Legends in my lunchtimes

lords


ALAN FRAME reflects on a week of fun from Lord’s to Wimbledon

I have mused here before about nostalgia, that irresistible mix of fact and fiction blended together and viewed through rose-tinted specs. This week has been awash with it and combined with our glorious weather, two days at Lord’s coming up, Wimbledon and the Lions’ decider, well, it’s made an old man very happy.

First came dinner on Monday with my lovely friend Catherine Olsen, late of both the Daily and Sunday Express. Kate was married to Sir James Mancham, first president of the Seychelles, who died suddenly in January. She arrived at Heathrow last Saturday afternoon travelling on her Australian passport which carries a so-called ‘magic sticker’ saying: Free to come and go at will. 

What Kate didn’t know was that the government scrapped that privilege two years ago. Cue a five-hour and, she says, very aggressive interrogation in Terminal Four Immigration during which time her luggage was searched, her phone confiscated and her handbag emptied. Her Ladyship is no pushover but she told me on Monday that it was a terrifying experience. 

On Sunday I rang our old chum and colleague Gerard Greaves who was editing the Mail that day. The paper’s Diary duly ran the story accompanied by a picture of the late Jimmy Mancham with Kate. Except that it wasn’t Kate - it was a girlfriend of Mancham pre his marriage to Kate. Welcome to Britain Lady M!

junor

Anyway, back to nostalgia. Over supper in Borough Market, absolutely packed with people showing their loyalty to this marvellous place after the London Bridge attacks, we talked of the good times we were so lucky to have had at the Express in the ‘80s. Inevitably the name of her editor at the Sunday Express, that vile old goat Sir John Junor, right, came up. Quite how awful he was was illustrated in a riveting interview with his daughter, the biographer Penny Junor, in the Standard. She described JJ as ‘verbally violent, prone to steaming rages, an unfaithful bully whose wife Pamela was driven to great pain.’  

This, remember, was the man who presided over the prissy SX, conservative with a big and small  C and full of family values. In truth he was a nasty and boorish old hypocrite and if you need further proof read the chapter on Junor in the late great Graham Lord’s Lord’s, Ladies and Gentlemen.  

I must confess to one amusing memory of him: he and I had arrived unfashionably early for a charity function at which Princess Diana was due to appear. David Hasselhoff hove into view and I introduced ourselves explaining to JJ that the American starred in Baywatch. Junor, who would have salivated at the sight of a nubile Pamela Anderson running along the Baywatch beach, assumed that the programme was some sort of nature show and exclaimed: ‘Ah, so you’re like David Attenborough then.’

More nostalgia on Tuesday when we went to Putney and strolled along the river in the warm sunshine before arriving at Tim Benson’s Political Cartoon Gallery where already at the trough was your esteemed editor Lord Drone. 

Tim had asked me to open his exhibition of Giles’ wartime cartoons and commend his excellent book Giles’s War. I was the poor sap who, when I became features editor in 1981, had to deal with the old bugger and his frequent complaints about the way in which his efforts had appeared in the paper. In fact his attacks were his way of distracting my enquiries as to why the drawing hadn’t arrived on the train from Ipswich where Giles lived. 

Looking back, I’m not sure it ever reached us on time and that explains why the cartoon had to forego the tinting and shading by the art desk at least for the first edition. Carl Giles was, however, one of the true stars of the Express in its pomp and later we became pals, usually meeting for lunch at the Savoy Grill after which I would return to the office and he would retire to his mistress waiting in his suite upstairs!

And so to Joe’s on Wednesday for lunch with Bryan Rostron who had spent happy years at the Mirror, both Expresses and the Star. Bryan returned to his native Cape Town where this utterly decent former anti-apartheid campaigner writes books and does good works. We were joined by former Hickey editor John McEntee who was in his usual top form. 

maitland

We were reminded that when Rostron was working on the Lady Olga Maitland diary page the fragrant Olga, left, had told that old Mischief Maker-in-Chief Peter McKay how good Bryan was. ‘Ah’, said McKay, ‘I’m not surprised. Did you not know that the laddie is the illegitimate son of Lord Beaverbrook?’ 

He’s not (in fact his father was the distinguished sports writer Frank Rostron who had graced the pages of the Express) but incredibly the well-born lady fell for it, the maths notwithstanding. McEntee came armed with notes on memos and letters of complaint he came across during his time as diary editor. There are some priceless examples of the nonsense that passes between expensive legal firms representing those who feature in the gossip columns and editors and legal managers of the newspapers. 

In an exchange between Arthur Firth, then deputy editor, and that old lothario Dai Llewellyn, Arthur wrote: ‘Mr Victor Matthews has passed your letter of October 11 to me concerning your complaint about Ross Benson’s article and his description  of you as ‘self-labelled seducer of the valleys.’ I will put it on file in this office that the phrase ‘self-labelled’ is inaccurate.’

And in a letter to John Cleese who had complained that Hickey had said that Cleese hated the fact that the world now knew that his name came about after a change by deed poll from Cheese, Peter Tory wrote: 'I am delighted to hear that you are not troubled by the change of your family name from Cheese to Cleese but I am sorry it upsets your Mum.’  

This is pure Beachcomber, that other Daily Express favourite.


© 2005-2017 Alastair McIntyre