Mike O'Flaherty was one of the great Fleet Street characters who enjoyed the best years of national newspapers when drinking and getting into scrapes was a way of life for many. Stories about him are legion and here are some of our favourites:
BITING ANKLES AT THE SAVOY
Gill Martin remembers that Mike was a great hypochondriac, rattling round the office with a briefcase full of pills and potions for real and imagined symptoms.
He was once introduced as: 'This is Mike O'Flaherty, he marries people.' In fact we think he had three wives, the last was Bheki, an African princess whom he met while working as a teacher in South Africa.
The best O'Flaherty story was when he upset an entire table at the Savoy Hotel where he was covering a hugely important lunch attended by the chairman of Express Newspapers, if memory serves it was the very grand Lord (David) Stevens, although it might also have been the rather less pompous Lord 'Fingers' Matthews. Just before Oafers was escorted drunk from the premises he crawled under another table and bit managing editor Struan Coupar's ankles.
Naturally enough, Mike was fired but an NUJ Chapel meeting unanimously demanded his reinstatement, which was eventually forthcoming.
THE GREAT POTATO SALAD SCANDAL
David Hardy recalls the day before Christmas Eve when Mike arrived in the office hideously unwell from the night before? The news desk lads had been down to the deli in Fleet Street and bought a load of potato salad and suchlike which they dumped in a wastepaper bin.
When Mike crawled in, they told him the cleaners had stopped work and were having a chapel meeting because he had thrown up in the bin. He looked at it and had to sit down. 'Jesus that's disgusting,' he said.
One of the lads picked up the bin and said: 'Fucking disgraceful, but very tasty,' as he scooped up a handful and ate it.
Mike disappeared in a dash to the bogs.
DAY THE SERGEANT MAJOR INSPECTED MIKE'S BOLLOCKS IN A MIRROR
O’Flaherty had a great sense of humour and often reminisced about the Services humour he encountered on his first day in the British Army. Answering his call-up for National Service, he duly reported to a recruiting centre in London.
The sergeant checked his details and said: 'Fancy the Pay Corps eh? O’Flaherty eh? Irish eh? I know just the place for you, laddie.'
Which is why Mike reported for duty at Edinburgh Castle having been enrolled into the Highland Light Infantry.
He recalled that they weren’t allowed out of barracks for the first six weeks of basic training. When the big day arrived and before he was eventually freed to ponce down Princes Street, kilt a-swinging, he first had to report to the Guard Room and stand on a mirror set into the floor so the sergeant major could check he was correctly (un)dressed.
THE PHANTOM ON THE 8.17 FROM CHARING CROSS
One day in the Express newsroom O’Flaherty, slightly “over-trained” from a lunchtime session, was slumbering quietly in a corner when Brian Hitchen, then news editor, decided he had had enough. He called over reporters Ashley Walton and Bob McGowan and instructed them to take Mike to Charing Cross, put him on a train and ask the guard to pour him off at Sevenoaks where he lived.
Mission successfully accomplished, the pair decided that they had done such a good job they deserved a little drink (or two) on the way back to the Express.
Eventually, when they returned to the newsroom, Hitchen said: 'Go off OK, did he?'
'Yes, boss, no trouble.'
'Oh, really? Then who the fuck’s that sleeping in the corner?'
O’Flaherty, who had nipped back to the office while his minders were otherwise engaged, was eventually driven home. Walton and McGowan planted him on his doorstep, rang the doorbell and beat a hasty retreat.
BRIEFS ENCOUNTER IN THE CARTOONIST
O’Flaherty and fellow reporter Paddy Clancy often used to have drink together (and that’s an Irish under statement). On one occasion night news editor Mike Steemson called over a new reporter and asked him to go over to the Cartoonist to tell them to return to the office immediately.
'How will I know them?' asked the new boy nervously. 'Easy,' said Steemson, 'they will be the only two standing at the bar just wearing their underpants.'
Sure enough, Ashley Walton (for it was he) found them leaning against the bar having nice chat in their Y-fronts.
'Excuse me,” said Ashley. 'Mike Steemson asks if you would return to the office straightaway.'
A withering stare and then came the reply: 'Tell Steemson to go and fuck himself.'
On his return Steemson asked what had been the response from the two news hounds.
Ashley: 'Well, to tell the truth, Mike, they said you could go and fuck yourself.'
Steemson: “Oh, good. They’re on their way back.”
Sure enough a few minutes later, Clancy and O’Flaherty, now suited and booted, returned to help produce the world’s greatest newspaper.
O'FLAHERTY, THE CEMETERY AND ME
Roger Watkins writes: Mike used to love telling me silly Irish jokes and one became our particular favourite, so much so, that we got into the habit of acting it out to the bemusement of our colleagues.
Mike would come up to me on the Back Bench and say, very seriously: 'Excuse me, Roger, but I’ve got to leave now to go up to the cemetery.'
'Oh, Mike, I’m sorry to hear that. Who’s dead?'
'They all are!'
OK, it wasn’t that funny then. But, believe me, it’s a lot less funny now.
ANOTHER O'FLAHERTY JOKE
(This has to be read in a Belfast accent). Two old ladies are gazing into the window of a baker's shop. One says to the other: 'Is that a cake or a meringue?' The other replies: 'No, you're right, it's a cake.'
20th February 2012