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SUNDAY 21 JULY  2024

*

Reporter sent to cover siege. Reporter taken hostage.
Er, surely some mistake …

By BARRY GARDNER

I was in my first week as a reporter with the London Evening News and obviously keen to impress the newsdesk. So I was overjoyed when News Editor Keith Blogg suddenly bellowed out one morning: "Barry, we've had a tip there's a siege at the Nigerian High Commission. Get down there!"


I was out of the door and up Carmelite Street faster than an eel on coke. Fortunately the High Commission was in Fleet Street, pictured left, so I was there in a matter of minutes.


But it was strangely quiet. No SAS abseiling through windows. In fact when I entered the ground floor office there was no one there. My calls went unanswered so I meandered up the creaking stairs where I found another office with the door partially open.


I walked in to find a soberly dressed gentleman sitting at a desk, completely unperturbed, studying a document in front of him.


He looked up and demanded: "Yes?"


"I'm from the Evening News," I replied. "We were told someone had been taken hostage here."


He frowned, stood slowly and my eyes swivelled as he glided past me to the door which he quickly locked and pocketed the key.


He sat down again and declared: "Now, you're my hostage."


For a moment I had a vision of a young building apprentice being sent to buy ten gallons of striped paint and a headless hammer.


Somewhat bemused, I said: "No. I haven't volunteered to be a hostage. I was told you already had one."


"Who told you that?”


"No idea. It was an anonymous tip."


He smiled, which unnerved me somewhat: "Who did you say you were?"

"Barry Gardner from the Evening News."


"And you have some form of identification?"


Being a new boy on the paper I hadn't had time to get business cards printed — those were the days — so I pulled out my Scotland Yard Press pass and handed it over.


"This says,'Fleet Street News Agency' " he said gleefully.


"Yes, that's where I used to work. I've only just started on the Evening News so haven't had time to get a new one."


He smiled again — a bit like Brian Hitchen when he knew you were trying to bullshit him.


"Look, call this number," I said and wrote down the newsdesk direct line.

After several minutes of questioning, during which time Keith had confirmed I was a reporter and not attempting a lunchtime coup, the door was unlocked and with a one-armed flourish the Commission man ushered me out while declaring: "You are no longer my hostage!"


I returned to the office, dejected that I hadn't got a splash and joined the ranks of seated hacks who simply nodded to me.


But I did notice that mischievous and hugely humorous, newsdesk assistant Mick Cronin kept smiling at me ... and then he winked.


12 June 2024