Eliades Address

A GLASS OF HIS OWN: Norman, centre, celebrates the good life with David Eliades, left

Former Daily Express news desk executive DAVID ELIADES remembers a great reporter in his  address at Norman Luck's funeral on Thursday, 15th March, 2012. This is the full text.

He won the prestigious “Scoop Of The Year Award” for the story that challenged belief.  So much so that even his own newsroom didn’t believe it when Norman Luck alerted the Daily Express that an unemployed intruder had sneaked into the Queen’s bedroom in Buckingham Palace. Wearing a grubby T-shirt and jeans, the man chatted to the Queen as he sat on the end of her bed, dripping blood on the royal linen from his cut hand.

Fortunately, Norman was given the backing he needed – and his stunning Daily Express account of the incident rocked the nation. It all began when father-of-four Michael Fagan scaled, undetected, Buckingham Palace’s 14-foot-high perimeter wall topped with spikes and barbed wire.

The events blossomed into the surreal when Fagan found an open window on the ground floor and climbed through – into the room housing King George V’s treasured, £12million stamp collection. 

Apparently unaware of being in a treasure-house, he made his way to the door at the far end – the door which would have given him entry to the interior of the palace. But finding the door locked, Fagan simply turned and retraced his steps through the Stamp Room and exited out of the same window. 

Meanwhile, the two policemen at their sub-station in the palace grounds assumed the window alarm was malfunctioning and switched it off – both times!

Fagan made his way around the outside of the palace and eventually spotted a drainpipe, which he shinned up. He pulled aside some wire meant to keep pigeons away – and climbed into the office of Vice Admiral Sir Peter Ashmore, the man responsible for the Queen’s security!

The intruder then wandered down the hallway, admiring the paintings and peeping into the rooms.  He picked up a glass ashtray and broke it, cutting his hand. Still holding the ashtray he entered the Queen’s bedroom and parked himself on the end of the royal bed.

The Queen awoke with a start and the words “What are you doing here?”  She picked up the phone from her bedside table, but the police failed to respond to her message.

The Queen talked to Fagan quietly for several minutes until she gained his confidence. Fagan asked for a cigarette, and it was as a result of this request that the Queen managed to attract the attention of a footman who rushed in and seized Fagan and handed him over to police.

The incident happened as the armed police officer outside the royal bedroom went off-duty before the arrival of his replacement – who was out walking the Queen's dogs.  

You couldn’t invent a story like that. 

Norman’s report caused uproar in royal security and outrage among the Queen’s subjects.  The Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher, personally apologised to the Queen and measures were immediately taken to strengthen palace security.

Fagan, who was 31 at the time, was not charged, but was subsequently detained for psychiatric evaluation.

The epilogue to this story is that, 30 years later, it is currently being filmed for a TV drama, with Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson portraying the Queen. It will be screened later this year. Its title, appropriately, is: ‘Walking The Dogs’.                                                                                                        

It’s anybody’s guess whether Norman’s role in the whole drama will actually make it to the small screen.  

As a Kentish schoolboy the young Norman Luck used to get a shilling (that’s 5p in modern money) for singing as a choirboy at weddings at St John’s Church, in Coney Hall, West Wickham, where he was born in 1941. He never actually lost his choirboy look  – or his entrepreneurial spirit after that.

This drive of his led him to contribute news items and articles to local newspapers. Jobs on Beckenham and Croydon newspapers followed, then freelance work on the now defunct Daily Herald and The People.  

Even when he joined the Daily Express in Manchester in 1965 , where he met and married his wife Ann, a former BOAC air stewardess, Norman refused to mark-time. He covered the major stories of the day, like the Moors murders, and his competitive spirit drove him on to pursue financial and journalistic rivalry with some of the more outgoing of his colleagues. While many of his workmates drove battered A40s or VWs, Norman was swanning around in the latest Volvo P1800 sports car – just like Roger Moore, playing Simon Templar, was doing across our television screens at the time. 

Hankering after the newspaper Mecca of Fleet Street, Norman and Ann moved down to Sanderstead from their home in Cheshire and he joined the London office of the Daily Express in 1970.

In the Black Lubjanka, as the Express Fleet Street office was referred to by journalists, Norman established himself as an irrepressible, tireless, resourceful and enterprising reporter.  He covered breaking stories up and down the country, in Europe, the Middle East, and from Africa to New Zealand. The stories about Norman covering his stories are legion and are as engaging as Norman himself. 

Brian Hitchen, his one-time news editor who later became editor of the Daily Star and Sunday Express, said of Norman: “Norman was one of the good guys, rock-solid and reliable. And a damn good journalist. Long before computers, he even had his own miniature printing press, producing forged restaurant bills! He sold them to fellow reporters for their expenses claims.”

That paragraph probably sums up Norman Luck better than any other you will see or hear.  

But the story about Norman that never fails to make me smile concerns an early trip he made to Kenya, where, as a tyro foreign correspondent, he attended a formal reception in Nairobi.  There, among those dressed in tribal garb, he noticed a smart-suited figure of a black man with a fresh rose in his buttonhole. Being the sort of person who was not shy to engage with everything and everyone around him, Norman stepped towards him.  

