10th January 1975
World of Wine
The Street of Ink, as Fleet Street used to be known, seems to be running with acid just now because of the quarrel between its two main drinking establishments. These are respectively: El Vino, the famous wine bar where men have to wear ties and women must be accompanied by a man. It is owned by two brothers, David and Christopher Mitchell, the first – known as the Barman MP – is Tory member for Basingstoke, and the second is an aspiring alderman for the City of London.
The other main Fleet Street drinking hole, especially popular with the thirsty hacks of the Daily Express, is the weirdly named City Golf Club. Because of its club nature it does particularly well in the afternoon gap between opening times when some of Fleet Street’s most fearless journalists can be seen there doing ‘in depth research’ and ‘exhaustive surveys of British public opinion’.
For many years the success of El Vino was largely down to a barman and business partner Geoffrey Van Hay, whose affable manner with customers did much to compensate for the sombre mien of the Mitchells and for the brusqueness of the over-worked waitresses.
Then Van Hay went to the USA, returning to London in February this [sic] year. He took a job as joint managing director of the City Golf Club, whose boss Robin Arbuthnot and he wanted to start a wine shipping outfit at 149 Fleet Street, which would also (like El Vino) include a bar.
However this idea did not appeal to the managers of El Vino which stands only 138 yards away. Although Mr Van Hay rang up El Vino to tell them what he was doing, even offering to sell their wine, he was met with some coldness. This was increased when Derek Marks, former editor of the Daily Express and a regular El Vino patron, bought some champagne through Van Hay rather than the Mitchells.
According to Mr van Hay he was told by Christopher Mitchell that he could never come back to El Vino even as a customer.
Then Mr Van Hay encountered delays in his application to license the new establishment which he had planned to open this month (December).
According to Mr Van Hay he was told by Christopher Mitchell: ‘We are the only wine merchants in the City of London and I don’t think anyone else could do us any harm. But as a matter of principle I think we should stop you.’
Although we do not suggest that Mr Mitchell abused his influence as a Common Councillor of the City, the licence has not been granted and has therefore stopped Mr Van Hay’s hopes for the lucrative Christmas trade.
10th January 1975
… full blast of his temper. Some of the people he hired he turned against almost immediately and made them suffer by humiliating them. Visitors to the offices of The Queen magazine were often obliged to pick their way over debs crying on the stairs after a scene with Jocelyn.
From a profile of Jocelyn Stevens in the Sunday Times Magazine 5 January 1975
It had been well known among the employees of the Express newspaper that their boss, handsome Jocelyn ‘Piranha Teeth’ Stevens had spent his youth as the ward of a solicitor following the death of his mother soon after giving birth. It was not known until recently that this guardian was none other than John Brooks, the ‘spanking colonel’ who was recently given the sum of a halfpenny in damages by the Sunday People, which had described his unusual habits.
Our psychiatrist writes: It is thought that the early influence of a declared flogger may account for Mr Stevens’ later habit of dressing himself in jackboots which he normally wears beneath his trouser legs. Possibly the influence of a flagellant who was at the same time a man of boastful military rank, may account for the martial discipline brought by Mr Stevens to the Beaverbrook organisation.
The delight shown by Mr Brooks in spanking girls’ bottoms may be paralleled by Mr Stevens’ evident relish in the less violent perversion known in medical circles as ‘sacking’ or ‘firing’. (See Freud, Havelock Ellis, Fraft-Ebbing and other standard reference books).
Grovel writes: Hints of dark deeds have followed the Daily Express Sportsman of the Year competition last November when readers’ votes elected British Lions captain Willie John McBride. It seems that the overwhelming winner when voting closed was John Conteh, the World Light-Heavyweight Champion, but the choice did not exactly please Sir Max Aitken, and, hey presto, two more sacks of votes were discovered which duly tipped the balance in McBride’s favour. It is totally untrue that there is a colour bar at Chateau Despair.
7th February 1975
Fans of Jocelyn Stevens may soon have the opportunity to see their blond Adonis hero perform in the industrial court. An action is being brought by the Evening Standard’s former Head Printer, Mr David S Smith, for wrongful dismissal from his £8,000-a-year post just before Christmas.
