The Gentlemen Ranters site is a
brilliant compendium of reminiscences of the great days of Fleet Street. –
Issue # 221
November 18, 2011
A funny old week, in which the Daily Mirror apologised in a Page 2 correction (they’re all getting in to this idea) for a mistake in referring to
the, er… oh yes… to the Daily Mirror. They got the quote wrong. Well, it happens, I guess. At least, it happens in the modern Mirror.
That was in coverage of the Levenson Inquiry into phone hacking. You’ve heard about the inquiry, of course. It was in all the papers. You may even be bored
by it already (and it started in earnest only this week) but, hey, if you’re not
interested in newsmen’s behaviour and ‘the culture of the newsroom’, maybe you
shouldn’t be here, anyway.
We have a (very) brief critique of the story so far,
and a piece about how it drove our man in the press bench back to his
But, by way of a change, we also have a follow-up to
last week’s ‘affectionate memoir of Guy Rais’, this time by Stephen Bates… an affectionate memoir
of Barbara Taylor Bradford by old-timer Harold Lewis (who worked with her as a
child on the Yorkshire Evening Post
in Leeds)… and a reminder of the days when spelling was still considered
important, by Jim Anderson.
So, let’s update you quickly on Levenson, and give
reporter John Dale his musing, and
then crack on.
We’ll end the column, as usual, with cartoonist James
Whitworth (Rudge) watching a movie
Here’s the (very) brief
his opening address to the Leveson Inquiry last Monday - 14 November 2011 -
Robert Jay QC displayed a forensic mastery of his brief which ought to have some
potential witnesses quaking in their boots. His performance showed he was in a
different league from the keen but sometimes meandering MPs on the select
committees. He is Don Bradman to their knockabout village cricket
But at 24,478 words, with few of them wasted, his
presentation was the length of a novella.
John Dale has reduced it slightly, to 22,450 words. He sticks faithfully to Jay's
text and chronology but has put in subheads and some bold type to give it a clearer
structure on the written page. He hopes that helps. Jay sets out the roadmap for
the months ahead and, if you’re interested in the big picture, it’s worth taking
some time over it. As of this date, it is probably the best overall summary,
pulling together the many threads of the story. You can find it at http://johndalejournalist.co.uk/qcs-opening-address-in-full-clarified.php
Have notebook, will
By John Dale
The reason for the Leveson Inquiry into the media was
not actually to set up the Lord Leveson Phonetappers and Pen-Shunters Social
Club or, indeed, to indulge any form of Fleet Street nostalgia whatsoever. I
know that, of course. But it's a pleasure to stare into some claret-red face
from the past, feign horror and exclaim in the disappointed tones of Bernard
Manning: ‘%@!* me, but I thought you were dead!’
The face stares back with rheumy, hooded eyes which
confirm you have hit a chord before replying with equal disappointment: ‘I
thought you were *%@!*&$ dead too!’
‘Well, I’m not.’… ‘Neither am
‘Fancy one in The George?’… ‘Don’t ask silly
And as you trot over the road, it seems like only
yesterday that you were treading these same cobbles made holy by the spilling of
blood, sweat and fizzy keg beer.
I used to spend a lot of my time hanging around the
lowest dives in EC4 – Scribes, the Harrow, the
Cheshire Cheese, El Vino and, even worse, those most notorious haunts of
habitual criminals, the Old Bailey and the High Court.
We were reporters. We were a happy bunch of boys and
girls. We worked together, drank together, argued together and had fun
But then the Murdoch meteor plunged to earth and we
were blasted to the four corners. I landed in Camden. Others touched down at Canary Wharf or Kensington High Street. We lost
touch. We made new friends.
And then, a few months ago, the finger of serendipity
prodded me in the chest.
In a tiresome, argumentative and troubling way, I
have always been interested in the theory of popular journalism as well as the
practice. It sounds a bit pompous, I know, but for me, as a kid living in a
northern town, the Daily Mirror of
the 1950s was a window on the world, all the way from The Wheeltappers and
Shunters Social Club to New York and Moscow and the then Peking. Through its
inky smudges, it imprinted not just its newsprint on me but its principles. I’ve
never been able to wash them away, even if I’d wanted to, and they were the
reason I have been a hack for the last 47 years: tabloid journalism with sense
as well as sensationalism.
