9th January 1976
The start of the year saw the first Street of Shame column but, for once, the Express did not feature in it.
Grovel, aka Nigel Dempster, who had left the William Hickey column for the Daily Mail 12 months previously, writes: I hear my old friend Geoffrey Levy is shortly to be removed as editor of the Daily Express’s William Hickey column.
Geoffrey has struggled for more than a year to turn into silken prose the avalanche of offal which descends on his desk each day from the motley collection of hacks who comprise his ‘staff’.
On Hickey there are men who have lived off the fat of Fleet Street for years, each collecting over £100 a week in wages, rarely under £50 in ‘expenses’, and what they can pay themselves or their relatives for ‘stories’. Yet their names are not known to the public. Hacks like Peter Tory (son of the British Ambassador to Malta), a former actor in rep who claims once to have discussed Uganda with Julie Christie; Graham Brigstoke, who is styled ‘Birthday Editor’ because noting people’s birthdays appears to be the only thing he does on Hickey; Rosalie Horner, a Sheila from Down Under with a killing way with the English language; likeable buffoon James Whittaker, who spends much of his time (and expenses) with Joe Coral; and Ross Benson, whose chance of succeeding Mr Levy may have been spoiled by an unfortunate scene in which he shouted ‘FAG!’ at the editor Alistair Brunette. (He was shouting down the corridor for the Hickey ‘boy’ and Mr Brunette weaved round the corner. ‘I did not go to that kind of school,’ Brunette protested, ‘or, if you mean the other kind of fag, I do not have those inclinations.’)
So who is to rule this posse of comedians? The job has all but killed great men like Richard Berens, who was driven one day to thrown their overcoats and briefcases out of the second-floor window in a pathetic attempt to be rid of the hacks.
My fancy is that the next William Hickey editor will be a woman. Looking into my crystal ball I see her seated in a newspaper office on the ‘unsunny’ side of Fleet Street. Their she is engaged in pleasing an editor whose lifelong interest has been in self-service laundries. She is raven of hair and pretty of countenance. And I believe her name is Anthea Disney.
[As Lord Drone recalls, the job went to Benson.]
Despite making an unexpected 1975 profit, Beaverbrook Newspapers appear unable to pay off Walter Terry, the erstwhile Political Editor of the Daily Getsmuchworse whose services were dispensed with during the summer.
Terry has been telling friends that not only are they unwilling to settle his three-year contract at £15,000 per annum – but since October 31 he has not received a penny in salary either.
6th February, 1976
A bunch of Fleet Street hacks on patrol in South Armagh met up with the Rev Ian Paisley.
Realising that he was rather far away from his Protestant parish, they asked him what business he was about.
‘I’m on God’s business,’ replied the Rev Paisley, ‘fuck off.’
20th February 1976
At 5.15pm on February 6th, the purposeful figure of the Hon Sir Max Aitken, Bt, chairman of Beaverbrook Newspapers, was to be found in the unlikely environs of Waterloo Station. Accompanied only by a senior circulation representative, Sir Max approached an Evening Standard seller, introducing himself, he said: ‘Do not believe what you hear about this paper being a dead duck. This is an excellent paper. Mr Jocelyn Stevens has been under some strain and I have sent him home for four days. I want you to tell other sellers that this paper will continue to prosper.’
Sir Max, who celebrated his 66th birthday last weekend, was referring to the extraordinary statement Jocelyn ‘Piranha Teeth’ Stevens had given the Daily Telegraph.
Somewhat tried and emotional after the lengthy celebrations for the Evening Standard Drama Awards, Stevens had returned to his office to learn that no copies of the Standard would be appearing that evening owing to union action and immediately threw one of the fits he has become famous for.
A hack from the Telegraph telephoned for his comments and the expansive Piranha issued the ‘dead duck’ and ‘chances for the Evening Standard are 100 to one against’ quotes. The following morning Sir Max ordered him home and, indeed, his secretary told all callers that he would not be back for four days.
