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


Issue # 223
December 2, 2011


This Week

We all know the feeling. You’re watching TV or a movie and see somebody portraying a newspaperman and you think: ‘That’s not how we do it. We don’t behave like that. We don’t act like that. We don’t talk like that…’

Then you watch live news coverage of a government inquiry, where a witness appears, purporting to be a ‘real’ reporter. And you think, ‘They’ve got the wrong guy. That’s not a newspaperman – it’s a bit-player from Absolutely Fabulous.’

So it was, at least for Revel Barker, watching The Leveson Inquiry, live but at a 2,000 mile distance, courtesy of that nice Mr Murdoch’s Sky News on-stream.

John Dale, our man inside the Royal Courts of Justice, couldn’t believe his ears, either. But then he’s another reporter from the old school; he worked on investigations for the Daily Mail under Jack Crossley and alongside Harry Longmuir and George Gordon. No wonder he was bewildered.

Thence we turn to the sad news of the demise – at the grotesquely young age of 60 – of an old chum, Ian Markham-Smith, who was a real reporter, a successful staff man and an even more successful freelance. Liz Hodgson, who shared many of the honours with him, recalls one of the good guys.

His death also prompted snapper Paul Harris to recall a few memories of working with some of the good old boys working Tinseltown.

Then Keith McDowall, prompted by John Rodgers’ account last week about the agencies he ran in London, tells how the boys on weeklies with their own linage pool competed against the agencies who tried to nick their copy.

And, as usual, our cartoonist Rudge props the whole thing up from the picket line.

#

I call myself a reporter

By Revel Barker

Hopefully, while he enjoys a long weekend off, the good Lord Leveson could spare a couple of minutes so I can bend his ear to attempt a definition that he sorely needs for his inquiry into ‘the culture, practices and ethics of the British press’.

Only one definition, m’Lud. But it’s an important one.

The word is Reporter.

I spent the bulk of the 1970s doing ‘investigations’, first for the Daily Mirror, then for the Sunday Mirror, into people like John Poulson, Reggie Maudling, John Stonehouse, Jeffrey Archer, Anthony Blunt (the names will be familiar to older readers), into the oddly behaving charity, civil servant or government contractor, and occasionally into organisations like the IRA, the PLO (and the ‘loony Left’, the National Front and the Tory party).

The description on my business card – although it wasn’t the sort of job where you handed many of them out – was Reporter.

There’s an argument that all reporters are investigative – that it’s the only sort there is.

If you sit in the office duplicating the agencies or putting your name on PR handouts, you are not a reporter at all. At absolute best, you’re a sub in a suit. (Younger readers may need to ask an older colleague, if they can find one, what ‘a suit’ is or was; basically it refers to the way that people who went ‘on the road’ – another old-fashioned expression – used to dress.)

A reporter is somebody who turns up a piece of information (it may be just a snippet or it may be the whole kit and caboodle) and enquires into it further. When I was a child we called it ‘digging’. A reporter doesn’t accept any information at face value unless he is confident about the source and, even then, about the source’s own motivation in talking.

Fleet Street was littered with the corpses of reporters who didn’t check their facts and their sources (although El Vino was also full of the ones who screwed up and managed to overcome their failures).

And when he gets sufficient to make what he considers is A Story, he tell his boss (maybe the news editor, in some cases the editor directly, sometimes both) about it and, depending on the substance and the provenance, may be directed to the office lawyer to explain and justify why the newspaper thinks it’s important and intends to use it.

A reporter understands the meaning of a story ‘being in the public interest’. One easy example is the politician who’s been elected on the basis that he’s a family man (he’s used pictures of the wife and kids in his campaign) but has been discovered playing away. There are even easier examples – if they can be unearthed – like the guy who has relationships that conflict with what he’s paid to do, especially if it’s out of the public purse.

Some journalists have become totally confused by ‘public interest’. The News Of The World, apparently, thought it was any story that might interest the public. But it’s not so.

