL newspaper library in Colindale.

The trauma of travelling on that incubator of all viruses known to man, aka the Tube, to that treasure house for historical research was as nothing compared to the near-death experience this peripatetic pen-pusher underwent last week at the Savoy Hotel in London where the National Sporting Club was holding its ninth British Sports Book Awards in the sumptuously refurbished Lancaster Ballroom.

The book that took us there, The Story of Your Life: A history of The Sporting Life newspaper (1859-1998), was one of seven short-listed for the newly introduced best (horse) racing book award, appropriately sponsored by Ladbrokes. A rush of blood to the head had resulted in taking out a second mortgage and inviting a table of loyal supporters fit for the occasion.

Guest of honour was our long-time hero Sir Mark Prescott, a genius genuine among Newmarket trainers, whose generous endorsement of the book went a long way towards giving it the credibility it needed to be accepted by the racing world at large.

Also on the table was the Life’s former greyhound editor Bob Betts whose 3x great grandfather, Morton Peto Betts scored the only goal (for Wanderers against the Royal Engineers) in the first ever FA Cup Final, played at the Kennington Oval in 1872.

Another with a sporting lineage was young Joe Galibardy, a web designer with a bright future as you can see if you visit www.sportinglifebook.com. His grandfather of the same name is, at 96, the last surviving Olympic gold medallist from the 1936 Munich Games. He was an outstanding half-back in the Indian hockey team that demolished their opponents by scoring 20 goals without conceding one in their four preliminary matches, before going on to beat Germany 8-1 in the final.

Sue Wreford, who made the long haul from Dorset, held the unique position of being the only woman journalist at the Life in the early 1970s when she campaigned tirelessly for her sex to be allowed to ride under Jockey Club Rules. When that autocratic body finally relented in 1972, she was one of the first to don silks and a right bonny sight she looked in them, too.

Another ex-Lifer at the posh nosh was Jeremy Chapman who, as assistant editor, did much to hold the paper together during its final traumatic years. Chapman doubled up as the paper’s golfing correspondent – a position he now holds with the Racing Post – and had an uncanny knack of sorting out long-priced winners of major tournaments prompting Hugh McIlvanney to write of him: “he has had enough extraordinary success in the game’s betting market to make most of the other professional forecasters seem the equivalent of municipal course hackers.”

Bryan Pugh, former chief sub at the Life and now holding the same position on the Post, proof-read the 611-page book in the impossibly short time given to him and more than earned his place at the table, as did Tim Martin-Jenkins (younger brother of Christopher, the BBC cricket commentator and journalist), who let this impoverished scribbler doss in his Notting Hill flat rent-free during research trips to London.

Lastly, all the way from Kincardine-on-Forth, came the kilted Bob Menzies and his delightful partner Lucinda Elrick, who were responsible for taking this confirmed Luddite by the hand and gently leading him into the wonders of the IT world.

And so it was that while the rest of the table tucked into the finest fodder the Savoy could serve up, dish after dish was waved away by yours truly who confined himself to lacing multiple glasses of water with rehydration powders while popping the occasional loperamide hydrochloride 2mg capsule, which fortunately succeeded in living up to its billing by stopping the trots in less than an hour.

By the time the award for the best racing book was announced I was in no condition to give any sort of coherent speech and simply staggered off the stage clutching a heavy glass trophy, before being photographed grinning manically and wishing death would come sooner rather than later.

In short-heading Paul Mathieu’s self-published, masterly account of the Masters of Manton: From Alec Taylor to George Todd, the award revived ghostly ties the Sporting Life had with the original National Sporting Club, founded in Covent Garden in 1891. Early members of that Bohemian establishment included Theodore Cook - later knighted for his services to sport - who wrote a weekly column for the Life under the pseudonym ‘Old Blue’, and the paper’s boxing correspondent, Bob Watson. Watson’s membership was short-lived, however, as he was expelled within the year for making caustic comments about one of the club's boxing matches.

And boxing was what the old NSC was all about. For more than 30 years it was the hub of British and, indeed, world boxing, combining weekly bouts with slap up meals; and here I should add that the basic fare was chops or steak with chips and a flagon of beer thrown in, all for the price of 1s 4d – just over 6p in ‘new’ money.

My, my, isn’t inflation a terrible thing? But it’s not half as bad as food poisoning on your big night at the Savoy.

