LORD DRONE’S MIGHTY FLEET STREET ORGAN,
THE WORLD’S GREATEST ONLINE NEWSPAPER
MONDAY 4 MARCH 2024
SIGNS OF LIFE?
Sir — I do not know whether Ginger Spice’s husband has been playing away (although I think we should be told), but I was rather struck by the headline above the apparently loving couple in today’s Sunday Express:
When two become Formula One
Good work, that sub.
And I thought the SX looked rather good and shall be trying it again as a nice change of pace from my daily diet of The Times.
MONSEWER TONY BOULLEMIER
POTS AND KETTLES
Sir — Is the Sadiq Khan now bleating about racism and Islamaphobia the same Sadiq Khan whose website published a picture of a white family with the caption 'white family doesn't represent real Londoners'? I think we should be told.
WORDS OF WISDOM
M'lud — With the two year anniversary of the Russian attack on Ukraine in mind and the result of the Russian presidential elections already in, it's worth recalling the horribly prophetic words of the, (then) Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze.
Shevardnadze appealed to US Secretary of State James Baker for American financial assistance or "you will find yourselves dealing with some beastly dictator, and you'll end up spending a lot more on defence than what Gorbachev is asking you for now".
An uncannily accurate vision of the future. Unfortunately the Russian dictator's vision of the future is a vision of the past.
Sir — Sneaking a little sentimentality into your rather austere mailbox, I pass on this profound observation from my wife, Quarantine, bemoaning the fact that she had failed to receive a Valentine card. On reading the message, courtesy of Private Eye, from Dorset Wildlife Trust, “Share a love of beavers this Valentine’s Day”, she exclaimed: “Well I’ll be damned!” What a wit.
Dear Lord Drone — The letter from Peter Tozer headed ‘What’s a Wanker?’ reminded me of an amusing incident in the subs’ room in August 1976.
I turned up for a 3.30 Sunday shift a little worse for wear, having been at a Rolling Stones concert at Knebworth the night before. The gig had overrun badly and the Stones didn’t get to play until about midnight. This had left the 200,000 crowd staring at an empty stage for around two hours while sound checks were carried out and it looked at one point as though things could turn ugly.
So in a desperate attempt to provide some ‘entertainment’, one of the roadies suddenly dropped his trousers, climbed on to the stage and proceeded to bash the bishop for around ten minutes!
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, so when I got into the office I related this to the middle bench and amid some mirth was told: “Well, we’ve got a picture of the Stones here; you’d better write the caption story.”
I asked whether they wanted me to mention the incident and, if so, how I should phrase it … whereupon Night Editor Ted Hodgson, who’d been quietly listening to the story, piped up with: “Tell the readers the roadie entertained the crowd ‘single-handedly!”
I went back to my desk thinking “Damn. Why didn’t I think of that?!”
BONE-CHILLING REALITY OF RUSSIAN GUN POLICE
My dear Lord Drone — I read with interest Dumpster’s piece on the cold weather in Russia and recalled my own memories of the ice-cold winds sweeping Moscow in the early nineties.
The Express had a flat in Moscow at the time, shared between Peter Hitchens and Will Stewart. Editor Nick Lloyd sent me over to help Will, busy chasing the memoirs of Russian military attaché, Eugene Ivanov, who was Christine Keeler's lover, during the Profumo affair.
That is a story in itself. But Dumpster I can confirm, is right about the piercingly cold Russian weather. It chills to the bone. The temperature was minus something double digit as we sped around Moscow in Will’s battered back Mercedes with a K number plate for Korrespondent, which signalled to the authorities that we were foreign journalists.
Will had told me not to make eye contact with armed police or soldiers, who were stalking the streets, but if the worst happened to keep dollars in my passport and driving licence. Will would do the talking as I couldn’t understand a word of Russian.
Sure enough, we were stopped by two armed policemen … but imagine my horror when they took us off in opposite directions, I was one end of the car and Will was the other. It was freezing. I couldn’t understand the cop with the Kalashnikov up my nose, who looked as if he was about 16, and he couldn’t understand me. He waved his gun and jabbered on, and I realised he wanted to see my documents.
My hands were blue with the cold as I fumbled with my passport, and I dropped it to the floor. The cop scooped it up, along with about 50 dollars … and he and his mate made great play of discussing our papers by the Kremlin wall in the snow. Ten minutes later we were back on the road, minus our money.
This was a time when poverty was clearly visible in Moscow, and Will told me that even women with good jobs like nurses and teachers were on the game in their spare time to make ends meet. On one occasion I bought a soldier’s army belt in the street because he needed the money and on another occasion, a soldier's hat. Children were always trying to sell you Biros.
Nick had asked me to bring him back some caviar, which was dirt cheap, and I packed my suitcase with about 20 tins of the finest. At Moscow Airport flying back, a Russian General took the case into a room to open it up. When I got back to Blighty there was just one can.
PAT ON THE BACK
Hats off to Pat Pilton for a most readable, informative and well-subbed piece about Today newspaper: it held my interest to the end. More from Pat, please.
A COUNTRY BOY WRITES …
Sir — Do you think that if the Drone stopped publishing extravagant snaps of the follicly challenged and wasting space on the turgid meanderings of wannabe ‘columnists’ there might be room for the Country Boys to return from their cruel and arbitrary banishment?
Back Bar, Flying Fuck
CROSSWORD HELP NEEDED
Sir — I’m one of the feature writers for Country Life magazine and I'm penning a piece on the centenary of the very first crossword being published in the UK — in the Sunday Express in 1924!