(I realise I am in danger of offering a second definition, here, when I’d promised only one. But let me digress and tell you a story…)

I stumbled across a case where a top civil servant – very top, in the Ministry of Defence – had a brief encounter with a male prostitute. In effect it was an accidental relationship, and when he realised what he’d done he immediately reported himself to security, to the Special Branch and to the intelligence services.

When I interviewed him he made a full confession.

And – here’s the kicker – when the editor read the copy he asked me: ‘What, apart from causing severe shame and embarrassment to a senior civil servant, is our justification in running this story? The man was clearly not a security risk because he’d covered his own back. He wasn’t a potential subject for blackmail… What is the public interest in a man, any man, paying for sex with a tart, if it doesn’t conflict with his job or even with his private life?’

And the copy went into the safe for another day. And that’s another story, maybe for a quiet week at Ranters.

But back to the plot.

A reporter, with what looks like the basis of a story, makes enquiries. He knows, for a start, about all the reference books and about places like Companies House; he probably has access to a reverse telephone directory. And there are all sorts of little wrinkles he can use to find somebody’s address that I am not going into, here, because I am not being paid to teach journalism.

I’d only mention (and, honest, this is not intended as a boast because everybody could do it) that in all my years as a reporter I never failed to make contact with anybody whose telephone number was ex-directory.

What a reporter doesn’t do – or didn’t – was employ a so-called ‘private eye’ to do the job for him.

For god’s sake… how did that habit ever take off?

What sort of editor or news editor originally told a hapless hack: ‘What? You can’t find the facts? Why not employ a private detective?’

Honestly, it’s beyond belief, isn’t it?

Somehow we managed. There were brilliant investigations and exposes when we were going through the mill that were all handled successfully without recourse to devices through which you could hear people talking inside a house, and without bugging their telephones or intercepting their voicemail.

True, in those days we didn’t have the equipment. I’d like to think that we were so proficient that we didn’t need it.

Paul McMullan, whose evidence to Lord Leveson is ably dissected below, said he had ‘a surveillance van’.

A what…?

And that the News of the World kept a fleet of a dozen cars for tailing people. Can he be serious? Did the editor and the managing editor know? Did the bean-counters?

He also said naively that the Screws reflected what the readers wanted, which was why it sold so many copies every Sunday. He even described it, without a hint of shame, as a ‘daily mirror’ of what the readers wished to read.

Oh no it bloody wasn’t.

Let me end with a small but vital home truth for the benefit of Mr McMullan and his sometime colleagues, and for the current generation, and perhaps even more importantly for Lord Leveson.

The papers do not supply what their readers want, and they never did… chiefly because nobody in charge of putting a newspaper together has ever met a reader. Reporters sometimes, though obviously less frequently these days, met actual readers, but reporters don’t have any say about what goes into the paper.

Editors give the readers what they, the editors, want to see in it. Readers, on the whole, like what the editors give them; if they don’t, they stop buying it, but declining circulations clearly don’t affect the contents of the papers. If they did, they wouldn’t be full of so much crap.

I hate to say it (that’s lying) but the forgotten editors of the distant past had a clearer idea of what kept the readers happily buying their product. Which is possibly how they sold newspapers by the millions.

As Uncle Theodore said in Scoop: ‘Change and decay in all around I see…’

#

Gutted by the gutter press

By John Dale

A man with the looks and voice of Roland Rat proudly presented himself as the face of the gutter press this week, explaining that he was a dedicated seeker after truth and justice, someone who had tried to hold power to account.

That was his own appraisal.

An alternative view might be that Paul McMullan was sleaze made flesh, amorality personified, ethics denied, a foot soldier in a semi-criminal press underworld.

These are opposing interpretations. You pays your money and you makes your choice, at any point in between.

One can only imagine which view Mr McMullan triggered in the panic-stricken offices of tabloid editors.