The award for the best autobiography went to England’s former rugby international Brian Moore for his Beware of the Dog, also winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year. Other category winners were: Rugby: Tom English’s The Grudge; Cricket: Harry Pearson’s Slipless in Settle; Football: Anthony Clavane’s Promised Land; Biography: Catrine Clay’s Trautmann’s Journey; New Writer: Matthew Syed for Bounce; Publicity Campaign: Robert Penn’s It’s All About the Bike; Illustrated Title: Doug Cheeseman, Martin Cloake and Adam Powley’s ’61 The Spurs Double; Sports Book Retailer: W H Smith.

The category winners are now open to a public vote at www.britishsportsbookawards.co.uk/vote where anyone is free to vote for their favourite book. The overall winner will be announced on June 13.

#

Rudge


###



Keep up to date with Ranters

If you are not already on our journalists’ mailing list (or if you used to be on it and have mysteriously fallen off) and want to be reminded when the site is updated, send your name and email address (in the body of the copy) to

ranters1@gmail.com

Use the same link if you have recently changed your email address.

We do not send any other emails and do not share the address list with anybody.


The Gentlemen Ranters site is a brilliant compendium of reminiscences of the great days of Fleet Street. – The Times


Issue # 198
May 27, 2011


This Week

If it goes on like this, we will have to find a fount of type called Hushed Tones, and put a reporter on the door to collect names of mourners.

This week, Plain John Smith remembers Arthur Brown, who died earlier this month.

Then Mark Day (we start with an edited extract from his column in The Australian) and others recollect a possibly apocryphal – but none the worse for that – tale about Sydney crime reporter Dave Pick, who would otherwise have slipped away unnoticed.

There’s obviously no danger of Leo Clancy slipping away unnoticed; this week David Isaacs has – yet – another tale from his colourful life.

But, back in the land of the living, Ivan Waterman has tracked former show-biz writer Pat Codd all the way into the mayoral chamber for a piece of Codd that passeth all understanding.

Former snapper turned sometime picture editor Alun John continues our series about How I Got Started.

Oh… and, lest we forget, Skiddy has celebrated his 82nd birthday with another book out. We’re starting to lose count but we think this one is number 26. Nothing to do with journalism, this time – except that it’s a series of excellent interviews with Welsh artist Sir Kyffin Williams, and a large number of his friends. Revel Barker plugs the book.

And cartoonist Rudge, as usual, props the whole column up with more reports from the chapel.

Talking of which, we are indebted to our old friends at Media Digest for the latest tale of stupidity on the house agreement front. Apparently, instead of a pay rise, journalists at Johnston Press were offered… free plays on the firm’s bingo games. Only – and you knew there’d be a catch – as employees they would be barred from collecting if they won any of the top prizes.

The source for the information is said to be the NUJ. It can’t be true, can it?

#


The man who beat Cap’n Bob

By Plain John Smith

Arthur Brown was a hotel metal man and proud of it.

As assistant editor of The People, he revelled in his role as the production mastermind who waged a weekly battle to bring out the paper amid the maelstrom of deadlines, slip editions and mutinous printers.

But for all his skills on the stone, Arthur may best be remembered as The Man Who Beat Robert Maxwell.

Seeking staff cuts after taking over the Mirror group, Captain Bob wrote to the staff with individual offers for voluntary redundancy. Along with many others, Arthur accepted.

When Maxwell realised just how big the final redundancy bill would be, he reneged on the deal, arbitrarily slashing the previously agreed payouts.

Confronted with this take-it-or-leave-it edict, many journalists grudgingly gave in and took the money. Not Arthur Brown. Furious at the crooked publisher’s treachery, he took legal advice and sued Maxwell for breach of contract.

For months, with no job and no pay, he defied the bullying tactics and threats from Maxwell’s men.

The dispute was on the eve of going to court when Maxwell surrendered. Arthur got his money, plus interest and legal costs.

Such a combative stance was typical of Arthur Brown, who has died aged 80. A resolute and sometimes prickly character, he was never one to back away from a challenge.

Award winning photographer Michael Brennan, who worked for him when he was northern editor of the IPC Sun, remembers: ‘While he was great company and terrific with anecdotes, Arthur’s presence in the news room was quite intimidating. God help anyone, sub, deskman, reporter or photographer who screwed up.’

