One in the Eye 1972

14th January 1972

The movement of Sir Lew Grade of ATV into the boat-building business has been well publicised by the Daily Express and the Evening Standard. The latter announced on January 5th that Sir Lew’s pet boat-building firm, J G Meakes, is to open a £300,000 marina at Windsor and ‘plans for further marinas costing a total of £1million are in the air’.

Further publicity of the same kind can be expected in the coming months. The keen interest of Sir Max Aitken, chairman of Beaverbrook Newspapers, which owns the Express and the Standard, is matched by a substantial commercial interest in Grade’s ATV. Sir Max is on the board of ATV and owns some 50,000 shares. Beaverbrook Newspapers own over two million.

11th February 1972

A new magazine on the history of the British Empire is being printed on paper made by a German firm which is ‘headed by a millionaire who helped Hitler to power,’ claimed the Sunday Express on January 16th. The headline which must have shocked so many Sunday Express readers was ‘The Great British Empire story gets a Hitler tinge’.

Research at Feldmuehle, the Dusseldorf paper firm in question, reveals that another publication to ‘get the Hitler tinge’ was the Daily Express’s programme at this year’s Boat Show.

10th March 1972

Grovel writes: There has been a certain amount of drinking at Beaverbrook Newspapers in recent months.

Daily Express City Editor Roy Mackie appeared at Camberwell Court on February 3 after failing to pass a breathalyser test and refusing to give a urine sample. He was found guilty and fined £20 plus a year’s disqualification. Mr Mackie modestly described himself as ‘a newspaper worker.’

The managing editor of the Evening Standard, Jocelyn Stevens, was also banned for a year on a similar offence in February.

The editor of the Express, Ian McColl, who claims to be a teetotaller, has been seen in a number of hostelries seated before a carafe of wine.

21st April 1972

The buying of Beaverbrook ‘Non-Voting’ shares by Dirty Digger Murdoch has been greeted with wonderment by all. What does the Digger want with shares which give him no control over the company?

‘Oh that can always be changed,’ said one rich young Beaverbrook executive, by way of explanation.

Signs of a growing rapport between the Digger and Sir Max (Qantas is Best) Aitken are manifest at Covent Garden Opera House where Aitken, Murdoch and Lord Goodman have bought a permanent ‘box’.

It is thought that a love of opera is not the best-known trait of either the Digger or Aitken.

21st April 1972

Grovel writes: Shareholders in Beaverbrook Newspapers may find cause for concern in two recent appointments on the Daily Express. Miss Jean Rook has now turned down the offer of a directorship at Associated Newspapers and will shortly be moving her column to the Daily Express for £10,000 a year. Wall-to-wall colour TV and Habitat furnishings are being brought in to decorate the Rookery.

And Hugh McIlvanney, the emotional sports writer, is moving from The Observer for a similar fee. McIlvanney will write about sport and politics and has already agreed to cover the ‘little world cup’ and the US conventions to the fury of established Express writers. McIlvanney, who is still remembered in his native Glasgow for the close interest he took in his subject as a crime reporter, celebrated his appointment in a Fleet St hostelry in the traditional way by turning on one of his fellow human beings and punching him savagely in the face.

21st April 1972 

Grovel writes: Apparently Mr Harry Hyams, the evil genius of Centre Point, is a substantial shareholder in the Express. He uses nominees. In return Mr Hyams is only mentioned by the Express and the Standard on rare occasions.

One of the many stories which the William Hickey column has been unable to print concerned the last AGM of Harry’s Oldham Properties where the chairman appeared in a Mickey Mouse mask and made animal noises at his few speechless shareholders.

Mr Hyams will come in handy when Sir Max decides to develop more and more of his property interests. Already he is knocking down the buildings which surround the Express.

Joe Coral’s, the bookmakers, have been persuaded to move by the offer of a prime site actually in the hall of the much-vaunted award-winning Express building.

5th May 1972

While watching the Glasgow Rangers v Bayern Munich cup tie in the television room at the Scottish Daily Express, 64-year-old reporter Fred Robertson suffered a heart attack and was taken to the Royal Infirmary.

News of his serious condition reached production editor Willie Montgomery [who later became a news sub in London and was known as Bill - Ed] later that night.