It was a defining moment for the Leveson inquiry and, perhaps, for our industry. Here Lord Leveson saw his challenge encapsulated in one person. How do you deal with journalists who hold a different view of right and wrong, of compliance with the law and of the exercise of compassion?

On Tuesday we saw the best and the worst of journalism cohabiting at the Royal Courts of Justice.

The inquiry has started to resemble in part a sort of Truth and Reconciliation Hearing.

In the morning a leather-jacketed Nick Davies delivered a masterclass in the kind of admirable investigative journalism that has led to the present proceedings. He followed Richard Peppiatt, one-time Daily Star reporter, who had switched sides and now wished to apologise to people he had once written about.

Then, after lunch, it was the turn of Mr McMullan.

If Davies were to be cast as the revolutionary hero, and Peppiatt as the brave hack struggling with his conscience, then McMullan would be the secret policeman.

The nation has to thank him for his candour. In his position most of us would have dissembled, ducked and dived. In fact he leapt ahead of the questions, so eager was he to follow his professional instinct and give us revelation, sensation and headlines.

As a former deputy features editor of the News of the World, he offered insights into the editorial initiatives that had ended with the paper’s demise. Although it has gone, its culture, ethics and practices may have been embedded elsewhere.

He testified for two hours. Here’s some extracts from his evidence as he discussed the 300 articles he had written, without once losing a libel case.

Anti-paedophile campaign: ‘I’d written something and created a riot and got a paediatrician beaten up. You like to do something that has impact.’

Editorial selection: ‘This is what the people of Britain want. I was simply serving their needs... the judge and jury are the readership.’

Phone hacking: ‘Phone hacking is a perfectly acceptable tool given the sacrifice we (journalists) have to make to get to the truth.’

Milly Dowler: ‘...The hacking of Milly Dowler's phone was not a bad thing for a journalist to do... (it was) a well-meaning journalist on their side looking for Milly, and how annoying it must be for Pc Plod. Our intentions were honourable.’

Ends and means: ‘Most of us would have done what was required to get a story. You don’t just go to a paedo priest and say, “Are you a priest because you like abusing choirboys?”... Any means is fine by me if the target is worth it. The end justifies the means. Kelvin MacKenzie said that if you didn’t get caught you got the Pulitzer; if you get caught you go to prison.’

Voicemail interception: ‘Not uncommon. [Judge warned him against self-incrimination.] I swapped Sylvester Stallone’s mother for David Beckham’s. Once I rang up David Beckham and he answered (he impersonated Beckham’s voice). I didn’t hack his phone in that instance.’

Editors’ awareness: ‘Yes. We did these things for Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson...Andy Coulson brought that practice with him when he was appointed deputy editor.’

Brooks and Coulson: ‘They should have been the heroes of journalism but they’re the scum of journalism in that they dropped me and my colleagues in it. How dare they throw us to the wolves?... The little men - the reporters - were screwed big time by our bosses.’

David Cameron: Cameron had been ‘moulded’ by Brooks. ‘We have a future Prime Minister cosying up to the arch criminal.’

Editorial checks: ‘The first thing the editors ask is where you got the story from. Senior editors listened to messages.’

Other culprits: ‘Phone hacking was widespread across Fleet Street.’

Paparazzi: ‘They don’t give a hoot what you’re saying here [in the Inquiry]. They just want to get pictures and send them back to Mexico.’

Subterfuge: ‘I used to pose as a drug taker, drug dealer or a millionaire from Cambridge.’

Photo stealing (referring to a photo taken off a mantelpiece): ‘Rebekah Brooks said, “No, put it back, we’re not allowed to take stuff,” and Piers (Morgan, then NoW editor) said, “Who cares?” and we put it in the paper.’

Ripping off: (two girls in a bubble bath, made a spread about a film actor): ‘One was foolish enough to tell me without signing a contract. We didn’t pay her. I got a £750 bonus for ripping off the story.’

