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


Issue # 215
October 7, 2011


This Week

We start with a special offer… Most readers of this website have fond memories of World’s Press News. Dozens of you have written of the days when it was required reading – and often urgent reading, because that’s where the jobs were and you needed to get off the mark quickly if you wanted to upgrade from your boring job to an exciting life on the Stornaway and Mull Clarion.

Then it became UK Press Gazette, and after that, just Press Gazette, which is what it still is now.

Well, mindful of the cost of living and the tight-fistedness that preoccupies Ranters readers, PG is offering a unique deal. It’s reducing the price for pensioners by nearly two-thirds of the market price – from £115 to a mere £40 a year.

Editor Dominic Ponsford explains the offer.

Our piece last week about Leslie Sellers, author of The Simple Subs Book, provoked a few fond (and some not so fond) memories of the old style guru. Edward Playfair fills in some of the gaps.

And how did we ever survive those stupid queries from the desk or the back bench…? One solution, Harold Lewis reveals, was to carry a laughing box in your kit.

And, still laughing, cartoonist Rudge gets a private showing.

#

The newsmen’s newspaper

By Dominic Ponsford

Do you secretly long again for the comforting thud of Press Gazette on the doormat?

But have you stopped subscribing because: (a) you thought we had closed down; (b) you couldn't bring yourself to write a cheque to our previous owners, Matthew Freud and Piers Morgan; and/or (c) we got too expensive.

Well the good news is that: (a) we are still very much around, on Carmelite Street actually, just off Fleet Street; (b) since April 2009 we have been owned by New Statesman publishers Progressive Media who are, well, very progressive; and (c) I can exclusively reveal on Gentleman Ranters the launch of a new rate for retired journalists.

Rather than the £115 standard rate for 12 monthly issues, retired journalists can now subscribe to Press Gazette for £40 a year, or £10 a quarter if you prefer.

The magazine may have changed a lot since you last read it, so why not have a browse through this free sample edition to see if it is for you?

As a print subscriber, you also get free access to the digital edition version of the print magazine (browsable by iPad and Android mobile phone) and to an archive of browsable digital back-copies going back to 2005. So you can catch up on all the great stuff you have missed.

Click on this link to subscribe to Press Gazette online: https://secure.getthatmag.com/offer/OAP

And here is the number to do it over the phone: 0845 155 1845.

Like many of you, I bemoan many of the changes that have happened to the journalism industry in recent years. Long lunches, meeting contacts, expense accounts… all sacrificed at the altar of a 24/7, lunch-at-your-desk, blog-til-you-drop culture.

By subscribing to Press Gazette you will be doing your bit to ensure that at least one bit of Fleet Street's great heritage does survive. And in return we at Press Gazette promise to do our best, as always, to stand up for ordinary hacks.

#

Sellers market

By Edward Playfair

Leslie Sellers? Yes, whatever did happen to that golden boy of the Daily Mail in the sixties?

Design superstar... style guru... bit of a lush... Where to start?

His design flair won the Mail the newspaper of the year title and his books on newspaper style – think Waterhouse with a different type of wit – made him an international name.

But more and more of his time on his Mail desk and telephone was spent on his private enterprises and in 1971 he was booted out in the Night of the Long White Envelopes.

Now he could pursue his ambition at his own expense.

Within a year he was producing six papers: A medical weekly, a few house monthlies and quarterlies along with a bit of light lecturing.

Time to recruit some help!

On board came Chris Clark, who owed early success on the Mail to Sellers’ patronage – he was sitting in on the back bench at 25, barely 18 months after joining the paper, before being exported up to Manchester.

Within a year those six papers had become 30 and the two moved from a dingy office off The Strand to the International Press Centre in Shoe Lane.

By all accounts, life with Leslie was frantic, professionally and socially.

Dinner party guests would see a dozen pudding plates all lined up in a row – Leslie would drench them, table included, with a whole bottle of VAT 69.

All invitations to his house in Bickley had to be accepted in writing, by order of his long-suffering wife Doreen. And thank-yous were to be written, too, on pain of exclusion from future jollities.

One couple weren’t taking any chances: they wrote their letter and posted it on the way. Unfortunately, minutes later they were in a crash and never actually made it. Still, Doreen did get a nice letter on the Monday morning thanking her for such a wonderful evening.

One of Leslie’s clients was Bass Charrington, whose PR chief was the exotically named Hugo Marden-Ranger. I’m told that editorial conference in Grosvenor Place started at 8am sharp when Hugo’s comely secretary Miranda brought in the coffee and a bottle of Remy and Hugo hovered and said: ‘Half and half?’

Executives at British Airways, another client, really did say: ‘Let’s run it up the flagpole and see who salutes’... ‘With us or against us on that headline?’ and ‘Let’s say snap on that one’.

There was only one problem with the Press Centre. The Press Club was just two floors down and by all accounts Leslie would be ‘in conference’ there from opening time until leaving for home in the early evening.

When the three-day week was signalled in 1974, Leslie got himself invited to South Africa to redesign the Johannesburg Sunday Times. He was due back after three weeks – by curious coincidence exactly when the great shutdown was due to end – but it didn’t and Leslie suddenly discovered that his selfless toil was not done and he was forced to stay on for another three weeks.

Clark laboured on alone but quickly went back to the Mail. Leslie allowed the business to run down until soon afterwards he retired, apparently to the west country, where ill-health followed his lifestyle and lifelong addiction to the pipe.

But is he still with us? There have been unconfirmed reports of obits (but apparently only in South Africa) and Google is not saying...

#

Oh, how we laughed

By Harold Lewis

Quite by chance one typically sultry morning, Lee Harrison and I both checked into the same plush hotel in Beverly Hills.

When I heard my old friend and colleague was also a guest, I gave him a ring, took the lift to his floor, padded down the corridor and tapped on his door.

‘Come in, mate,’ he beamed. ‘There's something you simply have to hear.’

Intrigued, I followed him inside and, when he switched on his tape recorder, instantly recognised the voice of a particularly trying and irritating editor at the National Enquirer in Lantana, Florida.

‘Elizabeth Taylor,’ intoned the editor, in much the same way I imagine high court judges used to slap on their black caps and hand out their riveting sentences.

‘Er, yes,’ Lee countered, obviously looking for any chance at all of steering the conversation toward more amenable and accessible propositions, like guinea-pigging an antidote to the plague, romancing all the molls in a biker gang for an inside story or, easiest of all, I imagine, discussing the pressing marital problems of the family over afternoon tea with the Queen.

‘See what she's up to these days,’ the editor persisted. ‘It could make a helluva Page One.’

‘Do you have any particular story line in mind?’ asked Lee. ‘Something to go on?’

‘Well, she's always getting wed, isn't she?’ suggested the editor, rather tetchily, I thought. ‘See if you can't talk her into getting married again. What a story!’

‘And do you have anyone in mind?,’ asked Lee politely.

‘There's always that actor fellow she has been married to before,’ said the editor, his exasperation now showing signs of being stretched severely. ‘You know, the English guy.’

‘Welsh,’ replied Lee.

‘All the same thing,’ responded the editor, churlishly. ‘Bruton, isn't it?’

‘Burton.’

‘That's right,’ said the editor. ‘Robert Burton.’

‘Dick,’ corrected Lee, but it has to be said that his response was at best sotto voce and his fingers were wrapped around the mouthpiece with the intensity of a green anaconda.

Their animated chat continued for several minutes in much the same vein, becoming, it would be fair to say, increasingly off the wall if not downright ludicrous.

‘Wow,’ I said when the editor finally disappeared off the line. ‘What are you going to do about that?’

‘Only thing you can do in the circumstances,’ smiled Lee…

He walked over to a table in the middle of the room and picked up a mystery box. Taking out a small bag, he loosened its drawstring and a torrent of hysterical laughter cascaded around, filling the room with mirth and rattling the prints on the walls with such intensity it probably brought to a premature climax the activities of the couple next door, who securely lip-locked and entwined in a numbing Greco-Roman clasp I had spotted furtively shuffling across the threshold just before reaching Lee's room.

I wish I could report that at this point he jumped on the bed, threw his arms and legs in the air and laughed until tears streamed down his face. Instead, he slumped into a chair, bent over double and shook himself like a spaniel that has just managed to escape the dreaded weekly bath. Naturally, I felt it appropriate to jump on the bed, throw my arms and legs in the air and laugh dementedly.

These gymnastics were performed each time the laughing bag was opened which, in the course of the next hour or so, it was repeatedly, undoubtedly enhancing the high jinks of the couple next door and bringing both of us to a point of exhaustion.

Inevitably, it was decided at some point that restorative medicinal stiffeners were vital to continuation of the proceedings and room service was called to provide the necessary refreshments. Of course, after downing the brimming brandy cups it was then felt necessary to release another round of mirth which naturally led to another round of drinks and, then, of course, listening to the stream of hearty laughter yet again…

It became one very, very long afternoon.

Lee, I learnt, was as much reliant on his laughing bag as he was on all the other items in his kit – tape recorder, notebook and typewriter – and carried it with him on all his more aggravating and troublesome assignments.

‘Helps preserve an element of sanity,’ was his simple explanation.

Although he never said so, I imagine the inspiration came from the Laughing Tree, a quite modest palm in the lush tropical gardens of the Enquirer.

Its particular distinction was that it was well out of sight and earshot of the paper's tyrannical owner, Gene Pope, a man whose word was law and whose edicts were often so bizarre they often prompted those unfortunate to hear them to laugh uproariously. But never in his presence, of course.