I know that PA supply the crosswords for the Express these days but I wondered, in your network, if there is anyone who used to compile the crosswords in house?
If so, it would be fantastic if you had any contact details for a potential interview?
Very best wishes
UNANSWERED QUESTIONS ON EPSTEIN
Mlud — One couldn't help but be amused at the almost comical attempts by the media to extract something (anything) of interest from the recently released Epstein court files and depositions. The public had been primed, (or perhaps groomed!) to expect an endless list of celebrities and politicians who would be squirming with embarrassment at their inclusion in the documents. What went wrong? Yes Andrew was mentioned many times, but what do you expect, they were trying to get money out of the guy!
Are we to believe that apart from Epstein and Maxwell no-one else did anything wrong? Are the forces of law and order not currently pursuing any lines of enquiry? Case closed?
The Mail featured an interview with Virginia Giuffre's father. The interview itself had nothing of note in it, but there was a piece of information that has not featured very prominently in the media. I believe people had assumed that Ginny had simply been ordered, (or forced depending on which version of this tall tale you read) to be unpleasant with Andrew and complied.
The article tells us that Ginny was paid $15,000 for being unpleasant with Andrew. We are not told if she was paid, (and presumably accepted) $15,000 per unpleasantness, bearing in mind we are asked to believe there were three exchanges of bodily fluids. Cash, card or cheque, we are not told. An unusual entry on her tax returns.
Apparently there was another 'prince' but Ginny is rather fuzzy on detail in this case. She claims to have been trafficked, (from where to where, we're not told) but cannot remember anything about this chap ... no names no pack drill. So she can recall plenty of detail about one prince but nothing about another prince. Was there a financial aspect involved, was she again a freebie 'prize'?
Perhaps one day a journalist will unravel all of this bunk, unless of course it would entail an unwanted and uncomfortable rewriting of the accepted narrative.
GB NEWS ‘HAS CENTRE VIEWS’
Sir — Richard Dismore’s columns are always worth reading, but I must disagree with him when he describes GB News as “slightly to the right of Genghis Khan”.
I would call this feisty TV and radio station Top Dead Centre. It is only to the right of anyone who cleaves to the left. If he had said Sadiq and not Genghis he would have been spot on.
GB News makes no secret of its right-wing views — Ed
Sir — Batman Dismore’s Dispatches from the Front about the 11 VC heroes in the film Zulu rang a distant bell.
Dick’s claim to fame that one of them, Fred Hitch, died in the house opposite his rather trumps mine.
But Henry Hook, played by James Booth in the film, did have family who lived in Catbrook, the village next to mine.
And we were all invited to a special showing of the film in Monmouth Picture House.
Hook, who first served in the Monmouth Militia, was portrayed by Booth as a drunken malingerer but he was anything but that.
For many years after the movie’s release there was a campaign to clear his name.
Yours, standing erect,
Ex-Corporal, 1st Bn Monmouthshire Regt CCF
WHAT’S A WANKER?
Dear Lord Drone — Phil Johnson's recounting of George Best's mischievous "Best of both worlds" quote reminded me of when Best, playing for Fulham late in his career, was sent off for "foul language to the referee". Sunday paper reports suggested the word used had been of the F or C variety.
Steve Curry, discussing his follow up for Monday's Express, said he had spoken to Best who insisted the word he had uttered was the slightly milder "Wanker". Daily sports editor David Emery decided our readers would be informed thus.
First in the office Monday morning, I took a call from a posh-sounding lady: "I rarely read your sports pages but I do like Georgie Best and was sorry to read he was in trouble with the referee. One thing I don't understand in your story today. Call you tell me: What is a wanker?"
Perhaps I added insult to ignorance by suggesting she ask her husband.
UP YOURS, POST OFFICE
Dear Ed — Isn't it time to change the name of The Post Office? Perhaps The Post Orifice would be more apt. People could shove even their heaviest parcels up it without an ounce of regret. Sorry this is sent via email, can't afford a stamp.
A POOR OLD CODGER
THE BEST QUOTE
Dear Lord Drone — Your recent Quote Of The Day by George Best brought back some wonderful memories of my lifetime sporting idol. As we all know, he gave the newspapers many great lines and I have my own personal favourite.
"It would be a difficult choice between sleeping with Miss World and beating three men and crashing in a goal from 30 yards at Anfield. But I was lucky. I had both."
We will never see his like again.
TOP HATS AND TALES
Dear Lord Drone — I read with interest George Dearsley’s tongue-in-cheek piece about persuading a psychic to interview comedian Les Dawson’s late wife Margaret to find out what she thought about her husband ‘stepping’ out with busty blonde Tracy Roper.
Amazing what the mention of material money will do, even in the spiritual world. But not always.
My memory dwells on Frankie Vaughan’s widow, Stella, and a meeting I had with her in the star’s home in High Wycombe. Frankie had long parted for the spiritual world, and I was there to write his life story ‘Behind the Green Door.’
Stella asked if I would like to see his top hat. Of course, I did. She fetched a hat box and with great reverence slowly opened it pulling out the great man’s black topper. It gleamed, even without the moonlight.
“Now,” she said, “I’ll show you how I brushed the nap for him before he went on stage.”
She produced a felt brush and slowly began. “You’ve got to go with the flow,” she said, before breaking into tears and fleeing upstairs. I was left all alone with the hat, the nap and teardrops for about 20 minutes, wondering what to do.
