Star Trek Part 4 
I came from a land down under

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             The late Lloyd Turner: Charismatic with a raucous laugh          Picture: GETTY


By JEFF CONNOR

Lloyd Turner was a jolly chappy with a regular smile, a raucous laugh and charismatic, none of which (unusual for an editor back then) was ever fueled by drink.

He was sober by choice and necessity, though he must have missed it. In one of those daft discussions in morning conference about who’d win a drinking contest between Ollie Reed and George Best the implication by Lloyd was that he could have seen off both.

‘Small beer,’ he said, rather wistfully, before admitting in his Express days three bottles of champagne was norm for him and his buddy Peter Tory; an odd couple for sure, but what a party that must have been.

At the Star Lloyd was our Aussie mate: one of the boys. He liked to go up-close and personal with staff and made a point of knowing, and using, first names. He invented the Star’s daily herograms he posted on the wall outside his office which, trite as it seems, did wonders for morale.

A few hated him. One sports editor, of the three I served with, despised him so much he gave up the role and went subbing down-table instead. Roy Greenslade, our everlasting chronicler of the Fourth Estate, has nothing good to say about him, though he hardly knew him. Greenslade left the Star the year Lloyd arrived, so his dislike may have been formed at the Express where Lloyd was night editor. 

This was a different Lloyd, though, so I’ll guess Roy had probably been promised a company car or a pay rise and Lloyd had failed to deliver. This was a regular whinge from senior staff.

Others thought the world of him, notably Kelvin MacKenzie who worked with him at the Express, Paul Burnell at the Star and Neil Wallis (though Lloyd never quite forgave him for leaving for The Sun).

I admired him, though not necessarily as an editor because he was too often led by others with their own agendas, a fault that was to be his ultimate downfall.  

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Lloyd Turner, centre in glasses on the backbench of the Daily Express in the late 1970s. Also pictured from left are: Ken Weller, David Laws, Ian Benfield and Brian Izzard

After the mad-house days and nights of Peter Grimsditch and the non-editing months of Derek Jameson, Lloyd certainly brought a sense of professionalism to the office which isn’t always a positive. 

A healthy profit from a newspaper needs staff to fire it and rivals soon began to poach the best, notably Wallis (Sun) and James Whitaker (Mirror). The daily product was good but there was too much reliance on follow-ups or disastrous buy-outs (the £4k paid to one of the Yorkshire Ripper’s surviving victims before the trial comes most to mind).

The greatest ‘exclusive’ to my mind was Peter Batt’s piece about Muhammad Ali's battle with Parkinson’s. Batty, as we all know, had his own battles and was eventually sacked after his various fiascos at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

The Manchester newsroom in the mid-80s was professional all right but full of too many wannabe Joe Lamptons: ambitious, go-getters we’d call them today.

For 10 years I sat facing the unsmiling, frowning features of Peter Hill 20 feet away and I swear he never moved from the same desk: he was there when I arrived and there when I left. It was no surprise when he was made editor of the Star, and later the Express, and no real surprise, either, when he turned both papers into copies of Reveille and the National Enquirer. His alliance with Richard Desmond seemed a marriage made in heaven.

The final years of the Star (anything post ‘89 doesn’t count for me) always reminds me of The Magnificent Ambersons, the film about the decline and fall of a once-proud family brought to its knees by a combination of greed and ineptitude. 

In the summer of 1987 I was in Paris for the last day of the Tour de France (why a non-cycling sub was given that job is a different story altogether). I’d just finished filing when a copy-taker called Tommy who many will remember (‘usual spelling of Neuilly-sur-Seine?’) gave me the latest house gossip, as copy-takers tended to do. Lloyd Turner was due in court to testify in the Star v Archer libel case, he said before adding: ‘The Star is going to lose it. There was some sort of cock-up by the back bench.’ 

…………………………

Some believe that because a senile judge sided with the patrician (Archer) against the plebs (Daily Star) Archer was handed £500k on a plate in 1987. This helped, but it wasn’t the full story.

Early this year I phoned Adam Raphael the former Observer's political editor and author of The Good Hotel Guide. Raphael had been subpoenaed to the trial when he had been bamboozled into believing Archer’s side of the story. He hadn’t forgotten, or forgiven: ‘Archer? A liar and a total shit,’ he said by way of openers.

He still had all the detail. Archer had constructed false evidence and repeatedly changed his story under oath. He was a known liar. When he sued it should have been a no-brainer for a national newspaper like the Star.

The Star ‘exclusives’ was a follow-up to a story that had already appeared in the News of the World, which had alleged that Archer had paid £2,000 to a Mayfair prostitute called Monica Coghlan. There was even tape-recorded phone conversations to prove it. The Star, who had been chasing Archer for some time, must have panicked and dived in without all the facts. Their claim that Archer had been lying about his relationship with Coghlan was true, but no-one could commit to which day the tryst had taken place. They went ahead anyway. 

Who was to blame? Paul Burnell, a close colleague of Turner, believes the editor was in London at the time and the fatal decision to publish must have been made in Manchester. Of the three men likely to have been responsible, one is dead (not Ray Mills incidentally) and the other two wouldn’t discuss it with me. So it is likely to remain a mystery, though we do know for certain that Lloyd Turner carried the can.

Given that Archer had been warned about the coming story in advance (thank you, Stewart Steven of the Mail on Sunday) and the Star hadn’t buttoned up the story Archer had time to build two separate lists of alibi witnesses, an A and a B list, all of whom could claim they were with Archer on the night in question.

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‘Other false impressions,’ says Raphael, ‘was that the Archers had a happy marriage and he had no need of extra-marital adventures. That wasn’t the case. They lived separate lives.

‘The judge was hopeless and totally lost it. It was a travesty remembered best by the judge’s extraordinary summing up: “Remember Mrs. Archer in the witness box. Has she elegance? Has she fragrance? How could Jeffrey Archer possibly be in need of cold, unloving, rubber-insulated sex in a seedy hotel?”’

When the dust died down, Express Newspapers had to fork out £500k plus to cover Archer and the cost of the trial. They decided against an appeal and within a few days had sacked Lloyd Turner instead.

He took it well at the time according to Adam Raphael.

‘Lloyd seemed very professional and I liked him. The News of the World settled out of court but in the Star’s case journalists do make mistakes, don’t they?

‘Lloyd was very helpful for me and even gave me a transcript of the case … wrapped inside the paper next to an old and non-fragrant kipper.’

‘You mean Lloyd had to sleep with the fishes?’ I asked.

‘That was the way I saw it, too,’ says Adam Raphael.

 NEXT: Epilogue.


 

© 2005-2018 Alastair McIntyre