‘Make sure none of his stories are credited,’ roared the professional Montgomery. ‘We don’t want dead men’s bylines in the final edition.’

Fred Robertson, who has been with the paper for 40 years, looks like recovering to retire in January.

5th May 1972

Grovel writes: Beaverbrook redundancy payments, one of the consequences of employing the likes of Jean Rook at £10,000 a year, are now reaching lunatic proportions. The latest beneficiary is a brand new sub who (having served one month on the Daily Express) got fed up and took the minimum payment of 32 weeks pay.

Another lottery winner is Tim Heald, former Young Journalist of the Year, who was given so little to do that he took to breeding a new type of hairless cat. Heald finally got bored and is leaving with two years pay. When he receives the cheque in two weeks time it will be the first time the Young Journalist of the Year has met his energetic editor, Ian McColl.

19th May 1972

Grovel writes: I am sorry to hear that Miss Jean Rook has been showing signs of fatigue. She has taken to shouting at her rook-pecked husband, ex-merchant seaman Geoff Nash, when she arrives from work at their bijou villa in Petts Wood, Orpington, Kent. So loud is the rook call that a meeting of villagers has been called to protest. One of the Petts Wood residents, Sir Geraint Evans, the opera singer, is apparently on record as saying that he does not envy the Rook tones but envies her resonance.

**********

The extraordinary picture which decorates the Rook column was not taken hastily. One Express cameraman after another was closeted with Rook in an attempt to get something useable. One after another they failed. Finally Rook was taken down to the studio and placed in front of the wind machine. The fearsome contraption was then switched to force nine sand a suitable study taken.

2nd June 1972

Grovel writes: I hear distressing news of the social aspirations of the humble-origined Jean Rook. She has been lobbying those of her Fleet Street colleagues who went to Eton for details as to how to enroll her infant. This blatant attempt at self-aggrandisement is being discouraged.

**********

The new dial-anywhere-in-the-world-yourself PABX telephone system installed at the Daily Express at a cost of £200,000 has claimed its first victim. Just as ever-alert John ‘Mumble’ McDonald was about to castigate George Best, who has an exclusive £100-a-week contract with the Daily Express, for giving an exclusive interview to the Daily Mirror, he cut himself off. Further attempts by 23 news reporters and seven switchboard operators to reconnect with the Marbella-based footballer were in vain.

16th June, 1972

It seems that little Gresby Rook (sic, six months) will not after all be going to Eton. As a compliment to her employer Sir Max Aitken, Jean Rook has put the lad down for his old school Charterhouse.

30th June 1972

The precipitous fall in Beaverbrook’s ‘A’ shares (down in two weeks from a two-year peak of 124 to 102 as of June 19th) can be ascribed to the fact that Sir Max Aitken has informed possible suitors that his business is for sale at a bargain-basement price of £14million.

His waning enthusiasm for publishing – despite his youthful appearance Sir Max is in his 63rd year and showing signs of wear – stems from several reasons.

Now in the autumn of his life Sir Max is worried about a successor (his son and heir Maxwell Aitken is but 20) and the ever increasing demands of the ungrateful unions.

In private he has told friends that the workforce of Beaverbrook Newspapers – some 10,100 – could effectively be trimmed back to 6,000. The carrot of redundancy has been taken only by by journalists, all of whom have gone elsewhere with large payments to new and better jobs with rival organisations.

Ironically the success of the Evening Standard has influenced his decision. The paper is now showing a handsome annual profit of £400,000 and rival Rupert Murdoch is no longer interested at buying such a profitable title. Instead, the Dirty Digger is concentrating on the Evening News, now losing a momentous £900,000 a year on sales of just under a million.

The Digger had hoped to pick up the Standard at 30/- a reader but its profitability has, naturally, scuppered the plan.

Sir Max has been thwarted in his plans to expand by getting hold of the Daily Mail. Earlier this year he was crowing that he would be able to pick up the Daily Mail for nothing and forecast that the Mail’s circulation would drop below the 1.5 million mark. It is now stabilised at 1.8 million and climbing. The eventuality is galling to Sir Max who had a long rivalry with Rothermere heir Vere Harmsworth. It now seems that Harmsworth will be more likely to pick up the Express whose circulation is dropping.