Instead, once they had managed to flee his inner sanctum, stifling their mirth as best they could, they would flee the building by way of the side door and dash along the concrete path to the Laughing Tree. There, in its shade, they could be spotted quietly heaving and banging their heads repeatedly against the trunk in much the same fashion as the faithful at the Wailing Wall.

Visitors who chanced upon them often thought they were being sick, which, in a way, of course, they were.

I was once privileged to witness a stampede to the tree by a group of editors who had just been tasked with the high seas hijacking of the Queen Mary. Pope, apparently, had decided such high profile targets were vulnerable to piracy and wanted to demonstrate how easy it was by seizing command of the great liner. It was only when he had been convinced by legal advisers that staging such a stunt was an act of piracy in itself and posed, at the least, very severe financial repercussions indeed, that the idea was quietly dropped.

Similarly, a bunch of staffers trotted off to the tree again when the boss made it plain he wanted to sponsor the first human head transplant.

‘If they can transplant a heart, they can transplant a head,’ Pope was on record as stating at the time.

Bob Smith trotted off to the tree the day it was harshly pointed out to him that the piece he was working on had omitted the most salient details. Smith had then had the temerity to point out that all the information in question was included in the lead paragraph.

‘Oh, you buried it in the lead, did you?’ Pope said.

Bob took another trip to the tree after being yelled at again by Pope. ‘I told you to start the story with Elvis's last words,’ thundered the boss. Smith had to remind him that as far as anyone knew the last words of the King, were: ‘Dearest, I'm going to the bathroom.’

There was another mass exodus the day marines at the US Embassy in Tehran were taken hostage by a mob. Pope announced his intention of hiring mercenaries to stage a rescue attempt and, of course, charged his editors with setting it all up and taking care of all the details.

Billy Burt once confessed that he barely made it to the tree after handing the boss a story about an aging mother in a small town in England.

Apparently, she waited eight hours at the bus stop every day for her soldier son to return home. Of course, he never would... he had been killed in World War II. But she waited just the same, a shawl over her head and a wistful look in her eyes.

‘How does she know he's coming in a bus?’ Pope asked Billy. ‘Maybe he'll show up in a cab.’

And, with that, he killed the story on the spot.

Of course, the man who indubitably was left with a smile on his face, fittingly, some would argue, was the Pulitzer Prize Winning Reporter.

Hired largely on the basis of his prodigious accomplishment, he was given the task of shadowing Jackie Onassis, no matter where she went. Little did he imagine that one day she would unexpectedly take a car to the airport and then board a plane bound for Europe.

The PPWR, without office approval, without luggage, without a lot of sense really, got on the same flight with her, leaving a rented car in the short term airport lot.

Subsequently fired, he failed to mention the vehicle, rented on a company credit card, on his return. So there it sat, running up stiff rental charges and incurring staggering parking fees for month after month after month…

As they say, he who laughs last, laughs longest.

#

Rudge

###


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


Issue # 216
October 14, 2011


This Week

At conference time this week’s website had all the makings of a fun edition. A judge being told (twice) that if he wanted to do his job properly he should start reading Ranters… a terrific new book being published… more cheery reminiscences from the glory days.

Then the Grim Reaper came calling and changed the mood a bit – claiming a bloody hat trick.

Some weeks it’s sort of good, sitting here at this desk. Sometimes it’s bloody heartbreaking. Forgive us if sometimes we start to take things personally and feel sorry for ourselves.

So let’s get the bad news out of the way.

Revel Barker mourns the passing of three good and long-term mates covering nearly half a century, Phil Walker, Gordon Blair, Clive Crickmer, in rapid succession.

By way of – very welcome – light relief, John Dale has been at the Leveson Inquiry, watching a judge wrestle with coming to terms with what is being described as ‘newsroom culture’ in order to try to sort out Fleet Street’s telephone hacking scandal.

Then, some good news. A new book is being published on Monday. It’s called By Eric Silver, Dateline Jerusalem (in that order – the byline comes first) and Barker wearing his publisher’s trilby, rather than his obit-writer’s homburg, explains what it’s all about.

Chris Clark follows Edward Playfair’s piece (last week) with yet more about Leslie Sellers, author of The Simple Subs Book.

And Rudge holds the whole column up by meeting a cartoon critic.

#

The scythe in the back

By Revel Barker

It hasn’t been a good week to be a Mirror man, constantly looking over the shoulder for the Grim Reaper preparing to plunge his scythe into your back, next. There are mornings when you answer the phone or open the email in-box and the news hits you so hard in the crotch that you feel like just going back to bed. And then the mornings become a week.

When we met, Phil Walker and I were little more than children, working for the 20-quid-a-week 11-hour-shift sweatshop that was Brenard’s Agency at London Airport (before it was just called Heathrow).

I first became aware of his sense of anarchy when he invited me to the cottage he was renting and demonstrated how, by switching the wires as they came in to the electricity meter, you could make the dials run backwards. The only danger was that you had to keep an eye on it, otherwise the readings would be lower next time the meter reader came than they had been on his last visit. (It was a bit like ‘clocking’ a car which you could do with a Black & Decker – although journalists were probably the only people who ran speedometers forward, as they attempted to keep the mileage reading in synch with the number of miles charged in exes.)

Brenards was our conduit from the provinces – he from the South Wales Echo, me from the Yorkshire Evening Post – to the Big Time. Within a matter of months we had moved on, me to the Daily Mirror. then Phil to the Daily Sketch, and thence to the Daily Mail, with a short stint on the Reading Evening Post in between.

He joined the Daily Mirror as a sub in 1969, leaving to become associate editor of the Daily Express in 1980 but returning to the Mirror three years later as deputy editor.

Always happiest at the subs’ table, he was equally comfortable at a restaurant table. Sometimes, too comfortable, and more than one maitre d’ was heard to thank him warmly for the pleasure of his company, while asking him politely not to come back.

His warm dry humour, ready wit and loyalty to his team made him an ever-popular executive, wherever he worked.

He later became deputy editor of the Star, taking over as editor in 1994 when Brian Hitchen left to edit the Sunday Express. But four years later, furious at being ordered to axe nearly 50 editorial jobs, he resigned.

Not many editors, I suspect, would sacrifice their job for their friends.

He died last Friday, aged 67.

Gordon Blair, whose dad John covered Scottish sport for the Sunday People, joined the Sunday Mirror from the Daily Record in the mid-seventies and immediately upped the ante in the features department with his sharp suits, snazzy silk ties, Havana cigars and a generally better class of claret.

He was billed as ‘the man the stars know’ – and it wasn’t just tabloid hype; his contacts book was genuinely impressive. And the stars – in those days the term meant people you’d actually heard of and seen in the movies – were sufficiently fond of him to share confidences that were sometimes, frankly, too good to pass on to the readers. But they always went down well in the Stab.

These stories, however, didn’t come cheap. There was one memorable memo calling for another attempt at expenses cuts that said the required level could be achieved if writers would simply forego the second rounds of Havana cigars and vintage port after lunch. No names were mentioned, of course, but we all knew who it was aimed at.

The stories, however, never stopped, and Gordon wasn’t averse to telling tales against himself, provided only that they were funny.

When he was about to marry Cheryl he decided he needed the full highland fig and took her with him to the Tartan Shop in Edinburgh.

The assistant told him he was entitled to wear the Royal Stewart, or even the Hunting Stewart – ‘like any Englishman’. Blair protested that his was a proper Scots name. What about Blair Gowrie, or Blair Atholl, he demanded.

‘Gowrie, sir, yes. Atholl, too,’ said the salesman (allegedly). ‘But not just Blair.’

‘But the Blairs were at Culloden,’ blustered Gordon.

The assistant sighed. ‘That’s a fact, sir. Indeed they were. But they sat on the top of the hill to see how things were going, before coming down to join the winning side. So if there were a Blair tartan, sir, it would likely have a big yellow streak down the back of it.’

The man then turned to Cheryl. ‘But you, miss… I’m sure we’ll have a tartan for your clan.’

‘No you bloody won’t,’ said Gordon, grinning, now. ‘Tell him your family name.’

‘Cohen,’ said Cheryl.

‘Ah yes,' said the salesman. ‘Distantly related to the McCann…’

Of course, we didn’t believe a word of it. But only a couple of years ago somebody asked me whether I knew why Tony Blair, an apparently proud Scotsman, had never been seen wearing tartan…

That marriage (his second: the first encounter produced sons Stephen and Robert) didn’t last as long as the story and as the Sunday Mirror veered away from Hollywood towards Coronation Street and Eastenders, Gordon left to freelance for magazines like Hello and OK and dabble in artist management. Then he moved to Majorca with Carol Forrest, a friend since she’d run the Barcelona restaurant and wine bar in Glasgow before lecturing in wine at Brighton University and then becoming sommelier at Gleneagles.

Together they created Majorca Wine Tours, taking tourists round the little-known vineyards and wineries of the island. Carol provided the viniculture expertise, while Gordy did the jokes and the old stories.

It seemed to be the perfect life until first his liver, then his lungs, rebelled. That was only about three months ago. He died this week, aged 64, apparently painlessly and quickly.

In the decade or so that passed between my first meetings with Phil and Gordy, Clive Crickmer and I virtually lived in each other’s pockets, first as competitors (he was on the Daily Herald and the old Sun) then as a district duo covering five northern counties and the Scottish borders for the Daily Mirror.

The daily endeavour was to get a couple of page leads done before lunch to give the early subs something to do when they came in, cross the road for a liquid livener then – barring any breaking news – play cricket along the corridor while waiting for the pubs to reopen.

The office was redolent with linseed – not from oiled cricket bats (we used a reinforced roll-up of one night’s northern editions, usually about 13 of them) but from glazier’s putty that was in regular use to repair the windows until we invested in one of those plastic tennis balls, full of holes. The wicket was an Olivetti portable typewriter case.

