OLD HACKS GAZETTE

THIS column is dedicated to all the journalists I worked with during half a century in newspapers and magazines. Its only purpose is to keep me amused and - I hope - provide information and entertainment for any old hack who happens to pass this way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Columnist Larry Smith dies aged 67

PUGNACIOUS Bahamian pundit Larry Smith died suddenly over the weekend (August 27, 2017), thus silencing one of the most articulate and intelligent voices in Nassau journalism.

Larry, who was 67, spent half a century in the Bahamas media, working as reporter, editor and columnist in a career stretching back to the late 1960s, when he was a junior on The Nassau Guardian.

He headed the Bahamas News Bureau for several years, and oversaw a major management transition at the Guardian in 2002, having taken a year out from managing his own publishing company, Media Enterprises, which he founded in 1984.

Larry was a beacon of light during dark days in the Bahamas, when the corrupt PLP government was in the pockets of Colombian cocaine barons.

With his erudition, intellect and journalistic skills, he could have worked anywhere, but he stayed in Nassau, where he was born of British parents in 1950, to help keep press freedom alive in a country where it could not be taken for granted.

For more than a decade, his Tough Call column was a weekly feature in The Tribune and a must read for the Bahamian intelligentsia. Like the man himself, it was sharp in its thinking and blunt in its delivery. Larry rarely took prisoners.

I was last in touch with him in June, when I congratulated him on one of his columns. He said he hoped to tour the West Country next summer, and I suggested meeting up for a meal. I'm sad that we were denied that get-together. Larry was a fine journalist and top man.

The Tribune's report of his death included my tribute, which read: 'In my view, Larry was the best Bahamian journalist of his generation, a man whose forthright and fearless approach to his work was matched only by his formidable word power. I always rated Larry and P. Anthony White as the intellectual powerhouses of Nassau journalism, twin beacons of light among the post-war generation. 

'They covered an era when the political class sank to its lowest and journalistic integrity was required more than ever before. Unlike those who took the Pindling shilling, Larry and Anthony - like all outstanding journalists - kept the light of freedom burning when lesser types were all too ready to fall into step with the nation's dodgy leaders.

'His death leaves a huge hole in Bahamian journalism and punditry which is going to be hard to fill. There are few - very few - who can write clear, flawless prose backed up with the erudition, wisdom and judgment Larry possessed. 

'He was a genuine one-off who made a huge contribution not only to Bahamian journalism, but also Bahamian literature, because in addition to writing well he ran his successful publishing and distribution business, which made good books available in every corner of the Bahamas.'

 

Journalist Mike's novel debut

VETERAN Cornish journalist Mike Truscott has relaunched himself as a novelist.

His book - Lottery Loveboat - is a highly amusing tale of an innocent middle-aged lottery winner who advertises for a woman to share a luxury cruise to the Med.

As a result, he ends up with six wenches joining the trip, with him footing the bill for all of them.

Mike’s deft handling of the unfolding farce left me with a smile on my face throughout. The unexpected outcome adds a final flourish to a promising fiction debut.

Mike, who has also taken up painting since his retirement in 2014, began his newspaper career on the Falmouth Packet in 1967. He also worked for the West Briton and Liverpool Daily Post before setting up his own PR business in Cornwall.

In my view, Lottery Loveboat has TV possibilities, with enough characters to sustain a six-part series.

A second novel is underway as I write. Man Booker next stop? We’ll have to wait and see.

An odd attack on the ailing Guardian

THOUGH I abandoned the Daily Mail as a regular read some time ago - Posh Beckham and Kim Kardashian forced me out in the end - I was intrigued to see that it devoted an entire page this week to denouncing another newspaper.

Normally, journalistic infighting of this kind is considered self-indulgent and of little interest to readers, but the Mail felt so moved because of The Guardian's outrageous attacks on Mail readers, who they evidently regard as vile right-wing racists hell-bent on persecuting immigrants.

Though the Mail's hard-hitting editorial couldn't be faulted, it's hard to see why the nation's most successful newspaper should trouble itself by giving valuable space to bludgeoning a paper that is already on its knees.

The Guardian's print readership is falling at such a rate that this one-time bastion of liberalism must be a serious candidate for the chopping block. The Guardian loses millions of pounds a year, eating up profits from a magazine sale some years back.

There was a time long, long ago when The Guardian was seen as a serious journal. It once boasted formidable writing talent and, despite its eccentricities, was seen as a kind of journalistic beacon by those of leftish persuasion.

In the mid-20th century, it was supported financially by its sister paper, the Manchester Evening News, and put up a creditable show against established rivals like The Times and Daily Telegraph after moving from  Manchester to London in the early 1960s.

Throughout its idiosyncratic life, it was seen as a gentle, intelligent counterbalance to its more raucous right-wing rivals though - to be realistic - its circulation was never high enough to pose a serious commercial threat to Fleet Street's big hitters.

Nowadays, the increasingly irrelevant Guardian has taken on a much more sinister edge.

Besides adopting a rather sniffy metropolitan hauteur, it also gives space to several intellectually immature columnists who write the kind of stuff one would expect to find in a college rag mag.

There is a spotty Oxbridge intern feel to it, as though a cabal of know-nothing Trotskyite nerds had somehow grasped control, getting their rocks off by attacking middle England. Few people of mature years have any time for it.

Strange, then, that the Mail - for all its faults the only national newspaper which has any impact on public thinking - should waste space unloading on a paper that influences no-one but the shrieking campus hordes, the usual army of coke-snorting left-wing beardies, and trade union fascists who are desperate to gain control again under an accommodating Labour government.

Memo to the Mail: rest easy, The Guardian is on its way out. It never counted for much, but it will count for even less as its circulation falls and losses mount.

Colleagues attend funeral of a real 'good guy'

ONE of the 'good guys' of journalism was praised for his humour and professional skill at his funeral last week (June 16, 2017).

Three former colleagues lauded Ralph Slater during the humanist service at Worthing Crematorium, saying he rose above the newsroom fray to bring laughter into the lives of those who worked with him.

Alan Candy, who worked with Ralph towards the end of his career, praised his quick mind and news sense while John Tylee, a news desk colleague at the long-gone Evening Echo at Hemel Hempstead, described him as 'one of the good guys' who never allowed himself to be fazed by pressure.

I referred to Ralph's birth in East Berlin in 1937, and Nazi persecution of his family, adding: 'When you've been through that kind of thing, getting a newspaper out every day is no big deal. The newsroom is often a place of ill-will, treachery and recrimination, but Ralph rose above all that and made people laugh every day.'

'Like me, Ralph had no great expectation of an afterlife, but if by chance there's a hellish bar-room down there where old hacks gather, the first guy I'll seek out is Ralph, because I'd know once more that the day would erupt in laughter.'

Several former colleagues were at the service, including Press Gazette stalwart Jean Morgan, ex-FT journalist Terry Burke and writer Alison Harvey

Farewell to my friend Ralph 

MY esteemed friend and ex-colleague Ralph Slater has passed on in his 70s after collapsing in a railway station car park near his home in Sussex.

Ralph and his wife Diane had enjoyed a day out in London and were returning home when he died suddenly. 

I first met him when I joined the Evening Echo at Hemel Hempstead in 1970. He was deputy news editor during an era when the Echo was winning design awards nearly every year.

The paper - part of the Thomson chain - pioneered computerised typesetting and web offset printing, and quickly established a reputation for editorial excellence.

Ralph, one of a Welsh 'tafia' recruited from Cardiff to launch the paper in 1967, was one of the few to stay with the Echo right to the end of its life in 1983.

I worked alongside him for two years on the Echo news desk, and was always impressed by his quick mind and sound journalistic judgment.