Even the Sun is outselling the Express in England and Wales and sales of the Scottish Daily Express have dropped fully 10% in the latest unofficial audit.

**********

Grovel writes: It is with some distress that I have to report that my contemporary Richard Berens of the Express’s William Hickey column has fallen on hard times.

Despite the fact that his father, Herbert Berens, is chairman on International Distillers and a director of Hambros Bank, a receiving order is bankruptcy has been made against Richard. This will at least enable to Express commissionaire to clear the hall of the nondescript figures in grubby macs who have been trying to dun Mr Berens for a number of years.

14th July 1972

What could have persuaded Mr Brian Vine, the Daily Express New York correspondent, to write in adulatory terms of Penthouse Magazine and its American success? Clearly not the fact that Mr Vine will be married to Miss Beverley Wardale on September 8th. Miss Wardale is in charge of Penthouse’s US sales.

28th July 1972

IN THE CITY: Panic has set in at the Daily Express. Alarmed at the size of the redundancy handouts (£250,000 so far and no end in sight) executives of Beaverbrook Newspapers are resorting to low cunning in an effort to stem the tide.

Bill Allison, the features editor of the Daily Express, applied for redundancy which, in his case, totalled a whopping £14,000. No sooner had it been approved than he announced that he had been appointed Assistant Editor of the Evening News.

Immediately, Allison’s recent expenses were examined and Andrew Edwards, Legal Manager of the organisation and a board director, took a receipt that Allison had submitted from a well-known Fleet Street restaurant back to the restaurant.

On his return Edwards confronted Allison and suggested that, in the light of his mysterious expenses, the redundancy figure should be renegotiated.

Incandescent with rage, Allison took the matter to the NUJ chapel – who made prompt threatening noises about chapel meetings in prime production time.

After a tense 48 hours the management capitulated and handed over Allison’s money (his new job will pay him around £8,500 a year).

25th August 1972

The Way We Live Now department.

So bulky were the wage packets of printers on the Daily Express that they were becoming an inconvenience. Accordingly, a request was sent to the management for future wage packets to be filled with discreet fivers rather than 50 or one pound notes.

All was going smoothly until the management discovered an unexpected hitch. The wages department had pointed out that if the change was made their clerks stood to lose most of their overtime. The wage packets remain as bulky as before.

Grovel writes: The Widow Beaverbrook, who lives by herself in the Garden House at Cherkley, is not as lonely as one might suppose. Like Cecil King she is a firm believer in extra sensory perception and she has lately scored some remarkable successes. 

Lord Beaverbrook is presently in regular contact with his former wife.

I am told told that his advice on the stock market is proving especially useful to her.

Grovel again: Whatever possessed the D Express’s William Hickey to fill his column of August 12 with fulsome praise for one John Green and his ‘gorgeous villas’ in Marbella?

Certainly not the fact that Richard Behrens, a member of the Hickey staff, was given a free holiday and entertained lavishly at the Marbella villa of David Wynne-Morgan, public relations adviser to Mr Green, some days before.

22nd September 1972

From the Grovel column. (The author was Nigel Dempster, gossip columnist for the Daily Mail at the time and his comments need to be read in this light. Dempster worked for the William Hickey column from 1963 to 1971).

Sir Max ‘Biggles’ Aitken, the Doge of Cowes, has not been his usual fun-loving self recently. Only 15 minutes after his party started at Cowes for all the competitors in his Powerboat race, he closed the bar. Perhaps Sir Max is depressed by the continuing fall in Express advertising. His own William Hickey column has been of little help in this battle. On Tuesday, September 5th, their lead story read like an estate agent’s blurb (£12,000 for two-room apartments, seven-room house £65,000) for a commercial development at Deauville.

The free puff filled no less than 42 column inches. Cost to the delighted Deauville backers? One free air ticket and liberal hospitality to Richard Berens, who was once noted for printing original stories. (A similar advert would have netted Beaverbrook shareholders in excess of £500).

*****

What can be wrong with Chapman Pincher? He has taken to phoning his articles through to the Daily Mail rather than his employers at Beaverbrook House. Fortunately for Mr Pincher none of his tales has so far proved interesting enough to appear in the rival paper.

