Friday, 20 January 2012

News of the world

I've just been listening to that silly old fool, Paul Johnson, on 'Desert Island Discs', and was reminded (again - sorry) of that dying breed of Fleet Street journalists, the survivors of whom are now only one generation ahead of me.

For the sake of anyone who was not brought up in Britain when Fleet Street was the journalistic epicentre of G.B., I am going to do a bit of explaining about how the whole thing worked before they all moved to Wapping and became tee-total on pain of their jobs - that's what happened. Prior to this, about 95% of all news articles were written by hacks when they were about 10 times over the legal limit to drive, let alone operate a type-writer.

I think that Mr Johnson (83) survived simply because he did not seem to be drinking himself to death, and he has spent the last 30 or so years sheltering in the virtual mausoleum of the 'Spectator' magazine - an old-people's home for distressed journalists.

You do not have to be an old-school Catholic to work on the Spectator, but it helps. If you were unfortunate enough to be born an Anglican, then a conversion to Catholicism would certainly ease your passage into the smoke-filled offices of that 200 year-old organ (full of 200 year-old organs), but due to the recent legislation about smoking in the workplace, the smoke is now virtual too. When Auberon Waugh was editor, he actually made it a rule that anyone working in his office had to smoke, in order to keep their jobs.

The late father of the actor (see previous post) who tragically died so young recently, was once editor of the Spectator, but - even by his own admission - was not a very good one. To me, this shows that he might have been a rather better human being than his more successful predecessors, but his lasting claim to fame is that he inspired the immortal 'Private Eye' character, George G Ale (his name was George Gale - GEDDITT?), who epitomised the boozy tradition of Fleet Street at the time.

I have just heard Paul Johnson say (admit) that he was a member of the Labour Party for 24 years until turning into the loony right-wing maniac he is today; that he once invited Margaret Thatcher (nee Roberts) fox hunting (she declined on the grounds that it would mess up her hair-do); that he despises Nelson Mandela but hero-worships General Pinochet, and that his favorite record is Shirley Temple singing 'Animal Crackers in my Soup'. Need I say more?

I used to subscribe to the Spectator, but after a while I finally became fed up with the meaningless and isolated little lives that the contributors seemed to lead, which were (and probably still are) partially funded by fools like me who actually paid about £5 for the bloody thing. The final straw for me was the relentlessly misanthropic column written by a prison doctor called Dalrymple, who not only got paid by the government to administer sedatives for all the convicts under his 'care', but also supplemented his income by publicly ridiculing them in the magazine, laughing at the stupidity of heroin-addicted, single mothers who found themselves locked away because of their habit, and making fun of their 'lower-class' accents and tattoos. His hatred made me feel physically sick, so why would I want to pay to read it?

About 25 years ago, I used to drink regularly in a nice little wine-bar here in Bath, and one of my companions was the famous, drunken journo, Colin Welch. He was fabulously funny and entertaining with his stories about trying to order a simple whiskey in the Houses of Parliament bar during the summer, when everyone else was ordering Pimms. It was the waiting that got to him, as all the fruit and vegetables were individually chopped up to make a Pimms.

The routine was that I (and almost everyone else) would sip away our drinks as he downed Scotch after Scotch, then at the end of the evening, he would be incapable of speech, let alone walking.

It would then be my job to physically lift him up and put him into a waiting taxi, and the taxi would drive to the other side of the road and push him out again so he could collapse in the flat of his friend (another journalist) who lived opposite the bar. He never missed a deadline, though - he could still type, if he could not talk.

Those that are not already dead are a dying breed, and I am not sure whether or not I really miss them - like The News of the World.

Anyway, enough of this - go over to Groucho's and take a look at this - you won't regret it.


  1. You would have loved my old hack friend Jock (lunchtime O') Veitch. A classic of the ilk. Much missed.

    1. I have thought of this when you have mentioned J.V. before, Cro. I am sure I would have liked him.

  2. I sort of enjoyed listening to the old dinosaur

    1. I know what you mean, but wasn't (isn't) he such an old twat?

    2. P.S. David Cameron today referred to Dennis Skinner as a 'dinosaur'. It comes to all beasts.

  3. It is interesting Tom how listening to Desert Island Discs can ruin one's image of a hero/heroine. I recently listened to Araucaria, that wonderful compiler of Crosswords for the Guardian, and was so disappointed with his mediocre choice of music. Obviously music was not particularly important to him, but it did rather ruin my hero worship.

  4. That's true, Weaver. I suppose that we have to remember that our heroes are as human as us, unless they are fiction - but the line should never be blurred. Nelson Mandela is a pain, by all accounts, but then he can justify it.

    Churchill was a definite pain, and my particular hero - John Aubrey - would have been killed by me if I had been involved with him. Time heals.

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