SUNDAY 21 JULY  2024


Drunken Don Mackay’s expletive-ridden last
stand at the Daily Star

MEMORIES: Mackay is mourned by his widow, actress Nichola McAuliffe

ALLAN HALL writes: I hear disturbing news that Nichola McAuliffe, the showbiz widow of the late Don Mackay, the man christened Zit Macnasty by Mike Parker when he worked alongside him, is trying to get a TV drama made about his life. What follows is my part in his Daily Star downfall.

Mackay’s toad-like carapace bled alcohol droplets as he clutched the mammoth book between coarse, nicotine-stained digits while uttering foul oaths — well, fouler than usual. There was just 20 feet of no-man’s-land between him and the enemy: the newsdesk and its personnel, and he was as determined as any drunk can be that vengeance would be his.

Mackay, the comic opera Scottish hard-man of the Daily Star — in reality a tedious, cadging, bragging boor whose journalistic or social skills never approached alignment with his skewed self-image of Gorbals guttersnipe-with-a-hidden-heart-of-gold — honed his rodent, bloodshot eyes on the chaos of the newsdesk which, as always, had the frenzied appearance of an army mess swiftly evacuated before an enemy advance. It groaned beneath the detritus of abandoned meals, booze, half-drunk polystyrene beakers of teak-dark tea and enough fag butts to make a cork life-size replica of the Titanic. A sign hung above the carnage exhorting the worker bees to: ‘Make it first, make it fast, make it matter.’ Only Kilroy had been there and crossed out matter and inserted up. 

This was 1987 and the shadows were falling fast over the old Fleet Street. Mackay’s last stand — at the Star but sadly not for good — was a Grand Guignol performance brought about by over-servement at lunchtime combined with the false expectations of the news editor that he would be able to function in his role as a reporter afterwards.

Earlier I had been with fellow scribe and good friend Dick Durham in the Wine Press, one of numerous Fleet Street hack refuelling stations now lost to the march of progress, when I saw Mackay saunter in. Dick had his back to the door so I whispered: “Don’t look now but Mackay has arrived.”

Two happy drinkers morphed into an uneasy imbibing threesome. Mackay ordered a gin and water: another oh-aren’t-I-just-a-card attention getter. He had several.

Upon return to the mother ship and a hopefully peaceful remaining few hours of the day, there was suddenly a flap on. Urbane and charming news editor David Mertens unwisely picked upon Mackay to handle the enquiry about child skeletons found in the garden of a London house.

“Don, can you get stuck into this as a matter of urgency?” he enquired, sensing that the story had page one potential.

Unlike most mortals when tight, who do their best at work or church to affect sobriety, Mackay flaunted his over-servement as a perverse badge of honour. On this day he was loud, sweary and apparently none-too-keen to get to grips with that for which he was getting paid. This caused Mertens to approach me — newly appointed chief reporter of the Star — to get involved.

Drink may have blunted many of Mackay’s senses, but hearing was not one of them. He was suddenly on his feet like a possessed meerkat. “Whatcha fucking up to Mertens, getting your fucking teacher’s pet involved in my story?”  Mertens told him to shut up and sit down but he remained standing and the invective flowed and increased in volume.

It was then he took the decision to end his working life at the Daily Star. The only toy he could find to throw out of the pram was the 2,700-page latest edition of Who’s Who. 

After groping it for several seconds he launched the 7-plus lbs book in the direction of the newsdesk. The earls, baronets, counts, knights, dukes, viscounts, marquesses and other assorted toffs were airborne and about to do something for the common good for once in their entitled lives: get Mackay the push.

It flew with precision, a paper Kill-Bill ninja hurtling through time and space, turning over and over on its unstoppable trajectory until …

The resulting Hiroshima of waste food, ciggies and drink rose skywards towards the doctored sign before plummeting back down to coat all those in the fall out zone in a tide of filth. It spattered over Mertens, the picture desk drones, secretaries and the carpet. Although it probably only improved the latter.

“Right, that’s it, you’re fired Mackay,” said Mertens. He got up and went into the office of the London editor, Brian Hitchen (who was not there) to telephone Lloyd Turner, the overall editor at the notional head office in Manchester.

Mackay stormed in after him. There ensued a Brian Rix farce of exits-and-entrances with Mackay pursuing Mertens, charmlessly exhorting him not to have him canned.

Finally Mertens opened up the office safe to hand Mackay a first class rail warrant for Manchester. An hour later, at the train station, Mackay called the office union rep, Michael Hellicar.

“Mike, they’re trying to fire me, you got any advice for me?”

“Yes Don,” said Hellicar. 

“Try not to drink on the train.”

He was duly red-carded and shuffled off to the Mirror where he continued to wear the McNoxious tartan until his demise.


15 May 2024

Don Mackay died in 2017 aged 63


AT LEAST SOMEONE LOVED HIM: Mackay with his devoted wife Nichola

A coward, a bully, lazy and a creep

FORMER Starman BARRY GARDNER writes:  I concur withAllan Hall’s assessment —  Don Mackay was a coward, a bully, lazy and  a creep.

I was absolutely staggered to read the glowing tributes paid to him at his funeral but then certain executives wouldn't have seen him at his worst.

Mackay would frequently seek out young reporters in pubs and bully them into buying him a drink. If they demurred he would threaten to sort them out.

Fortunately, on a couple of occasions he picked the wrong victims and found to his misfortune that he was being sorted out.

I first bumped into 'heart of gold' Don when we were working on the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph. For reasons I won't bore you with we had been on strike for a while and so everyone was limping along on pennies not pounds. 

Mackay came down from the Corby office to join the picket line and when our stint of duty ended a gaggle of us went to the pub. The unsaid agreement was that each bought his own pint — that's all we could afford — which we did.

The evening was pleasant enough until Mackay thought it would be funny to spoil someone's beer by lobbing a gherkin into the pint. The only raucous laughter came from the Gorbals Gherkin himself. And of course he refused to buy his victim another pint.

No doubt he kept this side from his wife who, will no doubt, be horrified to learn that the man she married didn't have a heart of gold, was a bully and certainly far from the greatest reporter Fleet Street has ever seen.

Mackay managed to cling onto his job longer than was reasonable because he was adept at crawling around editors who for some reason were taken in by his hard-man act — one he would never dare pull around anyone who could handle themselves.

I don't take any pleasure from speaking ill of the man but to even consider making a tribute film about him would be an absolute travesty.

16 May 2024

STEVE MILL writes: My enduring memory of 'The Don' was watching, in a rather bemused fashion, as he crawled on all fours around the floor of The Poppinjay. As I recall he was attempting to locate a contact lens which had apparently been lost by a young lady in his company. 

I'm assuming that his display of gallantry, if successful, would have speedily propelled this new relationship the next level. Unfortunately, if memory serves, this rescue mission was ultimately unsuccessful, (hardly surprising given that this happened during the early evening and The Popp was playing host to a vast number of thirsty print folk) but full marks for effort. Funny how you remember things like this.