It was Brennan who captured some of the only pictures of Donald Campbell crashing in Bluebird while attempting a water speed record on Lake Coniston in 1967. Says Michael: ‘I didn’t know what I had in the camera, and when I phoned the Manchester office I was told by picture editor Ron Graham that Arthur had told him: If Brennan hasn’t got pictures of the crash, tell him not to bother coming back.

‘After the film emerged from the developer back at the office and the whole sequence of the tragedy could be seen I sheepishly informed the assembled company that I had agreed to a pooling arrangement, sharing the pictures with other newspapers. Arthur’s response was predictable. Fuck the gentleman’s agreement. Since when have gentlemen run newspapers?‘

Arthur was born in Sunderland and began his newspaper career as an apprentice printer on the Sunderland Echo. One morning a big local story broke and the news editor, short of bodies, summoned Arthur from the print floor and told him: ‘You’re a bright lad. Go out and be a reporter.’

Arthur did and it was the start of a journalistic career that soon took him to Manchester where he became chief sub and later northern editor of the Daily Herald. He continued in that job when the Herald closed and became the IPC Sun following the Mirror group takeover. Later he moved down to London as assistant editor of The People.

He involved himself in almost every aspect of the paper. A stickler for detail, he could be found in the features room on a Friday night, studiously completing the crossword scheduled for that week’s paper. ‘You have to make sure the clues are correct,’ he explained. ‘Print the paper upside down and no one notices. Print a wrong crossword clue and every bloody reader in the country will write in to complain.’

Arthur was a brilliant organiser, often called upon to oversee office social functions and celebrations. His colleagues dubbed him Assistant Editor (Dinners).

Always one to relish the funny side of Fleet Street life, he delighted in telling a story involving the Great Lyndoe, The People’s famed astrologer whose predictions were one of the best read columns in the paper in the days when it sold five million.

A touchy and eccentric character, Lyndoe insisted that he would write for the paper only if his copy was collected by hand each Tuesday from his East Coast home by a senior executive. Such was his popularity among readers that this demand was readily met.

The task fell to the versatile Mr Brown. One Tuesday, there was no copy waiting for Arthur and when he asked why the celebrated stargazer replied: ‘Because there will be no paper on Sunday.’

Nothing could persuade Lyndoe to produce a column and Arthur returned to the office empty handed. Days went by with no sign of problems and on Saturday night the presses were about to roll, without Lyndoe’s forecasts, when the printers walked out on strike and there was no paper that Sunday.

‘Pity he doesn’t apply himself to the football results,’ growled Arthur. ‘We could all make a few bob.’

Arthur was a keen and talented golfer, who at his peak played off a handicap of six. A former captain of the Press Golfing Society, noted for his prodigious tee shots, he was also a member of Effingham Golf Club near his Surrey home.

In retirement, never happy with being idle, he took over a flower stall on Woking station and became a familiar figure to thousands of commuters. It was a million miles away from Fleet Street, but Arthur was never happier.

He leaves a widow, Angela, sons Mark and Anthony and daughter Kate.

#

The birthday boy

By Mark Day

Dave Pick was the central character in a story that has been told and re-told by generations of Australian journalists. It's a yarn with a funny gag-line, but it has become a part of reporting folk lore because it contains an essential truth about our business.

Over the years names have been forgotten and details have become fuzzy, but the story goes like this: Dave was a reporter on the Sydney Daily Mirror when he was scooped on a job by the Sun. Dave had covered a run-of-the-mill yarn in a few paragraphs, only to find the same story was the Sun splash. The Sun reporter had learnt that it was the birthday of the person involved in the story. Dave had missed that key piece of information and when his editor saw how he had been beaten Dave copped a massive bawling out.

A little later Dave was sent to cover an incident in the city where a tram had run over a pedestrian. Dave crawled under the tram and said to the victim: ‘I'm from the Daily Mirror. Is it your birthday…?’

Boom…tish! The beauty of this yarn is that it perfectly captures the nature of journalism in an era long passed. This is when we learnt on the job; when starry-eyed kids, straight out of school, became copy boys and fed their ambition by watching and listening and absorbing lessons from the swashbuckling legends of the University of Hard Knocks.

We were like little Blue Heelers – ears pinned back, noses quivering, tails wagging – waiting to be told to ‘get away back’ and chase a story. The excitement of having front row seats at the first draft of history drove us in giddy and exhilarating pursuit of by-lines and front page splashes.