Mr Smith maintains that he was sacked by the Piranha despite enjoying the previous full confidence of Beaverbrook top management as proved by a whole series of congratulatory memos.
He will suggest that the real reason for his dismissal was the report he produced on the planned integration of the Evening Standard and the Daily Getsmuchworse in the extended Black Lubyanka HQ on Fleet Street, a pet project of the Piranha, which he shows to be impracticable.
Letter to Private Eye from Charles Wintour, editor of the Evening Standard
You recently published a Grovel paragraph making the offensive suggestion that I was giving employment on the Evening Standard to various people in a vain attempt to marry off my older daughter.
You have also suggested in a subsequent paragraph, equally offensive, that I am handing out Beaverbrook largesse to Peter Forster in return for free holidays in the South of France.
I am advised by counsel that these statements are highly defamatory, cannot be justified and that proceedings would result in substantial damages and costs.
However, I retain a lingering affection and respect for other parts of Private Eye and have no desire to add unnecessarily to your problems. If, therefore, you publish this letter intact and without comment I will let the present matter drop.
Grovel is largely the work of Nigel Dempster, the gossip columnist of the Daily Mail, according to a profile in Harpers & Queen aptly entitled The Scum Also Rises. (Mr Dempster vetted the text of this article for publication.)
You are probably not aware that some 10 years ago Mr Dempster, who had contributed an occasional paragraph to the Londoner’s Diary, sought to write on a more regular basis. I refused his application. His subsequent career has given me no cause for regret.
Mr Dempster’s resentment at my decision appears to be the strange origin of Grovel’s shoddy little vendetta. I think you should now give it a rest.
Editor, Evening Standard, 47 Shoe Lane, EC4
From Nigel Dempster, Moscow
Even at this great distance, my attention has been drawn to an offensive item in the Grovel column concerning Miss Anna Wintour and myself. My lawyers, Messrs Malenkov, Beria and Rasputin, advise me that I have a prima facie case should I wish to sue. But as I retain a lingering affection and respect for Private Eye I will desist if you print this letter intact.
It is true that the lady and I were good friends but, when marriage was discussed, I was forced to discard the idea owing to the parlous state of her father’s finances (my ambition is to marry a millionairess) and the grubby nature of the profession he followed.
Naturally you will appreciate that the item caused considerable offence to a great artiste like myself.
Nigel Dempster (Chef de Ballet)
Bolshoi Ballet School, Bolshoi Theatre,
Sverdlov Square No2,
21st March 1975
Grovel writes: The star is not in the ascendant for bluff Brian Vine who shot up in three short years from No3 on the Daily Getsmuchworse William Hickey column to become Associate Editor in charge of news.
Beaverbrook lackeys are even now scrutinising his enormous expenses following a recent trip to Kenya, ostensibly to get Princess Elizabeth of Toro to pout out her wretched tale to him and the dwindling band of Express readers.
Despite paying her former escort David Wynne-Morgan, the well-known Fleet Street public relations man, to effect an introduction, Vine returned without having so much of a glimpse of the dusky stateswoman.
Worse yet was to come on his return. On the day of the Moorgate Tube disaster, he left the office before lunch to go racing at Newbury.
4th April 1975
Grovel: Alastair Brunette and his ever-present groupie George Ffitch have before them a dazzling new plan to save the Daily Express: total abolition of both the Paris and New York offices. I do hope it succeeds for God knows there has been great suffering in Chateau Despair. Old Johnny Coote tells me he had a devil of a fight to get his £40,000 when he was kicked out earlier this month – he even had to threaten legal action. And the Legal Manager, the once dapper Andrew Edwards, is so short of ‘readies’ that he has taken to collecting the tops of lager cans at the City Golf Club. Over at the Evening Standard the cartoonist Jak has been shouting the odds about more money. He wants his £35,000 to be increased to bring him into line with the printers. The management have bought Jak a cabin cruiser on which to entertain his floozies and he has gratefully named it Sir Max.