As much as reporting, cricket was Crick’s abiding passion. A demon right-arm bowler (one season he took 60 wickets for about 600 runs) he cut a familiar figure in the Durham Senior League, lumbering up to the crease, always with half a shirt tail flapping out of his whites. In 1985 he wrote Grass Roots, the history of South Shields cricket club.

It was cricket – along with his determination – that proved to be his entry into the other great game.

His high school careers master had scoffed at the notion that young Crickmer might become a journalist. Undeterred, he wrote to the editor of the Shields Gazette and received a reply by return: ‘Dear Crickmer, We have no vacancies for a trainee reporter. Yours faithfully, Frank Staniforth.’

‘How’s that,’ asked Crick, years later, ‘as a lesson in keeping your copy short and to the point? Fourteen words – including the byline – that said everything they needed to say.’

But in 1957, during a short and unhappy spell as a bank clerk, he talked his way into a meeting with Arthur Wilson, news editor of the Newcastle Evening Chronicle, and somehow was unable to help mentioning that he’d just been picked for the South Shields First XI. Wilson, a Yorkshireman and fellow enthusiast, happily turned the conversation wholly to cricket and Our Boy emerged into the afternoon summer sunlight with a job as a reporter.

Three years later he joined the Daily Mail in Manchester but missed his home turf and moved back to Geordieland to join the Daily Herald, switching to the Mirror when the Odhams Sun was sold in 1969.

From Syd Foxcroft, his mentor on the Herald, Clive inherited the habit of keeping – and counting – all his cuttings. He not only pasted them into countless books, he filed them like a newspaper library, creating a unique archive of news stories from the north east. And on any day he could tell you how many publications he’d had, how many page leads and even how many bylines were in boxes.

I remember one morning, after he’d dictated his copy, he told me: ‘If that gets in the paper tomorrow it’ll be my thousandth Mirror page lead.’ (Work it out – five or six stories a week, say 48 weeks in a year… easy done.)

Anyway, it was an excuse for a drink.

He retired 11 years ago, but there was no stopping him. In summer there was cricket to watch and to get paid to report. In winter there was Rugby Union – and the first match he covered was actually the first time he’d seen the game played. It can’t have been easy. And now, at last, he was writing for the Shields Gazette, the paper that had had no room for him as an eager teenager.

At the end of my first day on the Mirror in Newcastle upon Tyne, Clive had invited me out for a drink. Being Crick it quickly developed into a pub crawl as we explored the different brews – Scottish & Newcastle, Vaux, Federation, Bass, Tetley’s.

Was there anywhere, I enquired, that I might find a pint of Tetley’s Mild? Not north of the Tees, he said. Only Tetley's Bitter. Why did I ask?

I had a hefty thirst, I explained. And you could drink eight pints of mild without getting pissed.

Clive thought for a moment. ‘And what,’ he asked, ‘would be the point in that?’

Thus was a friendship cemented with a marvellous reporter and a great big adorable bear of a man that endured until Tuesday, with rarely a week passing without contact.

Last month he revealed to a few old intimates that he had been diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer – although typically he mentioned it only in passing, while relaying news about another old chum who’d been taken into hospital.

He wrote to me privately, later, saying that his doctor – an old cricketing pal – thought he might be good for ‘a year or three’, and he might even manage a trip out to join me for recuperative sunshine and some healthy reminiscing.

But the treatment, intended to diminish or at least control the tumour, didn’t take. After his latest shot of chemotherapy he came home and had to go back to hospital and died there, suddenly and unexpectedly. He was 71.

I suppose it’s some sort of merciful relief when you die quickly and without warning. But it’s no consolation for Yvonne, Crick’s wife of 46 years, son Gareth or daughter Amanda. Nor for his friends and colleagues who loved him and will miss him.

It will be counted as a personal favour if the rest of you will strive to stay alive.

#

A man for all sessions

By John Dale

Lord Justice Leveson looks like a man who would prefer a quiet night in with the wife to an all-nighter at The Stab followed by a greasy breakfast at Mick’s to soak it all up, which is a terrible disappointment to us all.

To rectify this, he was advised last week to start reading Ranters.

When I saw him striding up the steps of the QE2 Conference Centre, I said to myself that in my professional opinion he definitely didn’t have a hangover. In fact I said he was a man who had not had a lot of hangovers in his life.

The judge put one foot in front of the other with complete confidence and he didn’t stop once to lean on a lamppost and catch his breath or vomit on the pavement in Victoria Street. At all times he appeared fully aware of his surroundings, of where he was going and what he was doing.

He didn’t even try it on with the young policewoman.

Yes, there will be some non-journalists – what we call ‘civilians’ – who say this is the least they expect of the chairman of the public inquiry into phone hacking. They say it’s appropriate, even required, that the appointed judge does not keep falling over in the traffic. They can have their views. But we, as Gentlemen Ranters, are entitled to feel completely let down.

I blame the Prime Minister.

After the farce of his previous media arrangements, we expected him to keep faith with the humorous element he had introduced into his appointments. To be honest, I’d hoped that Mr Cameron would have dragged some random lawyer out of El Vino, a Horace Rumpole sort of figure whose experience of the press was to share a bottle of ‘Chateau Fleet Street’ every day with Peter McKay while brushing cigar ash off his lapels. There are hundreds around.

Instead he chose Lord Leveson who, in this aspect, falls lamentably short and is therefore, obviously, wholly the wrong person for the job.

Of course I could be completely wrong. I mean, he might have been putting on a brilliant act. When I saw him he could easily have breakfasted on a pint of claret and a giant spliff and was just concentrating hard on walking in a straight line. For all I know, he might have had carpet burns on his knees and elbows but – and here we reach the very crux of the public inquiry – the PCC Code of Practice strictly forbade me from forcing him to remove all his clothes so I could inspect him bodily. I was even willing to do it in the lobby. Yet still it wasn't permitted. And they call this a free country… So I haven’t a clue really.

I just watched him arrive, that’s all. He seemed modest and normal and decent and respectable, and completely devoid of any scandal I could pin on him to divert the masses for a few seconds, destroy him and his family, totally wreck the proceedings and earn myself a few bob, which would have been handy for a lunchtime beer.

What was the point of coming? At this rate I’d have to report the speeches. I nearly went straight home.

I raise the matter because His Lordship has said that he will be examining Fleet Street culture. For me, that set alarm bells ringing. Okay, what exactly are his qualifications? What entitles him to embark on an anthropological journey into our collective consciousness, to step into our world and probe the secrets of our parallel universe, to explore the madness and mayhem that made Fleet Street great?

Is he even an alcoholic?

I don’t think so.

Like all good judges, he starts from zero, which is why we can expect him to ask some silly questions such as what is meant by ‘early doors’, ‘first knockings’, ‘conference quickie’, ‘late night lock-in’, ‘no, it’s not my baby’ and ‘anyone bribed the local coppers and got a favour to call in?’ He might know the angles as well as we do but for the record he has to pretend he doesn’t, that he’s as dim as the work experience girl in grave moral danger on the newsdesk.

And another thing. He didn’t smile nicely for the snappers, leaving them terribly depressed and two of them discussing a suicide pact outside Scotland Yard. His expression adjusted not one jot in front of the bank of cameras waiting for him. He wore a grey suit instead of trailing about in red robes and a blonde wig, which we always prefer, and he didn’t even say ‘cheese’ before marching through the sliding doors. For the rest of the proceedings he kept his face locked in neutral, with the exception of one brief interlude.

This moment of light relief came in the middle of the morning, as the discussion was gathering momentum, when one of the speakers from the floor – Professor Steven Barnett from the University of Westminster – suggested an easy way for the judge to improve his understanding of newsroom cultures.

‘I recommend,’ he said, ‘that you read a website called Gentlemen Ranters.’

Ranters! Thrust centre-stage at the seat of power. Fame at last.

A knowing titter ran round the room. The titter was chased by a murmur. The murmur came from those wishing others to be made aware that they too were card-carrying Ranters.

Suddenly the hall seemed suffused with them, a nodding fellowship of regulars of The Last Pub In Fleet Street. In modern argot, and against all expectations, being a Ranter felt really, really cool.

At this, the neutrality of Lord Leveson’s visage was compromised briefly by the raising of an eyebrow and the flicker of a smile. Professor Barnett’s suggestion was noted.

The proceedings continued.

By now I was keeping a beady eye on the judge, still hoping for a good sex scandal to blow up. But I was struggling. At his elbow there stood a clear liquid for him to sip, to moisten his delicate lips. I investigated. I know this is dismaying for Ranters regulars, but it turned out to be 100 per cent water. At no point did he even creep out for a crafty fag, which is also an absolute disgrace.

I was in despair.

Lord Leveson has a steep learning curve ahead of him and I hope he gets stuck into Ranters as soon possible, as Professor Barnett advised. He should be granted the Freedom of the Ranters Archives. To start with, and to build up tolerance to the X-rated stuff, I recommend any article that mentions Harry Procter, Brian Hitchen and Noel Botham. Then he should move on to the really hard material like The Prince of Darkness himself. He must become fully conversant with the vices that fuelled our work and lives.

Ranters and Leveson can yet become one.

The Inquiry is going to last a year or so and, on behalf of Ranters, I will be keeping a check on him and looking for clear evidence of an improvement in his behaviour. I want to see solid progress: three hour lunches with Dominic Mohan, evenings on the Bulmers with Tina Weaver, head-banging with Paul Dacre, hitting the Fosters Super-cold with Richard Wallace, talking Taffy with Hugh Whittow, discussing breasts and bottoms with Dawn Neesom.