When she returned, composed, she apologised and said that the last time she had cried like that was when Frankie lost a gold bracelet, she had given him for good luck. He lost it during an appearance at the Leeds Varieties Music Hall and he believed it must have slipped through a wooden floorboard. They both cried so much they had no tears left she said. He was heartbroken too.
By chance, over a year later I was at the ornate, 19th-century music hall in Leeds where Frankie had appeared, to see psychic Tamara perform. (Another book bites the publisher's dust).
It was a spooky, eerie affair. Just her in the spotlight on stage in a white gown and the sell-out audience (mostly widows) in the darkness.
About halfway through her act,Tamara was gripped with a vision of great sadness. She could see something glittering like jewellery and someone was crying. It could have been a necklace or bracelet. Had any of us lost something recently?
I stayed silent. But now I regret it.
STRIKING A BLOW
Sir — Dumpster’s note about the sainted Gwyneth Paltrow’s introduction of anal gas as a cosmetic treatment leads me to ask: To what end?
REAR ADMIRAL (Retd)
My Lord — I enjoyed Jon Zackon’s memories of your knack for comic timing. Despite his protestations about telling jokes in Peruvian, I can reveal that he, too, has the gift.
His stories recalled a night on the Daily Express in Fleet Street. I was night editing when the Editor, Nick Lloyd, appeared at my elbow and asked: “How are we doing?”
I batted the question on to the Chief Sub, who that night was Jon Zackon. “How are we doing, Jon?”
With customary ebullience, he said: “We’re doing great. We’re miles ahead, miles ahead!”
There was a pause and then, with the perfect comic timing he so admires, Zack added: “Well, we’re not miles ahead. But we’re not far behind.”
It is still one of my favourite moments of mirth from an era that was full of it.
A SHORT-ARSE WRITES …
Sir — Full marks to Jon Zackon for acknowledging Bingo's sharp wit, apropos the short-arses in the Lubyanka lift. Unfortunately, Jon missed a crucial point: Lord Stevens wasn't the only one in the lift with "Shorty" — correct nickname Stumpy — that night back in the eighties; there was another vertically-challenged gentleman - a printer on his way back from a break. It was the image of three dwarves that prompted Bingo's "there must be a circus in town" quip.
Sir — Keith Graves's disinterment of the legendary Frank Goldsworthy brings to mind his much-heralded visit to the class of '66 journalism school at Harlow Technical College. Here was the voice of experience, the man who'd created headlines all his life. We were agog.
It was a great talk, but then some idiot asked him a question. What, he asked, was Frank's single most important piece of advice in order to get on in journalism?
The great man thought a moment.
"Simple," he said finally. "Always keep two fivers in the back of your passport, and keep a change of clothes in a suitcase in the boot of your car. That way, you're ready for anything."
Alas he was preaching to the unready. On local newspaper wages in those days, we rarely saw two fivers at the same time. Some of us had a passport but not all. A few of us had a clean shirt back at the digs, but made do with a duffle bag — suitcases were a bit too posh. And a car? Har har.
That said, he was a lovely man and he took the trouble to come all the way out to Harlow in order to show us the way. So thank you, Frank — what are you having?
Sir — I feel I must take issue regarding the over use of the noun and verb Piss in Tuesday's Drone.
It appears no fewer than three times in a number of articles at the front of the book.
While I agree that the word is used entirely in context, I was always taught that repetition is a cardinal sin.
Christiansen would turn in his grave...
Apologies, all the subs were out on the piss last night — Ed
BIGGS EXCLUSIVE COULDN’T WAIT
My Lord — Robin McGibbon questions why, if the Biggs story in 1974 was a copper-bottomed exclusive, the Daily Express did not hold it over.
The short answer is that I don’t know because I was not a part of the conversation. Months, perhaps only weeks, into my job as a downtable sub in Ancoats, I was just a fascinated observer of the agonising that was going on.
But I can speculate. The Express paid Biggs £35,000 for his story – a huge sum in those days – and kept him virtually under lock and key somewhere in Rio de Janeiro while he told it.
Trouble was, unknown to reporters Colin Mackenzie and Mike O’Flaherty, news editor Brian Hitchen had tipped off police that they had found Biggs. Perhaps this was to stave off any potential charge of harbouring a fugitive or aiding a prisoner on the run.
But it meant the secret was out. If Scotland Yard knew, then it wouldn’t take more than a phone call and a discreet donation to the Police Benevolent Fund before the Mail knew too. And, as Robin is well aware, a decent reporter with the cuttings spread out on his desk could craft a “spoiler” to ruin our exclusive on the newsstands and make 35 grand seem like a criminal waste of cash.
Or it may be that we were promoting the story, perhaps with TV ads that couldn’t be cancelled. I don’t know. It was way above my pay grade.
And looking back, I’m not sorry.
TO SPLASH OR NOT TO SPLASH?
Sir — Unless R. Dismore is concealing something from us, apropos the two potential splashes on 4 February 1974, I can see no ‘dilemma’ for the Express editors that night. If Biggs was a ‘copper-bottomed’ exclusive, as Mr D states, why not save it for 24 hours and throw everything at the breaking IRA story?
Dear Lord Drone — I was sad to read the letter from someone named Polly Anna … a pseudonym for someone too timid to step into the limelight I think, because I don’t remember the name in our parish.
How sad that Polly or perhaps Olly if she is a he, is confused and hasn’t grasped the reason for The Drone’s being … which is of course to be a time capsule for Fleet Street hacks who lived through the heady days of the 60s, 70s, 80s and onwards of our historic street and time. All this, wonderfully edited by you.