There were no J-schools then. You didn't turn up at your first job ‘work ready’. There were no degrees to be had in media studies or marketing or communications. You either had a nose for news and an ability to find out the facts and the twists of the tales, or you found another job. The people who have risen to the top of the nation's editorial trees in the past half-century have almost universally been products of that era of on-the-job training.

The ‘Is it your birthday?’ story comes from a past era but highlights the constant and very modern need for reporters to check every angle and never to be afraid to ask another question, even if it might seem a little silly. You never know when the answer might make the story. Many times a mundane yarn has been lifted out of the back pages by a nugget of information that transforms it and turns it into something different – and something different is the essence of news. As we learnt on day one, dog bites man is not news; but man bites dog… now that's news!

I'm telling the Dave Pick story because there's more to it. He died on February 23, aged 78, of heart disease and was cremated in Sydney almost two months later on April 20. By all accounts he had no close relatives and his funeral was arranged by the public trustee. None of his old workmates knew. I found out only because the long-time journalist and broadcaster Frank Crook used to bump into him from time to time.

‘We would say g'day and chat about friends and acquaintances,’ says Crook. ‘But we never discussed that story. He had denied that it ever happened, and I had the feeling that he was deeply embarrassed by it.’

Michael Frazer, a Melbourne journo and radio producer who has written a book about great journalism anecdotes, says he spent months trying to find Dave and when he eventually ran him to ground Dave was willing to chat about anything except his connection to the birthday question. ‘I got the feeling he regarded it as an embarrassing part of his much-younger past,’ Frazer says.

I can understand that, but I'd like to think Dave Pick is now looking down on us from heaven quietly proud of having given his name to a classic reporters' tale. He might be gone, all but forgotten, but the lesson passed on to young reporters in his name should never be. And, just in case you're wondering: No, February 23 was not his birthday. That was January 27.

The column prompted some interesting responses

From Mike Carlton: Poor old Dave Pick was the ABC's police roundsman when I got my cadetship there in 1963. He was a Pom, a nice bloke and kind to us cadets, but gangling and awkward and gullible. A fairly ordinary hack, it must be said. The ABC, in its lofty way, regarded police rounds as a necessary evil. Dave spent his days cooped up in a corner listening to the police, fire and ambulance radios and doing the morning CIB conference: ‘Man up dog, but yers won't print that one…’

The birthday story was true, but Dave was taunted about it so much that he grew to hate it. He was a great butt of sub editors' jokes. Worse was to come. The details are hazy, but some notorious crim was on the run from Long Bay jail. One of Dave's colleagues phoned him, with a disguised voice, said he was the crim and wanted to tell his story. Dave should meet him late the next night outside Randwick race course.

Major drama. This was Dave's chance to wipe the floor with the afternoon papers. The cops were informed. Dave fronted up to Randwick and positioned himself beneath a street light. There were coppers up trees, behind bushes, hiding in taxis, disguised as street sweepers. Dave waited and waited. Nothing happened. Eventually the cops gave it away, leaving Dave to keep his lonely vigil until dawn. He never believed it had been a set up. He was convinced the crim had chickened out at the last minute.

From Tom Mackay: Dozens of journos would have worked with Dave through the years when competition among the news media outlets in Sydney was at its peak. He loved the thrill of the chase as a police reporter and covered many big stories.

He had a particular interest in the NSW Mounted Police Unit and its horses. His informants there would advise him that the Unit was constantly under the threat of closure and that if this happened, the horses would all be sent to the knackery. As he knew every horse in the police stables, his response was to wage a quiet PR campaign on ABC news bulletins on behalf of the police ‘mounties’ and their faithful steeds. As a reporter he would appeal to us sub-editors for editorial space particularly when the nation celebrated the Horses' Birthday each August.

>

More often than not his story would get a run. It is very sad that Dave died totally unlamented. How about former colleagues kicking in some cash for a plaque to mark his passing? Maybe the Mounted Police Unit could find a spot for such a memorial to such a staunch supporter. Let's see if we can find some way to mark his passing, even if it is only a decent wake.

From Geoffrey Luck: Dave Pick's was a sad ending for a bloke who was gentle, harmless and pleasant but whose whole working life and demeanour was a continued insouciant innocence, so aptly illustrated by the stories and the undoubted apocryphal embellishment.