Car chases: ‘Twelve pool cars, switched around. Before Princess Diana died, it was such good fun.’ He claimed most celebrities ‘enjoyed’ being pursued, that Sienna Miller and other complainants were the exceptions.

Dustbin rifling: ‘Yes.’

Privacy: ‘Privacy is the space bad people do bad things. Privacy is for paedos, privacy is evil and brings out hypocrisy.’

Expenses fiddles: ‘We were not well paid. I was on £60,000. So I claimed £15-20,000pa, of which £3,000 was legit.’

Press Complaints Commission: ‘The glory days of the 90s when it was so much fun before Diana died... people do take notice and are reigned in.’

Jennifer Elliot (daughter of actor Denholm Elliott): Tipped off by a police officer, he found her begging. He also found needles and drug dealer notes in her bin. ‘I went too far for that story, someone crying out for help, not crying to meet the News of the World. I asked, “Would you have sex for £50?” and she went, “All right.” Was she a prostitute [as described in story]? It gets worse. I took her back to her flat and took a load of pictures of her topless. She was in the grip of addiction. I wanted to help her but I was driven to write the best story I could. When I heard she’d killed herself, I thought there’s one I regret - but there’s not many.’

The first week of evidence to Leveson was bad enough, especially that from the Dowlers and Kate and Gerry McCann. This week it got worse.

A dignified Christopher Jefferies described what it was like being the centre of a newspaper witchhunt after being wrongly arrested for the Joanna Yeates murder in Bristol.

He said: ‘I was effectively under house arrest and went from friends to friends - rather as if I were a recusant priest at the time of the Reformation I suppose, going from safe house to safe house.'

Ann Diamond said she’d been deliberately targeted by Murdoch newspapers because, she believed, she had dared to challenge Rupert Murdoch over some of his newspapers’ journalism.

Richard Peppiatt confirmed that the Daily Star could only be described as a newspaper in the loosest sense in that they invented stories without any real basis. He said they had also exploited race for commercial purposes... ‘This will sell us more papers if we keep banging this drum.’

Of his own reporting of Matt Lucas’s partner’s suicide, he said: ‘I’d like to apologise to his family. I accept no one held a gun to my head. I feel very ashamed... the tabloids are only interested in what they can get away with.’

Alastair Campbell, former spin doctor to Tony Blair, summed up the wider impact of Leveson revelations: ‘Now the public know the truth, they are horrified and they are demanding Parliament does something about it.’

The inquiry is compelling in the way an internet suicide site might be compelling. For journalists and readers of Ranters, there is only despair.

It has a long way to run yet. Perhaps someone will yet offer hope.

John Dale's website dedicated to the Inquiry is at johndalejournalist.co.uk

#

Ian Markham-Smith

By Liz Hodgson

Ian Markham-Smith, of Sunday Telegraph, Daily Mail and National Enquirer fame has died, aged 60. He had a heart attack at his home in France on November 23 – a day after his birthday party - and never regained consciousness.

I am devastated and numb, and overwhelmed by the messages I have received from old friends and colleagues all over the world.

Ian joined his local weekly, the Farnham Herald, when he left school and moved on to the Birmingham Post, where he was property correspondent in the early 1970s, and did shifts on the News of the World and Daily Mail in Manchester. From there he went to the Sunday Telegraph and quickly to the Daily Mail, where he was a foreign fireman.

Ranters readers may recall his memories of the twin Dutch sieges a few months ago, and he also spent months in Kenya, covering Idi Amin, and escaped from a Ugandan jail with a photographer by stealing a visiting priest’s car and gunning it to the border.

Like so many of Fleet Street’s best in the 1970s he was lured to the National Enquirer and worked in the London office, first as a reporter and later as European bureau chief. That was in the glory days, when Enquirer people travelled the world on Generoso Pope’s credit cards.