One of his most endearing qualities was his unfailing humour. Even when the pressure was on, he always managed to crack a joke with that engaging smile of his.

After the Echo's demise, he stayed in Hertfordshire as a weekly editor. In retirement, he and Diane spent part of the year in Mauritius.

I last saw him socially last year, when his trademark humour was still very much in evidence.

Great guy. Very good journalist. A true life-enhancer.

 

Brian Swain: veteran sportswriter 

with a passion for Luton Town

SPORTS journalism has lost one its true stalwarts with the death of Brian Swain at the age of 78.

Brian was football writer and later sports editor of the Luton News for nearly 30 years in the days when his beloved Luton Town was a force to be reckoned with in the old First Division.

He became a passionate follower of the club's fortunes from the 1950s onwards and was a press box regular during the chairmanship of the comedian Eric Morecambe.

Ex-manager David Pleat was among his friends, and former Luton players rated him as a talented journalist of the old school who could always be trusted.

Brian joined the Luton News in 1955 after leaving Dunstable Grammar School. He started off as a copy-holder in the proof-reading department and eventually graduated to the newsroom, where he worked as a general news reporter and later industrial correspondent.

Among his many major stories were the A6 murder - for which James Hanratty was executed - and the Great Train Robbery of 1963.

But it was in the sports department that he really blossomed, following Luton Town up and down the country during the club's heyday.

His wife Rosemary told me: 'Brian loved Luton Town and he loved journalism. He always said he was lucky to have worked during the great days of newspapers.'

After nearly 50 years in journalism, Brian fulfilled a lifelong ambition to retire to Falmouth, Cornwall, which he fell in love with during summer holidays there as a child. He served as an official with Falmouth Town FC for several years.

Rosemary said: 'We had a good life in Cornwall, and Brian loved to walk on the waterfront, see the sights, and enjoy the sea air.'

His health began to fail three years ago and he died at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro.

 

Noel's art will help cancer charity

A FEW weeks ago, I wrote about retired hacks who, after years in the abrasive world of newspaper journalism, found solace and satisfaction as artists, filling canvases with their enchanting oil and acrylic creations.

Now comes news of an exhibition in Plymouth of art by the late Noel Wain, who spent many years as an editorial executive on the Falmouth Packet and Western Morning News. Several of his paintings and installations are being sold off for charity, with prices ranging from £25 to £400.

Though I never met Noel, as he had left the Packet before I became editor in 1986, I heard a lot about him from his former colleagues, who spoke fondly of him as a likeable character who enlivened many a day in the Packet newsroom.

However, I don't recall any reference to his 'other life' as a painter, which apparently occupied much of his leisure time throughout his life.

Born in Stoke-on-Trent, Noel was the younger brother of the feted novelist John Wain, who was one of the Angry Young Men of the 1950s/60s boom in kitchen sink literature. John's books included the novels Hurry on Down, Strike the Father Dead and Living in the Present, and a life of Samuel Johnson. He was also a respected poet.

Noel, who battled cancer for several years before his death in 2013, used to retire to the attic of his Plymouth home to paint, and was working on a canvas right up to the end. Now his creations will help the Macmillan cancer charity.

The Rise of the Clueless

GEORGE OSBORNE, the Phantom Editor of Fleet Street, is not the only non-journalist in charge of a newspaper.

Genuine hacks fell about laughing when clueless posh boy Osborne was appointed 'Editor' of the London Evening Standard.

His 'mornings only' editorship of a once respected title makes a mockery, not only of George himself, but also of a paper regarded in its prime as a journal of some standing.

Now comes news of a Welsh weekly with a non-journalist 'editor' which finds itself in deep legal do-do because it identified a sex crime victim in her home parish while reporting a court case.

Not only was the 'editor' a lawyer - in other words, a disaster waiting to happen - his deputy was a 'journalist' with no legal training. Worse still, the 'reporter' covering the story was an intern on work experience. Together, this 'Coalition of Chaos' managed to screw up big-time, causing the paper enormous embarrassment and facing possible court action.

It comes as no surprise that Holdthefrontpage, the journalists' website, was swamped with outraged comments from veteran hacks who see their once great craft going down the pan. 

However, at least the Welsh weekly can claim its hapless editorial team was the result of necessary cost-cutting. The Standard, meanwhile, is paying Osborne a fortune to pop his head round the door and say "Everything okay, chaps?' before he goes off to make one of his £50,000-a-time speeches to bankers, Third World despots and other low life. What an odd world we're living in.

 

IAN BALL - dapper denizen of Manhattan

 

FOREIGN correspondents of august broadsheets were traditionally urbane characters with the world-weary air of those who had seen it all.

Of the many foreign specialists I encountered during my fifty-year career, I never met one more dapper and sophisticated than Ian Ball, of The Daily Telegraph, who has died at the age of eighty-eight.

Ian spent forty years as the Telegraph's New York man, and lived the high life (literally) in Manhattan from the mid-1950s until his retirement, turning out immaculate prose on US affairs from the hot metal era into the satellite and computer age.

In the Telegraph obituary, he is remembered by former sub-editors as a stylist who wrote exceptionally long stories, even for a paper with lots of space to fill.

Interestingly, I recall Ian occupying the only telex machine in Port-au-Prince for an hour or more while British correspondents were covering the David Knox spy trial in Haiti in 1968.

Blissfully unaware of the rumblings of exasperation going on behind him, Ian laboriously picked out prose on the keyboard as though his story was the only one that mattered.

During the trial, the British press corps conducted an interview at the National Palace with Haitian tyrant Francois 'Papa Doc' Duvalier. Ian elected himself spokesman for the group and formally thanked the president - in English - for giving up his valuable time.

Papa Doc responded by saying: 'And who will address the President of Haiti in his own language?'

Associated Press reporter John Vinocur saved the day by acting as interpreter for the interview, translating Duvalier's French for the assembled hacks, including seasoned New York hands like Henry Lowrie (Daily Express), Richard Wigg (The Times), Jeffrey Blyth (Daily Mail) and Malcolm Keogh (Daily Mirror).

Yours Truly was in those days political reporter on The Tribune, the Bahamas' leading daily. Our main rival, The Nassau Guardian, was represented by fellow Brit Bill Cole, later of the National Enquirer.

Happy days.

Belfast Telegraph veteran dies after fall

DEEPLY sorry to hear of the untimely death of yet another old colleague, the much respected lobby correspondent Des MacCartan, who never regained consciousness after a nasty fall.

Des, who was 68, was for many years the Belfast Telegraph's main man at Westminster, where he was noted for his even-handed reporting during Northern Ireland's troubles.

The impish Ulsterman was based at TRN's Greater London House headquarters in Camden Town during the 1970s and early 1980s, when I worked there as group sports editor and chief boxing writer.

Senior politicians and leading Ulster journalists are among those who have paid tribute to a popular man and accomplished newsman.

Is it really the end for The Indy?

ONE of the West Country's great institutions, the Sunday Independent, has closed down after running into financial trouble only a few months after the death of its owner, Brian Doel.

It's always sad to see a respected regional title go under, but this is an even more poignant loss because The Indy was so much part of life in these parts.

Among the first to register his regret was John Noble, who was Editor of The Indy for a staggering 22 years in two spells up to his retirement in 2012. He told Holdthefrontpage how proud he'd been to lead the paper's small but talented team.

Old-stagers - including long-serving Sports Editor turned Editor John Collings - will be hoping some enterprising saviour will stump up the money to keep the 200-year-old paper alive.

With its incomparable coverage of West Country sport, The Indy was a 'must' read for fans from Somerset to Land's End.

UPDATE: A local businessman has stepped in save The Indy, much to the relief of its seventeen editorial staff.

