Tavener’s Tales I hit Fleet Street with a bang (or two)

old bell


ROGER TAVENER arrives in Fleet Street and drinks in the atmosphere

Part 1 

(Beware. This is a Sunday Express-style kind of ‘delayed drop' under John Junor (character). So don’t expect to get to the story anytime soon).

The first thing I notice about Geoff Nash isn’t his bulbous nose, but that he posts an enormous number of letters.

Mr Jean Rook must have a huge circle of friends with whom he corresponds.

Maybe the Royal Mail postal collection coincides with opening time?

My earliest days at PA, as a wide-eyed reporter from the sticks, are remembered for the fascinating abundance of ‘characters' filling the bars. Geoff was certainly that.

As it happens, I had plenty of time to study these larger-than-life hacks at play.

My first day at PA was also my last.

I turn-up, walk through the imposing doors of No 85 to be greeted by taciturn news editor Peter Freeman (character).

I can’t say he’s delighted when I say I’m immediately withdrawing my labour.

It’s the provincial strike and I was F-o-C in Bristol. Half of PA is out in support. It's war.

Eric-Price1 2704372b.jpg

When I told Ex-Express sub Eric Price, (character), pictured left,  editor of the Western Daily Press, we were going on strike, his face morphed molten volcano red and he turned his table over on me. A fucking Olivetti went down on me.

It’s a bitter battle with the bosses and I can’t let my brothers down. I’m a test-case. The first to commit career-suicide at PA, which is crucial to the success/failure of the strike over low regional pay.

So, to jeopardise my dream job (let alone my mortgage) in the Street of Shame is either foolhardy, misguided or both. 

And I'm high-church Tory.

Incandescent editor-in-chief Sir David Chipp (character) says I’ve forfeited my right to employment.

Instantly, I’m back through the door into the freezing cold and given my picket rota to accompany my P45.

In the short-term it’s not too bad. I get 50 quid a week strike pay, compared to the 35 notes I was getting in Briz. It’s a laugh.

I become a Guardian/NUJ poster-boy for the campaign as the brave unionist who gave up his Fleet Street job for the cause. I’m a first. And becoming very controversial as I’m picked up and tarted around the country for propaganda purposes. 

Sittingly angelically on stage as rabid left-wingers rabble-rouse. Appearing on TV and radio.

Free drinks and hotels throughout the land.

And also gratis beverages in the Street.

First up are Don Mackay and Rob Gibson (characters) from the Daily Star who offer succour, fags and drink and take me into the Poppinjay. I get very pissed.

jimmy nick

Fuck me, Crime reporter Jimmy Nicholson (five-star character), pictured right, the Prince of Darkness, escorts me to the Old Bell for a pep talk. 

A great first day out-of-work ...

Followed by so many others as journalists offer support. Even Bristol MP Tony Benn (character) turns up to pat me on the back and deliver a warming bottle of Scotch.

Chris Moncrieff (character and legendary PA political chief) tells me not to worry. We drink Guinness. He did back then.

I’m astonished how much people drink and still work. It’s a skill I decide I must hone.

Somebody takes me to the City Golf Club. It’s mid-afternoon. Colin Adamson, Richard Littlejohn and Alastair Campbell (Evening Standard characters) are standing on a table singing rebel songs.

Fuck me.

A Grauniad girl sidles up. She wants to ‘interview’ me. OK.

Funny first question: “You’re  wearing an aeroplane brooch on your coat. You must be very sure of your sexuality?”

Never really thought about it, love.

After 10 minutes she says she wants to go to the loo. Fair enough.

‘No. With you. Ok.’ 

Fuck me ... this is the life.

And so it goes for the winter weeks until there's a settlement on offer.

The NUJ says it will only allow its members to return to work if I get my job back.

David Chipp quickly agrees. He invites me to his club, The Garrick, for lunch to talk terms.

He says I start the next morning and my rash decision will not affect my PA career. It’s like it didn’t happen. He's a good bloke and regales me with tales of his days as a foreign correspondent. All afternoon...

A life-long bachelor, I realise he's trying to pull me. It's all right. I keep him at arm’s length.

Freeman, however, doesn’t exactly give me the plum job of the day.

Charing Cross station for the launch of British Rail's new menu. Geoff winks and heads off to post a letter.

I’ve got a 'letter' too.

punch.jpg

I join Mr Rook for a livener in the Punch. He doesn’t give a fuck...

He’s old skool before the term was invented. We don’t mention Jean. As a hard regional news editor in the North he's been around the block. I guess he’s followed his wife and protégée  to London. He's world-weary cool.

I leave Geoff for my first PA story.

The Charing Cross BR promotion girls are very welcoming. Too obliging as it turns out. One hangs around all day. More drinks.

The next day: Something’s not right down ‘there’.

Jeez, I get a dose on my first day working in the Street.

Ironically,  I must catch a train West and the Bristol Royal Infirmary clap clinic is my first stop.

Later. Part 2 ... I cross the road disease-free to the Express and become Fleet Street's first lady for a day.

(Told you it was delayed drop...)



© 2005-2018 Alastair McIntyre