It is a nostalgic, sometimes newsy, satirical and whimsical look back at better days in Fleet Street, a bible of our lives, and not a sort of Woman’s Own, Spectator kind of thing that he/she craves.
As Polly appears not to contribute anything to our much loved tome of the past and present, perhaps she could concentrate on polishing up her letter writing skills. Point One is to check her facts.
There is no word count for the Daily Drone. And secondly, only one columnist wrote about crosshead placement, not two. Thirdly, nostalgia isn’t ‘mawkish’ … it is part of the British way of life. Perhaps Pitiful Polly/Olly might like to ban Remembrance Day. She appears to be one of those!
LOOKING BACK IN ANGER
Sir — Thank God the seemingly interminable series Yesterday Once More has ground to an end. It was yet another example of the way the Drone is preoccupied by mawkish nostalgia these days. Why, two of your so-called columnists even exceed their word count limit (again) by reminiscing about crosshead placement — back in the 80s. I ask you.
Time to look forward, your Lordship: to lift your eyes to the hills, to gaze upon sunlit uplands, to savour the promise of a brighter and better future.
Oh do bugger off, smartarse — Ed
Sir— On a weekend escape from Fleet Street to a posh West Country hotel, back in the Seventies, my wife and I found ourselves alone in the dining room, except for a solitary figure crouched at a corner table — none other than the legendary Bernard Levin.
Though we had never met, I felt I should introduce myself as a fellow journalist and invite him in a friendly fashion to join us for a post-prandial cognac.
“No thank you,” he replied coldly, looking straight ahead.
An oddball indeed.
CRYSTAL BALLSTER VINDICATED
Sir— I imagine your resident soothsayer G R Petulengro-Frame will be celebrating the long awaited fulfillment of his many forecasts of the defenestration of Suella Braverman.
But will he invoke the memorable cry of the Prince of Darkness, Jimmy Nicholson, FLOOD THE BAR WITH DRINKS?
I think we should be told.
Name and Address Not Supplied.
PAWS FOR THOUGHT
M'lud — West Monmouth School has written to parents saying it would not provide litter trays to pupils identifying as cats.
The letter includes the following: ‘Whilst we are an inclusive school, we do not make any provision for pupils who might identify as an animal of any kind. This behaviour is not acceptable at school.’
The school has been forced to respond to rumours spread via social media by parents.
Can people get any more stupid?
I think they can.
ANYONE REMEMBER KEVIN?
Sir — I am trying to find out some information about a former Editor of your newspaper. I have a few vague bits of information and I am hoping you can fill in the blanks.
Somewhere between 1949 and 1952 he was the editor of the Giles cartoons, possibly just the Sunday edition. His first name was Kevin. I do not know his last name. He passed away in 1951 or 1952 (not terribly sure of the year here) and I do not know how he died. I would very much appreciate if you could look in your records and give me his last name and how he died?
Anything you can provide will be greatly appreciated.
EXCEEDINGLY BAD KIPLING
Sir -- Regarding Alan Frame's latest outbreak of Suellaphobia, I can only say: You're a Braverman than I am, Gunga Din.
With apologies to the Bard of Empire.
BLOODY BRAVERMAN AGAIN
Sir — At the risk of offending the Old Blighty Patriotic Front (Dollis Hill division) I feel the need to return to the issue of Ms Braverman, the most right wing and non-achieving Home Secretary in living memory. She advocates sweeping away the homeless who live in tiny, spindly tents claiming it is ‘lifestyle choice.’ Rishi Sunak refused to include it in the King’s Speech, though it could still turn up in legislation not yet outlined.
Sunak realised it wouldn’t have been a good look for the King. Just imagine the optics (as we now say apparently): The King arrives in an ornate coach surrounded by liveried flunkies at the Sovereign’s Entrance at Westminster. He is swathed in ermine on top of a uniform covered with braid and medals and gold. Atop his head is a crown covered with diamonds.
Sitting on his throne in the Lords he reads: ‘My government will sweep away vagrants and their tents from our streets because their lifestyle choice constitutes a nuisance to my responsible citizens.’
I rest my case.
Latest whispers from the Drone’s mole at Westminster suggest that Braverman is hoping Sunak will sack her so she can challenge him for the leadership — Ed
ROMANCING THE STONE
Sir — “Another sub, in glasses with pen” in Dick's picture of the stone is actually Night Editor Peter Johnson. Brilliant Expressman. Don't know why he left — possibly booze related — but he became PR for one of the big auction houses.
He would often still turn up in the Press Club on big news nights. Sadly, I guess he couldn't let go.
Thanks also to Alan Hill for identifying Johnson — Ed
In your photograph of Monty Modular badgering the ever-patient Robin Esser, is Monty fully clothed? There appears to be naked flesh below Monty’s jacket, which he never took off. Perhaps he was wearing very light coloured trews.
I think we should be told.
Concerned of This Parish
Anything went in those days — Ed
A NUT FROM NUTWOOD WRITES …
Sir — Hacking my way through an undergrowth of verbiage in one of the columns taking up space in the Drone, I came across the phrase ‘Rupert Bear patterned underpants’ as if they were, some how, odd.
I’ll have you know that those of us who toiled in Nutwood in those difficult days were grateful for any freebies on offer.
I, myself, particularly treasure a Bill the Badger loin cloth from that era and my lady wife looks very fetching in her silk headscarf featuring Bingo The Brainy Pup.
NAME & ADDRESS SUPPLIED
ALL WHITE ON THE NIGHT?