We met about that time, though we always disagreed exactly how: he maintains he was doing a Saturday shift at the Sunday Mirror and I bought him a cup of tea; I say he was doing Saturday duty on the Daily Mail and came to the White Swan to have a drink with Richard Moore while I was also on a break.

In 1980 we decided we’d had enough of England and thought of moving to Paris, where he had spent a lot of time for the Daily Mail.

It didn’t quite work out like that: we went to New York to talk to papers there about supplying copy, and Ian ended up being offered the job of news editor of Globe, which was then based in Montreal and had offices in New York. So off we went to Montreal, but a trip to Los Angeles in the middle of a bitterly cold winter convinced us that that would be a better place for us, so we severed our ties with the world of actual paid employment to become freelances.

After a couple of years we were offered jobs on the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, but shortly returned to the UK, where we briefly worked for Laurie Manifold in investigations on the Sunday People before heading back to Los Angeles.

Ian made the headlines on his own account at that time, when the actor Sean Penn beat him up in Nashville, Tennessee, leaving him with post traumatic stress syndrome and hearing loss in one ear.

But that did not slow him down. Throughout his life he was plagued with health problems – he was born with disabled legs, got a heart infection in Kenya, had prostate cancer in his 20s – but always shrugged them off and got on with life. Then came another stint in Hong Kong, where he was in PR for a while before becoming deputy editor of the Sunday South China Morning Post and then editor of Tatler.

He was always a bon vivant, and his time at Tatler saw him become a fixture at cocktail parties and banquets, when he was not propping up the bar at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, and he was a guest presenter on local radio and regular in gossip columns.

But Hong Kong can be very claustrophobic and we decided to regroup, and headed back to England to sort out our options. Ian became assistant news editor of the Sunday Mirror in 1989 but left after a row with the then editor, Eve Pollard, over coverage of the first Gulf War, and back we went to Los Angeles. There he spent a lot of time on the road, mainly for the Sunday Mirror, doing backgrounders – or ‘first fucks’, as we called them – on people like Sharon Stone.

He also spent a lot of time trying to get Kim Basinger’s first husband, make-up artist Ron Britton, to talk. That was a godsend because in the dark days after the death of Diana, when there was no work, Ron called out of the blue and we ended up writing a book about Kim with him, for John Blake.

More books followed, on Jerry Springer and Nicolas Cage. During this time we were seriously thinking about our dream of a house in France, where we had owned a flat since the early 1980s, and after exploring Provence decided to stay in the Alps, where we already had many friends.

Thanks to the contacts we had built up over the years we were able to keep up the Los Angeles end while spending most of our time in our mountain chalet with our dogs.

Ian died days after the 10th anniversary of our moving in, and just like the outpouring of support I have received from journalist friends, local friends, both French and English, have been a great help.

He was an incredibly loving and generous man, never begrudging the many visits to England to take care of my parents in their last years, and devoting himself to his mother and aunt.

This year we were blessed to see a lot of old friends, many of whom we had not seen for years – Graham Gadd, Laurie Manifold, Peter Burden, Tony Frost (a close friend from California whom Ian first met in Kenya), and many old Sunday Mirror mates at Tony Bushby’s splendid 70th birthday bash.

He truly was a one of a kind.

#

Working with giants

By Paul Harris

Los Angeles, Saturday November 26, 2011, phone call from a ‘blocked’ number, has to be a journalist methinks.

‘Ian Markham-Smith is dead’, the voice said. The caller was another snapper as it happened. We had both worked with him. We shared some thoughts about Ian, ex Fleet Street journalist who came to Hollywood in the early 80s, drunken poolside parties, packed with other hacks, mostly from Fleet Street but occasionally Australia, typically on evenings like these they where full of back stabbing conversations and alcohol.

One particular Markham-Smith exclusive stuck in my mind. It was the mid 80s and Ian Botham's career was winding down and his manager had spread the story that Ian was coming to Hollywood, where he had ‘an appointment at Universal Studios’ and he was staying in luxury in Santa Monica.

