11th January 1974
Grovel predicts a sad year for Jocelyn ‘Piranha Teeth’ Stevens. His wife appears not to love him, he has lost control of his puppet editor Ian ‘Basil Brush’ McColl and his plans to enter politics are not being met favourably by the Conservative Central Office candidates selection board. As the Grocer succinctly puts it: “The image of the party has moved away from millionaire Old Etonians.” Hard cheese, Piranha. Back to the drawing board.
Sir Max Aitken’s clarion call to the country in the Daily Getsmuchworse (Jan 2) “I am an optimist because I believe optimism is justified”, demonstrating his faith in the future of Britain, was penned in the luxurious environs of his mountaintop eyrie in St Anton, Austria, where he was being comforted by an exotic brew of Ind, Coope and Allsopp (age 31).
8th February 1974
Now that Jocelyn Stevens has been made deputy chairman of Beaverbrook Newspapers he has, at last, gained the authority to fire anyone, including his puppet editor Ian ‘Basil Brush’ McColl. But the first heads to roll will be the entire William Hickey column whose inept disclosures would not even enliven a gathering of the Women’s Institute.
The Piranha has been carrying out furtive negotiations with dapper Paul Callan, former editor of the Daily Mail Diary and now facing the axe at hapless London Broadcasting. Hearing this the inept Hickey gang (8) stormed the editor’s office demanding reassurances as to their future. McColl, in typical manner, was suitably vague. It is envisaged by the forward looking Piranha that Callan write a Tom Driberg type column.
8th March 1974
So carried away by the Harris Poll’s election day prediction in the Daily Getsmuchworse of a 5% lead for the Tories, that Sir Max ‘Biggles’ Aitken announced there would be free drinks for all staff that evening. However liquor-loving Expressmen had to celebrate the coming Tory landslide in canteen tea or coffee.
There are subsequent suggestions that the cost of this rather premature celebration may be deducted from their next pay packet.
Grovel adds: I always admire a man who can admit his own shortcomings. Viz: David Lewin, editor of CinemaTV Today, 200 years on the Getsmuchworse, 140 on Mail etc. After all these years of being so important he has finally found time to book himself in on a five-day subbing course in North Berwick next week.
22nd March 1974
Sir Hugh Fraser’s penchant for the thrills of the roulette wheel cost the sporting chairman of Harrods the small sum of £250,000 the other night, lost over the tables of the Ladbroke Club in Mayfair.
News of this sad reversal spread to Fleet Street and the story was soon corroborated by the Sunday Express. Why it did not appear, however, may have a lot to do with the new special relationship between Sir Hugh and Sir Max Aitken.
For the last few days “Biggles” and the trusted “Piranha” Stevens have been in earnest consultation with the Government trying to rid themselves of an overweight, idle workforce of 2,000 in Glasgow where the highly unprofitable Scottish Daily Express is printed.
Fraser also controls SUITS, owners of George Outram, who publish the 181,000 circulation Glasgow Evening Times and the Daily Herald. Sir Max would like to sell his Glasgow Evening Times, which is profitable, to Sir Hugh, close the Scottish Daily Express and flog off the highly valuable property for around £6 million.
While this profitable cure for Sir Max’s financial headache exists, it is thought unlikely that any tales concerning Sir Hugh’s generosity to gaming clubs will appear in the cold light of print. An announcement concerning the future of Beaverbrook’s Glasgow operation is expected this week.
5th April 1974
Panic gripped the quaking gnome-sized Ian McColl, editor of the fast-crumbling Daily Getsmuchworse, about midnight on March 26. He received a telephone call from an irate Jocelyn Stevens regarding a little item then running on the City Page of the Getsmuchworse headed ‘Lament at Lloyds’. This concerned the measly rise in employees’ wages in comparison with the bank’s 75% higher profits and the pay hike taken by the bank’s chairman.
The apoplectic Piranha screamed at McColl, reminding him that Lloyds were the Express’s bankers and had become very stroppy, refusing to raise the Beaverbrook overdraft beyond £5million (so giving Piranha the excuse to close down in Glasgow where McColl once reigned as editor) and further were contributing £9,000 worth of full-page colour advertising on the page facing the lamentable headline.