I want him turning up late and unsteady every morning, munching on a bacon bap and quietly putting Smirnoff in his water jug. I want him on contract to Richard Desmond and locked in the Big Brother house. I want him behaving like a proper judge, not messing about at the Appeal Court but like Louis on X Factor or Len on Strictly Come Dancing. I won’t rest until he’s had his chest waxed.

Only then, I suspect, will I and my fellow Ranters start to have confidence in him.

On what I’ve seen, he is going to have his work cut out. But he should think of us as his best friends. If he wishes, we’ll hide him away in a Holiday Inn and get him drunk for a week.

We are here to help him understand us.

Oh, I believe there was a second reference to Ranters during the day’s proceedings. Unfortunately it was after lunch and I was in the pub discussing newsroom culture so I missed it.

John Dale started on the Lincolnshire Times in 1964, then Raymond's of Derby and Hopkinson's of Leeds and Bradford before the Daily Mail (Manchester, Leeds, London 1968-1977); the Observer 1977; Now! 1978-1981; London editor, Sunday Standard, Scotland 1981-83; freelance, 1983-1990; then editor, Take a Break 1991-2011. He’s nowadays a columnist for Press Gazette and has a website: http://johndalejournalist.co.uk

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Our man in Jerusalem

By Revel Barker

Like most things, name-dropping is different in Israel. When security at Ben-Gurion airport asked me who I knew in the country I told them I’d recently had lunch at the Travellers’ Club in London with Chaim Herzog.

‘Chaim Herzog…?’

You probably know him as President Herzog.

‘Anybody else?’

I don’t suppose you know the director of Mossad, or the Israeli ambassador in London…?

‘Anybody else?’

Having clearly failed to impress them by showing off, I decided to drop a name that they wouldn’t have heard of: a chap who lived in the suburbs of Tel Aviv. But it turned out that his cousin had the franchise for catering at the airport... and I was allowed through. (How package-holiday tourists and first-time visitors manage to get into the country is a matter for conjecture.)

In those days I hadn’t met Eric Silver, even though we were both members of the Savile Club. If I had known him, I’d have been through security in a trice. For Eric knew everybody (including, I have no doubt, the caterer) and more importantly everybody knew Eric. They’d take his calls; they’d even take somebody else’s calls if you said Eric had told you to mention his name.

In fact you might be forgiven for wondering why, when the Israelis were trying to locate Yasser Arafat, they didn’t simply ask Eric Silver to find him for them…

From the aftermath of the Six-Day War (1967) to a few weeks before his death in 2008, with only a three-year-break to cover the Indian sub-continent, Eric was Our Man In Jerusalem, filing elegant and incisive essays, originally as a staffman for the Guardian and the Observer. India was forced upon him when he refused to relocate to the UK and they thought he might be in danger of going native.

He chose to return to Israel after that stint and set up as a freelance, filing for everybody. Friends warned that, newswise, the Middle East story was running out of steam; commentators were even predicting that the conflict was over. But not for nothing had he and his wife Bridget bought a house in the Street Of The Prophets, and it proved to have been a good choice, although he complained: ‘I used to have a career. Now I have a business.’

Even then, as the doyen of the Anglo-Israeli press corps, his contacts book remained accessible to the competition. Looking for a politician, a general, a spokesman for any of the PLO factions, or the six parties in Ariel Sharon’s coalition government, a Bedouin tribesman (on the phone, these days) or even an editor? Eric had the numbers and the entrée. Want to know more about Menachem Begin? Eric had literally written the book.

Unsurprisingly, then, his critiques of the former prime minister (1977-83) and Nobel laureate are particularly insightful: ‘Begin is a complex, but not a mysterious, man; a paradox, but not a puzzle. He means what he says, though it is always as well to read the small print…’

After all the cumulative strains of the past two years, Begin lacks the resilience to fight back. It is as if his battery has gone flat, and at 70 he cannot recharge it.

He has been in a state of melancholia since last summer. His colleagues complain that he is listless and apathetic. Visiting statesmen report at best that the prime minister makes no creative contribution to their discussion. One diplomat who knows him well said that Begin no longer enjoyed being prime minister of Israel. It had become an arduous chore…

Equally, his 1,500-word Observer profile of premier Yitzhak Shamir, on the eve of his meeting with Margaret Thatcher in May 1989, was required reading by the negotiating team in Downing Street.

Now Bridget has compiled a book, selected from his thousands of dispatches, and it provides a unique insight into the on-going strife that has overshadowed many of our lives, even those who are no more than followers of the news that has been largely dominated, for more than half a century, by events occurring in the Middle East.

Had he in fact, as his editors at the Guardian had feared he would, ‘gone native’? Well, yes, up to a point. The smattering of Yiddish he’d learnt as a schoolboy in Leeds from his grandmother (who spoke no other language) – before joining the Harrogate Herald and then the Northern Echo – hadn’t been much use in modern Israel and he’d learnt Hebrew and picked up some Arabic in Jerusalem. He made aliyah, meaning that he migrated, as a Jew, ‘home’ to Israel. This gave him the right – not always extended to visiting foreigners – to be cynical and sometimes hyper-critical about his adopted land. For Israelis are not, as a nation, generally easy to please, nor normally content with their governments, or their surroundings.

It helped make his reports even more perceptive and penetrating. They were not always welcomed by the authorities, nor by the censors, but they were accepted as being nothing short of honest, fair and accurate.

And that is the mark of a professional foreign correspondent.

So who should read his book? Everybody who wants to be, or was, or is, in journalism, for a start – especially those interested in foreign affairs; everybody who wants to know more about the Middle East than you get in snatches of film on TV; libraries, embassies, diplomats, historians, soldiers and teachers; schools and universities; Arab and Jewish organisations and Israeli-Arab institutions; all Jews, Arabs, and Christians…

In fact, if one per cent of the people who should buy this book put their hands in their pockets it will be a best-seller before it even hits the streets.

By Eric Silver, Dateline: Jerusalem will be published by Revel Barker Publishing on Monday (October 17) at £15.99. It is available for pre-order on-line from BookDepository (with free postage, worldwide), from amazon-uk and amazon-us, Waterstones, Barnes & Noble, and all the major retailers, or from any half-decent high street bookshop.

#

The fallen idol

By Chris Clark

I’d been working with my hero Leslie Sellers for just a few weeks when I had to dash over to Victoria from our office in The Strand. I left at 4.30 and was back before five. On my desk was a note from Leslie: 5.30 Couldn’t wait any longer – see you tomorrow.

Oh dear...

I thought I’d left betrayals and backstabbing behind when Leslie rescued me from three years of misery on the Daily Mail in Manchester.

We first worked together on the Mail in London, when, as Edward Playfair recounted in Ranters last week, his mentoring sent my career soaring. North, unfortunately.

It was a glorious time to be a young sub in Fleet Street. On my first night the chief sub was Peter Roberts, my old chief sub from the Northern Echo.

On my third night I not only got a page lead but a pat on the back from the night editor. Just like nowadays, eh, chaps…?

Reading again Leslie’s two great books over the last week brought those times and those memories sweeping back. He generously mentions the great subs of that era we also worshipped: people like Tony Duncan, so brilliant that a ‘centre column kicker’ he subbed was so superb it was moved to page one... Ron Shaw, who looked at a picture and put words made of magic alongside...

Leslie was magic, too, with words and design and a belief that newspapers could be professional and fun as well..

The Simple Subs Book and Doing it in Style are full of wisdom and wit and cheerful plays on the names of Mail people. Allen Howl was Alan Howell, the chief sub... the Rev Groger Evans was Roger Evans, deputy night editor... the inscrutable Chinaman Denis Yo’Ung was Denis Young, another inspirational sub.

Even today I wince when I see ‘Rev Smith’ in a paper – Leslie specifically counselled against such awful forms of address. He would have wept the other day when our local weekly reported that someone was ‘wanted on a magistrates’ court warrant for breaching a court order requiring compliance with a community sentence order’. I wondered if this was the same as ‘wanted for breaching a community order’.

And our county magazine here in Sussex proudly celebrated a performance of the musical Greece ...

Perhaps it’s time a new generation of journalists was introduced to the words of the master.

Back in the Street of Adventure, Leslie was spending more and more time on his private operations, the books with his pal Robert Maxwell and the newspapers with his pal Woodrow Wyatt. It was no surprise when they let him go in the Night of the Long White Envelopes. The new Daily Mail of David English was introducing a more sober regime to Fleet Street.

But the new Leslie thrived. He took with him the heavy-drinking culture of Fleet Street and his passion for nicknames – some quite wounding. One sad little operative called Bernard Morton was immediately christened ‘Bernard Uriah Morton, commonly known as BUM’, sung by Leslie every time the poor chap came into the room.

Then came the move to the Press Centre, with Leslie always in the Press Club surrounded by sycophants from the 30 house papers we produced, glowing in the reflections of the king and his glass.

One of them had enchanted me very early on by saying: ‘Don’t you do any of my pages – I’m not paying Leslie Sellers prices and getting Chris Clark.’

I was delighted to oblige until the day at the Press Centre when the editor said: ‘Could you keep Leslie off my pages?’

The catalyst came when Leslie contrived to spend six weeks in South Africa during the three-day week. Leslie’s maxim was to give our pages a ‘superficial gloss’ and turn each one round in half an hour. By the end of the six weeks I couldn’t even turn a page round in a day.

I left to return to the Mail – refusing a plea by all but one of our clients to keep producing their papers – and Leslie took on someone else. He left soon afterwards at the same time as most of Leslie’s papers.