 

It's time to stand up for the letter 't'

JOURNALISTS (certainly the best of them) are supposed to have a love affair with words, so it's time we waged war on the dreaded glottal stop - surely the most irritating linguistic abomination of modern times.

Every time I hear a TV 'personality' or football pundit say 'quali'y' or 'abili'y' or 'beau'iful' I feel an overpowering urge to stick a hardback copy of Fowler's Common Usage into their stupid mouths - sideways!

The glottal stop - an ugly offshoot of Estuary English - is a wilful suppression of the letter 't' by failure to engage the glottis or vocal tract, an organ vital to achieving an acceptable level of speech. It results in words like 'ar'ist', 'quan'i'y', 'genera'or', and - Lord help us - 'compu'er opera'or'.

I'm reminded of an incident when my then three-year-old son answered the door to a window-cleaner who asked if he would pass on his request to his mum for a bucket of wa'er.

'It's water, not wa'er,' my precocious infant replied, leaving the poor bloke standing dumb-founded on the doorstep.  

Small as he was at the time (he's now 6ft 3 ins), my boy felt compelled to make a stand on behalf of the English language, an early indicator (not indica'or) of the supremely articulate individual he is today.

So next time you hear someone say 'See you la'er', feel compelled to yell 'Later! Crater! Plater! Inflator! Generator!' and so on until the point is firmly embedded in their thick skull.

The letter 't' deserves better than to be ignored. We should help it to make a triumphant comeback. 

 

Farewell to a fine journalist

 

SO sad to hear of the death of Peter Carvosso, esteemed ex-colleague who worked in Fleet Street and ended his career in Irish journalism. He was 67.

I knew him when he was a fresh-faced lad in heavy glasses working on the long-gone Evening Echo at Hemel Hempstead, one of Lord Thomson's bold journalistic ventures of the 1960s-1970s.

Peter was the ever-cheerful news and features sub-editor who was passionate about journalism, fly-fishing and West Ham United.

Though fiercely intelligent and unshakeably professional, Peter was also good for a laugh and was a beacon of  geniality in the newsroom. 

After working on the Evening Standard and other London titles, he decamped to Dublin, where he held a series of executive positions on leading Irish newspapers, including the Evening Herald and Irish Independent.

It's said he was drawn to the Emerald Isle by the quality of the fishing, but there was something about Irish insouciance that would also have appealed to him. He was great company whose trademark wry grin and resonant voice enhanced many a journalistic gathering.

Peter contracted motor neurone disease, having been alerted to the condition by a severe pain in his shoulder. In a poignant Irish Times article published shortly before he died, he said he was grateful to be able to raise his arms enough to embrace his wife.

Farewell to a fine journalist and all-round great guy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ivor passes on at the age of 91

IVOR LEWIS was the trailblazing editor of the Evening Echo at Hemel Hempstead during the first nine years of its roller-coaster existence. He ended his career as Chief London Editor of Thomson Regional Newspapers.

I recall him primarily for his retiring demeanour and a piece of advice he gave me when I first began to climb the managerial ladder. 'If you ever become an editor, John, always remember to get the very best people around you. That's the secret to good management.'

It was advice I tried to follow during 27 years as an editor, hiring solid professionals for all the key posts. I made one or two bad recruiting calls, but generally secured people of genuine talent and reaped the benefits.

Ivor, an Oxford graduate, began in journalism on the Western Mail in Cardiff. He also worked on The Sunday Times.

When Thomsons launched the Evening Post and Evening Echo in Hemel, Ivor was chosen to lead the Echo into what was then the brave new world of computerised type-setting and web offset printing.

The Echo, in particular, was a genuine space-age newspaper, with crisply written copy and state-of-the-art design. It eschewed many traditional journalistic virtues in favour of aggressive campaigns and quirkly, imaginative photos.

The 'firing squad' and 'grip and grin' pictures so much favoured by local papers were ditched. Echo snappers were encouraged to look for unusual angles and highlight human interest elements in their work.

As a result, the Echo netted a host of design awards and made its two London rivals, the Evening News and Evening Standard, look drab by comparison when lying on newsstands at major rail terminals.

I'm proud to record that I landed the Echo's first individual writing award - as Provincial Journalist of the Year - in the 1974 British National Press Awards. Twelve months later, Melanie Phillips - later a Daily Mail columnist - landed the Young Journalist of the Year award while working as an Echo reporter.

Ivor's triumph was to assemble an awesome staff to produce one of the finest evening papers of its day. He moved back to London in 1976, after which the Echo and Post merged into a single title, the Evening Post-Echo. The feeling in Hemel was that the paper lost its mojo after that. It eventually fell victim to the freesheet revolution in 1983, when it closed with the loss of 470 jobs.

Ivor retired to his native Wales and lived contentedly with his wife until his death shortly before his 92nd birthday. In his own way, Ivor was a bit of a journalistic pioneer.

 

 

Alan falls victim to cancer

ANOTHER Post-Echo veteran to leave us in 2015 was Alan Manley, deputy editor at the paper's demise in 1983 and a former Daily Mail sports journalist. He fell victim to colon cancer and died aged 86.

Alan was an accomplished all-rounder who was a sports and features editor in his day. After the Post-Echo's closure, he became editor of a group of regional business magazines.

In his early career, Alan spent 11 years on the Daily Mail, but was lured to Hemel when the Thomson enterprise was launched in 1967.

He was respected as a stickler for accuracy and sound journalistic practice.

I worked alongside him  for the last two years of the paper's life, when I was assistant editor under Trevor Wade. I enjoyed his impish humour, which lightened many a working day.

 

Alfred the Great

SEVERAL times over the years I've been asked by young journalists: 'Who is the best reporter you've ever met?'

Considering I've worked with literally hundreds of fine reporters over the years, many of them in Fleet Street and overseas, the question is not as hard to answer as you might think.

For the name that always springs to mind is that of an impish northerner called Alf Jackson, head of the linage pool at the Nottingham Evening Post during the 1960s and latterly assistant editor of the Mansfield Chronicle Advertiser, affectionately known as The Chad.

Alf always wore his trousers at half-mast and was noted for regaling the Post newsroom with gormless jokes.  He was an amusing man with a ready smile who was not - if image is anything to go by - everybody's idea of an ace newsman.

But ace he was - a brilliant reporter with impeccable Pitman shorthand who could turn the most complex story around with great speed and precision.

No matter how complicated the subject, he could fashion it into seamless prose with rare aplomb, often constructing stories from his notebook without committing a single word to paper.

As a telephone ad-libber, Alf was breathtakingly good - so good, in fact, that I was left in awe of his talent.  Moreover, he could write every story in a variety of styles, dictating copy to the nationals in tabloid, broadsheet or middle market format, rarely breaking stride as he strived to hit deadlines.

I gather Alf left us some years ago, but those who worked with him in his later years continued to marvel at his prowess in the journalistic arts.

When we worked on a murder trial together, I recall him refashioning an intro of mine, turning it from ball clay to porcelain in seconds. Will I ever be that good, I wondered. 'You'll get there,' he said.

I'm not sure I ever did 'get there', but Alf was a mentor I cherished as I developed as a journalist. There's still a bit of me that wonders how he did it.

Rest easy, Alf. You were special.

 

* Alf, along with many more former colleagues, features in my book, Hard Pressed: A Journalist's Memoir, published by First Edition Press.

 

 

 

So what, exactly, is 'Fleet Street'?

WHEN I joined the World Desk staff at Reuters 47 years ago, I was fully aware of the huge step I had taken in furthering my career. I had reached Fleet Street, at that time regarded as the hub of world journalism, the holy grail of ambitious young newsmen.