19th April 1974
Exhausted by his fine efforts in sacking 1,904 (approx) Beaverbrook employees in Scotland, Jocelyn Stevens has retired for a few days holiday in the South of France. Friends have been regaled with tales of the enormous injustices he suffered on his execution visit to Glasgow when he was spat on, had salt poured on his sunny locks and even found a pin-ridden voodoo doll in his hotel bed.
Members, however, of the overmanned and under talented workforce in Manchester and London should take comfort from his absence. The Piranha is sharpening his teeth in anticipation of killing again soon.
3rd May 1974
Grovel writes: It is fitting that the Newspaper Press Fund has re-elected Sir Max Aitken as president. This worthy body disburses sums to needy journalists and I foresee many such pitiful pleas in the coming months from the Beaverbrook hacks who the Piranha, at this very minute, is preparing to fire. I would suggest, however, that any approach from Old Etonian Richard Berens – sacked as editor of William Hickey last week after seven years of incompetence – is disregarded. He has always told me that he is a millionaire.
31st May 1974
Keen Eye readers will recollect our story about escaped train-robber Ronnie Biggs. Since then, events have moved on and the Daily Gets Much Worse has become even more deeply involved. Readers will remember Biggs’ claims to have been betrayed by a Fleet Street newspaper (Daily Mail, 8th Feb.)
This is no doubt nothing to do with the Gets Much Worse which revealed Biggs’ arrest and then retailed his life on the run. However on May 11th Brian Park and Andrew McEwen of the Mail met Biggs in Rio de Janeiro, holed up with Daily Express journalist Colin Mackenzie.
Mackenzie, according to the interview, is writing an embryo best-seller “about Biggs’s life on the run”. According to Mackenzie, Biggs is to receive 50-50 of everything the book earns “and that is way over £20,000”.
In fact, Colin Mackenzie who is or was a Gets Much Worse staff man reportedly has been given six months sabbatical to write the book. Granada Publishing have agreed to pay Mackenzie £20,000 and the Gets Much Worse has first option on serialisation rights. But Mackenzie is obviously a worried man; at the moment he monopolises access to Biggs and he is anxious to keep it that way. The Daily Mirror (May 11th) quoted Brazil’s leading newspaper, the Jornal do Brasil, as fiercely attacking both Biggs and Mackenzie: “Biggs, associated with Daily Express journalist Mackenzie, who acts like an impresario for him, is trying to charge fees for Press interviews as though he were a prominent statesman negotiating his memoirs. It should be made clear that a robber should not be mistaken for an English gentleman”.
The Daily Mail interview quotes Mackenzie as telling a BBC reporter, “He (Biggs) would be willing to talk about his experience in the past ten days but nothing else. But he will not talk to anyone for less than four figures. You realise this is the first time he has been officially free since 1963.”
At this point one of Mackenzie’s colleagues identifies himself as “The Minister of Finance” and says: “We have been offered five grand and we have refused it.” Mackenzie continues: “Before anything takes place there has to be strong evidence that he is going to get it (£5,000). There has to be firm evidence of a contract – everything has to be signed and sealed.”
No doubt Biggs has learned an expensive lesson from his last deal! From all of this Mackenzie’s role is quite clear. Yet it does not stop him or a mysterious “Michael O’Flaherty”, undoubtedly no relation to the aforementioned “Minister of Finance” – writing about Biggs for the Express as on May 6th when they began: “A woman wept today.”
It is believed that the Express does not pay £5,000 to speak to Mr Biggs.
All of this must stretch the trust of even the most credulous Express reader who recalls Deputy Editor Robin Esser’s original statement: “The Express never indulges in cheque-book journalism with convicted criminals. We have not paid Biggs a penny.”
Mackenzie, who was in the hotel room when Biggs was arrested, might be able to tell a somewhat different story.
Two other points can be made:
In “Biggs and Biggles” (Eye 318) we speculated that Biggs’ friend Constantine Beckendorff might have been the intermediary between Biggs and the Express in the first place. The likelihood of this being so is greatly increased by the news that Beckendorff was in Biggs’ room when the two Mail men visited Mackenzie and when he saw them said, “I am going to fetch some friends”, returning shortly afterwards with two distinctly unfriendly gentlemen. (According to the Sun of February 12th “Constantine contacted the Express with Ronnie’s approval”).