It was very sad... In just three years, Leslie had gone from idol to idle.

After a weekly in Hertfordshire and various dailies including three on Harry Evans' Northern Echo, Chris Clark spent nearly 30 years in Fleet Street, mostly on the Daily Mail but with a 12-month Sunday Times sojourn at the Battle of Wapping and the time with Leslie Sellers that he writes about here.

#

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

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


But do NOT use this address for sending copy or messages to the editor.


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 # 217
October 21, 2011


This Week

The death of yet another old colleague was called in this week. You won’t read about it here, though. We don’t, after all, pretend to be a newspaper of record. More importantly, the chap’s former colleagues can’t bring themselves to write anything about him. True, they were sufficiently close to him to accept an invitation to a five-star farewell dinner in his honour. But, when it comes to putting pen to paper or finger to keyboard… well… what’s the phrase we usually use? Oh yes: They can’t be arsed.

Not surprisingly (perhaps) in the circs, the editor starts with a rant – and not for the first time – about journalists and their obits.

So, this week, as a one-off we are concentrating on people that we do or did like and who we do or did have time for (plus having the energy to write).

Donald Macintyre writes fondly of Eric Silver, whose book we published this week. This piece is the introduction to it. Another tribute, by Harriet Sherwood, current Jerusalem correspondent of the Guardian, can be found here.

Nobody has anything but fond memories of Clive Crickmer, the long-time Daily Mirror man in the north-east (and before that, the Daily Mail and the Herald/Sun) whose death we reported last week. Nor could they have. Colin Henderson remembers facing him – with merely a batsman in between – at the wicket, plus one of the stories Crick told but didn’t write.

Ian Kerr remembers – as Crick certainly never forgot – the first time those golden words, By Clive Crickmer, appeared in print.

And John Kay recalls the unique Crickmer system of handling a pint… by not actually handling it at all.

Then, for a change, a contribution from a civilian. Writing from sunny Falkirk, Scott Camlin (son of Bruce) remembers all sorts of weird and wonderful newspaper folk – the type that worked for the National Enquirer.

As usual, cartoonist Rudge props the whole thing up.

#

Obiter dictum

By the editor

‘Dear sir or madam,’ the email began, ‘I was greatly disappointed to note that a very close friend and a highly respected colleague died recently and yet no obituary has appeared on your website…’

Well, dear reader, the reason for that is staring you in the bloody face. Not one of the guy’s very close friends or highly respectful colleagues could get off his arse to write anything.

Including, of course, the correspondent who was ‘greatly disappointed’.

I sometimes wonder where our readers (and this website gets around 60,000 hits on a typical week) imagine the copy comes from.

Including the obits. For this editor doesn’t actually see it as part of his job description to seek out friends and colleagues when people fall off the perch – and certainly not to be passed from pillar to post as old ‘chums’ recommend somebody else who could possibly do the job better (but are not inclined to make that call themselves).

Could things be worse? Oh yes: when somebody does bother to write and somebody else, who apparently knew the story, or the person, better but couldn’t be bothered to write it himself, complains that the guy who did it got some relatively insignificant fact wrong.

Water off a duck’s back, old man. We don’t do corrections.

This website is not, after all, One Man And His Blog; ideally, it’s a sort of co-operative; ideally, it’s the readers who do the writing. Ideally… quite.

Yet there may be some small light at the end of the tunnel. Two readers have had a brainwave – they tell me they are writing each other’s obits.

It seems like a brilliant idea, providing the opportunity to check the facts – names, dates, places, spellings, the truth about the old stories. Better yet, it’s a wonderful excuse for a lunch. ‘Just going down the pub, love, to check a fact…’

Some time ago I suggested to a pal that he might like to think about preparing an obit for a mutual friend who was reportedly at death’s door. ‘Can’t do it,’ he said. ‘Bad karma.’

But, here’s the thing. Over the years I’ve been asked to write a number of advance obits for former colleagues who were not even ill – it must be a weird job, being an obituaries editor – and not one subject of these carefully crafted compositions has snuffed it since I wrote.

So my theory is that writing obits in advance is a sure way of keeping people alive. It therefore becomes your duty to prepare a tribute to people you actually liked (or greatly respected).

There’s another option, offered here in the past, for those readers who have no friends or, at least, none that they can trust. And that’s to write your own and file it to Ranters for safe keeping. On the off-chance that the editor outlives you, he’ll rewrite it. Nobody will know you wrote it. But at least your summons to the Great Newsroom will be recorded for the benefit of anybody you leave who might give a toss (only providing, of course, that somebody somewhere cares sufficiently to let us know about it).

So there you are. Get writing.

#

Silver threads

By Donald Macintyre

There are two kinds of journalists: those who are generous with their knowledge, contacts and advice to others in the same trade, and those who are grudging with it all, perhaps because of some unspoken insecurity.

I am glad I never worked against Eric Silver in his Guardian heyday, or at any other time. Many of the pieces in his book from that Guardian period, starting from his visit just after the Six-Day War, and then during his time as the resident full-time correspondent which ran from the Lod Airport massacre and the Yom Kippur War up to the first Lebanon War and its aftermath, are a reminder, with their political insight, their eye for the telling detail, their freshness and their humanity, of what a daunting rival he would have been.

But even if I had been forced to compete with him, I suspect I would have put him as unreservedly in the first of those two categories, that of the generous colleague, as I did when we worked together on the same paper.

For a newly arrived Jerusalem staff correspondent on the Independent, as I was in March 2004, Eric, by now long installed as the paper’s resident part-timer (though that hardly does justice to the depth and breadth of his role) was the Platonic ideal of a mentor/workmate. Never pushy, interfering or didactic; always available to give counsel, share telephone numbers from his unrivalled list of contacts, dispense Johnny Walker Black Label and sympathy (though never too much of the second when it came to the vagaries of dealing with the office; he had seen it all before and always wanted to move on from the boring subject of yesterday’s atrocity committed by the sub-editors).

There were countless times when he saved me from embarrassment but one was when, early in my time in Jerusalem, the nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu was released. The office asked me to sum up the differences between what Israel was like when he went into gaol and when he came out of it.

I rang Eric of course, and said, as I so often did: ‘help’. At something like dictation speed, he constructed without pausing from his formidable memory a perfect list of the ways, from restaurant cuisine to settlement growth, in which the country had changed in those 18 years. When it appeared under my name I felt a shameful fraud; but of course Eric didn’t mind that.

He was much, much, too big a man to begrudge a wholly undeserved by-line. And if he spotted you making a serious error, he told you – in private – in a firm but gentle way that ensured you would never do it again.

We didn’t always agree of course; life would have been less interesting if we had. After his journalistically highly rewarding Guardian tour in Delhi, which followed the one in Jerusalem, he decided not to return to London. Instead he ‘made aliyah’. Israel was therefore his adopted country, and as an Israeli he was probably less impatient than a few of his fellow correspondents, including me, at what we saw as its chronic disinclination to take dramatic steps needed for the region’s lasting peace and security.

But his Zionism was also that of a deep-dyed Labour Party man (which he had also been in Britain) who believed that division of the land was necessary for peace; that, as he wrote in his moving obituary of Yitzhak Rabin – which incidentally is an absolute masterpiece of that art – ‘Israel could not go on ruling a large and hostile Arab minority if it wanted to remain a Jewish and a democratic state.’

It’s notable, too, reading his book, how early he saw the importance, reflected in his June 1972 piece on Mohammed Abou Shilbayih, of the first stirrings of Palestinian interest in the two-state solution. He was moreover unflinchingly objective when he saw failings of Israeli policy or conduct, as he often did. When on one occasion the Independent splashed on its front page a story about abuses by Israeli troops of Palestinians in Hebron under a dramatic headline referring to the soldiers’ ‘reign of terror’ I was nervous that he would think the presentation too lurid, too over-the-top. ‘Serve the buggers right,’ was his succinct and only comment on the telephone the following morning.

If you asked him for advice, as I repeatedly did on all sorts of matters, historical, cultural, religious, in the hideously confusing maelstrom that engulfs the Jerusalem correspondent, Eric almost always knew the answers but on the rare occasions he didn’t he would know someone who did. ‘And you can mention my name, if you like,’ he would say modestly. And of course it invariably helped if you did.

He had a voracious appetite for work right until his last – and in terms of having to go to hospital pretty well first – illness; ‘available for selection’ he would say in crisp parlance of cricket, his favourite sport, if you asked him to cover at short notice.

Many of us would often coast on an easy day by rewriting the news agency wires. This Eric never liked to do; right into his seventies he always wanted to add value, to make his calls; go out on the story if he could; two fine examples for the Independent, both happily included in his book, are the superb review cover story he did at an age when most reporters have long retired, on neo-Nazis in Petah Tikva and the ‘worst of Israel, best of Israel’ piece written under massive time pressure (pressure which, as always with Eric, was never visible between the lines of his invariably elegant, unhurried prose) from the Alyn Hospital in Jerusalem where the little Palestinian girl Maria Amin had been brilliantly treated after being crippled in an IDF air strike on Gaza.

A drink or a meal with Eric was always notable for what the Irish call the craic, the wit, and for the curiosity about the world which had animated him throughout his career. He was a gentleman in the best of senses, whether it was making sure that our Palestinian fixer in Gaza was adequately paid for his time, or displaying his great hospitality as a host.

As Phil Reeves, the Independent correspondent from 2000-2003, wrote when he died: ‘Eric was a man of great decency and kindness who never allowed our grubby business to compromise his dignity.’