I knew I was in Fleet Street because I worked at 85 Fleet Street, London EC4, next door to the Birmingham Post's London branch office and directly opposite the 'Black Lubianka', the striking art deco headquarters of the Daily Express. Our Lutyens-designed office block was shared with the Press Association and (I think) Agence France Presse. The famous church of St Bride's stood a few yards away.

Up the street was the classic facade of the Daily Telegraph, and down various side streets were the London Evening News, the Evening Standard, The Sun, the News of the World and the London offices of various regional groups like United Newspapers and Westminster Press.

At the top of the street, near the Law Courts, was the London office of D.C.Thomson, publishers of The Dandy, The Beano and other comics.

All around were the various pubs where hacks gathered: The Cheshire Cheese, The Falstaff, El Vino, The Tipperary and The Wig and Pen among them. I've fallen out of most of them in my time.

In those days, there was little doubt that Fleet Street was an identifiable journalistic community. It had been recognised as such for well over a century, with names like Charles Dickens, Samuel Johnson, Edgar Wallace and other literary luminaries adding credence and cachet to its lavish claims to fame.

To be frank, I never quite shared Fleet Street's self-image. There were too many frightened drunks, fawning acolytes and bullshitting charlatans around for me to be seduced by its grandiose claims for itself. Even so, I acknowledge that it had a certain cohesion, a rare character, that made it a newspaper community of note.

It's been 30 years or so since The Street unravelled, with its various organisations scattered to wastelands like Wapping and the Isle of Dogs

Today, the term 'Fleet Street' survives merely as a metonym, but I'm unsure where its boundaries lie. Is it merely a catch-all term for the London press, or does it refer to a specific type of publication? Are The Spectator, the New Statesman and Private Eye part of 'Fleet Street'. If so, does the magazine sector also include Farmers Weekly and The People's Friend? Where do women's mags like Cosmopolitan belong? Is The Economist a 'Fleet Street' publication?

The term 'Fleet Street' is used in the media all the time, but even I - who has been around newspapers and magazines for 50 years - am unsure of  its definition. Can anyone help me out?

 

 

Talented Chief Sub passes on 

RODNEY APPLEWHITE was Chief Sub-Editor at the Evening Echo in Hemel Hempstead when I knew him 45 years ago. He presided over a subs table of note, for his staff put together a newspaper that made others look dull. It was a brightly designed pioneer of the web offset revolution.

Under his watch, the Echo won a string of design awards. Its headlines were crisp and imaginative. No other newspaper came close in layout expertise. It was exceptional.

Rodney, who has died aged 75, chose not to follow most of his colleagues into Fleet Street when it was Fleet Street but eventually returned to his native north, where he spent most his his career on the Manchester Evening News.

I can't claim to have known him well, but I do know he was a respected professional, and his former colleagues in the south were sad to hear of his passing.

Another Echo veteran, Brian Lecomber, a journalist-aviator-author of note, has also died. He had left the Echo before I joined, so I never met him, but he was fondly remembered as a mildly eccentric character whose journalistic exploits were interspersed with stunt-flying assignments. He wrote at least one book about flying.

I am indebted to another former Echo colleague, ace photographer Keith Waldegrave, for this information. 

 

Harry's cut short on TV

I was sorry to see Sir Harold Evans cut off in mid-sentence on TV the other night. He was just warming to his theme when time ran out and BBC producers pulled the switch. His mouth was still in motion as the Newsnight team moved on to other things.

His appearance, courtesy of Skype, from his New York home must have reminded all older hacks watching of better times in British journalism. Whatever his faults - and, like all of us, he had some - Harry Evans was a newspaperman through and through and edited The Sunday Times at a time when it was actually worth reading.

He is best remembered for his paper's Thalidomide investigation, but his talents went way beyond that. He conducted the equally excellent campaign on behalf of the alleged murderer Timothy Evans while editor of The Northern Echo in Darlington, and directed many other memorable investigations during his 14-year tenure at Gray's Inn Road.

His year-long editorship of The Times is now recalled among journalists mainly for his sacking by Rupert Murdoch, who apparently disliked his independent spirit. Murdoch's empire is sustained largely by lickspittle acolytes, and Evans wasn't one of them.

Evans' dazzling career (he went on to become a star of New York publishing in the 1980s) is most remarkable for his humble beginnings. He triumphed in spite of his working class northern childhood (his dad was an engine driver) and his failure of the dreaded Eleven-plus examination, which consigned him to a third-rate secondary education. Even so, he earned a degree at Durham University and won a Harkness Fellowship to study in the States. It was then that his love affair with America began.

Harry Evans always brings to mind a memorable quote from my old boss, Sir Etienne Dupuch, who was editor-publisher of The Tribune in the Bahamas for 53 years.

Asked by a friend why he included his service as an Army private in his Who's Who entry, Sir Etienne said: 'Because you can't begin to assess a man's achievement until you know the point from which he started out.'

Exactly. Harry Evans began at the bottom and, with no artificial aids, rose to the top. For that, he deserves our respect and approbation, not the dismissive treatment he received on TV the other night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time to say goodbye

FOR some time now, I've been embarrassed to admit I buy the Daily Mail every day.

This has nothing to do with the paper's political stance, which some younger members of my family feel marks me down as a tedious old Kipper.

It's all to do with its increasingly trivial approach to news, and its obsession with health and women's topics.

There was a time when you could expect two and possibly three good reads in the Mail most days. Now I regard it as a 'flick through' paper, with little to detain even a curious bloke like me for more than a second or two.

Its 'think' pieces are now highly predictable, its columns are looking tired, and the back half of the paper (except sport) is devoted to the kind of inconsequential tosh women love and men hate.

But most annoying of all is its inexplicable fixation on the narcissistic Victoria 'Posh' Beckham, whose unsmiling visage and hideous footwear seem to feature every other day.

The nadir was reached this week when a double-page spread was devoted to Posh's left hand, which she seems to keep out of sight whenever she steps out in yet another odd-looking outfit to be photographed by batteries of baying snappers.

For the Mail, the invisible left hand was of sufficient national importance to warrant a blizzard of pictures of this solemn-looking bird in a vast array of largely outrageous get-ups.

For me, and I suspect millions more, the Beckham phenomenon is symbolic of our nation's decline into mindless idiocy. We are no longer well-read, well-informed, cultured people. We are celebrity-obsessed morons with three-second attention spans and severely diminished powers of discernment.

I suppose the Mail's editor, Paul Dacre, can argue that his paper - one of the most successful of modern times - merely responds to the 21st century reader's priorities.

As the nation's population gets dumber, the Mail presumably feels obliged to dumb down, too.

If the fine Mail feature writer Vincent Mulchrone were still around today, I doubt if more than one in fifty of the paper's readers would have the mental stamina to absorb and appreciate his work.

It's a very sad commentary on the way things are going and I think it's only a matter of time before my wife and I part ways with a paper we have taken for the best part of forty years.

I don't think I can stomach one more picture of surly Posh in nine-inch heels or yet another study of Kim Kardashian's elephantine rear end. It's all too much - or, if you like, too little - for people with something other than bubble-wrap between the ears.

 

Farewell to The Independent and its Sunday sister

FOUR years ago I wrote a piece predicting that The Independent would be the first British national paper to bite the dust. Well, it's happened. From March, 2016, the paper and its Sunday sister will face a wholly digital future which, in the eyes of most pundits, is no future at all.

The print editions will cease and the cut-price stablemate, the i, will be published in future by Johnston Press, regarded by many journalists as a destroyer of editorial excellence.

Former Sun editor Kelvin McKenzie was first to pour scorn on The Independent's chances of digital success, and riled a few diehards by suggesting the paper would not be missed.