Finally, the Gets Much Worse may not be finally out of the wood. According to the Mail interview (May 11th) Biggs’ current reading matter consists of an obscure work entitled “Intestinal Fitness” and a heavily scored copy of Private Eye opened at an article entitled “Biggs and Biggles”. The man who outwitted Britain’s police force may well prove more than a match for Piranha Teeth and his minion Colin Mackenzie.
14th June 1974
Grovel reports: More news of the dramatic meeting between Daily Express editor Ian ‘Basil Brush’ McColl and Colin Mackenzie when the latter detailed the deal he had made with Ronnie Biggs for the Daily Express to buy, for £25,000 in the first instance, the account of his life on the run.
Much to Mackenzie’s amazement McColl was less than enthusiastic about the project. “Oh Colin,” he piped in his fetching Scottish accent, cupping his hands about his ears. “I wish you hadn’t told me any of that.”
The only mention of bookmakers Ladbrokes in Fleet Street gossip columns detailing Derby Day was in the Daily Getsmuchworse. It is pure coincidence, of course, that William Hickey hack James Whittaker availed himself of a free and expensive lunch in their box at Epsom, making a pig of himself on their vintage champagne and fresh salmon.
Alan “Plug ‘em all” Hall had better look to his laurels as the appalling Hickey also last week puffed champagne firm Moet et Chandon with similar gay abandon and even tried to stand up a freeload at the Achoris Gallery near Bond Street by writing that Salvador Dali was there. Mr Dali has not set foot in Britain since 1937 and believes he will die if he does.
28th June 1974
Miss Jean Rook would appear to be a mite overpaid at £10,000 a year if her powers of recognition are considered. At Royal Ascot’s opening day last week the appalling Rook first tried to interview Daily Mirror reporter Colin Dunne and finally capped her performance by waddling up to “Deep Throat” star Linda Lovelace and asking: “Who are you luv, and where do you come from?”
26th July 1974
I have more news of Ms Jean Rook, jokingly dubbed the “First Lady” by the Getsmuchworse. As a reward for her scintillating prose (for which she already receives a £10,000 a year salary), Ian 'Basil Brush' McColl has given her in addition a brand new Triumph Stag car with automatic aerial.
La Rook’s husband, a fairly anonymous Press Association reporter, has been able to purchase her old company car, an Austin Maxi, at what would seem to be advantageous terms.
9th August 1974
Cricket enthusiasts who take the Daily Express may have been surprised to find this summer that the honeyed prose style of Keith “The Golden” Miller missing from the back age for the first time in 15 years.
Aussie test immortal Miller duly arrived in England in April for the start of the season only to be informed by Ian “Basil Brush” McColl that his services were no longer required.
A dejected Miller – once a close personal friend of “Biggles” Aitken – has returned to the Antipodes: just another case of the Express intention to rid themselves of anyone with even the merest glimmer of talent.
23rd August 1974
IN THE CITY, by Slicker
Another epidemic of expensive sackings has recently convulsed the Daily Getsmuchworse, never exactly the most secure employment, and the Daily Mail.
First to go was financial journalist and share punter Tony Falshaw of the Getsmuchworse, remembered for his unsuccessful but luckily unpaid-for share dealings. Falshaw was sent to the fiftieth anniversary booze-up given on July 22nd by Marley, the tile firm. Among guests was not only the Grocer [the recently unseated Prime Minister Edward Heath], an old sailing chum of Marley boss Owen Aisher, but also Express editor Ian McColl.
Singing for his supper, Grocer took it upon himself to extol the virtues of free enterprise and, hardly surprisingly, Marley’s contribution. Falshaw returned from the junket and advanced the well-merited opinion that there was no story. This however did not accord with the view of ‘Basil Brush’ McColl who had insisted on a substantial and suitably grovelling report.
‘Words, words,’ he squeaked before reeling off into the night. To meet this demand from McHack the wretched Falshaw concocted a few meagre but unpublished paragraphs for the William Hickey gossip column.
The next day few if any papers carried any mention of the Marley beano. But this was not enough to save Falshaw from the wrath of McHack. For apparently Aisher rapidly expressed his severe disappointment to Sir ‘Biggles’ Aitken that no fulsome tribute to his firm had appeared. This disappointment was not unconnected with the two full pages of advertisements in the Getsmuchworse that day to mark the anniversary. Biggles and Basil quite rightly felt that they had been less than fair to such an esteemed and regular advertiser.