Sir — With the festive season approaching I am wondering whether I will be allowed to play my favourite Bing Crosby recording of White Christmas?
I know it’s the best-selling song of all time, but it does start off “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas, Just like the ones I used to know . . . “
I’m worried the immigrant couple up the road may be upset by these neocolonialist non-inclusive sentiments, and might have to be taken to a safe place to be comforted until their hurt subsides.
Sir — My only direct contact with Sir Bobby Charlton was rather different to David Richardson's [see below]. Charlton was to contribute an article to the Express and I rang him to confirm the payment of £200 (it was a long time ago). He told me to forward it to a children's hospice in Manchester which he apparently regularly supported. I told him we would acknowledge his generosity in the paper but he insisted we shouldn't. Just one example of his kindness and humility.
BOBBY’S BRUSH OFF
David Richardson staff.
Last night comma at his luxury home in Cheshire comma Bobby Charlton refused to comment after being dropped by Manchester United for the first time point end
The was my one and only contact with the soccer great.
I was a newbie at the DX in MX when legendary news editor Bob Blake called me over.
You are a Geordie and perfect for this job. Go and ask Charlton how he feels about being axed.
So, with a photographer, I headed off to the Charlton pad in Lymm.
He answered the door and I asked the question.
“Fuck off son,” and the door slammed.
M'lud — Wonderful entry in the Metro's Today In History section:
1961, Henri Matisse's Le Bateau attracted big crowds when it went on show in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It was not until 116,000 people had seen it, 46 days later, that someone noticed that it was hanging upside down.
Art for art's sake!
Sir — More bleak news for your correspondent P. Edant of another battle irretrievably lost. Today’s Times crossword (16 Oct, 18 dn) rules that 'decimate' is now a synonym for 'wipe out'.
We old buffers should probably have run up the white flag in 2015 when, on BBC's Election Night Special, poor old Paddy Ashdown rubbished the idea that his Liberals would be 'decimated' and any watching sub who had read a style book thought: 'You should be so lucky matey'.
c/o St Jude's
A LUTA CONTINUA
Sir — Top marks, P Edant. The intrusive “of” must be banished! I should of (have) mentioned it myself.
In the meantime, a Morning Star headline reads “Thousands take to streets for to voice their support for besieged Palestinians”. Eh? There’s a stray “for” in there. Either the sub is a Scotsman or he was a trifle over-lacquered.
And can we have a moratorium on “showcasing”? Also “cuddly” and “adorable” to describe fairly unremarkable Royal children, babies and puppies? You know who I’m talking about, DM!
Sir — The scene: the Daily Express Big Room. Editor Derek Marks addresses Andy Carson on details of a story he’s subbing.
Carson: Aye, okay, I’ll sort it out, Mister . . . er . . . Mister . . . umm . . . Mister . . . aah . . .
The room goes quiet.
Cue laughter all round. Even Mister, er, Marks joins in. (A rare sight).
DRIVEN OFF OF MY MIND
Sir – Could you please ask Old Prodnose to campaign against the needless "of", as in "all of''? Example: All of the pubs were open. There are exceptions of course. "And so say all of us" comes to mind. But generally speaking it's happening all of the time.
My Lord — wonderful memories in today's Drone.
David Laws WAS the hardest-working sub in Fleet Street.
And I bet he was still beavering away on his latest novel until the moment the paramedics knocked on his front door. A wonderful servant of the DX and later the SX.
Andy Carson was another legend fondly remembered.
He was chief subbing one New Year's Day when I rang him early afternoon to say I was unfit for work owing to over-extensive refreshments on New Year's Eve.
His reply? "Aye, young Tony, that's a perfectly acceptable excuse. See yer tomorrow."
Andy, of course, had still managed to make it in.
We shall not see their like again.
(DX & SX, various times from 1969 -75 and 90 - 96)
IT’S AITCH NOT HAITCH!
Dear Lord Drone — When is some Prodnose at the BBC going to tell Amol Rajan, the matey, newish quizmaster of University Challenge, that "H" ain't "Haitch", it's "Aitch"?
FOR THE LOVE OF SUELLA
Sir — I note yet another swipe at Suella Braverman by the Drone’s top columnist and political crystal ballster. Surely this obsession of his with ending her career can only be explained by deep and hidden feelings of unrequited love?
Does it, perhaps, date from when she was a law student at Cambridge and he was a Fleet Street big noise? Did he pinch her bottom in the pub one night and get his face slapped?
I suggest Private Eye’s romantic scribbler Silvi Krin should be coaxed out of retirement to tell the full heart-throbbing tale.
Name and Address Not Supplied
Sorry, Silvi Krin is washing her hair — Ed
UNDERNEATH THE ARCHIVES
Sir — Forget tedious, up-your-bum so-called ‘columns’ (and thank fuck the Country Boys bore has decided to call it a day), it’s the archive material that makes the Drone so valuable.
I was delighted to spot among the faces in the Evening Standard pic one Peter Read. Chris Chalke, OTP (Down Under division) and I used to work with him on the Hereford Evening News exactly 60 years ago.
In a Field
So farewell Country Boys, you will be missed. And I confess I didn’t seen that coming.
Apropos recent correspondence concerning “the horrible, unspeakable irks (oiks?), who made lives a misery for their fellow DX workers … to cover up their obvious shortcomings as journalists,” I have to admit to feeling more than a little fortunate that my life was never made a misery by anyone, be it the DX or any of the other daily and Sunday newspapers I worked on. Indeed, the guys in more senior positions were always friendly, understanding and highly amusing.