He was a social animal; he loved parties and gave great ones; there are not many people who would have fused his Israeliness with his irrepressible Yorkshire roots by teaching a bunch of Russian-Jewish musicians to play On Ilkley Moor Baht ‘at at his 70th birthday.

My impression was always that his family were the source of his great inner strength. The only time he really fought to protect from the inroads of work was time with his grandchildren. And it was impossible not to be aware how much he appreciated and reciprocated the love of the four women closest to him: his daughters Dinah, Sharon, Rachel and of course Bridget, his beloved mainstay over so many years and in so many places.

Bridget Silver has now performed an invaluable service by putting together this wonderfully rich collection of Eric’s work; a fitting tribute to his memory, but something of lasting value, not only to those who know about, but also to all those who want to know about, the region he covered with such style and distinction over 40 years.

By Eric Silver, Dateline: Jerusalem is published by Revel Barker Publishing at £15.99. It is available on-line from BookDepository (with free postage, worldwide), from amazon-uk and amazon-us, Waterstones, Barnes & Noble, and all the major retailers, or on order from any half-decent high street bookshop.

#

Crick

By Colin Henderson

Fifty years on I can still feel the pain my hands suffered while keeping wicket to fast bowler Clive Crickmer when the ace newsman turned out for the Evening Chronicle and Journal cricket team.

We played 20 or 25-over evening matches, mostly against County Durham pit village teams. Invariably we batted first, with swashbuckling openers Clive Page and Nick Mason giving us the foundation of reasonable totals.

The light always seemed to be fading fast when Clive opened our attack. And although he bowled well within himself because of his weekend commitments to South Shields in the Durham Senior League the ball moved like lightning and was incredibly hard to sight as often there was a slagheap right behind him – and no sight screen… How my fingers suffered.

For every one of the many castles that Clive tumbled there were snicks and dropped catches galore. Clive never appeared to get upset. He just gave that wonderful grin, captured so well in the Ranters picture last week. And there were always encouraging words of praise for his less-gifted team-mates as we supped our post-match pints of Exhibition in the local boozer.

Clive's stories at the annual Pens and Lens reunions of old Tyneside hacks were a delight. The one I liked best was when in the Sixties he door-stepped the unassuming, elderly driver of a goods train that had become derailed in the Stockport area.

To Clive's surprise the railman welcomed him into his house then gave a detailed account of how the accident had happened, even suggesting that he might have been to blame and apologising for the disruption he had caused.

As Clive was leaving the driver remarked that his ‘lad’ was in newspapers.

Clive was expecting to learn that it was some comp on the Fife Examiner, but the chap said his son was on the Sunday Times.

‘I don’t think I know anybody on the Sunday Times, said Clive.

‘He used to be on the Northern Echo.’

Ah… said Clive.

‘His name’s Harry Evans,’ said the engine driver.

‘Of course, I knew Mr Evans when he edited the Echo,’ said Clive.

‘Aye,’ said his father. ‘He really was somebody, in those days.’

#

Look, no hands

By John Kay

As a very raw graduate trainee reporter on the Newcastle Journal more than 40 years ago, I learnt more about our noble trade from the likes of the late great Clive Crickmer than anyone else. Also add our esteemed editor Revel Barker, Stanley Blenkinsop, Gordon Amory, Mike Gay, Syd Foxcroft and others to the illustrious line-up of gurus who so freely and warmly gave of their advice.

No journalist college or academy could ever match the experience of actually learning ‘on the road’ at first-hand from these giants of the business.

But it was Crick, above all others, who also taught the second great lesson that being a reporter is (or sadly I might have to say ‘was’ in today's dodgy climate) all about having FUN.

It was work hard, play hard, and even now through the misty prism of time I can still recall a night I have never forgotten with Clive when he demonstrated his amazing party trick which was not recalled in Revel's brilliant tribute last week.

We were at a bar somewhere in Newcastle and one of the pack bet me a quid that Clive could drink a pint of bitter with his hands behind his back – without spilling a single drop. As a keen punter, I negotiated a bit of 3-1 and was already spending my £3 winnings in my dreams.

A fresh pint was called for – in a straight glass and NOT a tankard – to succeed the eight that had already been downed. The great man solemnly put his hands behind his back, leant forward, grasped the glass vice-like with his teeth, tilted his head back and sank the lot – without the hint of even a dribble.

The last time I saw Clive was two years ago at the fabled Pens and Lens Club lunch at St James's Park, the annual shindig for hacks who had started their careers in Newcastle.

Clive, as ever, was the MC and Gordon Amory (who always organised it) and Stanley Blenkinsop were on rollicking good form.

How sad it is that these three giants have all gone and that was the last ever Pens and Lens (aka Pissed and Legless) lunch. But what fantastic memories to treasure for ever.

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Over the moon

By Scott Camlin

Forgive me for intruding, but I was delighted to stumble across the Gentlemen Ranters website last night whilst googling my late father, Bruce Camlin, after one too many lager shandies.

My dad died nearly 25 years ago, and what I regret most about his untimely death is not being able to reminisce about his days as an articles editor at the National Enquirer. I was a teenager at the time, and found myself on the outer edges of the Enquirer inner sanctum. (Forgive the last bit; I'm not a journalist...)

I was always made to feel welcome, or at least tolerated, in the company of Mr Pope's finest. Many a Saturday and/or Sunday I accompanied my dad to Ho Jo's and latterly the Hawaiian, where I was treated to the stories and scandals revolving around the people who worked for America's biggest selling weekly. Bruce and my mother Margaret maintained an open door policy, often playing hosts to journalists on tryout, on 30 days, or those just passing through between stories. I met you all.

Although I couldn't appreciate it at the time, I got to hear office gossip that even today couldn't or shouldn’t be printed. On more than one occasion I would be told that if anybody asks, ‘X was over here last Wednesday night – we were listening to some of my marching band records.’ On more than one occasion I confirmed the alibi.

I still smile when I recall my father's account (as only he could tell it) of how one of his reporters, Joe West, assisted police with their enquiries. One evening after a heavy session at one of the local watering holes, Joe was approached by two of Palm Beach County's finest at a set of traffic lights. One of the officers asked why he had been staring into space for the last five minutes and Joe replied ‘I wouldn't swear to it, but I think the moon is in the wrong place.’ Such was the power of the Enquirer in the local community that Joe and his car were quietly driven home by one of the officers.

Jim McCandlish's tribute to Leo Clancy contains a series of anecdotes that I had long since forgotten but now remember. He also lists numerous Enquirer alumni; I remember most of your names, and of those, I can picture all of your faces as if it were 1976 again. I just wanted to take this opportunity to say hello to those of you who worked with my dad.

A personal message for two Ranters contributor: Harold Lewis – I was always jealous of your 1972 red Ford Mustang. I also forgive you for shooting me with the BB gun that Santa gave me for Christmas that year. Jack ‘one thumb’ Grimshaw – I recently came across an old 8mm film of you playing my drum kit, shot about the same time you were dating my 11th grade English teacher…

I shall continue to look out for more Enquirer tales, but in the meantime, thanks for indulging me.

#

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.


But do NOT use this address for sending copy or messages to the editor.


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 # 218
October 28. 2011


This Week

Oh dear. Lord Leveson’s inquiry into newspaper hacking hasn’t even started in earnest yet – he’s wisely still trying to get an understanding of what newspaper reporting is all about – but already it looks like it’s about to get off on the wrong foot.

The good judge is in grave danger of being side-tracked – nay, actually misled – by old hacks’ bullshit and bravado. Maybe we’ve only ourselves to blame. We lived a sometimes romantic (always seen by outsiders, at least, as being romantic) life and, let’s be honest, we tended to over-egg the pudding a bit, not least among ourselves.

Thus, for example, we told how reporters swiped photos off people’s mantelpieces, and snappers peeled pictures out of family albums while grieving widows were putting the kettle on for us. The trouble is that that sort of ‘rat-like cunning’ (call it theft) has found its way out of folk-lore and out of the pub and into history.

Did it ever happen? Answers in an email, please.

Of course, it may have happened somewhere, once. The point is that it was never the routine. It wasn’t necessary. The past generation of reporters tended to quickly acquire the gift of the gab – often picked up from watching old photographers at work among the readers.

Ask how journalists inveigled their way into people’s confidence or employed mild deceit to get into places that were out of bounds, and that’s another story.

Stealing cherished photos from bereaved families? That’s a completely different kettle of worms.

Lord Leveson was advised twice last week that if he needs – as he readily admits he does – to understand the ‘culture of the newsroom’ before embarking on his inquiry proper, he should start by reading this website.

He should, certainly, start by reading this week’s edition, where John Dale, our man in the press seats, reports that his lordship is being fed duff gen by people who should know better – but who possibly don’t know at all, because they’ve only heard the stories. In other words, it’s all hearsay – something that judges don’t normally find acceptable as evidence.

Anyway, you be the judge…

But, if we aren’t telling our own history right, how are we doing with other people’s? The latest issue of Journalism Practice looks at ways in which journalism uses history and historical sources ‘in order to better understand the relationships between journalists, historians and students of journalism’.

Tony Delano has written the foreword to it (lifted and reprinted here), considering the difference between those tradesmen – and suggests that yellowing cuttings from the library might be more reliable than academia’s ‘published works’. The only trouble is that, last time we looked, Fleet Street’s finest were not using cuttings: they were relying on Google. And we all know how reliable the Internet can be, as a source of facts. You need to check ‘em, says Professor Delano. Then check ‘em again.

Still in the library, Revel Barker received an email from former colleague Linda McKay bemoaning absent friends mentioned here last week. That somehow (it’s truly astonishing how the memory cells work) reminded him, as he was able to remind her, about the time she was sentenced to spend a week among the cuttings, on a Publisher’s Must, checking the reported history of the 1960s.