With no more ado Falshaw was summoned by McHack and told that should he have a burning desire to resign he would not be restrained.
However, having left almost every other City office, understandably Falshaw had no such wish. Instead he accused McHack of yet again adopting the beloved Express posture of arselicking the advertiser. At this Basil withdrew the invitation to resign and sacked the presumptuous punter. The end result is the departure last week of a sadder but £6,000 wiser Falshaw.
At the Mail it was Falshaw’s ex-colleague, deputy city editor Peter Wainwright who has felt the blade of bossman Patrick Sergeant’s axe. His crime, it is alleged, was to write in less than ecstatic terms about Debenham’s - a store beloved by Sergeant and the Mail-owning Harmsworths.
His words of faint praise were not to the liking of Debenham’s chairman Sir Anthony Burney who rightly believes that journalists should know their place (mouthpieces of captains of industry such as himself) who complained bitterly to the Mail.
Wainwright was sacked after being summoned to a friendly holiday drink with Sergeant at the Ritz where the Mail director does his hiring and, apparently, firing. He leaves with a £5,000 reward for many years of service. In his place Sergeant appointed late last month one Roger Nuttall who knows his place as a hack from some experience of lackey training as a PR man.
It is reassuring to know that the City columns of the Express and Mail are still redoubts of fearless and frank comment.
6th September 1974
Grovel writes: The appointment of a new editor at the Getsmuchworse will come as no surprise to my readers.
What is surprising is the choice of Alisdair [sic] Burnet, the 57-year-old somewhat emotional bore who presides over the BBC’s Pandemonium programme.
Burnet, whose knowledge of economics is said to be adequate, has not agreed to take over at the helm of the Titanic for peanuts.
I understand he will receive at least £35,000 p.a. compared to Basil Brush’s £14,000, and that his five-year contract is watertight and guarantees him about £100,000 in the event of unseen circumstances depriving him of a job.
20th September 1974
Grovel writes: Overheard - Piranha to inquirer: ‘What is now going to happen to the Express? All the top people are going to be replaced.’ It is not clear whether Jocelyn Stevens was including himself.
Economist associates of Alasdair Brunette, 46-year-old editor-elect of the Getsmuchworse, always found him a difficult man to pin down during afternoons as he tended to lock himself into his St James’s Street offices and declare himself incommunicado.
It was only discovered when a new appointee burst in to discover Brunette, large malt whisky in hand, watching the televised horse racing from Newbury and placing a hefty credit wager with his bookmaker that his ghastly secret was revealed. Beware Piranha and Messrs Ladbrokes.
4th October 1974
Grovel writes: Further bad news for the mentally anthropoid staff of the Daily Getsmuchworse still reeling from the appointment of Alasdair Brunette as their editor. Sycophantic (and very unattractive) acolyte George Ffitch is joining Brunette from The Economist to Chateau Despair.
1st November 1974
Grovel claims: The going is tough in Fleet Street these days occasioning moonlighting by underpaid journalists. William Hickey pen-pusher Ross Benson, who claims to have been at Gordonstoun with Prince Charles, doubles as a carpet salesman, and the Daily Mirror’s showbusiness correspondent Sid Williams has a sweet shop in Shepperton and is often to be found serving behind the counter.
15th November 1974
There seems to be some confusion at Chateau Despair over the identity of the new Daily Getsmuchworse editor Alasdair Brunette, the malt whisky swilling, gambling former editor of The Economist.
Getsmuchworse employees at first thought he was Al Burnett, an old friend of Sir Max Aitken, and owner of Swallow Street clip joint The Stork Room.
I am able to clear up the mystery - Stork Room Al is no longer with us, having been called to higher duty a year or so ago.
29th November 1974
The first casualty of the Alisdair Brunette-George Ffitch regime at the Daily Getsmuchworse has been the obese figure of Brian Vine, suitably titled the ass editor.
Brunette-groupie Ffitch was assigned to share an office with Vine but soon tired of his curious personal habits. Vine has now been ejected from the corridors of power and can be found stalking the newsroom in search of a desk and work. Judging by his crass and inept A-Z of the Aristocracy which last week embarrassed even Express readers, he could end up whence he came - No3 on Hickey.