He prodded his forefinger at his own chest and with his gentle smile annunciated very slowly:  “Me,  Norman.” He then thrust out his hand. The Kenyan grinned and reached out and shook Norman’s hand. “Splendid to meet you, Norman, old chap,” he said in his Belgravia accent. “I’m Charles Njonjo. I studied law in London. Now I’m the Attorney-General of this place.”  

Ever since then I always called him Me-Norm instead of Norman.

During one of the intensified outbreaks of violence in the 16-year civil war in Lebanon, Norman was sent to Beirut to cover the action. He stayed with all the other visiting foreign correspondents in the Commodore Hotel. On his first day, after filing his dramatic report to London of the day’s conflict, did he relax and go for dinner, or to the bar? 

Not our ever-active Norman.  Instead he sat down and wrote. And wrote. And wrote.

In London, the wire room buzzed the Express foreign desk and warned that something serious must be happening in Beirut, because Norman was beginning to file reams of copy. We were on tenterhooks until Norman’s story actually dropped in front of us and we could see what it was all about. We had half-expected some Beirut outrage….possibly a bomb explosion or some-such.  We all looked at each other with open mouths as we read Norman’s copy.  It wasn’t a graphic account of some gruesome act of war. It was his Do-It-Yourself column and articles for the Daily Express weekend supplement!  

This, we discovered, was not an example of Norman being touched by the Middle Eastern sun, but was Norman’s way of hogging the hotel’s telex machine – so that his rival journalists couldn’t get their stories out.  An American journalist, whose copy wasn’t transmitting because of Norman’s act of sabotage, remonstrated with him: “They are shooting the shit out of the Chouf mountains and you're writing about wiring a domestic plug?"

As well as writing DIY supplements for the Express, Norman’s eye was always open for business opportunities. In 1980 he bought Sandringham House Nursing Home in Poole -- and for six years would never miss the opportunity to roll up his sleeves to tackle whatever Do-It-Yourself emergency that presented itself. 

In 1986, he sold the nursing home and bought a homely village pub in Coldharbour near Dorking. I visited him there once. He was a popular, generous, and warm-hearted Master of the House in his hours away from Fleet Street. During the 1987 hurricane the pub became the focal point for the village, which was cut off for almost three weeks. 

A year or so later the world of business had lost its appeal for him and he sold the pub and he was drawn into the lecture circuit in his spare time. He specialised in Media Studies.  At the time of his retirement from the Daily Express in 1996 he was writing a consumer problem page for a local paper, then a property page for local estate agents, showcasing a house a week. He even found time to help design and set up pages for other local papers. 

As if he didn’t have enough to keep him occupied, Norman was also running the monthly get-together in a Fleet Street pub of retired Daily Express staffers. As well as this he was writing, editing and producing, single-handedly, the newsletter of the Express Old Boys and Girls Social Club.  It was a mammoth task, which he fulfilled with relish.

At a funeral in St. Bride's, the journalists’ church in Fleet Street, I remember hearing a former Daily Express editor quizzing Norman about the circulation of his newsletter. “Oh, it’s pretty good,” replied Norman.  “It’s gone up from 400 to 600.”                          

The former editor, who was one of the best the Express had had, looked at Norman and shook his head in disbelief.  “Blimey,” he said. “That’s a bigger percentage than I ever managed for the Daily Express.”                                                                                

In 1990,  Norman was sent to New Zealand on a special story. For the non-journalists among us today, a special story is quite often one in which the editor, management, or even the proprietor, has a special interest. Information about it is generally restricted. 

Norman was away on the story for nearly three months.

“ How did it work out?” I asked him.

“Just great”, said Norman.

“Then why hasn’t the Express used it?” 

Norman gave me, a slow enigmatic smile.  “Oh, we will use it," he said confidently. “But only when the time is right.” 

That conversation was at the end of October, 1990.

Three months later it was time for the New Year Honours. The editor of the Daily Express dressed up in his finery and went to Buckingham Palace to be dubbed a Knight of the Realm by HM the Queen.

No sooner had that happened than the story Norman had worked on in New Zealand for so long was splashed in the Daily Express: that the Queen’s son-in-law, Captain Mark  Phillips, Princess Anne’s estranged husband, was being sued for paternity in New Zealand by a blonde art teacher.

By now I had left the Express. But the moment I saw that headline I instantly recalled Norman’s enigmatic smile three months before – and his cynical words about the Fleet Street he loved: “Oh, we will use it.  But only when the time is right.”

Q.E.D., Norman!

              

 POSTSCRIPT

When he was taken ill last October after breaking his leg no one suspected it was serious. It was typical of Norman that he told Ann that he didn’t want to share the news of his progressive illness with anyone else. As was Norman’s way, he won over everyone he was with – even while seriously ill in hospital. The nursing staff adored him. So when he died it was the loyal Ann who had to find the strength to reverse roles – and comfort the weeping nurses.



© 2005-2019 Alastair McIntyre