But what, then, about the journalist AS historian? Ranters readers will (should) be aware that this month we published a book of selections of essays on the Middle East by Eric Silver, former doyen of the foreign press corps based in Jerusalem. It has already received rave reviews from Tel Aviv to Golders Green. Roy Greenslade is the latest to peruse a copy.

And for those tyros among our readers who are still hoping to make themselves indispensable in the office, cartoonist Rudge offers a tip...

#

Excuse me, Paul, I am not a thief

By John Dale

Did you ever steal family photos off someone’s mantelpiece while they were blinded by tears? Did you see anyone else do it? I didn’t. Yet, according to some of our marginally younger brethren, we were all at it, not just ducking and diving like dedicated Del Boys, which is tolerable, but actually nicking and lifting like Oxford Street pickpockets, which is certainly not.

I was a reporter. I was not a thief. Neither were my colleagues as far as I know. I resent anyone, however elevated, telling Lord Justice Leveson otherwise.

We were not angels, just as today’s reporters are not angels, but we were probably no worse and – yes, I’ll say it – perhaps better.

I make this point emphatically after attending the seminars being held by Lord Leveson into the culture, practice and ethics of tabloid newspapers, in preparation for the opening of his judicial inquiry.

Editors and publishers, academics and regulators, have been staking their ground. They are delivering speeches, digging in and establishing positions.

As they do so, I am alarmed at the main strategy.

Put simply, it is: blame the old shufflers because they’re too demented to resist – or six foot under.

In front of Lord Leveson, older journalists are being slagged off by their younger counterparts. The current generation is sacrificing the reputation of their predecessors in order to rescue their own.

‘Let me assure you,’ Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, told the judge, ‘the British press is vastly better behaved and disciplined than when I started in newspapers in the seventies. Then much of its behaviour was outrageous.

‘It was not uncommon for reporters to steal photographs from homes. Blatant subterfuge was commonly used. There were no restraints on invasions of privacy. Harassment was the rule rather than the exception. The Press Complaints Commission has changed the very culture of Fleet Street.’

That view was endorsed by Professor Roy Greenslade, ex big shot at the Mirror, Sun and Sunday Times.

‘I didn’t think I’d ever say this – I agree a great deal with what Paul Dacre had to say, particularly regarding the standards he came into in the seventies,’ he declared. ‘There was no Code in those days and so we learnt ethics on the hoof and so there was that kind of scandalous behaviour.’

Then it was the turn of Bob Satchwell, of the Society of Editors. He too repeated what was becoming the party line.

There were 200 people present. I seemed the only person present to raise an eyebrow...

Assertion had become the received wisdom.

Well, sorry to spoil the party.

Now I do not say we were vestal virgins. We were not. But it is too convenient for the current crop of senior journalists to talk up the sins of the past in order to re-frame the failings of the present. The worse they paint pre-PCC days, the more they can claim to credit the PCC with improving things. By smearing our history they seek to show the effectiveness of self-regulation. By shifting blame, they are conjuring up a useful scapegoat, one less argumentative in that a lot of it occupies the cemetery.

I too want self-regulation to continue. But while sharing their ends, I question their means.

I have been involved with the national press since 1964. Were we really as shoddy as the Italian-cut mohair suits we favoured?

Take photo stealing, which is always the first allegation Mr Dacre raises, the pocketing of photographs of murder or accident victims from the mantelpieces of their bereaved mums/wives/husbands/children. While they sobbed, you nicked the picture. You’d think we were taught it in our 1960s training.

I reported for some of the most competitive outfits – Raymonds of Derby, Hopkinsons of Leeds and Bradford, and the Daily Mail – and I swear I never saw it.

I think back to the very decent men and women who were my colleagues. They would not have done it just as I would not have done it. It was not even necessary. We were skilled in gaining trust – easier then, I think – and when we did the ‘death knock’, we respected our interviewees and in return they respected us because our newspapers were about real people and real lives, not ersatz celebrities, and the readers understood we were doing a job. We’d ask for photos and in nearly all cases they would be fetched and entrusted to our care. Theft would have been redundant.

I repeat, I never saw it happen and I never heard of it actually happening.

Maybe I’m an innocent fool. Perhaps Paul Dacre witnessed it. If so, let him say where and when. And if he did see it, what did he do about it? Turn a blind eye? I offer the same challenge to Roy Greenslade and Bob Satchwell.

Yes, there may have been the odd rogue reporter or photographer but before you casually smear a whole generation, make sure you can prove it. I await your replies.

And I make a supplementary point: which would be worse – stealing Milly Dowler’s photo or hacking her phone? It’s hard to say. And both are illegal, so equally outside the Code and equally useless in its validation.

Next, Paul Dacre referred to harassment. I give credit to the PCC for working hard on this. Today’s targets can get the PCC to email newsdesks warning them they could be in breach of the Code. We didn’t have that in the old days. But – and here I reveal trade secrets – that was never really the way editors intended it to be, anyway.

In theory we were supposed to be making a nuisance of ourselves outside someone’s front door, hoping they would crack and talk. Individual members of the pack would keep receiving further instructions from their desks to ‘knock again’ or ‘put another offer through the letterbox’.

But these orders – usually counter-productive, frequently stupid – were mediated by the reporters on the ground. Although in theoretical competition, we would transfer our loyalty from the newspaper to our fellow hacks. We would become a team, deceiving our newsdesks in an agreed strategy, covering one another’s backs. We either failed or succeeded together – in the spirit of D’Artagnan: all for one, and one for all.

The newsdesks knew. It enabled them to maintain a fiction of dynamic activity to the editor. The editor knew too. But the Mail wouldn’t leave the scene until the Express left. The Mirror wouldn’t quit while anybody else was left. And so it strung along, entirely without hope or purpose although entirely amicably. We frequently sat in the pub, leaving one person ‘on watch’.

Next, privacy. In his inter-generational slur, Paul Dacre made no mention of the associated topic of trial by media. Let me rectify that grave omission.

In the old days, we complied with the law of contempt. When police pulled people in for questioning, we published only the basic facts in order not to create prejudice.

Compare that to last Christmas, when an innocent next-door neighbour was taken in and asked about the death of Joanna Yeates in Bristol. Mr Dacre’s front page read: murder police quiz ‘nutty professor’ with a blue rinse.

Others were much, much worse.

Eight nationals including the Mail later apologised and paid the man damages. Two, the Mirror and the Sun, were heavily fined for contempt. I search my memory in vain for a pre-PCC case that was worse than that.

The same goes for the Maddie McCann disappearance. Yes, we dealt with similar cases. But when the facts ran out, so did the copy. We didn’t just make it up wholesale. Again, various newspapers have been forced to pay up and apologise, the Mail among them.

As I say, the PCC has worked hard on privacy but I doubt Mr Dacre’s favourable estimation is shared by the Bristol schoolteacher, the McCanns, Colin Stagg (wrongly accused of the Wimbledon Common murder) and various other victims of the post-PCC press.

And I haven’t even got round to phone-hacking – thousands of cases – and the hiring of private investigators. All right, phone hacking was not possible 20 years ago. But don’t let’s kid ourselves about private detectives. They have generally been used to carry out dodgy enquiries at arm’s length, to maintain editorial deniability.

I never hired a private detective.So I refer again to the vilifying of the old days.

I admire Paul Dacre. Some argue that he is the greatest editor of our time. He is also our most forceful advocate for free speech, warts and all. But the leadership he has shown at Derry Street has not always been equalled by that he has shown at the PCC. There is nothing wrong with the Code. The failure has been in its enforcement. But rather than admit this, he blackens the names of those who preceded him.

I look forward to seeing how his argument stands up under cross-examination at Leveson, when he is called to give evidence on oath rather than a mere presentation.

He wants self-regulation. Most journalists do. Yes, in the old days we were tough and extremely competitive. We were imperfect. But we were already practising self-regulation – in our cases personal, not collective. We do not merit being made an inter-generational scapegoat.

And, for Paul’s benefit, I’d like to add this: Old tabloid journalists have human feelings too.

You can follow Find John Dale’s Leveson website at www.johndalejournalist.co.uk

#

It’s a fact… or is it?

By Anthony Delano

All journalists of a certain vintage remember newspaper libraries that could produce worn envelopes packed with cuttings on almost anyone and any event. They also remember news editors – and lawyers – reminding them that because something could be found in those clippings it was not necessarily right. Check, young reporters were told.

And if there was time, check again. Such advice was never applied to the contents of the books many libraries would also come up with for ‘background’. Hard covers signified authenticity.

That assumption was not always justified, particularly when an historian made tendentious use of similar clippings as a prime source or failed to evaluate them adequately. For the better part of a century the accusation that Spain had sunk the battleship Maine as one of the causes of the Spanish-American war of 1898 was accepted as an invention of the ‘yellow’, ie popular, Press. Historians preferred the less sensational explanation of an accident on board, thus allowing several generations to be educated in the belief that the war had been popularised by a dodgy premise engendered by hysterical newspapers. Nearly a century later evidence emerged that the yellows might actually have been right.

The Zimmerman Telegram, a magisterial work by the queen of historians, Barbara Tuchman, is flawed by an account of Japanese incursions during World War One that depended on a fictitious account by a rogue journalist that, even at the time, was convincingly refuted.

Plenty of blame, then, to share between both occupations. In these and similar instances of inaccurate historiographic framing to which contributors to this issue draw attention it was historians who undertook the rectification. But instead of waiting for later scholars to question the accepted, journalists could just as easily have trawled through the same faded cuttings and seen a different image in the rear-view mirror.

