Bizarre tales of the Express bazaar

joe-allen

ALAN FRAME puts down his glass for a moment to reflect on the latest meeting of the World’s Greatest Lunch Club

We Lucky Few met for our bi-monthly WGLC gathering at Joe Allen in Covent Garden this week and what a splendid affair it was, indeed it always is. For the uninitiated WGLC is not Wasters, Gamblers, Losers and Codgers but the World’s Greatest Lunch Club and though this might be pushing it a bit, it’s not far short of that. Next year we will celebrate our 10th anniversary and providing we all make it, that should be a jolly event.

You see, the We – our founder Roger Watkins, Terry Manners, Ashley Walton, David Eliades, Pat Pilton, Dick Dismore, Bingo McIntyre and yours truly, were all fortunate enough to have worked at the Express during the best of times. We were all paid very well, we worked hard for it in a variety of senior posts, we travelled far, and we all had the best fun possible. And we are all grateful that we were around at such a great time for Fleet Street (and by that I don’t necessarily mean the proprietors who were held to ransom on an almost daily basis by the print unions.)

It is because of that that we are able to keep ourselves amused for up to three hours regaling each other with a seemingly bottomless well of memories, anecdotes and stories (tall and shaggy dog…and even the odd true one). This latest gathering was a great example of this and your Editor Lord Drone promises to publish some of them soon (if he can be arsed of course). As a taster these might (or might not) include the following: Capt Bob on the Slab; The Curious tale of the Mad Monk and the HB pencil, Eliades shoots his way out of trouble and The imperial Wizard Saves the Day.

One of the commodities available was hookers – and not of the rugby variety

But the most extraordinary story concerned a sort of underground Harrods, the shop deep in the bowels of the Express Fleet St print room. This was the series of bazaars where more or less anything was available for knock down prices (presumably because all goods were knock off). Clothes, jewellery, booze, perfume, toys and games. Oh yes, and porn mags and films. I was a customer just the once when panic set in as Christmas approached and a colleague recommended I gave it a try. I was not the only shopper that day; to my astonishment Jocelyn Stevens, the excitable and quixotic managing director of the Express group, was choosing scent.

What I certainly didn’t know was that there was another commodity on offer: Hookers (and not of the Rugby variety). Apparently these were in demand among some print union members working for the Evening Standard, then part of the group. And one has to assume that if such extensive black market activity was happening at the Express, it was rife elsewhere in the Street where all the papers were printed in that era.

Looking back, it should be no real surprise I suppose. After all just about every other scam was common; printers signing on for casual shifts as M Mouse and R Murdoch in order to escape the taxman. Others clocking in and going straight to another newspaper for a shift. Or clocking on and then driving a black cab for the next six hours. And it’s not that they were underpaid to begin with, certainly all journalists, though well rewarded, knew we were near the bottom of the pile when it came to money. 

Wouldn’t it have been fun if Inspector Knacker had found out about the activities of the obliging ladies and the black market spivs, all based at the Black Lubyanka? Do you think we would have run the subsequent stories? We certainly would if it had been going on at British Leyland for instance and we would have had a field day.

But Knacker never did pay a visit. Or maybe he did and was a satisfied customer…

*Alan told a curious tale of a trip to Kiev strap-hanging on an old Soviet aircraft which the editor will do his best to remember (when he can be arsed)

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© 2005-2017 Alastair McIntyre