In May I stopped being editor of a woman’s real-life
magazine and, a few days later, I saw an old man blinking into a TV camera and
murmuring ‘This is the most humble day of my life.’
What the Murdoch taketh away, the Murdoch could now
I would reclaim the title I love the most.
It was Jack Crossley – of the Daily Mail, the Observer, the Express and The Times – who used to tell me
‘reporter’ was the proudest title in newspapers. I reckoned he thought I was
simple. Now I know otherwise.
And so I unilaterally appointed myself ‘Your one-stop
phone hacking correspondent’ and announced I would be returning to my old game,
my old patch, like a gypsy’s dog rediscovering his favourite
Ranters readers may be slightly interested in some of the
practical points, bearing in mind it is a different world out there from the one
I knew in the 60s, 70s and 80s. I had to learn fast. This is what I
Website. I googled around and asked for tenders from
various web-builders. One priced it at £15,000, another £5,000. Other people
showed me what they’d had built for them, often for more than £1000. You gotta
Then I discovered Yola. It’s free and DIY. Within an
hour or so, I had a prototype up and running without my once threatening to
smash up my machine. So it really is idiot proof. Have a look at what I’ve done
– http://johndalejournalist.co.uk/ You can do it
as well. You can change your content at will. You don’t have to beg someone to
do it for you.
Facebook: I set up a separate John Dale Journalist
page. It could develop, with attention.
Linkedin: I set up a profile. For building up
professional contacts, this has been extremely useful.
Twitter. Mmm, I hesitated. If anything had convinced
me that Stephen Fry was bonkers, then it was his twittering obsession. What was
the point? Why would I want to tweet? It was moronic. But younger journalists
told me otherwise.
Last weekend I registered and tried my first timid
tweet. I gazed at the screen and then a miracle happened. I got it! I
understood. It all fell into place and now I am a twitterer, with a moderate
habit. And I follow Stephen Fry although he doesn’t follow
Business cards: I downloaded an App, designed and
printed them myself using shiny photographic paper from W H Smiths. I can change
them at will, rather deviously, like James Garner in the Rockford Files.
Office: I hired a desk in a media centre in Chiswick
High Road, at £5,000 a year. Big mistake. I cancelled it and joined Soho House,
at £1,200 a year, getting four very sociable bases in Chiswick, Soho, Shoreditch
and Notting Hill, as well as access to others in Berlin, New York,
Miami and Los Angeles.
Thus I am up and running.
On Monday, this week, I am disembarking at Temple tube to be down at
the tail end of dear old Fleet Street to attend court 73 at the Royal Courts of
Justice where Lord Leveson has opened his inquiry
I am attending the hearings, although not
religiously, and I will also be attending The George and the Cheshire Cheese and
El Vino and maybe the Harrow, in the company of some old friends. Sadly, Scribes
I know, I know. Lord Leveson has other, more
important things on his mind than my nostalgia, and I have the insatiable maw of
a website to fill, a regular column in Press Gazette to write, and the demands
of the Chief Ranter to satisfy. But I still wish to thank his Lordship for
accommodating some old memories and nurturing the Lord Leveson Phonetappers and
Pen-Shunters Social Club.
Some of the evidence will be
broadcast on normal news channels, as it merits. The full evidence, including
video, will be streamed on the inquiry’s website.
By Stephen Bates
Roland Gribben's affectionate memoir of Guy Rais in
Gentlemen Ranters has evoked
awe-stuck memories of my early days as a junior reporter at the Telegraph in the mid-1980s, watching Guy
Then nearly 40 years into his career on the paper, he
was still a formidable – and dauntingly enthusiastic – reporter. I remember the
story of his encounter with Churchill at Chartwell slightly differently from
Roland; I am pretty sure Guy told me that Churchill had actually started
belabouring him with his walking stick as Guy approached
Telegraph, I wonder if I could ask how you are, sir?’ After that, he could
at least retreat, bruised, to a local phone box to tell the newsdesk that the
old boy seemed to be in vigorous health. But the tale may have become
exaggerated in the years of telling and the former premier apologised in writing
(to the proprietor, not Guy) later.
