The finer points of Les Diver

By TONY BOULLEMIER

When I joined the Daily Express subs in November 1969, I had the extreme good fortune to be placed next to Les Diver.

His job was to get me up to speed on the subbing - a steep learning curve.

Chief sub Dougie Orgill rarely moved from his chair and would put an initial Q in our names when calling us up.

When his stentorian tone called out: “Anthony Q Boullemier, approach the base of the podium," I was given my first story, with instructions to "Send it down in Long Primer, Brevier and Minion, nut each side."

I was perplexed. Four years on the Newcastle Journal had not prepared me for a career in code-breaking.

I tottered back to my desk. "What does it mean?" I asked Les.

"Oh that's LP, brev and min - you'd know it as 10, 8 and 7. Intro in 10 point, second par in 8 point, rest in 7 point."

Recognition dawned. First crisis over. I'm not sure whether I pestered Les with more questions than most, but as well as explaining the nuts, picas and bolts, he imparted priceless advice on how to improve the copy of some of the great names of Fleet Street. And boy did some of them need it.

Les knew his job inside out and they were lessons I never forgot.

The second part of my education was a rundown on my new colleagues as Les cheerily commentated on the passing evening scene in the newsroom.

"That's Osbert Lancaster bringing in his pocket cartoon for approval. Watch the night editor laugh before he even sees it.

"That's Peter O'Sullevan, the voice of racing. And that's Clive Graham our top tipster. They don't get on, you know.

"Watch out for that old boy on the back bench. He's not as nice as he looks. Oh there's the editor. We call him Jumbo. And here comes Chapman Pincher who knows all the nation's secrets. Don't mess with his copy!"

And so it went on, nightly entertainment mixed with tiptop advice.

Sitting alongside Les made working for Britain's biggest-selling daily a job where every shift was fun. He truly was one of the nicest people in Fleet Street. And I was indeed lucky to have known him.

 

Tony Boullemier was a news sub on the Daily Express from 1969 to 1975, plus a few years part-time in the 90s.

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