6th October 1972

Grovel writes: Mr Chapman Pincher has rather over-reacted to my little paragraph about him in the last issue of the Eye.

He has issued a writ against Private Eye claiming substantial damages.

My report that Mr Pincher had taken to phoning stories through to the Daily Mail was based on a recent occasion when the great scoop-hound and personal friend of Harry Hyams rang FLE 6000 (the Daily Mail) instead of FLE 8000 (the Daily Express).

When the Mail switchboard answered ‘Associated Newspapers’ in the customary way, Pincher asked for the Newsdesk. He then spent a good five minutes speaking to John Womersley. He appeared not to know Mr Womersley and complained about the changes in staff that had been made while he was on holiday. He asked what had happened to someone called Fawcett. After some desultory chat, Pincher asked to be transferred to ‘Copy’ so he could dictate his piece.

It was then patiently explained to him that he was talking to the wrong newspaper.

Subsequent to the appearance of my piece, Mr Andrew Edwards, the dapper, inoffensive Freemason who is the Daily Express’s legal adviser, approached the Daily Mail requesting the assistance in the case of Pincher v Pressdram [publishers of the Eye] and others.

Mr Edwards was instructed to behave in a manner not wholly dissimilar to that urged on the plaintiff in another justly-celebrated libel action.

20th October 1972

The Palace putsch at Beaverbrook Newspapers, first revealed by Grovel some months ago, is almost complete with the announcement that Jocelyn ‘Piranha Teeth’ Stevens has been made managing director of the Daily Express. I fear the days of Capt. John Coote (RN Retd.) are now numbered as vice chairman leaving him free to earn his £196 a week salary (plus £36 expenses) by organising such worthwhile events as the Daily Express sponsored Boat Show and race meetings at Silverstone.

On the editorial side, Mr Ian McColl, the energetic but homesick Scots-born editor of the Daily Express, will soon be able to gaze lovingly over his native Glasgow again. Piranha’s plan is to run the Daily Express, now making an annual loss approaching the £750,000 mark, with an editorial board. He wants to appoint the demure Simon Jenkins, 29-year-old features editor of the Evening Standard and dinner companion of the Countess of Dartmouth, as editor. Beaverbrook ‘A’ shares stand at 85p – already down from the year’s high of 124.5p.

3rd November 1972

There is hope yet for the beleaguered readers of the Daily Express, once a mass circulation newspaper. It appears that even now Miss Jean Rook’s contract is being scrutinised for possible loopholes, as it is thought that a six-month probationary clause exists. The reason for the urge to dispatch the ungainly Rook to more appreciative climes? Jocelyn ‘Piranha Teeth’ Stevens, the new Obergruppensturmfuehrer of the Daily Express, is less than an admirer of the lady’s prose style.

1st December 1972

The normally somnolent press lobby at the House of Commons was enlivened last week by a ferocious physical assault by boring Wilfred Sendall on his Daily Express colleague George Lockhead [sic]. The two have not spoken since and the squeaky-voiced Lockhead claims that his person was badly bruised during the altercation. I suggest that Sendall’s loutish behaviour  is brought immediately to the attention of the Serjeant-at-Arms Rear Admiral Sandy ‘Gay’ Gordon Lennox. [Drone note: George spelt his surname Lochhead].

*****

Grovel writes: Fun and games at the Scottish Sunday Express. A bulky parcel addressed to Beaverbrook Newspapers was delivered to the Express’s Glasgow office in Albion Street on Friday November 10th.

Ever-vigilant news editor Ken Munro decided that the parcel was a ‘suspicious object’ and promptly called the police. Half an hour later police and journalists adjourned downstairs to Albion Street which was then cordoned off and cleared of spectators. A call was then made to the Bomb Disposal Squad in Edinburgh, who raced 40 miles to get to Glasgow. Worried Expressmen, now referring to the parcel as a ‘letter bomb’, insisted that it be blown up.

The parcel was duly detonated only for embarrassed journalists and irate policemen to be showered with confetti – the remains of a bundle of returns from a local newsagent.

15th December 1972

Grovel writes: Power has gone to the Adonis-like head of Jocelyn ‘Piranha Teeth’ Stevens following his promotion to managing director of the Daily Express.