Sitting at the next bank of desks in the Telegraph Fleet
Street newsroom, it was a revelation to me to watch
the contrasting telephone techniques of Guy and another Telegraph veteran Alf MacIlroy in
action. The latter was all obsequiousness, which even in those days seemed a
little excessive: ‘A J MacIlroy, Daily
Telegraph, troubling you...’ whereas Guy was volcanically rude as he
bustled, usually successfully, past some flunkey of a secretary or a PR person
on the line:
‘I don't want to talk to you. I don't want the
monkey! Get me the organ-grinder... Stop wasting my time!’ to be completed as
the phone went down with the mock-outraged expostulation: ‘Flabby dog!’
Guy really had seen and done it all: beside the court
cases, there was the Great Train Robbery, the Paris air crash, glorious Goodwood every year and numerous
other trips to France, Guy having long since
persuaded the Telegraph authorities
on account of his name that he actually spoke French.
And his eye could grow misty at the thought of old
stories: when there was a coup in the Seychelles, I can remember him
saying: ‘I remember being sent to cover a coup there in the fifties. Boat train
to Marseilles, steamer across the Med, train from
Alexandria to Mombassa, then hire a dhow across
the Indian Ocean… three weeks it took.’
What happened Guy? – ‘Well, I came ashore on the
jetty and said: Rais, Daily
Telegraph, where's the coup? And they said, It's all over… So I got back on
the dhow. Six weeks out of the office and not a word
Was it all true? I hope so, or at least a little bit,
for it brings back the flavour of the old Fleet Street in our drabber, digital
first times. Belated happy birthday Guy…
Stephen Bates worked for the Daily Telegraph, 1984-87 before moving
to the Daily Mail and, since 1990,
Leeds and Bradford
By Harold Lewis
Barbara Taylor was little more than a slip of a girl
when she taught me the importance of commitment.
No, we are not talking about anything on a personal
level here, I barely knew her, but rather about mastering the art of
It happened after Alan Woodward, then the bluff but
consummately good natured editor of the Yorkshire Evening Post in Leeds, found himself temporarily bereft of his long-time
secretary and cast around for an emergency replacement.
As his newly appointed office boy, not that long out
of short pants, I was sent scurrying around the building with urgent messages to
various department heads.
Eventually, Barbara, who had joined the paper in the
typing pool (the reason she was probably short-listed for the stand in
secretarial position), but had then rocketed up the editorial ladder, was
dragooned into taking the job.
Then, I believe, women's page editor, dressed like a
Dior model, svelte and scented, she arrived in the editor's office like a breath
of fresh air, the antithesis of the drab harridan who normally carried out
Woodward's drudge work.
(It's a fair question to wonder what the union did
about this at the time. I'm afraid I have no idea. I do know that it would never
have happened on our watch when Ronnie Maxwell was the FOC and I was the deputy
at the Sunday
What Barbara probably knew, and probably nobody else
did, and what probably kept a smile on her face, was that she would be leaving
the paper soon to take up a new post as fashion editor at Woman's Own. There was no point in
rocking the boat.
What nobody knew, not even Barbara, was that some
time after that she would become Barbara Taylor Bradford, the internationally
famous author of more than two dozen blockbuster novels and now one of the fifty
wealthiest women in Britain.
Her first novel, A Woman of Substance, is an enduring
best seller and ranks as one of the ten top selling novels of all
Moreover, Barbara also shares what is probably a
unique honour with the Queen... her image has graced the postage stamps of no
fewer than three islands, Grenada, St Vincent and the Isle of Man.
Back then, either 19 or 20, she exuded charm in
spades and more than a measure of subtle cunning. And she was obviously not
going to let the unsought temporary job that had been foisted upon her ruin her
day. If she felt demeaned, she certainly did not show it.
Nor was she going to allow her temporary transfer
deter her from her normal daily agenda.
She explained to me – the details are lost in the
mists of time – that she had to go out and would probably not be back by the
time the editor returned from lunch. She concocted a carefully crafted story
(surely a sign of things to come) that I was to relay.
‘And don't forget,’ she insisted, and these words are
indelibly imprinted, ‘When you have explained why I will be late returning to
the office, you also say: “That will be all right, won't it?” That's really
important. Be sure to get his commitment.’
Of course, when Woodward came back he wanted to know
where she had gone. I trotted out my party piece. And then the kicker: ‘That
will be all right, won't it, Mr Woodward?’ When he harrumphed his assent, I knew
the deal had been sealed and I had learnt a lesson more important than anything
I could have culled from a book.