Unfortunately, he was right on both counts. While it's always sad to see a title go - in print format, at least - The Independent's plight was obvious for all to see. Its circulation was down to 50,000 or under - that's less than the Express and Star, Wolverhampton, and the Manchester Evening News - and much of its readership was in the London area.

The Independent was, in fact, a 'national' paper in name only. It really made little or no impact in the regions, and seemed to have an ill-defined readership with vaguely leftish tendencies whose profile did not attract advertisers.

When it was launched thirty years ago - in 1986 - The Independent set out to be different. For a start, it was owned by journalists. It also famously vowed to steer clear of royal news and anything else that sniffed of celebrity trash.

As a neatly-designed broadsheet, it undoubtedly possessed gravitas in its early days and established enough credibility as a rival to The Times, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph to build a circulation of around 400,000. It really looked for a time that, unlike Eddie Shah's Today or the short-lived Sunday Correspondent, The Independent would prove a stayer and confound the sceptics.

Unhappily, its early promise was not sustained. The truth is that, in its determination to be different, The Independent often produced oddball front pages that missed the story of the day. In pursuing its editorial ideals, it neglected what really mattered - the need to produce a 'must buy' paper with a clearly defined target readership.

Its move to compact format seemed to undermine its authority, and the launch of the i was a necessary, and ingenious, measure to shore up flagging revenues.

However, in a fast contracting print market, The Independent simply didn't possess the wherewithal to battle it out with better-resourced rivals. It was never compelling enough to be a first-choice paper, and rarely sufficiently different to gain a foothold as a 'secondary' read.

In its three decades of life, The Independent recorded a number of firsts. It was the first national paper to be launched and owned by journalists, the first broadsheet to 'go compact' and is now the first to abandon the print format in favour of an online future.

The big question posed by its departure is: Who's next?

I fear we'll not have to wait long for the answer.

 

 

 

 

Nothing new about The New Day

I PICKED up The New Day today. I had nothing to lose. It was free.

From tomorrow, this latest addition to the long line of British national newspapers will be charging a modest cover price for forty pages of news and views. I hope it survives, but strongly suspect that it won't.

The basic problem with The New Day is that it's not really new at all. Its high-flown idealism, its emphasis on 'good' news, its eagerness to make everybody happy in a harsh, horrible world add up to an approach tried many times before and found wanting.

Good news means bad news for newspapers. Readers don't want to be molly-coddled, talked down to and given what others think best for them. They want straight news, strong views, a vigorous crusading spirit and a determination to expose the dishonest and corrupt. Most of all, they want a paper to fight for them.

There has to be a 'must buy' element in every edition - the kind of story or column that makes readers drive miles to lay hands on a copy. The paper needs to be the main talking point in town.

I write from experience. During my ten years as Managing Editor of The Tribune in Nassau, Bahamas, I saw circulation grow seventy per cent in seven years. We blasted our main rival, The Nassau Guardian, into the ground.

The formula for success was simple: produce a paper the public felt they HAD to read. 

On Mondays, when we carried our extremely controversial INSIGHT column, readers really would drive miles to get a copy.

A group of leading professionals used to meet at a Nassau fast-food outlet for breakfast just to read and discuss the article in detail.

Every day, we tried to have at least one element that readers couldn't afford to miss. It reached a point where readers felt they were out of the loop if they didn't buy our paper.

The New Day has none of those vital characteristics. It has no focus, no punch, no personality, no character. Its layout is all over the place and its eagerly expressed hope of getting everyone in a bright and breezy mood seems misplaced in a world where everything looks very bleak indeed.

I sincerely hope it sorts itself out. At the moment, it offers little but good intentions. And we all know where good intentions lead.

 

 

 

Super movie about REAL journalists

TODAY I watched a film about REAL journalists engaged in REAL journalism. Do you remember those halcyon days when upper management 'suits' had no say in what went on in the newsroom?

Spotlight won this year's premier Oscar for best film. It deserved it. The acting was superb and the story - about The Boston Globe's Pulitzer-winning investigation into child abuse in the Catholic church - was riveting and, by all accounts, faithful to the facts.

However, I left the cinema slightly saddened, for I was forced to acknowledge that this kind of journalistic enterprise is on the way out. Staff cuts and declining emphasis on editorial excellence are making it nigh impossible to devote time and talent to exposing the bad people in society.

The press has traditionally protected the weak against the strong. In the Globe's case, it was representing all the innocent children who fell foul of predatory priests.

When the press is neutered - and the process is already underway - they will have no-one to turn to, no-one to go to war on their behalf, and the world will be all the worse for that.

 

 

Alastair Stuart: a true Gentleman of the Press

FOR much of my journalism career, I felt I was working for lesser men. I say this not out of conceit, but as a bold statement of truth. Many senior managers fell well short of expectations.

Alastair Stuart, who has died aged 89, was one of the gilded few who came up to scratch, combining a shrewd mind with journalistic know-how, sound judgment and great charm.

Alastair was Chief London Editor of Thomson Regional Newspapers when I was London Sports Editor in the 1970s.

He gave me the top sports job in the group, even though I had little experience of sports journalism, after telling me: 'On the face of it, it's a massive gamble - but I'm not a gambling man.'

I spent the next seven years proving to him that he had made the right choice. I covered big fights all over the world and managed a department that covered all the major sports except rugby.

On my staff were the estimable sports essayist Basil Easterbrook and the fine racing tipsters Oliver Chisholm and Richard Onslow. The well-known golf writer Mitchell Platts worked for us as a freelance.

During my tenure, the department raised its profile to the point where our major titles - TRN had sixteen dailies - became heavily dependent on our soccer, cricket, boxing, golf and racing coverage. 

The Scotsman, the Western Mail, The Journal (Newcastle) and Press and Journal (Aberdeen) were TRN's mornings, while the twelve evenings included the Belfast Telegraph, the Edinburgh Evening News, the Aberdeen Evening Express, the South Wales Echo and the Middlesbrough Evening Gazette.

With a combined daily circulation of just under two million, TRN was a big-hitter by any standard. Our coverage was as good as any - and, of the three major groups, we were the ones who covered most ground to bring an excellent service to our readers.

In 1988, Alastair was given the job of launching the quality Scotland on Sunday, which was his brainchild. Nearly thirty years on, the paper continues to flourish as part of The Scotsman empire. It was his greatest legacy.

The son of a newspaperman, Alastair worked first as a sub-editor on the Edinburgh Evening Dispatch. He later became London Editor of The Scotsman, Chief London Editor of TRN and later Editorial Director and Editor-in-Chief before moving back to Edinburgh for the SoS project.

I will remember him as a true gentleman of the press, a fine judge of character and the kind of boss one could respect.

In my experience, he was a bit of a rarity when it came to that final quality. 

 

 

Oh, dear...time for a rethink

TEMPTED by the 25p introductory cover price, I bought my second copy of The New Day today. I'll be frank: it was dire.

With my journalistic curiosity still intact, I conducted my own straw poll on the paper's progress. It was based on two short interviews - with newsagents.

'How's The New Day going?' I asked.

'Not great,' said one. 'Not so good,' said another.

'What's wrong with it?' I asked.

'It's got no ooomph!' said one. 'It's all over the place,' said the other.

May I invite you to peruse my earlier comment on The New Day?

'It has no focus, no punch, no personality, no character,' I wrote. 'Its layout is all over the place.'

It's not only great minds that think alike. Newsagents know what makes readers pick up newspapers. So do I. The New Day doesn't have it.