Markham-Smith fixed an interview with the manager who confirmed the details. What he did not know was Markham-Smith already had the truth: the appointment at Universal Studios was buying a ticket and going to the Studios’ theme park as a visitor, The luxury home was in a back garden of a friend in Santa Monica… double page spread in the Daily Mail with pictures and an apoplectic Botham and manager the next day.

When I hung up, I reminisced some more about the legends and names, some dead, some still hacking away, those masters of the written word who came to Hollywood, either on assignment or as bureau chiefs or foreign correspondents, some to stay and others to return to London, or other parts of the globe, seeking a good story and a living. In Hollywood. They all needed snappers.

I was one and I worked with a steady stream of Fleet street legends that came to town.

I of course considered myself a ‘photojournalist’, a bit of a delusion I admit, a valuable member of the team I thought, but I soon learnt where photographers really were on the totem pole of intellectual and journalistic order – pretty close to the bottom.

It had been an odd path to Hollywood for me, growing up in North Devon, witnessing Jeremy Thorpe's adventures, at 29 leaving in 1975 and going to Africa and ending up in Hollywood, late 1977. In Rhodesia I had met photographer Terry Fincher; I had just been served a deportation notice and was considering my options, about to be thrown out the country. Terry was about to loose his ex Fleet Street, west coast photographer, Bob Aylott. He said to me, ‘Bugger this serious shit, you should go to Hollywood, you will never regret it.’ Boy was that guy ever right, he got me an assignment from the London Sun to cover Prince Charles and a royal tour of Canada.

After Prince Charles, I went to Los Angeles. One of my first assignments and lessons came from Brian Vine, Daily Express New York Bureau Chief and another legend. My mistake after the assignment? Sending an invoice for the agreed fee and no expenses… Next thing I got was a call from another photographer who worked for Brian, Akhtar Hussein, based in Dallas Texas. ‘Hey, Brian has asked me to explain expenses to you; breakfast, lunch, dinner, miles, hospitality, the best hotels, best cars if you rent one, always load the expenses, they will be paid. Never, never send an invoice again like the one you just sent, its been ripped up, re submit.’ That was it, a great lesson.

In the 70s if you were a new ‘snapper’ to Hollywood you would soon work with Ivor Davis, he had blazed a path of glory as an English journalist working in Hollywood from the late 60s. If legend and my memory are to be believed in 1975 Douglas Thompson, then on the night desk of the Daily Mail and John Hiscock working on the night desk of the London Sun, went for a drink after their shift and somehow 24 hours later found themselves on the beach in Santa Monica, California, and calling back their desks to explain ‘the situation’. Apparently they where forgiven, becoming for at least the next 10 years correspondents for those same papers on the west coast of America.

Paul Dacre arrived in Hollywood about 1978, then working for the Daily Express in their New York bureau. We put together a speculative feature on a possible Kennedy movie to be made… made a great spread for Dacre, clearly a guy destined for greater things.

Ian Brodie who had previously been editor of the Scottish Daily Express and famously closed that title in Scotland came to Los Angeles and lived in Topanga Canyon, a community famous for rock legends and hippies living there, like Supertramp, Neil Young, Jim Morrison. Ian started a local newspaper, The Topanga Messenger. For years he was the Daily Telegraph west coast correspondent. We did assignments for all the Telegraph titles. Once, on a scandal involving fraud, perpetrated by a South African multi-millionaire who had fled South Africa and came to live in La Jolla, California, we went for a straightforward door knock. No answer, so we broke into the guy’s garden, jumping over the fence , we went to the back of his house and could see the man through the window. Ian started hammering on his window, screaming for an interview, it was another lesson, these Fleet Street guys do not take no for an answer.

The Kings Head was a meeting place for almost every UK journalist visiting LA, a pub in Santa Monica owned by Phil Elwell from Birmingham; propping up the bar over the years I rubbed shoulders and shared pints with Les Hinton, Piers Morgan, Paul Connew, Barry Wigmore, Tony Frost… but rarely Ross Benson.

