Fond farewell for Callan the brilliant

ASHLEY WALTON reports from the memorial service for a much loved Fleet Street legend 

Paul would have loved it.  

Right at the centre of attention as praise was heaped on him for his superb journalism, his world class scoops, his charm, even his capacity for drink and his expertise at expenses.

Doctor Alison Joyce, the rector of St Bride's summed it up as she told a packed congregation "Paul was an extraordinary character, a Fleet Street legend."

But the words for which Paul Callan would have been most proud came from his son James Callan.

"My father would have been overjoyed at all this attention. He was Toad of Toad Hall come to life and we loved him."

Jeremy Deedes described Paul as the archetype Fleet Street diary man.  All bow tied and pin stripe suits  A legend in his own lunchtime.  "But he was also generous and fearless and very good company" said Jeremy. "He was never a man designed for Canary Wharf. He was at home in Fleet Street and most usually in El Vino at lunchtime."  

Jeremy told how Paul was responsible for the death of one of Doris Day's much loved pets. During a Sunset Strip interview Paul decided to keep the miniature dog amused by playing ball while the singer was being photographed.

Later he received a tearful call from Doris. Her beloved dog had fallen out of a window to it's death from 21 floors after chasing one of Paul's throws.

Paul Connew, Gill Martin (pink hair) and behind her Chris Williams

Paul charmed her and she forgave him. Later he joined her at the famous Polo Lounge where they sang a duet of Que Sera Sera to huge applause. 

Alan Frame told the congregation: "Paul was a joy to work with, producing wonderful copy. His 1995 work from Auschwitz moved me to tears as did his expenses later." 

In 1979 Paul scored a world exclusive for the Mirror with his prison interview of Bobby Kennedy's killer Sirhan Sirhan.

Paul described it later as an Arab confessing all to a Jew as Sirhan said of the killing: "I am deeply remorseful."

There was much said of Paul's terrific sense of humour and his expertise at impersonations. I would like to tell of two I witnessed myself as he made the Queen, Prince Philip and Prince Charles laugh out loud.

The first was on the lawns of the British High Commission in New Delhi during a reception for the start of Charles's solo tour of India and Nepal.

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Callan’s daughter Jessica addresses the congregation 

This is pre Diana and in those days Charles enjoyed an off record chat with the tabloids.  Paul was wearing an Old Etonian tie next to his Daily Mirror name badge. "Surely a man from the Mirror didn't go to Eton?" asked the Prince. Paul claimed he did and engaged the Prince in conversation with a rather good Charles impression even down to the facial gestures and the shirt cuff pulling.  “Are you taking the michael?" said Charles. "I certainly am," said Paul continuing with the accent. Charles roared with laughter and wandered off shaking his head still laughing.

The second was in China. The Queen and Duke were walking through endless ranks of terracotta warriors. From the balcony above floated Paul's voice in a perfect Dead Ringers impersonation of the Queen.


Jeremy Deedes

"Do you like being a terracotta warrior?" and "How long have you been a terracotta warrior?"

Only Paul with his immense charm could have got away with this. Philip doubled up in mirth as the Queen smiled, trying desperately not to laugh out loud.  

That was Paul Callan, great fun, a wonderful companion and world class reporter.

The photo on the front of the Service of Thanksgiving captured the man perfectly. A sardonic naughty smirk above a bow tie. Hacks like him don't exist in modern journalism.

CLIVE GOOZEE reports: Reading the Drone tributes to Paul Callan took me back to the early 60s when he was my chief reporter on the Norwood News in Crystal Palace. I was a very unworldly indentured junior reporter, dreading the thought of Paul going on holiday. 

I lived in Marylebone and commuted to Upper Norwood by bus. At the start of my week flying solo I stepped off the bus at Gipsy Hill fretting about where I would find a scoop. I turned the corner into Westow Street to see the P1 lead piled up in front of me — a building reduced to rubble by a gas explosion. 

I can still recall the intro I wrote, with  a little help from the portly, chain-smoking editor, Reg Exton: People ran into the street fearing their homes would collapse when a gas blast rocked Upper Norwood. 

The News sold out that week and when he returned to the office, Paul congratulated me on a well-written story.

© 2005-2022 Alastair McIntyre