On February 4th there was a publishing meeting between Beaverbrook management and FoCs of the Inside Chapel and when matters under discussion couldn’t be solved, Stevens was summoned from his office.
He duly made a spectacular entrance by bursting through the door and roundly abusing union officials in largely incoherent terms. One official became so incensed he responded by hurling a chair at the Piranha’s head – it missed and shattered a screen. Another official shouted that he had a wife and four children and would not see his livelihood imperilled by a ‘f**cking amateur’.
It was shortly after this scene that Stevens issued the statements to the Daily Telegraph, which were published the following morning, allowing the Evening News to publish placards that the rival was a ‘dead duck’.
5th March 1976
There were some cheap sniggers among the hacks during Brenda’s visit last week to Chateau Despair.
Especially when Her Majesty was shown the new printing machinery by a grovelling Piranha – whose hair, incidentally, has turned quite white as a result of recent events.
Biggles duly explained to Brenda that as a result of the new machines – bought by Piranha for some £6 million – he was completely broke.
He did not say that no-one can make them work properly.
16th April 1976
In its panic efforts to keep afloat, the Daily Express has summarily sacked its City Editor, John Roberts. The Express’s new editor, Roy Wright, called Roberts in a week before the Budget and told him to clear his desk and go.
The reason for the decision to do without the man who exposed Sir Denys Lowson’s £5,000 rip-off (a feat proprietor Sir Max Aitken boasted of after hiring Roberts some two years ago) was complaints from the financial advertising department. The admen moaned that there were not enough ‘puffs’ for likely advertisers in the City page.
‘Biggles’ and Express managing director Jocelyn ‘Piranha’ Stevens, though having no editorial criticisms, agreed.
So Roberts was paid off with a reputed £20,000 plus and replaced by his deputy. He thereby joins a small army of departures from the Black Lubianka. Those clutching fat cheques include leader writer John Thompson and reporter John Harrison.
Grovel writes: For posing for a spread of pictures for the Daily Getsmuchworse Yvonne’s [Princess Margaret’s] travelling companion Roddy Llewellyn demanded – and received – a cash payment of £6,000.
But no fool Roddy; he asked for it in used, unmarked notes to be brought under plain cover to the farmhouse where his Upper Class gang of dropouts greedily counted the swag before presenting themselves for snapping.
Alas, I have bad news for Roddy. In usual fashion (viz Ronald Biggs vs Alistair McColl) [sic] the Getsmuchworse have welched and forwarded the transaction to HM Inspector of Taxes.
30th April 1976
Grovel: William Hickey believes he has solved part of the Daily Express’s can’t-get-much-worse problem. He has hired at £9,000 a year including expenses a young man to get high-class gossip for the paper, barrister-turned-earwigger Richard Compton Miller.
Alas, Compton Miller (Compton is pronounced like Brumleigh in Kent) is 23 years too late for his own best family story. During the Westminster Abbey Coronation and the lusty singing of God Save the Queen, a curious noise was heard from under his mother’s fur coat.
‘Have you got Richard in there?’ asked his father, a High Court Master.
‘No,’ came the reply. It was the family's pet chihuahua.
28th May 1976
Grovel writes: After a month or two at the helm of the SS Daily Getsmuchworse , Roy ‘Gums’ Wright is finally broadening his social horizons.
He has been put up for membership of The Reform, proposed and seconded by his ill-fated predecessor at the Palace of Panic Alastair Brunette and ggroupie George Ffitch.
For the last five years Wright has feasted daily - alone - at Mr Natural, a seedy hamburger joint in Ludgate Circus.
Och what have we here?
Wislon [Prime Minister Harold Wilson] is suing John Junor, canny editor and columnist of the Sunday Express, for some observation JJ wrote concerning the wizard’s absurd South African ramblings.
What may not be generally known is that for many years the two have been good friends.