 

The First Lady of Newspapers

LEFT: Eileen Dupuch Carron after being presented with a special award by fellow Bahamian journalists

MY old paper, The Tribune in Nassau, Bahamas, is celebrating a remarkable milestone - the completion of fifty-three years in journalism by its publisher and CEO, Eileen Dupuch Carron.

Mrs Carron, as she is known to all her staff, including the senior editors, is still running her family newspaper at the age of eighty-six, writing frequent editorials and doggedly keeping faith with its motto: Being Bound to Swear to the Dogmas of no Master.

She is arguably the most accomplished newspaper publisher in the Commonwealth, a woman of solid virtues and firm views who has kept The Tribune at the forefront of Bahamian affairs for more than half a century.

If she were to retire now, no-one could blame her, but I suspect she will keep going, conscious of the huge responsibility laid upon her by her father, Sir Etienne Dupuch, when he formally stepped aside as publisher in 1972 after a record-breaking fifty-three years in the hotseat.

By then, Mrs Carron had already occupied the Deputy Editor's position for ten years, having previously qualified as a barrister in London and graduated from America's top journalism school, Columbia University in New York.

She took the helm in challenging times, when free speech was under threat, and Bahamian politicians were showing scant regard for the people's right to know. What's more, victimisation and intimidation were becoming commonplace as means of retaining power, and The Tribune was obliged to stand firm against tyranny.

It is no exaggeration to say that democracy and free speech have survived in the Bahamas because of The Tribune and its resolute publisher, who inherited her father's journalistic talents along with his determination to ensure the bad men would never win.

I'm proud to say I was Managing Editor of The Tribune during a decade (1999-2009) when the fight was carried on with characteristic vigour and enterprise, with Mrs Carron always providing the moral support required when I  was in close combat with the politicians.

Founded in 1903 by her grandfather, Leon Dupuch, The Tribune has always stuck doggedly to its mission to fight for the underdog. Today, it is still the paper that breaks the big stories and confronts those in power.

You will find no trash about the Beckhams or Kardashians in its pages, no banal tripe about the likes of Chris Evans or Jeremy Clarkson, no stomach-turning photos of the self-regarding Stephen Fry, just a hot mix of straight news, trenchant comment and firm journalistic principles.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again - if the British honours system has any meaning at all, this First Lady of the Press needs to be made a Dame at the earliest opportunity.

 

 

 

Time's up for The New Day

DUSK falls on The New Day this week, as Trinity Mirror brings to a halt the most pathetic newspaper enterprise of recent times.

The 'national' daily will appear for the last time on Friday, its sales having sunk to under 40,000. 

No closure was more predictable than this. The paper was a shambolic disaster from day one and I'm left wondering how the 'suits' - not to mention the journalists - ever thought a punchless paper full of good intentions and little else was ever going to make it in today's contracting market.

As I said ten weeks ago, when it was launched, The New Day offered nothing new. Its 'mission' - to put the emphasis on good news - has been tried umpteen times before, always with the same result.

The New Day was old hat - and it didn't fit the public's needs.

Trouble at the bastion of liberalism 

THINGS are turning ugly at The Guardian, that bastion of 'bleeding heart' liberalism where, by tradition, compassion rules.

Alan Rusbridger, for twenty years the paper's campaigning editor until he stepped down last year, is being rubbished in certain quarters for allegedly being responsible for its increasingly dire financial position.

With what many saw as a massively oversized staff, Rusbridger tried gamely to establish The Guardian as a global online brand while resisting any suggestion of redundancies or a paywall.

During this week's debate over its future (the print edition is in decline) The Guardian was repeatedly described as an anti-establishment newspaper, a description I reject as utterly bogus.

With an Oxbridge cabal controlling senior management, and stout resistance to an egalitarian alternative, The Guardian for me is merely a left-leaning upholder of the status quo, helping - unwittingly or not - to perpetuate the hideous class inequalities of British society.

It strikes out for minorities, largely of the ethnic and gender varieties, while neglecting many of the grittier issues infecting life in the lower level.

Fifty years ago - when bylines like Norman Shrapnel, Victor Zorza and Terry Coleman dominated its pages - most ambitious young hacks fancied a spell on The Guradian, or Grauniad, a quaint error-prone journal whose typos were overlooked, or tolerated, as part of its engaging eccentricity.

The writing was often good, and the paper in those days retained firm contact with its northern provincial roots. Nowadays, there is an unpleasant sniff of metropolitan self-regard about it, an assumption of right-on smartness and condescension.

I sincerely hope it emerges from its current travails because there's no doubt that, over many years, it has broken some seriously good stories and provided a reassuring counterbalance to the hysterical right-wing postures of some of its rivals.

If it can achieve a little humility along the way, so much the better.

Max exposes Boris Johnson for what he is

MAX HASTINGS had the good sense to expose Boris Johnson as a shameless charlatan many months ago, threatening to move from Britain to Argentina if the Bullingdon buffoon became prime minister.

This week he welcomed Johnson's decision to quit the Tory leadership race, claiming his eclipse saved him the trouble of selling up and decamping to Buenos Aires.

Writing in the Daily Mail, Max - former Editor of the Evening Standard and Daily Telegraph - described Johnson as merely an entertainer with none of the personal substance required to lead the nation. Also, he disclosed that Johnson, despite his apparent affability, is not really a very nice man.

There were only two points in his excellent article that grated with me. He described London as 'the greatest city on earth' - you really must get out more, Max - and Johnson as a 'mere' journalist, a phrase he has used more than once before.

Max is, of course, a bona fide journalist himself, and a very good one at that, but he insists on demeaning the profession at every opportunity, probably because he's lived such a good life as a newspaperman that he feels slightly guilty about it.

However, I believe that self-deprecation is a form of vanity. What he's really saying is: 'I'm bloody lucky to have been a journalist, but I can't bring myself to admit it.'

I have no such qualms, believing firmly in the essayist H.V.Morton's description of journalism. 'It is the most bewitched and attractive calling in the world,' he said. Quite so, with no challengers in sight, and I'm proud and happy to report that my half century in newspapers was a delight from start to finish.

So right about the delusional Blair

WHILE handing out plaudits, I'd like to commend one Stephen Glover, who in the Daily Mail today questions Tony Blair's sanity and wonders whether narcissism and egomania fuelled his decision to go to war in Iraq.

Anyone reading my earlier comments about Blair on this website will know that I have long considered this delusional idiot one of the most egregious liabilities ever to besmirch British politics. And that's saying something!

Where I differ from most is that I saw right through him from day one. The zip-on grin was the giveaway. As I wrote earlier, this was a choirboy on a man's mission, full of messianic zeal and conviction, utterly lacking in substance, principle or gravitas.

The Chilcot Report, which most of us feared would be just another Establishment cover-up, actually reached the conclusion that most intelligent people had worked out before Sir John set out on his mission of discovery seven years ago: that Blair was hell-bent on throwing Britain's weight behind George 'Dubya' Bush - the ultimate presidential dummy - in an insane war without any thought for the consequences.

If Blair has even a shred of decency - and I wouldn't bank on that - he would now duck out of public life entirely and spare us his risible posturing and insane delusions about his alleged 'statesmanship', which he feels could be of use in the Brexit negotiations.

With a truly staggering lack of self-awareness, Blair believes we should actually trust him with one of the big issues in our history when most of us would not even rely on him to run an an errand to the local grocers.

His legacy is one of deceit, dishonesty, incompetence, poor judgment, callous indifference, and criminal dereliction of duty in his responsibilities to the British people. How he sleeps at night is anyone's guess.

Never mind Bake-Off, I want Lift-Off

MID-MARKET nationals have been devoting acres of space this week to the latest storyline in a fictional radio series - The Archers - and the pending 'departure' from the BBC of The Great British Bake-Off.