Is it possible that whoever suffered at the hands of the “irks” brought the so-called misery on themselves?
NO RAY OF SUNSHINE
Sir — By applying the P G Wodehouse test, one concludes that the mysterious “long retired DX subeditor” who rants against unidentified former workmates could well be a Scotsman with a grievance.
But who? William Q Montgomery sadly passed away (as we are obliged to phrase it these days) some time ago.
Who else? Names must be named etc.
DEAD UNFAIR …
Scanning tearfully through your obituaries, one common factor links them all … the Lord, in all his alleged wisdom, culls only The Good Guys.
The Late List is endless but presumably living on, quite undeservedly, are the horrible, unspeakable irks who made lives a misery for their fellow DX workers. We all know who they are … those who regularly monstered colleagues to cover up their obvious shortcomings as journalists.
Bet you won’t print a list of their names. If you did, they wouldn’t come back to haunt you because those arseholes refuse to die!
Yours sincerely, DX sub-editor, long retired and still in God’s Waiting Room.
THE NOT SO FAMOUS FIVE
Sir — Angela Rippon’s appearance as a Strictly Come Dancing contestant reminded me of something that tickled me 40 years ago and still makes me smile today.
It has nothing to do with the former TV presenter, however — rather Peter Jay, the distinguished journalist, who was, for a short time in the early Eighties, her boss at TV-am, the ill-fated ITV breakfast programme.
Ms Rippon, of course, was one of the so-called Famous Five, who, with David Frost, Michael Parkinson, Anna Ford and Robert Kee, presented the show seven days a week.
The label was coined, unsurprisingly, by Fleet Street subs because of the huge success of Enid Blyton’s 21 Famous Five novels and a long-running TV series, Everyone, it seemed, had heard of Blyton’s five adventuring characters – even if they hadn’t read her books.
Well, not the erudite, ultra-intelligent Mr Jay, I was to discover.
After he was sacked as CEO of TV-am, in 1983, Jay was employed as Chief of Staff by Robert Maxwell, who had just bought the Daily Mirror. For some reason I can’t remember, I wanted to put an idea to Maxwell and was invited to Maxwell House to meet him.
I found Peter Jay a charming, welcoming gentleman and we chatted amiably while I waited for my audience with the millionaire mogul. After some pretty meaningless chit-chat, Jay looked at me, very intently, and said: “I hope you don’t mind, but I’d like to ask you something that’s been puzzling me for some time.”
Not sure how to respond, I just shrugged and said: “Go ahead.”
"It’s to do with the Famous Five,” Jay said. “The phrase was bandied about all over the place, in the papers, on TV, and everyone clearly knew what it meant. But I didn’t. And still don’t. Do you know?”
I said I did, and gave him a brief run-down on the Enid Blyton success story. But I have to admit I was astonished he knew nothing of the Famous Five. If he didn’t know, and wanted to, why, in the three years since he was fired from TV-am, had he not asked anyone?
Is it simply that, as old Etonian, former British Ambassador to the U.S., and someone once regarded as the cleverest man in Britain, he was too embarrassed to admit his ignorance? And, in me, he saw someone so insignificant in his life, he didn’t give a toss what I thought.
As I say, why he chose to ask me tickled me then, and still does today.
THE DUKE BREAKS COVER
G’Day Lord Drone — Here I am in the far reaches of a dwindling Commonwealth, enjoying a sip or two of the amber nectar and reading my favourite online newspaper, I especially enjoy the musings of your three fine columnists, Dick Dismore, Alan Frame and Terry Manners among many other gems.
Imagine my surprise when Terry gave acknowledgement (king of the Hollywood jungle, 11th Sept ) to a long-lost relative, Picture Editor Kristine Bogcanovitch (Department of Utter Bollocks ). I thought she had been committed long ago, very strange lady . Please pass on my regards if you see her again.
I look forward to many more insights into the Twilight Zone that masqueraded as ‘Fleet Street’ for a Golden era.
Best wishes to all.
A devoted reader ,
CHRIS DJUKANOVIC, (aged 72 3/4)
Somewhere in Australia
THE WRIGHT STUFF
Sir — Enjoyed the Roy Wright anecdotes. He has certainly disappeared from sight apart from a routine Wiki entry. I found no trace of him while writing my memoirs in 2018. An alien abduction might be the answer.
The trigger for his departure was the infamous CHARLES TO MARRY ASTRID splash, to which headline he added the word OFFICIAL, with no justification whatever. And of course the story turned out to be bollocks anyway. Talk about hubris.
The blameless princess went on to marry Prince Lorenz of Belgium and have six children. A lucky escape, no doubt.
STANDING UP FOR RUGBY’S MAVERICKS
Sir — Dick Dismore makes some interesting points on the back of Danny Cipriani’s auto biog which, in turn, reopens the Mavericks v the Pragmatists (ie Marcus Smith - Owen Farrell) debate in rugby.
Dick rightly mentions Stuart Barnes whose treatment by England’s safety first selectors is nothing short of scandalous. Ten caps! Barnes played early club rugby for Newport and represented and captained Wales at junior level. Had he chosen to be considered for a full Welsh cap, do we imagine that his talent would have been squandered thus?
Cipriani, a Mav similarly ill treated, makes the point that selectors always seem to prefer Prags: all action grunts who fling themselves into tackles then leap to their feet to do it all over again. I imagine Farrell rather prides himself on his robust tackling. But he’s missing the point. In his book Cip comments wryly that it’s what you do when you’re on your feet that’s important.