There was a man cut from another cloth. ‘Dear boy,’ he would say to me, ‘we need to proceed to Mexico and meet the Shah & Empress of Iran.’ Ross was a man of great style and panache. He is the only journalist I have travelled with to whom, on a flight, female flight crew would surreptitiously hand their phone numbers and tell him where they where staying. He would downplay the story of being invited to swim with Princess Margaret when she stayed at the Beverly Hills Hotel… ‘Dear boy, I observed protocol and swam two feet behind her, I was there to amuse.’

Amused was not what his Fleet Street colleagues where after a night with Margaret Thatcher and Denis at the British Consul’s home in Los Angeles. All the reporters from the English papers and television had been invited, standard rules apply, no quotes, no pictures, a pleasant ‘off the record’ night for everyone… except Ross, who had only just arrived in Los Angeles and later claimed he was unaware of the rules, after the Daily Express ran the exclusive.

Phil Finn, George Gordon… then there was Paul Connew, initially greeted with enthusiasm by his colleagues when he was assigned as west coast correspondent for the Daily Mirror, he shook the established way of Californian laid back tabloid journalism to the core; bloody fellow worked to hard, how did he do it ?

Before Connew's arrival most foreign correspondents would wait for their Los Angeles Times to be delivered to them at dawn, that being about 3 pm in London, plenty of time to rip of the top stories and file. What the sneaky Mr Connew did was go get a first edition about 1 am (about 9 am the same day in London) from the downtown office of the LA Times and file before going to bed, allowing editors to walk into the 10.30 am morning news conference with new stories to be developed in the next 7 hours while the competition napped. This screwed everyone else because by 7 the next morning in Los Angeles the Mirror already had people working on stories, photographers, sources, allowing them to file before closing the edition that day and beating the competition, usually by 24 hours.

Connew would not stop, despite the pleas of his rivals and comrades so everyone else had to compete, evenings ruined. I can only imagine Connew’s fortitude and energy came from his ability to sleep at the drop of a hat, anytime of day, even if you were eating with him.

Peter Mckay was another great guy who came with a different attitude and plan to being the west coast correspondent of the Daily Mail, based in Los Angeles. He replaced Peter Sheridan and decided to base himself in Santa Barbara 70 miles outside LA. His plan was to avoid breaking news, which was always a nuisance and interfered with being a true foreign correspondent, having fine lunches, writing meaningful stories about society and business… one of which took us to Benton, Arkansas to interview Sam Walton, at the time the richest man in America and founder of Wal Mart.

His people when we turned up at his company headquarters told us to get lost in no uncertain terms. Mr Walton does not do interviews, he awakes at 5am every day and comes to the office, he has no time for you. So it’s back to tried and proven Fleet Street techniques, the doorstep. After a night of fine dining and wine, it’s 4.35am and I am alone in a car, slumped behind the wheel outside Sam Walton's home. He comes out in his pick-up and drives into the centre of town, parks, gets out and goes into a shop, the lights come on: he is in a barbers chair getting his haircut. I shoot through the window… world exclusive.

Later when I called Peter McKay who was just waking up his subsequent interview with the hairdresser revealed that Sam Walton did this once a week, always paying $5 and leaving no tip, always leaving with the hairdresser’s newspaper. It’s great to work with the greatest.

There were also women Fleet Streets legends. Wow they could be tough to work for, demanding and unrelenting, they knew they had to be better than their male competitors and most of them were.

I grimaced at the pharmacy having been dispatched by Jean Rook to get a box of Tampax; that seemed to me the acid test of a snapper’s compliance – control exercised early by many female big names. Jean left you in no doubt of her abilities and reputation as a star and legend of Fleet Street.