At least one paper gave up a third of its front page to cover the 'acquittal' of an imaginary defendant in The Archers, while at least two gave the Bake-Off horror story page one billing and extensive inside coverage.

I'm not sure who's going round the twist, them or me, but one of us is, that's for sure.

If I see one more picture of the grinning Mary Berry or her supposedly super-cool bearded sidekick Paul Hollywood, I'm applying for a year-long stay on the International Space Station. I'm serious - I can't take anymore.

It's Over and Out for the Daily Mail

IT'S over. My forty-year association with the Daily Mail has come to an end after the paper this week devoted a double-page spread to the contents of Victoria Beckham's handbag.

Coming only a day after it gave up half of page one to a fictional court case in The Archers, and prominent inside page coverage to The Great British Bake-Off, the Beckham outrage sealed the Mail's fate as far as I'm concerned.

In future, my wife and I have decided to buy only the Saturday edition, and that's only because it contains the best TV supplement.

The paper - once the home of fine feature writers like Vincent Mulchrone and sublime sports writers like Ian Wooldridge - is now plumbing the depths of idiocy to appeal to Britain's moronic majority, and I want no part of it.

As a newspaperman for half a century, and an avid reader for even longer, I now find myself hopelessly at odds with the national press. There isn't a single title I feel moved to invest in.

Just as well I find light relief in my 'locals' - the Falmouth Packet, the West Briton and the Saturday edition of the Western Morning News.

Naive to the point of embarrassment

LOUIS THEROUX'S extraordinary TV documentary about Jimmy Savile was, for any veteran journalist, notable for two reasons - its wide-eyed naivety and flawed research.

Sixteen years ago, Theroux apparently made a fawning TV programme about Savile, a creature who, in the eyes of anyone with any sense, was a disgusting freak from day one. You didn't have to be a mystic to see Savile for what he was. He was creepier than a box of roaches.

Yet, circa 2000-1, Theroux - as ingenuous as a teenage Savile groupie - made a programme which seemed to portray Savile on his own terms, as a huge-hearted man whose every waking hour was dedicated to good causes, notably the restoration and promotion of Stoke Mandeville Hospital.

The fact that Savile was using his charity work as a camouflage for his foul habits and deviant behaviour never seemed to have occurred to anyone behind the programme. Or, if it did, they chose to look away.

Twenty years before that - in 1981, to be exact - a printer colleague, having watched Savile run one of his mythical marathons, said to me: 'Isn't he marvellous, the way he devotes himself to good causes?'

I can recall my reply word for word. 'No he isn't - he's a gangster and a pervert, with eyes as dead as stone.'

London newspaper journalists of the day knew all about Savile, but draconian libel laws deterred any attempt at exposure. Meanwhile, the establishment were in thrall to Savile's astounding fund-raising prowess, and willed themselves to see him as an amusing northern proletarian eccentric.

As a result, this vile monster was free to do as he liked for year after year, not only running a gang of ruthless heavies, but also sexually assaulting scores of defenceless and vulnerable children.

Savile's grave is said to be unmarked. But I suspect there's a huge bare patch around it, his poisoned corpse destroying every blade of grass in sight.

Angus MacLeod: splendid chap and fine journalist

 

SORRY to hear of the death of an old journalist friend, the gentle, impeccably mannered Angus MacLeod, one-time political reporter for The Scotsman and latterly Scottish Editor of The Times.

Angus worked in the London office of The Scotsman when I was London Sports Editor of TRN, and we had many a tipple together at the Southampton Arms in Camden Town. After I left London, he headed back to Scotland, so I hadn't seen him for many years, but I remember well his kindly spirit, his beautifully precise Hebridean diction, and his very strong moral sense.

I recall he once came to stay at my Tudor penthouse in North Bucks, and we shared a dram or two while immersed in lively conversation about the big issues of the day.

He was born and reared in Lewis - strong MacLeod territory - and studied at Edinburgh University before entering journalism.

When I knew him, one of bis professional ambitions was to become Editor of The Stornaway Gazette, his home-town newspaper, but his career was centred largely on national titles like The Scotsman, the Sunday Mail and, of course, The Times, where he became Scottish Editor eighteen months before his death.

In his early days, he worked under another great journalist friend of mine, The Scotsman's London Editor Alastair McPherson, who died tragically early in 1986 after a spell back in Edinburgh as Deputy Editor.

Like Angus, Alastair was a Hebridean, though he was from Skye. Both liked a drop of Scotch, and were never less than excellent company in the London hostelries, where all the strong stuff was served in 'gentlemen's measures' - that is, doubles or trebles, no quarter given or taken.

If I weren't on the wagon, I'd be raising a glass of Talisker to the pair of them, both great guys and fine journalists.

YET another fine Scottish journalist and esteemed former colleague, Ian Wood, has passed on. When he was The Scotsman's Sports Editor in the 1970s and 80s, he attended annual TRN conferences in London, where we shared many a dram and lively chat.

I recall his wry smile and gentle humour with pleasure - and his great enthusiasm for golf. Lovely chap. Excellent newspaperman.

One in the eye for Private Eye

READERS appear to be abandoning Private Eye in droves over the magazine's dreary anti-Brexit stance, which reflects a metropolitan 'know all' attitude the rest of us find repulsive.

Sorry, but most Brexiteers were not racist thickos - they were people of sound mind who see the EU for what it is, and have decided to dump it for something better.

Eye's constant bleating sums up the Metropolitan Effete's fragility in the face of adversity. They can't stand the fact they lost, and think things will miraculously turn out okay for them if they keep on moaning. Sorry, chaps, but you LOST big-time and there's no going back on the people's will.

I, too, am jumping the Eye ship after 40 years, partly because of its Brexit stance, but also because it has become an unbelievably dull read. Though one or two of its cartoons are undeniably good, they are not enough to counter the all-round dreariness of the content nowadays.

Ian Hislop has been editor for nearly 30 years - far, far too long for any editor. It's time he made way for a new regime with new ideas because the Brexit business has served to highlight the magazine's many deficiencies. Instead of being the inspiring iconoclast of old, Eye has become the voice of metropolitan complacency - a tired old has-been whose views no longer accord with those of us with alert, inquiring minds.

Scribe turns to art in retirement

IT seems there is a growing trend for old hacks to turn to art in retirement.

Former Daily Mirror editor Mike Molloy is an accomplished painter. A former boss of mine was an enthusiastic water colourist. And Winston Churchill, a working journalist before he became a politician, found solace by painting landscapes in oils.

Now comes news that my former colleague Mike Truscott, the doyen of Cornish journalists, is pursuing art as a hobby after a long career as a newspaperman and public relations consultant.

Mike, former chief reporter of the Falmouth Packet and its sister titles, and one-time columnist of the West Briton, has become an accomplished painter since retiring from his PR business, which represented companies throughout West Cornwall.

Having spent most of his life in his beloved Falmouth, one of the most picturesque ports in Britain, he has plenty of scenic inspiration to draw on.

Mike trained on the Packet under then editor Ken Thompson in the 1960s before spending some years on the Liverpool dailies. But the lure of Cornwall was too strong. He returned home to work for both the Packet and Briton before 'going solo' as a freelance columnist and PR man.

In recent years, he has specialised in ghosting autobiographies and still writes a weekly column for the Packet.

Clickbait hits a new low

 

JOURNALISTIC practice is changing, and not for the better, in response to the Clickbait Revolution.

There has always been a tendency, especially in tabloid newspapers, to flam up stories for effect. 

If the bulk of your readers are at the lower end of the IQ scale, with limited attention spans, the temptation is to make eyes pop as a matter of course.