They did not do so because of an implicit demarcation: yesterday belongs to history. But, as the Hollywood re-makers like to say, what goes around comes around. Those stories and many more that were buckled into the protective armour of hard covers began as journalism.

So, to twist Marx’s over-quoted aphorism into a new shape, journalism repeats itself first as history then as journalism again.

The distinction between practitioners was not always sharp. One of the earliest journalism degree courses, at the University of Missouri in 1878, was taught in the history department, an arrangement followed in other places if only because academics were wary of letting a streetwise intruder run loose amid the ivy.

Eventually, of course, American journalism teaching was all but subsumed in the great wave of academic enthusiasm for Mass Communication in which narrative was trumped by methodology, measurement and theory.

Journalism teachers who valued message more than media – scorned by media sociologists as ‘green eyeshades’ – lost much of their independence. But a significant number of dissidents thought salvation could lie in a renewed alliance with History.

Gene Roberts, a managing editor of the New York Times and a visiting professor at the University of Maryland, was arguing back in 1996 that history departments would make better partners in the study of journalism than ‘communications esoterica’.

In the same decade, when the University of Michigan ended the autonomy of its department of journalism and absorbed it into ‘communication studies’, Jim Tobin, a Detroit News reporter with a PhD in history, explained why ‘the academy’s attitude towards journalism usually ranged from vague distrust to outright contempt’: it is partly motivated by a competition for cultural authority – a competition over who gets to speak the truth to the public. The academic who works on a single article for months believes not only that he simply knows more than a reporter writing for tomorrow’s paper – which is usually true – but also that he holds to a higher standard of truth. His own motives are pure; the journalist’s are commercial. Yet every day the academic realises that he speaks the truth only to a small band of colleagues and mostly indifferent students, while the reporter speaks dreck to an audience of millions. So when it comes time to evaluate a journalism department, the academic says, ‘why should we teach students to do this shit?’ [Carey, J. (Ed.) (1996) Journalism Education, the First Amendment Imperative, and the Changing Media Marketplace, Middle Tennessee University Press, p. 24]

Perhaps because journalism wormed its way into British higher education rather later than in most countries, things worked out differently. The kind of academic misgivings Tobin described meant that some courses had to be labelled Journalism Studies but, if anything, Media Studies and Cultural Studies, or at least the parts of it that are not mere A-level material or just plain silly, are frequently incorporated into Journalism courses here, rather than the reverse. Without any ringing declaration being made, it seems accepted that journalism is not a communication medium but a process, a practice.

Another consideration in Britain is that history seems in danger of being downgraded, when not entirely abandoned, in secondary education and is losing ground at university level. Putting aside any consideration of how this might have come about, could it be time not merely to question the officers-and-men distinction between historian and journalist but for journalism to come to the rescue of faltering history departments?

The ranks have never been entirely closed off. Distinguished academic figures like A J P Taylor and Hugh Trevor-Roper were happy to have the exposure – and the income – that came from servicing the popular prints, even when they were doing it to reinforce the prejudices of a proprietor-patron. Television studios seethe with ambitious history dons churning out programmes that are essentially journalism.

Meanwhile, as to the use journalism should make of history (and historians), there no longer seems to be reason to accept that one begins only where the other ends. The contributors to this issue show what good stories there are to be found, even if they disturb audiences conditioned by historical myth-making. Today’s research resources make it possible – even without Wikileaks – to mine raw sources, locate original material.

Do what journalists are supposed to do: scrutinise, question, assess, report. Don’t let them get away with anything.

Anthony Delano, sometime chief New York corr, chief European correspondent and managing editor of the Daily Mirror, is a visiting professor at the London College of Communication. He is also author of Slip-Up – how Fleet Street found Ronnie Biggs and Scotland Yard lost him, and Joyce McKinney and the case of the manacled Mormon. Both are now available in paperback and as e-books.

#

A trivial pursuit

By Revel Barker

We realised from the start that Robert Maxwell wasn’t the sort of proprietor who took employees’ days off all that seriously. So when we saw him come into the office on the first Boxing Day after he’d taken over, with a box of Trivial Pursuit under his arm, eyebrows were raised.

Was the publisher, perchance, about to suggest a post-prandial board game in the Oak Room as a concession to those execs required to work through lunch on the bank holiday? Did he fancy quizzing the staff on their knowledge of recent history?

Fat chance.

It had been his wife Betty’s brainwave to delay Maxwell’s instant return to work after picking clean the turkey carcass with his fat fingers on Christmas Day, 1984. She thought he might be tempted to sit a little longer with the family if she introduced him to Trivial Pursuit – especially if it was the 1960s edition, a decade that Bob knew something about (and it was always advisable to offer him a game he’d got a chance of winning).

So it had kicked off.

And the first question put to the paterfamilias was: Where did The Beatles play their first public concert in the United States?

‘Washington Coliseum,’ said Maxwell, quick as a flash.

Nope. Carnegie Hall…

‘It was the Washington bloody Coliseum,’ said Bob. ‘February 1964. I was there!’

Well, it says…

‘I don’t care what it says. Watch my lips… Washington Coliseum. I was there.’

It’s only a game, dad.

‘Then it’s a stupid bloody game.’

Next round…

What was The Beatles’ first number one hit record in the UK charts?

Please please me,’ says Cap’n Bob.

No… it was Love me do, dad…

(Look, I wasn’t present, but I did get the story from – so to speak – the horse’s mouth. It doesn’t take a vivid imagination to assume that what followed was the overturning of the board game, if not the entire table, as Maxwell stormed out to cross the lawn of Headington Hill Hall for the sanctuary and sanity of an office where he was the only person with the answers… whatever the question.)

So next day, Boxing Day, there was Maxwell plonking the box on the desk of his editor-in-chief, Bob Edwards, proclaiming: ‘They are selling this shit to the public – and all the answers are wrong!’

I hurriedly (and politely, for Bob Edwards and I were friends) explained that I had better things to do with my time and the problem was eventually dumped on the slim and attractive shoulders of Linda McKay, a young reporter on the Sunday Mirror. After all, we reasoned, Trivial Pursuit was currently the most fashionable family board game; thousands of people would have been playing it over Christmas. If its answers were wrong it was an instant page lead in anybody’s book.

So Linda was dispatched to the library, fount of all perceived knowledge, to check the veracity of 6,000 questions and answers. She wasn’t aware of which answers were disputed.

You can guess the rest of this story. While, as far as Robert Maxwell was concerned, two wrong answers out of two equals a 100% failure rate, it transpired that 5,998 answers, checked against every source from Encyclopaedia Britannica to the Mirror’s own cutts, were accurate. Only two – The Beatles first US concert and their first No 1 UK hit – were wrong…

‘Thanks for reminding me of that,’ said Linda this week. ‘Happy days… Only Maxwell could have got the only two questions with the wrong answers. The questions were subsequently changed, so all my research hadn’t gone to waste. Carnegie Hall was actually the second US concert venue, but Washington Coliseum was the first.

‘In fairness to the game’s publishers, Record Retailer, the trade magazine used by record shops, did cite Love me do as The Beatles’ first number one. But every other source – New Musical Express, Melody Maker, Record Mirror and the Daily Mirror top ten agreed with Maxwell that it was Please please me.’

(Yes, folks, that’s how thoroughly cuttings were checked in the old days.)

‘It’s a question that still causes arguments and even brawls in pubs all over the country,’ said Linda. ‘In fact most pub quiz masters have actually been advised to drop it.’

There are lessons to be learnt from this. One is that if you are looking for team members for a pub quiz you should get Linda on your side. The second is not even to think about playing against her at Trivial Pursuit – especially if you’re using the 1960s edition…

#

The man behind the dateline

By Roy Greenslade

Journalist Eric Silver was sent to Israel by the Guardian in 1967 in the aftermath of the six-day war. Five years later, he became the Jerusalem-based correspondent for the Guardian and the Observer.

He later freelanced, working for several papers, and for more than 40 years, until his death in 2008, he filed what his publisher calls ‘elegant and incisive essays’.

Many of them can be found in By Eric Silver: Dateline Jerusalem, a book compiled by his wife, Bridget, which was published this week by Revel Barker.

The selection provides ‘a unique insight’ into the Middle East conflict, writes Barker. And the Guardian's current Jerusalem correspondent, Harriet Sherwood is appreciative too.

She writes: ‘It's the impressionistic and observational pieces that I really loved, evoking a different kind and pace of journalism – reflective, rich, textured and, yes, slower – than that which predominates today.’

The Independent's Donald Macintyre, who has written an introduction to the book, recalls a man who was unstinting in his help to other journalists. He was always willing to share his formidable knowledge.

In his tribute to Silver, Macintyre writes:

‘If you asked him for advice, as I repeatedly did on all sorts of matters, historical, cultural, religious, in the hideously confusing maelstrom that engulfs the Jerusalem correspondent, Eric almost always knew the answers but on the rare occasions he didn't he would know someone who did. “And you can mention my name, if you like,” he would say modestly. And of course it invariably helped if you did.’

So, asks Barker, who should read his book? Then he answers his own question:

‘Everybody who wants to be, or was, or is, in journalism... especially those interested in foreign affairs; everybody who wants to know more about the Middle East than you get in snatches of film on TV; libraries, embassies, diplomats, historians, soldiers and teachers; schools and universities; Arab and Jewish organisations and Israeli-Arab institutions; all Jews, Arabs, and Christians…’

By Eric Silver, Dateline: Jerusalem, published by Revel Barker Publishing at £15.99, is available from BookDepository (with free postage, worldwide), from amazon.co.uk and amazon.com and from all half-decent book stores.

#

Rudge

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