In an extract from his autobiography, JOHN McENTEE recalls the legendary affair of former Daily Express editor Rosie Boycott and the incident with the fish fingers
Rosie sacked a lot of people; none of them had the pleasure of a face-to-face meeting. Managing editor Lindsay Cook was Madame Guillotine, summoning people to break the bad news and then offering them terms. One, Tom McGee, the City editor, said he had a young family. She winked and suggested that he could be generous in filling in his last expenses claim.
Another, James Hughes-Onslow, said he had a son starting at Eton. Miss Cook asked how he could afford to send a son to Eton on his salary. Hughes-Onslow Jr was a scholarship boy. Shortly after his sacking, James exacted revenge.
Commissioned by James Steen, editor of Punch, to view Rosie’s house in Westbourne Grove, which was then on the market, he did more than Steen had asked. The estate agent arranged a viewing, not knowing James was a disgruntled ex-employee.
In the coming weeks, Rosie and her family were troubled by a noxious smell emanating from the bathroom. It grew in potency and eventually a plumber was summoned. He could find nothing wrong with the drains. Finally, in a recess behind the bath panel, he discovered a packet of rotting fish fingers. Rosie was incandescent.
She got her secretary Tamsin to painstakingly telephone each of the potential vendors who had viewed the property. She hit the jackpot when James – who had used his wife’s maiden name with the agents – answered his telephone brightly: ‘James Hughes-Onslow here.’
Rosie threatened to prosecute for criminal trespass but the story was allowed to slip quietly into Fleet Street folklore.