16th May 1975
As Sir Max Aitken awoke from the anaesthesia following his prostectomy [sic] operation in King’s College Hospital, the 65-year-old Romeo’s eyes focussed on the shapely form of his private nurse. Despite his weakened condition, the lecherous Biggles could not resist a quick lurch which, I am told, was not received with any marked enthusiasm.
Perhaps the nurse’s resistance to the approaches of Sir Max can be best explained by the fact that she is Judy Brodie – whose husband Ian lost his job as editor of the Scottish Daily Express when Biggles closed the paper down last year. She has been forced to take up nursing to make ends meet.
16th May 1975
In the course of the last year the national press has lost 800,000 copies per day and 20 per cent of their classified ads. Although newsprint costs are beginning to fall slightly, the overall costs – including wages and salaries – have risen by 40 per cent in the last year.
Beaverbrook is in the worst trouble, with debts of £11.4million, and the £1.5million profit they boast of this year is made up of a £750,000 cheque for overpaid tax from the Inland Revenue and £924,548 from the Scottish Daily Express for the premises of the old Scottish Daily Express. Classified advertising in the Manchester and Scottish editions is down 38 per cent on last year and the prime reason the Express management is not closing down the Manchester office is because they cannot afford the redundancy payments. (The group could only pay the redundancy money to the Scottish Daily Express employees through selling the Evening Citizen to Fraser).
As the Piranha told a group of chapel fathers (shop stewards): ‘If we close Manchester we have no money to pay redundancies which could cost millions of pounds … If one of the banks called in their loans, the Receiver could not raise the money.’
Nor has Beaverbrook’s attempts to diversify the group’s activities been notably successful. The major new drive was into property – in particular a £5million investment in a Bristol office development. According to Piranha: ‘Although it is a top priority for us to dispose of our non-newspaper assets we have not yet succeeded in disposing of a single one – property is almost unsaleable at the moment, especially office buildings which are not completed … it is not a question of not being offered enough money, we are being offered nothing.’
Apart from a wild Piranha scheme to offer to print the Daily Mail and the Evening News on Beaverbrook presses, his only new initiative was the one which horrified the chapel fathers.
‘There might come a moment when the Evening Standard has to be offered for sale to some other company.’ The Standard’s current sale figure of 509,000 – against the increasing feeble competition of the Evening News – make the Standard a less than attractive purchase. (So dependent on the cash cheque from the Scottish Daily News that when the Standard’s Londoner’s Diary had a scoop that Robert Maxwell was to be fired from all executive positions by the workers on the Scottish Daily News, editor Sir Charles Mostyn Wintour personally spiked the story – lest it delay payment of the vital cheque).
The Sunday People is still threatened with extinction by the harassed bosses of IPC, because it competes directly with IPC’s Sunday Mirror and guzzles far more newsprint. This would affect the Guardian which planned to use the People’s presses after its scheduled move to Farringdon Road.
The Guardian’s price jump to 10p last week was forced prematurely on the management which had planned to keep the price at 8p until after the Referendum, hoping to win more readers away from the faltering Times. The Guardian has still not recovered the 20,000 readers it lost after the October election. The first reports of the new week at 10p gave an estimate of another 25,000 drop in sales. Already budgeting for a £1.5million loss this year, the Guardian can no longer rely on its stablemate, the Manchester Evening News, to cover the losses. The MEN has lost another 12,000 in circulation this year, and has seen a 28 per cent fall in its classified ads section.
Another change appears likely at the Sunday Times, which has lost 150,000 circulation (10 per cent of its sales) in the last year. The Colour Magazine alone made a loss of £100,000 in the first nine weeks of this year. (The likeliest fall guy is the recently-appointed editor of the once-prestigious Insight column, Simon Jenkins, former features editor of the Standard. After a particularly bad ‘Insight’ last month senior editor Colonel Bruce Page screamed that Jenkins was ‘not fit to edit Spectrum’ and only the support of Ron ‘Badger’ Hall has kept Jenkins employed. Hall’s motives for attracting the abysmal Jenkins to the ST in the first place are now thought to include his own ambition to edit the Evening Standard. This naturally means that the Badger has to remove all potential rivals for the job.)