When I returned from New Guinea in 1966 to become the ABC's chief of staff, Dave was ensconced in a little glass room in William St as the police roundsman. He never went out on a story and spent his days listening to the police radios. He had no contacts, never visited police headquarters or even the King's Cross station a stone's throw away.

He had no feel for the crime scene or any of its main players at a time when drugs, corruption and extra-judicial removals entwined police and the underworld. Dave was like a cocker spaniel – so anxious to please, but absolutely without road sense. He would drive me mad, always asking for directions on what to do with the scraps of information he picked up from the radio.

Then the ABC decided it was probably breaking the law listening to the police frequencies and turned them off. Dave was bereft. Nobody knew how lonely he must have been and how those police radios were his connection with the world and his past life.

#

I should have been there yesterday...

By David Isaacs

This is a tale about a man I never met. Before moving to the Daily Mail Leo Clancy had worked for the Staffordshire Evening Sentinel in Stoke-on-Trent. I don't suppose he was there long because it was then an organ trying (not too hard) to extricate itself from the 19th century. I was there for 10 months that seemed like five years.

The news editor was a man called Norman Beckett, thin in frame, voice, imagination and humour. Legend has it that he had risen to that dizzy height at the end of the war when most of the editorial staff had been whisked away to serve in HM Forces. Norman, it seems, had been a copytaker and was drafted in as emergency cover. He stayed, apparently, because no-one thought about replacing him. It was that sort of ambience.

His approach to news editing was simple: he would enter into a gargantuan diary every invitation (no matter how humble) from any organisation in the Potteries and despatch one of his reporters to cover any and every event in Christendom. News was not the word.

I had not long replaced the departed Clancy when I was told of one of Leo's clashes with his unflappable and gormless news editor. Pushed to breaking point by some unremembered contretemps, Clancy narrowly avoided grabbing Norman by the neck and instead seized his typewriter and hurled it through the window (the news room was on the second floor) narrowly missing an elderly couple going about their business in the street below.

Becket momentarily glanced up from his beloved diary and in his customary nasal whine declared: ‘Now, now Leo. There's no need no to lose your temper.’

His colleagues were divided as to what happened next but Clancy left the building and was never to be seen in the Sentinel newsroom again.

#

Major mayor

By Ivan Waterman

Fleet Street, or what remains of the Street of Shame, was rocked to its foundations last week with the announcement that one Patrick Codd, late of the Daily Star and the Daily Express (Manchester) has been made Mayor of the Royal Borough of Kingston, Surrey. No, you are not dreaming.

Now, are you still a) Sitting upright in the same chair? b) Screaming with laughter while thrashing the floor with your fists? c) Gulping down handfuls of anti-depressants.

Don’t worry, our Mr Codd or ‘Coddy’ as he is affectionately known to his many mates from Hacksville, has always been able to take a joke. If you were Coddy you didn’t have much choice.

From the crown of his well coiffed bleached mop of sandy hair (Sandy and Julian’s Bona Geriatric Crimpers) to his fine Church’s brogues our man in the Jermyn Street trench coat became part of Street folklore long before he collected his redundo and handsome pension a couple of years back.

Not a day over 68 though records show he is in fact an extremely sprightly 73, he became a permanent fixture on the Star in the eighties in the glory days of Phil Walker and the late Lloyd Turner. And he didn’t look back – unless he left his white wine on the bar.

Nothing could deter him once he was on the trail of a story, whether it be a single column masterpiece about David Jason’s line in string vests or a spread on the latest well endowed soul in Jordan’s life. He could sniff out a headline in a matter of minutes whether it be at BAFTA or Montreaux. 300 words usually did the trick and nothing fancy like bursting into two syllables. His copy was both immaculate and banal but he knew and understood his audience. Broadsheet snobs may have looked down from a great height at the Star but Coddy would have none of it. He loved working for the Comic, as he described it. And nobody would ever get away with scoring points at his expense.

Away from the Street, he was a noble Tory councillor peering down on Kingston’s suburban sprawl from his delightful £2 million spread at the crest of Kingston Hill, nestling against Coombe Hill golf club.

He was elected as a councillor in 1994 in the Coombe Ward and went on to serve on at least a dozen committees, chairing cultural services and safeguarding the borough’s military position as the council’s representative on Reserve Forces & Cadets Association for Greater London.