Online journalism has taken this process to a new level as websites gauge their success by the number of clicks they can generate.

Thus, papers like the Daily Express, in particular, sensationalise website stories to the point where they do not truly represent the actuality.

'TV presenter DESTROYS minister in Brexit debate' may turn out to be little more than  a slighty raised voice during a panel discussion.

'PUTIN wants Third World War' proves not to be the tale of nuclear brinkmanship implied by the headline.

'POSH fashion slip exposes more than she bargained for' could lead you to a story about a chipped toenail.

Papers like the Daily Telegraph are not quite so gauche, but just as deceitful.

Practically every small or smallish picturesque town in Britain has now been voted 'the best place to live' in a variety of highly dubious surveys.

'THE UK's top ten most exciting places' will almost certainly jog your curiosity, but not necessarily furnish you with accurate information.

And 'ten reasons why your wife doesn't want sex anymore' is likely to get male readers clicking faster than a demented cricket.

The most disgusting example of Clickbait is aimed at ghouls with a taste for nastiness. 'Pus explodes as doctor squeezes boil' is typical of the genre - the kind of story no self-respecting paper would entertain for its print edition, but which now turns up frequently on mid-market websites.

As print goes into decline, so do standards of journalism. Even the very worst newspapers had their limits when it came to poor taste and tampering with the truth.

The Clickbait Revolution has set the bar lower than ever before.

Happy 200th Birthday to The Scotsman

SCOTLAND'S national newspaper, The Scotsman, celebrates its 200th 'birthday' this month (January, 2017), an occasion that inspires happy memories for me, as my articles on world boxing once graced its hallowed pages.

For my Dad, a highlander through and through, though exiled in Leicestershire for most his life, The Scotsman was the absolute pinnacle of British journalism. So when my by-lined stories began appearing in this august journal during the mid-1970s, he thought his son had scaled the upper peaks of his profession.

Though I was never actually on The Scotsman staff, I was London Sports Editor of Thomson Regional Newspapers, its parent company, so my copy - filed from London or abroad - would often find its way into what was generally seen as the flagship title of the group.

Knowing what a profound effect this would have on dear old Dad - by then an invalid, crippled by a bad fall - I used to clip my stories from The Scotsman and other Thomson titles, including the Edinburgh Evening News, and send them to his Midlands home. There he would peruse them with enthusiasm before folding them into a file, which he kept beside his chair.

It gave him quiet satisfaction to know that his kinfolk in the western highlands would be seeing the Marquis name in this most prestigious of Scottish newspapers, which at the time was a sober broadsheet read by everyone of note north of the border, with a daily circulation close to 100,000.

Like most newspapers, The Scotsman has suffered calamitous falls in sales since then, but it remains a potent online force noted for its trenchant but intelligent views on Scottish affairs, and is still regarded as one of Britain's most significant titles.

I sincerely hope The Scotsman enjoys its birthday celebrations and continues to be a strong journalistic voice for many years to come. 

A disturbing sign of the times

GEORGE OSBORNE'S appointment as Editor of the Evening Standard is another sure sign that newspaper journalism as we knew it is in serious decline.

As a career politician with no journalistic experience at all, Osborne is in no way equipped for such a demanding role. Yet he has slid into the job with not so much as a blush, shamelessly seeing it as a London power base for him and, presumably, his political cronies.

When I started out as a junior reporter 56 years ago, editors were seasoned pros who were deemed to have sufficient gravitas to make them key figures not only in the communities they served, but in the functioning of local and national democracy.

They were meant to be fiercely independent, unwaveringly courageous, tireless champions of free speech, and respected amalgams of all the journalistic disciplines, from writing editorials to designing pages.

The editor's job was the pinnacle of our noble profession, and those who secured it were considered exemplary practitioners of their craft.

What, therefore, will Standard staff think of Osborne in the hotseat - a man with less expertise than an intern on the Kidderminster Shuttle, and whose instincts will be to favour and protect his political soulmates?

His appointment makes a laughing stock of the Standard and underscores a growing belief, particularly among newsmen of my generation, that the whole industry is on the slide, with a corresponding decline in standards and reckless disregard for the role of the press in modern society.

Yet another happy, clappy newspaper

IT'S odd that a group of journalists in Hartlepool should launch a 'happy news' paper less than a year after the disastrous experiment called The New Day.

Many times over the years, publishers have been tempted to put idealism before reality by opting for a 'happy news' agenda. In every case, they have failed.

There are two major problems with these half-baked ventures.

The first is that readers don't like a happy, clappy approach to journalism. 

The second is that 'happy news only' is a deeply dishonest and patronising way to do business.

The New Day lasted ten weeks. Enough said.

Why so much tosh about Posh?

PROFESSIONAL curiosity obliges me to ask legendary editor Paul Dacre of the Daily Mail whether there is a contractual 'arrangement' between his paper and the former Spice Girl, Victoria 'Posh' Beckham.

It really is astonishing, almost beyond comprehension, that this solemn-looking lady should appear on the paper's website nearly every day of the week.

Every time she sneezes, dons a new pair of shoes, wears her hair in a bun, or offers another of those carefully orchestrated sideward glances, it seems there is a Mail snapper on hand to record the event for his paper's long suffering readership.

Far be in from me to question Dacre's judgment - he is by far the most successful newspaper editor in Britain - but I'm seriously baffled by the Mail's obsession with this woman. Do the Mail and her fashion house have some kind of business deal going? Is Posh a special favourite of Lady Rothermere? Is someone on Dacre's staff secretly besotted?

I think readers should be told. Journalistically, it makes no sense at all.

Kind words from a paper with a punch

PRAISE for this website has come from an unexpected source, the esteemed Bahamian newspaper editor and publisher Ivan Johnson.

Ivan owns and runs the twice-weekly tabloid called The Punch, which circulates widely in Nassau and the Family Islands of the Bahamas.

It is noted for its fearless approach to national politics and its fervent opposition to the PLP, the 'Evil Pingdom' - The Punch's own term - once led by the corrupt Sir Lynden Pindling, who was known as Ping for short. 

Ivan returned to the Bahamas to launch his own paper after working on one of my old papers - the Evening Post-Echo in Hertfordshire - and Fleet Street tabloids. He used his British experience to good effect in designing The Punch, which is still going strong and making waves after 27 years.

Ivan expressed appreciation of this site's commentary section, describing it as 'amusing, informative and educational', a compliment I happily accept from an accomplished practitioner of our great craft.

As one who glories in the nickname 'Ivan the Terrible', and runs a paper which lives up to its name by punching its weight to great effect, Ivan is a journalist in the H.L.Mencken mould, unloading on errant politicians at every opportunity. Long may his lively journal flourish.

What would old Stan have said?

JOURNALISTS are in the front line when it comes to protecting the English language from abuse, but standards are slipping fast, especially on newspaper websites.

Apart from tortuous headlines, outrageous misspellings and other abominations, there is now growing evidence that a lot of copy gets into print without ever going through an editor's hands at all.

It's hard to believe that anyone with a university degree and journalistic training can be so inept that they mix up 'principle' and 'principal', 'there' and 'their', 'your' and 'you're', and 'its' and 'it's', but such monstrous errors appear on websites day after day.

My biggest gripe is with the phrase 'He was stood at the bus stop', or 'She was sat in the audience', truly ugly distortions of the language unheard of thirty years ago. Another horror is 'He should of seen it coming', using 'of' for 'have', the kind of mistake to make old hacks tremble with rage.

Stanley Worker, chief sub on my first paper, would have glowered over the top of his specs and yelled: 'Don't ever turn in crap like that again!'

So glad that he and his kind are no longer around to witness the decline of what the great Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez called 'The greatest job on earth.'

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