As Fleet Street grows weaker daily, the vultures are beginning to hover. First to appear was Washington Post/Newsweek tycoon Kate Graham, whose recent visit to London included talks with senior Telegraph group executives about buying her way in. Anti-trust regulations in the US keep Kate Graham from expanding on that shore of the Atlantic, and she sees the Telegraph as the healthiest spearhead she could yet acquire. In particular she believes that the painfully unprofitable Observer will not long survive the Hon David Astor’s retirement in 18 months’ time, and that the Sunday Telegraph could then be poised to challenge the Sunday Times for the potentially-profitable quality Sunday market. Senior Sunday Times executives are terrified at the prospect.
19th September 1975
Grovel writes: Jocelyn ‘Piranha Teeth’ Stevens is tiring of his boy-racer image and wants to sell his black-windowed, souped-up Ford Escort JS9 - complete with “go-fast’ stripe.
Prospective purchasers can check the thing out at his regular parking place outside the Black Lubianka in Fleet Street, where he leaves it while he pops out the back way.
17th October 1975
I salute that old contemporary of mine John Junor. The canny Scotsman has, as of this month, been editing the Sunday Express for 21 years.
Bob Edwards, an old friend of Junor’s, tells the story of the day JJ bought a special dog whistle as a birthday present for Lord Beaverbrook (the old devil had just purchased a dog.)
The whistle, one of those which only dogs can hear, was made of silver by Asprey’s. The Beaver tore off the wrapping, thrust the instrument into his mouth, and blew hard. No sound.
‘Mr Junor,’ he snarled, ‘has bought me a whistle. And it does not work.’
14th November 1975
I fear the days of Alistair Brunette and his groupie George Ffitch may be numbered at the Daily Express.
The ageing TV idol’s impact on the paper can be said to have been almost entirely negative. So much so that senior executives now become mist-eyed at the mere mention of the last editor Basil Brush.
Brunette’s contract is apparently up for renewal this month and it is said that he has offered to be sacked – not such a generous offer when you consider that it will cost the Express £100,000 to get rid of him.
He has also a painful personal problem – shingles.
My colleague ‘A Doctor’ writes: ‘This painful malady is often caused by nerves, overwork and inadequate nourishment.’
12th December 1975
The full-page tribute to Beachcomber by the Daily Express on November 29 may have struck a somewhat ironical note with the great man himself.
Recently J B Morton (alias ‘Beachcomber’) wrote to the editor of the Daily Express, Mr Alistair Brunette, to complain about the way his copy was constantly being cut and even on occasion omitted.
The immortal name J B Morton which appeared at the foot of the letter meant nothing to the tired Brunette. He assumed that the letter had come from a disgruntled Beachcomber fan and passed it on to the man who deals with readers’ letters.
This person, in due course, sent a reply to Morton on the following lines: ‘Dear Mr Merton [sic]. Thank you for your expression of interest in the Beachcomber column. You should know that the man who writes this is getting on a bit and is not as good as he was etc, etc. Yours …'
26th December 1975
Grovel writes: I hear that clever Jocelyn Stevens and his brilliant editor Alistair Brunette have managed to lose even more of the Daily Express’s readers, and the organ is settling down nicely to a figure just above 2,500,000.
You must remember that only a few years ago more than 4,000,000 idiots bought the paper.
Champion of the Oxford pooves, the Rev Martin de Porres Ashmore, has failed in his attempt to get the Press Council to censure the Sunday Express editor Mr J Junor.
Junor, in his JJ column, had commended the landlord of the Gloucester Arms, Oxford, for ejecting some of the more outrageous pooves from his premises.
Pooves have now found a surprising new ally in the shape of WH Smith.
When Junor wrote a paragraph recently attacking Smugg for selling homosexual Gay News, Smith’s issued an immediate ultimatum – no more attacks of this kind or the Express papers would suffer.
Monopolies Commission, please note.