Excited and somewhat emotional over the Martin Borman series (which helped to reduce the weekly number of Daily Express readers to a new low of 5,000) he attacked the dignified Vere Harmsworth, owner of the Daily Mail, at a private party the other night. I can only repeat the dialogue which went as follows:

Piranha: How do you spell Borman, Vere?

Vere: BOREman.

Piranha, looking round and seeing Jonathan Aitken hovering nearby: Aitken, why don’t you genuflect and kiss Vere’s arse?

Vere: Because he’s not like you, Jocelyn.

Exit Piranha, accompanied by his keeper, Sir Max ‘Biggles' Aitken, both in disarray.

*****

I am happy to report that the unseemly quarrel between boring lobby correspondent Wilfred Sendall and emotional colleague George Lockhead [sic] – which lead to Lockhead being physically assaulted – has been resolved. The other day I found a solicitous Mr Sendall talking to Mr Lockhead in the lobby. ‘There’s no need to kiss me, George,’ he said.

29th December 1972

Grovel writes: Overheard at a No10 luncheon, Mrs Ian McColl, (wife of the Daily Express editor) to the Grocer. ‘I always send Ian off to work with a cheese sandwich and a banana. I want to be sure that he eats.’ 

Can I have heard correctly?

*****

Fear stalks the talent-shorn corridors of the black glass Lubjanka of Fleet Street in the wake of the Martin Bormann fiasco. Heads will surely roll and chief target is John Macdonald, deputy editor of the Daily Express. Nicknamed MacMumble for the incoherence of his speech, it was he who promoted the series which has finally stripped the Express of its remaining credibility.

A picture purporting to be of the 72-year-old Martin Bormann turned out to be a 54-year-old Buenos Aires high school teacher. The latter has instigated court proceedings against the Express for several million pounds.

PS: Seriously disturbed at being assaulted by his many detractors, not to mention both his friends, Sir Max ‘Biggles’ Aitken has sprung into action. He has despatched three top Expressmen (Foreign Editor Ian Brodie; writer Andy Fyall and cameraman David Cairns) to South America. Their orders are not to return without Bormann. Will this intrepid trio ever see their wives and children ever again? In the meantime Biggles is yachting in the Bahamas with his cronies.

*****

How did the Daily Express ever get conned into publishing a story where the facts were as leaky as a colander? It stems from a chance visit to New York in November by Daily Mail editor David English. By coincidence he stayed at the Hotel Pierre where also resided Stewart Steven, a former Daily Express Foreign Editor (he took voluntary redundancy and a hefty cheque from the Beaverbrook organisation in the autumn) who was researching the Bormann hunch with Farago on behalf of the Daily Express. [Drone note: Hungarian-born author Ladislas Farago had written a book claiming that Bormann was living as a prosperous businessman in South America. On behalf of the Express, Steven bought the book which it hailed as “incontrovertible evidence” that Bormann was alive. He wasn't.]

As luck would have it the two former colleagues (Mr English used to be the Foreign Editor of the Daily Express as well) were observed breakfasting together and the fact reported back to London and Express editor Ian McColl. Panic set in – for the Express had bankrolled the enquiries to the tune of £20,000 and Steven had spent some seven months at their expense on the trail – and McColl began to suspect that the unimpeachable Mr Steven may have been collaborating with the enemy.

At the same time Mail executives began to mention the name Bormann in Fleet Street drinking places infested by workshy Beaverbrook personnel who then assumed that the Mail knew all. McColl decided to go ahead, despite being short of conclusive proof, lest the scoop of the century be pinched from under his nose. Thus to a great extent the largest misfortune in the Daily Express’s history was manufactured by the editor of the rival Daily Mail. Mr Stewart Steven will join the Daily Mail, as an assistant editor, in the New Year.

Drone note: Shortly after the Express claimed that former Hitler henchman Bormann was alive and living in South America, his skull was found in Berlin, where he had died in 1945.

*****

Sayings of Chairman Max: ‘He who swims in the same tank as the Piranha must expect to be eaten.’

This is believed to be a jocular reference to Captain John Coote, RN (submerged), the deputy chairman of Beaverbrook Newspapers.

One in the Eye 1973

© 2005-2017 Alastair McIntyre