She was followed by Hillary Bonner who got me in terrible trouble for not getting the right pictures of Farrah Fawcett and Ryan O'Neil during an at home, not to mention almost being thrown out of Michael Caine's home , having been told before entering to leave her alone with Michael and to go into his rooms and get some special exclusives, pictures on the walls, inside his bedroom, etc.

After about five minutes Caine noticed I had disappeared, he found me and demanded the film.‘Don’t ever do that again when we work together,’ said Hillary, scolding me in front of Caine. She told me ‘to sit down and behave’.

Phillipa Kennedy of the Daily Express caused more grief. My wife was friendly with Jane Seymour and using that contact I got Phillipa an interview in her multi million dollar Santa Barbara home. But the resulting double page spread, with banner headline, ‘Me Jane, Me Perfect’, destroyed our friendship with Ms Seymour.

Other greats… Caroline Graham, Sharon Churcher, Annette Witheridge all still doing a great job, tormenting photographers with a work ethic that is hard to compete with.

In 1994 I started a celebrity photo agency that I sold to Getty Images at the height of the dot-com fever in 1999. I left Getty in 2000 but continued to snap away because of a non-compete agreement. When that expired in early 2002 I started another celebrity photo agency which is today PacificCoastNews.com with offices in London, Miami, San Francisco and Los Angeles, living in California with my wife Petronela and two kids.

It’s been a strange and exciting life, an incredible journey, but I would not have done it any differently. Let’s hope for reincarnation and next time I will return as the brightest on the planet, a reporter for a tabloid.

Or is that dream now over?

#

The pool boys

By Keith McDowall

John Rodgers told us a lot last week about financial engineering but not much about the kind of journalism produced by the agencies he ran.

A good job he did not depend on the South London News Agency because my pals and I on the South London Press left very few crumbs lying around for them

In particular I worked closely with Laurie Manifold – praised rightly by Liz Hodgkinson in the same Ranters last week. He was Manifold of Southwark and I was McDowall of Bermondsey. By the time the SLNA had rushed out for the very earliest edition of our twice-weekly paper, our stuff was safely in the hands of the copy tasters in Fleet Street

With colleagues like Gabriel Stokes, Tommy Hughes and the late Brian McConnell – who got decorated for going to the aid Princess Anne in a kidnapping attempt – the SLNA were on thin gruel in their pokey office in East Dulwich.

We operated much nearer the action out of an office over the Elephant & Castle tube station, knew our ‘manors’ thoroughly and were very seldom beaten to the punch by the SLNA locusts.

If, as John Rodgers tells us, Mike Anderson left his agency in the hands of his wife when he went off to the Daily Mirror she would not have had a lot to do. And the fact that we knew he was sitting on the Mirror news desk explained why that newspaper was always phoned last when we had a very hot tip.

Manifold, Tommy Hughes and I worked for several years on Saturday shifts at the People too and we all had our share of being Tom (Duncan) Webb's witness-assistant on some horrible assignments. It was not my cup of tea but Laurie was identified by Sam Campbell, the editor, as a likely successor to Murray Sayle, and Webb's permanent sidekick.

So to try him out Laurie was sent to cover the East Coast floods in 1953 and made a good job of it. Campbell came over and asked me: ‘This pal of yours – what's his Christian name?

‘Laurence.’

Campbell scoffed. 'Laurence Manifold – sounds like Melody Maker. What's his second name?’

And that was how for some years Laurie had to labour along as the upmarket Charles Manifold. It did not stop him becoming a much praised fact digger – a trait well honed on the excellent 120,000 a week selling South London Press which trained us.

Me? I went off to the Daily Mail and quit the People as soon as I was offered a staff job. Laurie joined the permanent staff of the People so our paths diverged.

I dropped £1,500 a year when I walked into Northcliffe House but it was the paper on which I always wanted to work and it was time to find out if I could make it. I stayed 13 years, becoming industrial editor.

But I bet the South London News Agency was pleased in East Dulwich when at last our team broke up and they could start scavenging again on other people's hard work…

#

Rudge

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