He echoes Gareth Davies, a silky fly half for Cardiff and Wales a generation ago. He was criticised for not tackling enough which he rebutted by asking: what’s the point of the team’s playmaker lying on the ground and being out of the game?
Borthwick and Co: Take note!
WHAT A … ER … CLOT
Sir — What was Gillian Keegan thinking of? And I’m not talking about the foul-mouthed rant that sparked the latest Tory mess. To offer the crass apology of “It was an off-the-cuff remark,” is not an answer one would expect from any MP, let alone the Education Secretary. I could think of a number of four-letter words she could have used instead of ‘cuff’ as an excuse for her stupidity … and each one begins with C. Who elects these morons?
A bank manager was unfairly sacked for seeking advice on what to do if he heard a black person using the N-word at work, a tribunal has ruled.
Carl Borg-Neal, 58, raised the question during a Lloyds Bank race education training session, but in doing so inadvertently used the full word himself. He apologised immediately.
It left the woman leading the exercise apparently so 'badly distressed' that she had to take a week off.
Now that's what I call pulling a sickie!
HOW NON U
Sir — It's Qantas, Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services. I can see why Dumpster needs a break. You can't get a decent sub anywhere these days. (Good spot, Stewpot! — Ed)
GREAT MODULAR DISASTER (CONT)
Milord — Further to your recent item on Monty Modular and the Great DX80 Disaster, it seems modularity doesn't work in the building business either.
My local primary school in Northamptonshire is one of three ordered to close by the government, over structural safety fears. The others are in Essex and Somerset and all were built by a firm called Caledonian Modular, which is now in administration.
These modular schools were put together at speed from prefabricated sections and have been assessed as being unable to withstand extreme weather conditions like high winds and heavy snow. They may have to be rebuilt.
No fault of our Monty, of course.
QUEER GOINGS ON
M'lud, from The Mail on Sunday: — A lesbian speed dating event, (yes apparently they do exist) is at the centre of a transphobia row after the organiser insisted that only 'adult human females' can attend. Last week, Jenny Watson, a town planner who runs the nights posted on her website: 'If you are a male, please refrain from coming to the events, you are not a lesbian.’
Ms Watson said: 'Last year, a person turned up sporting a purple latex outfit ... and an erection.’
How ghastly ... purple latex.
BRAVO THE NHS
M’Lord — Further to Ten Tel’s NHS experiences, [see next letter] my wife and I have been slumming it in the south of France for 18 years, surrounded by vineyards and failing in our attempts to drink them dry.
While not perfection, the French health service is magnificent. No waiting lists, instant appointments with specialists and GPs.
Need a new hip — can you pop in next week?
Hospital stays mean a maximum of two to a room but a private room is guaranteed if, as most of us do, you have top up insurance.
Imagine my horror when last Christmas Day I became ill while visiting our children, grandchildren, in the UK. All I had read and seen from afar were tales of a disintegrating NHS.
So it was with trepidation that four days later, at 0100, I was on my way to North Middlesex University Hospital in an ambulance with sirens and blue lights. Paramedics suspected pneumonia.
A doctor examined me immediately and I was diagnosed with covid and flu, put on oxygen and kept in A&E isolation overnight.
The following morning I was taken up to the “Penthouse Suite” — a small isolation ward for six with panoramic views over London — where two consultants were soon around my bed.
After four days of intense treatment and round-the-clock care I was well enough to eat again.
What happened next was amazing — an orderly produced a glossy six-page menu for breakfast lunch and dinner with a myriad of choices. While not cordon bleu, the meals were good enough to eat.
On the day of my discharge, as a non-UK taxpayer, I asked for a bill for a health insurance claim.
There was no charge.
I visited my GP on return to France. He is English and combines doctoring with owning three vineyards.
He inspected my hospital report and was amazed at the quality of my treatment and the cost of some of the drugs I was on.
All is well now and, as a bonus, I ceased smoking on Christmas Day.
Thank you NHS.
EMERGENCY WARD TEL
My Dear Lord Drone — I read with great dismay Dickie Dismore’s column highlighting the disturbing news that one in four GPs now has private medical insurance because 7.5 million are waiting for treatment.
Of course, we all have opinions on the reasons why the NHS is as sick as the patients themselves … from blaming politicians and hospital management to striking doctors and even patients themselves demanding to be seen in A&E with an ingrown toenail.
And there is no doubt that in some quarters the spirit and caring of historic icons like Florence Nightingale have disappeared along with the flame in her lamp, as striking medical staff chase money to keep up with the cost of Costa coffee.
Just this week, I experienced first-hand the NHS conundrum when I was taken to A&E with internal pain from a previous medical procedure. Not pleasant. Imagine my relief then, when the double glass doors to the waiting room opened and I was checked in. My joy was short-lived when I sat and roughly counted 40 ailing souls before me. It was 3.30pm.
I listened … one woman had suffered leg cramps in bed the night before and was sure she might never walk again; another woman was being sick into a pillowcase as her son explained she had mixed her drinks; an elderly man showed me a rash on his elbow and a mother didn’t like the look of a bruise on the leg of her son after football. All true.
Rescue came when I was directed to a new set of doors and the priority room. Relief. But imagine my gloom when I was confronted by another 30 plus people squeezed into chairs. Finally, I was ushered into a quiet little ‘cupboard’ and assured a doctor had been alerted to come from urology.
Six hours later, after three polite enquiries from my wife and counting every little leg on a Lowry print on the wall, the lady doctor arrived, full of apologies.