When Barbara returned, burdened as I remember with
high-end designer shopping bags, she simply picked up her shorthand notebook,
ascertained that I had spoken to the editor, tapped on his door and returned to
her secretarial duties.
So far as I know, not another word was said about her
Certainly, he never mentioned it to me and, as he
often dropped me off on his way home in the evenings, he had plenty of
opportunity to do so.
Get the commitment. It was the credo wily hacks once
lived by. Alas, now slaves to their flashing screens, they probably no longer
need to resort to such subterfuge. As I hear it, they never talk to anybody any
I before E,
By Jim Anderson
Why is the 1911 Siege of Sidney Street still an
important event for reporters and authors everywhere? Because it is a mnemonic
to help us remember how to spell siege as opposed to seize. When he was chief
sub at the Evening Standard in the
1970s, Roger Bryan, walking down Oxford Street in central London, saw a copy of his
paper on the news-stand with SEIGE in the splash headline.
‘My first reaction was Oh No, and the second was
Well, glad I’m on a day off, he writes in his book It’ll Come In Useful One Day, a
wonderful collection of mnemonics, acronyms, verses, old wives’ tales, puns and
acrostics designed to help us remember and recall bits of information. The idea
for this book was born that day. Roger learnt the mnemonic Siege of Sidney
Street (si for siege, si for Sidney) and has been compiling more ever
The Standard is not the only London evening newspaper to
have fallen into the seize/siege trap. A year or two before the Evening News did it too. It was in those
exhilarating days when the evenings published seven or eight editions a day,
slamming breaking stories into the paper far faster than any computer can manage
One such story that rapidly became a splash was of
police trapping a burglar in Kensington that turned into a siege, or as the News had it seige.
The edition had been on sale for at least an hour
when the news editor, Percy Trumble, leant across to the backbench and said:
‘I’ve got a reader on the phone who says that we can’t spell
The outcome was that the backbench supremo who had
written the headline himself, the much-loved Phil Wrack, had SIEGE printed in
letters two feet high (how many points is that?) and hung it from the ceiling
above the subs’ table. The subs, needless to say, felt insulted by the
insinuation that it was their error.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of reporters have had
reason to thank Roger Bryan over the past 40 years or so. For, as a sub, chief
sub and even more exalted posts on the Yorkshire Post and in Fleet Street, he
has corrected and polished their disjointed copy to make it presentable for
publication. How many actually sought him out to thank him personally? Precious
few, I bet. Well, they can make up for it now by buying his
And, if they cannot remember how to spell seize, he
even has a mnemonic for that: ‘SEize the day, sail the high Seas’, and one to
spell mnemonic itself: My Nice Editor Measures Out News In
The book cautions all of us not to rely on Spellcheck
(particularly those who work for Morgan Grenfell which can easily translate into
Morning Greenfly); it tells us how to recognise the phases of the moon, how to
remember the rivers in Yorkshire (Surely Una Never Was A Careful Driver), the
counties of Northern Ireland (FAT LAD), our times tables, how to convert Celsius
and, probably most importantly, how to tell Ant from Dec.
The above examples may be flip and not important, but
this is a book to amuse and entertain as well as to help us to remember and
there are hundreds of clever tricks to stimulate the mind too. As Roger says, It’ll Come In Useful One Day at ‘an
examination, an interview, an application for a job, at a dinner party, a pub
quiz, an appearance on University
Challenge or even Who Wants to Be a
One of my favourites sections is Creature
Collections, a selection of collective nouns that the late Nigel Thomas compiled
for the Mail on Sunday style book:
many date back to the fifteenth century and include the magical ‘An exaltation
of larks’… ‘A wickedness of ravens’, and finally ‘A siege [correct] of
The just published second edition even has a world
exclusive: Roger has discovered what is probably the oldest written reference to
that mnemonic Thirty days hath
September… There is a 15th century manuscript in the Harley Collection in
the British Library which says:
Thirti dayes hath November,
April, June and
Of XXVIIJ is but oon
And alle the remenaunt XXX and
It’ll Come In Useful One
Roger Bryan. Second edition now out: £11.99 + £2.80p&p. Order at www.rogerbryan.com
Jim Anderson worked for Roger Bryan
on the subs’ table at the Mail on