JJ even offered Wislon, then a Sunday Express contributor, the Cross Bencher column once.
And the wizard was guest of honour at the 50th anniversary banquet of the paper at the Savoy.
‘Lt Col’ Frederick Cheeseman finally broke down in an office of the Daily Getsmuchworse after several hours of offers of large drinks and small cheques.
After his emotional ‘confession’ had tumbled out he alarmed the hacks by standing up and declaring: ‘This isn’t a newspaper office, it’s a cathedral. I am purged.’
11th June 1976
Vintners of First Avenue be warned!
Loan merchants in Manhattan take a vacation.
Racegoers at New York’s Aqueduct racecourse keep your heads down!
I refer, of course, to the imminent return to America of the Daily Express’s most celebrated wine expert – Brian (let’s have another glass of) Vine. He is being sent there to replace the awful jockette Ivor Key and, it is thought, as Piranha Denture’s gesture to the Bi-Centennial celebrations.
On this occasion, however, the costs incurred by the mighty Fleet Street figure are being closely monitored.
No-one wants a repeat of his behaviour last time, when the paper was saddled (sorry) with the cost of transporting to the New World an ageing racehorse which Vine finally had to have put down.
25th June 1976
The hot weather has been having a strange effect on my counterpart at the Daily Mirror Paul Callan.
Recently Mr Callan returned to his office after a heavy and emotional lunch.
Removing all his clothes, he proceeded to insert a sprig of holly into his anus.
When a colleague remonstrated, the overtired columnist replied: ‘I always do this on a Wednesday.’
‘But today is Tuesday,’ said the colleague.
‘Then I must be going mad!’ Callan exclaimed illogically.
Street of Shame
The first industry to feel the burden of the collapsing £ is Fleet Street. Last year’s newsprint import bill was a staggering £230 million. This year has already seen two price rises, one of 8% in May and another of 10% to take effect from August 1. But in the wake of the £’s gurgling disappearance, the Finnish suppliers have now told their British customers that they must either pay in hard currencies or face another 8% rise this summer. Last week even the usually-prosperous Daily Telegraph was so stunned that its managing director HM Stephen, publicly admitted that if the price rise continued then ‘we'll all go broke’.
The impact is easiest to see on one particular paper, the threatened Guardian, whose ludicrous gaffe over the South African embassy and the porn film has already aborted its feeble recovery in circulation. The Guardian had budgeted for a £2,600,000 loss in the current financial year. The May newsprint increase took the scheduled loss over £3 million. The August price rise will take it to £3,500,000 – and the Finnish demands for sterling-proof guarantee payments raise the appalling prospect of a £4 million loss for the Guardian this year. £1 million of that loss will be the cost of the Guardian’s move to new premises in the Farringdon Road this August – a financial blow which has already meant shelving plans for new office furniture and equipment.
But the Guardian is not alone – not one Fleet Street daily now expects to make a profit this year, with the exception of The Sun. It is widely feared that advertising rates have hit their ceiling and all eyes are on The Times’s circulation figures after its decision to leap the natural barrier of a 10p cover price and sell at 12p. The newsprint price rise will hit the big-circulation newspapers worst, and to save the Mail and the Express, Beaverbrook Newspapers and Associated Newspapers have held meetings on the future of their respective evening papers, the Standard and the News. By the end of this year, the likelihood is that one or both will close, with an outside bet on an amalgamated new paper based on the old two. The difficulty is to decide which of the two groups, Beaverbrook or Associated, will print it and thus achieve the desired round-the-clock operation of its printing presses. Beaverbrook’s new machinery makes it the natural choice.
PS: The Government’s vague promise of £55 million aid to the printing industry has already been offset by this year’s newsprint price rise.
15th October 1976
Grovel writes: These are worrying times for the gossip hacks of Grub Street. The Mirror and the Evening News, realising that there is no place in modern society for these columns of trivia, have already redeployed hundreds of thirsty hacks to more useful tasks – such as rewriting PR handouts.