He was, of course, a fearless member of the TA, known as The Major by his rank and for his formidable knowledge of all military matters. On holiday breaks with wife Sue he would trudge through the fields of Picardy to examine WW1 battlegrounds and is still famed for taking an armoured TA unit along Westway into Central London before losing the entire confused squad in a cul-de-sac backstreet of Paddington. Somebody, he claimed, had deliberately switched road signs. The enemy were everywhere. He saw himself in such adventures as a cross between Flash Gordon and Captain Mannering.

But there was nothing but glowing pride as friends and councillors queued to shake his hand after he was elected mayor at Kingston Guildhall.

Originally a soldier, Coddy switched to journalism, working on the North Devon Journal and Herald and the Western Evening Herald, before moving on to the national stage in Manchester with the Daily Express.

He served as deputy leader of the Conservative group and chair of the Maldens and Coombe neighbourhood committee. He took the oaths of office and loyalty to the crown on Wednesday, May 11, witnessed by a Kingston magistrate for the last time before the court closes next month. Proposing him as mayor, Conservative leader Councillor Howard Jones said: ‘Pat is a true blue Englishman who counts the qualities of service, gentlemanly behaviour, honour and integrity as the main characteristics to look for in any man, and qualities he himself has in abundance. He is articulate, colourful and an elder of this council who I am sure will uphold the true dignity of the office and I look forward to a really successful year for him, the mayoress and his deputy.’

And there were more celebrations to follow as Pat and Sue toasted their 40th wedding anniversary at the Kingston Lodge Hotel a few days later watched by their daughter Devona and his eldest daughter from his first marriage.

Semi-retired, though always looking for a ‘good hit’ for the Star on Sunday, Coddy has at last been forced to recognise that his showbiz reporter days may be nearing an end.

He has literally dozens of mayoral engagements, many with Sue, to keep him busy in the coming months. ‘Yes, the white wine is still flowing freely. Golly, this is such hard work!’ says the man who put the X in xenophobia. ‘Just pass that bottle will you?’

#

Shuffling along

By Alun John

I decided to leave school and take any job I could to try to contribute to the family. I became a clerk at the Guardian Insurance Company in Cardiff’s Windsor Place. I hated every minute of it.

I was given a desk and told if I studied hard at night school and passed the relevant professional qualifications, then in just a few short years I could look forward to a secure and rewarding career in insurance. All I was looking forward to was getting out of the place. I was shown how to run the switchboard and plug the callers through to their extensions using a system of cables. I can even remember the number of the London office – Mincing Lane 2555 as it was before BT was even heard of and before they embarked on their daft programme of changing your phone numbers nearly every week.

I was given index cards to file. This was happening just as computers were coming in to business. They were not in offices, but in remote centres where vast machines filled room after room and drones like me all over the country filled in details on index cards and posted them for inputting. I wasn’t exactly good at posting things. Every night as my last job of the day I had to take a document bag with all the post for the London office to the post office round the corner in Churchill Way.

At the front of the bag was a window with a card showing the address of the London office on one side and the Cardiff office on the other. More than once I forgot to turn the card over and, instead of going to London, the wretched bag turned up back in Windsor Place the next morning and everyone got their post back. I was also frequently admonished for not paying enough attention to important details, like the sandwich order. We used to go upstairs for a coffee break and it was a scene from Are you being served? We all sat at tables according to rank, never really mixing with each other. On my table we used to play whist and keep track of the score sufficiently accurately to enable us to know who was the week’s champion. This was a matter of great importance to some, but it went a very long way to convince me I did not have a shining future in the insurance business if this was the type of person I needed to become.

My camera saved my sanity. Whenever I could, I would get out of the office at lunchtime and go into Cathays Park and take pictures of whatever caught my eye. They weren’t that good, but then they weren’t that bad either by now, so I took the bold step of offering them to the South Wales Echo, the local evening newspaper. I have to say there wasn’t a huge rush to take them up. Nevertheless, they were quite encouraging in telling me to carry on with what I was doing.

One week I decided that I really had done enough for the world of insurance and took a couple of sick days off. I rang the personnel office of the Echo and asked if they had any jobs for a trainee photographer. I was hoping perhaps they would say ‘yes’ and straight away give me a large bag of kit and a ticket round the world. The girl said she didn’t think they needed me at this stage, but if they did they would write. Helpfully the girl said she would call back if they didn’t have anything just to let me know. An hour later the phone rang. I expected to be asked to leave some details for her to bury in a file somewhere. I knew what happened to files.