No one had been alerted in urology at all … she had just started the night shift and seen my problems on the list. But no one had told urology. Later that night, after treatment, I was helped to a taxi and passed drug addicts being sick all over the pavement entrance; patients with drips in one hand and a cigarette in the other under No Smoking warnings and two elderly women in wheelchairs sharing a husband’s can of Carlsberg. What difference would yet more money for the NHS make, I wondered?
Dollis Hill Rest Home.
PITY THE POOR CAPTION WRITER
Sir — I sympathise with messrs Dismore and Manners, but shurely the plight of the Daily Express Weather Sub was nowhere near as miserable as that of the (drum roll) Caption Writer?
While these Friends of Iris could take take hours to complete their task — thus putting off the moment when they would be handed some real work to do — the poor sod responsible for those damned 10pt Square Gothic captions under every news picture was banished to a windowless room in the art department and forced to beg information from photographers, the uncooperative News Desk and even more hostile senior sub editors..
A successful night consisted of avoiding abuse from production supremo Maj Morris Benet MC, for delaying the edition, and not being told to fuck off more than once.
I heard tell of a previous incumbent who was found kneeling pale-faced in St Bride’s during his break and had to be helped back to the office by consoling colleagues. Rumour has it he resigned shortly after to take holy orders and subsequently became Archbishop of Addis Ababa.
Flong Sub? Cowes Slip Sub? Don’t get me started. Our Back Bench glory had to be earned.
TIME AND TIDE
Dick Dismore's fear of subbing the Daily Express weather panel was well-founded.
I think I selected the ski resorts with a pin. I'd never stepped onto a ski slope and had no idea which ones Max Aitken would wish to check. But I got away with it.
However, it wasn't half as worrying as doing the weather in my days as a trainee reporter on the Newcastle Journal.
The panel included the Holy Island Crossing Times. This meant perusing tide tables to work out when it was safe to drive across the long causeway connecting the island to the mainland.
Was it 4 hours? Or 4.5 hours before high tide? Nightmares!
Figures are not my strongpoint and I was threatened with the sack if we caused anyone's car to be washed off the causeway.
Visiting Newcastle years later, The Journal landed on my hotel breakfast table, featuring a large front page picture of a car, standing upright in the sea beside Holy Island, with just its boot visible. How we did laugh.
I do hope The Journal reporter wasn't to blame?
MONSEWER TONY BOULLEMIER
By cleft stick
WEATHER BOOK WAS A COLD AFFRONT TO THE SUBS
My Dear Lord Drone — Your columnist Dick Dismore’s nostalgic memories of the Weather Book bring back wonderful recollections of the subs table on the Express in the 1970s, as does the snippet about Billy Montgomery and the much disliked 5.30pm shift.
In those heady times the News Subs Table was split into fiefdoms, no-go zones and the rule of personal egos which survived many years, of course. Many long-serving and older talented subs believed they had the right to work their own hours … the 3.30 to 11pm shift to them was starting around 3pm-ish and disappearing before 8.30pm-ish four days a week.
They were still in the parish of course and could be found in The Albion; The Punch or the Poppinjay. Hence these hallowed souls would never be handed the Weather Book to compile the forecast for the edition.
The forecast was that the hapless executive who dared hand out the task would have it returned to where the sun didn't shine. Hence new blood suffered the task of working out the tides and more.
For many who don’t know, the Weather Book was a red or blue foolscap, hardcover tome in the top right-hand drawer of iconic copy-taster Les Diver’s desk on the Backbench, next to the salt and pepper pots and a few stale and curly canteen chips that had dropped off his plate the night before. A4 pages, crammed with data on ski resort temps; high and low tides; Moon phases; sunrise, sunset, lighting up times, general weather in the regions and more had been pasted in for the subs to follow from a galaxy of sources. Ugh.
No wonder, as Dick says, it was better to come in a few minutes late and escape the beady eye of Diver watching the subs entrance by the yellowing toilets and military green lockers, ready to pounce.
The creative part of the job came at the end when the sub was by now an expert on the next day’s weather forecast. This was the sexy bit … Iris the Express weather girl. Scores of pages with cartoon pictures of a leggy young lady carrying a brolly, sunbathing, skirt flapping in the wind and jumping over puddles. The sub would choose a cartoon figure to match his version of the weather nationwide and then write a caption …
“The rain will ruin my hair; don’t forget to put on your suncream” or I’m shivering!”
Creative stuff. It took up to half an hour or more.
The really humiliating moment of course came as you returned the weather book to Kiwi Diver who by now might be lost in a conversation about ‘one-eyed trouser snakes’, a particular topic of his.
By now you had missed the early hand out of stories and do-ups and all-around people were subbing page leads; court cases; colour captions and political shenanigans. You felt you had been given ‘the freeze’. But that’s another story.
Sunny Dollis Hill, Neasden
Sir — Examination by Dick and Rick of the decline in the Express in the Eighties calls to mind the frequent lurches ‘upmarket’ and ‘down market’ demanded by the hapless senior management.
I remember one evening at about 6 (presumably after another fatuous board meeting) when I, as Night Editor, was advised that headline sizes should be dramatically reduced and that left hand pages, especially P2, should be packed with news.
Thus, that night the first edition, at least, went with 60pt or even 72pt heads on 25x4 pages already gone at the back of the book and 48pt on P3, 5 and 7. Oh, and Geoff Compton, sitting on my left, crammed 37 stories and shorts on to P2!