Meanwhile poor old Nigel Dempster has gone off to Nairobi to look at giraffes.
Now Alison Miller, lovely blonde Ms Hickey on the Getsmuchworse, has been given the old heave-ho, £15,000 and a 1275 GT Mini.
‘I hope that she and the car end up in the Thames,’ quipped Piranha Teeth before unveiling his new Meisterplan, codenamed ‘Super Dwarf’, which involves Getsmuchworse editor Roy ‘You Can’t Always Be’ Wright hiring a small round Scottish scrivener called Peter McKay for £10,000 and all the Swan lager that he can drink – which I am told is a lot.
McKay, a man of blameless character, is obviously taking his new job very seriously. Last week I found him in a darkened corner of a sleazy joint dining with Anthony Haden-Guest.
PS: I would be grateful if all the recently sacked and unwanted hacks would stop writing to Lord Gnome asking for my job.
•Lord Drone writes: I recall that Alison Miller only got her generous pay-off and Mini 1275GT after Express journalists held a long mandatory chapel meeting which threatened to halt production of that night’s paper. Few of us had our hearts in the protest but the management eventually caved in as usual.
29th October 1976
Street of Shame
The search for elusive Nazi favourite Martin Boorman continues unabated in the newsroom of the Evening Standard, despite an abortive attempt earlier this year to expose the ageing fugitive in a breaker’s yard near Norwich.
This time the trail has led to his secretary Elsa Kruger, alive and well and living in Cambridge with her husband, a former British Army intelligence officer. Anticipating the scoop of the century, dapper ES reporter Stephen Clarkson was dispatched to Hamburg and Berlin. (A mission so secret that not even deputy news editor Philip ‘Tonto’ Evans was told about it.)
Meanwhile back in Cambridge, intrepid photographer Maurice Hibberd was staked out, complete with telescopic lens, in the bushes of the unfortunate Elsa’s home, from whence he returned triumphant, armed with several rolls of ‘exclusive’ film after a two-week surreptitious stint.
Unfortunately both pictures and story have been quashed by Sir Charles Mostyn Wintour, who being a man of the highest principles, felt the mission was an unwarranted intrusion of privacy on the grounds that Miss Kruger would be dragged unnecessarily through the mire 26 years after the event.
This episode has led to a deterioration in relations between the ES hierarchy and news editor Stuart ‘Scoop’ Kuttner who has been heard complaining bitterly about the Standard’s ‘unprofessional’ editorial policies.
29th October 1976
Grovel writes: All this talk of takeovers puts me in mind of a conversation I overheard a year ago when Rupert ‘Bare’ Murdoch was trying to buy the Evening Standard.
It went something like this:
Digger: ‘How much?’
Piranha Teeth (for it was he): ‘£2 million – it’s a going concern you know.’
Digger: ‘Why should I pay £2 million now when I can pick it up for £250,000 in two years time when it’s dead?’
12th November 1976
Since being hired as William Hickey by the Daily Getsalittlebetter, tubby Scottish hack Peter McKay is having a hard time.
He has been heard bemoaning the fact that in his first three days in the job he has had at least four writs.
Meanwhile McHackey is so desperate for material that he has been reduced to plundering old Grovel columns.
Shame on ye!
24th December 1976
Grovel writes: The Earl of Lauderdale’s lovely daughter Lady Olga Maitland is doing a fine job as the Sunday Express’s gossip hackette.
But she must be careful of venality. In recent weeks she has received a brace of partridge from John Cordle and a mouth organ from Larry Adler.
New record sums are being paid in redundancies by Father Christmas Rupert Murdoch.
Sun hackette Alex Palmer and her boyfriend Bob Coole, features editor of the rag, have just been paid £52,000 between them to leave the building.
Everyone had got fed up with their bickering.
Just fancy that!