The girl wondered if I might be interested in a job they had in the darkroom as an assistant. There was no guarantee it would lead to anything more, but if I was interested could I come in and talk to the photographic manager. Could I? Was the Pope a Catholic? When could I come in? How about this afternoon?

I caught the bus into town and met Leslie Grist, the manager, who actually seemed impressed with my five O-levels because they were not seeking anyone qualified for the most junior post in the department. He also looked at a couple of my pictures, but was more interested in the fact I had printed them rather than taken them. We looked round the department, met a few of the photographers, including Lew Yapp, who ran the picture desk and I was offered the job for a fiver a week. The only question remaining was when could I start? It was Wednesday now, so how about next Monday. We agreed.

I didn’t sleep much that night. A mixture of excitement and apprehension had my mind racing. I went into the office next day looking for a clean piece of paper to write out my resignation. Before I could find it I was summoned to the manager’s office on the first floor. He asked how I felt I was doing. I replied I was going to resign that day. He countered by saying he actually felt neither my heart nor my future lay in insurance and they were going to sack me. We agreed I could leave next day and I went back downstairs to my desk. I enjoyed the filing for my final two days. I enjoyed it mainly because I systematically shuffled every drawer full of index cards that I could get to. I must now apologise to any of the good folk of south Wales who had a claim held up through this grossly irresponsible act. But, boy, did it make me feel good!

Friday came and I walked out of the door in Windsor Place for the last time. I don’t know who had the greater escape. Me from boredom and the mutant teddy bear – or the glamorous world of policy endorsements and underwriting from me.

The photographic department of the South Wales Echo certainly managed to give me the finest training that a new young photo technician could aspire to. I had only been there for three brief months and had acquired a whole new set of skills missing from my photographic knowledge. In fact, technician was now not too grand a title for the boy in the darkroom.

Already, I could sweep the darkroom floor with confidence. I could remember a whole order for tea, coffee and sandwiches from the canteen in my head and not make a mistake when I delivered it. I could periodically look out of the windows into the street at the side of Thomson House and see if there were any traffic wardens about trying to put tickets on the photographers’ cars and then dash back to the department and warn everyone. I could take and collect dry cleaning reliably and very quickly found my way to the back bar of the Queen’s Hotel for a pint after work.

More important, I was getting a serious insight into photography just by looking at and listening to what was going on around me. I learnt more in those three short months than I had in all my attempts at photography up until then.
Picture shows Alun John outside the Old Bailey as Sheila Buckley arrives for the John Stonehouse trial

#


The Man Who Painted In Welsh

By Revel Barker

Sir Kyffin Williams RA was the iconic painter of the Welsh landscape. He painted in Welsh with a palette of the colours of Cymru. To many he is still the greatest painter that country has produced and one of the very few whose work was in such demand that buyers queued up overnight at his exhibitions and elected a queue master to decide who was going to buy which picture when the gallery opened.

He was frequently sold out in an hour.

Yet this talented man was neglected, even vilified, by the arts establishment, which hurt him deeply. He used to say: ‘I am loved by the people and hated by the establishment.’

In the decade until Kyffin’s death author and broadcaster Ian Skidmore, his neighbour and friend, collected the views of other friends who loved him. Most have by now gone to join him but they leave an important record of this wonderful man.

They recall his childhood; his growing talent as a painter; a great humanitarian who used his own epilepsy to further the cause of other sufferers. They remember the archetypal Welshman, the product of an English public school; the teetotaller whose conversation illuminated many a dinner party; and the author of two classics of Welsh life, and the wickedly gifted cartoonist who gladly gave away drawings and paintings now worth thousands.

But above all they remember a delightful companion and a loyal friend.

The Man Who Painted in Welsh is published tomorrow by Revel Barker at £9.99 and is available from amazon, Waterstones, Barnes & Noble and all the usual sources – including (our favourite) the Book Depository which offers free delivery worldwide.

#

Rudge

###


Keep up to date with Ranters

If you are not already on our journalists’ mailing list (or if you used to be on it and have mysteriously fallen off) and want to be reminded when the site is updated, send your name and email address (in the body of the copy) to

ranters1@gmail.com

Use the same link if you have recently changed your email address.

We do not send any other emails and do not share the address list with anybody.


 

  Site Map