How I became the First Lady of Fleet Street for a day 


                              The real First Lady, the inimitable Jean Rook

ROGER TAVENER continues his story of his first days in the Boulevard of Broken Dreams

So I skip across the road to the Black Lubyanka and join the Express.

Eventually I end up on the ‘Specialists' desk, a mystical pod floating on a cloud of alcoholic fumes somewhere between news and features.

It’s off-limits to all the paper’s execs. They don’t approach these spikey characters.

I just write a memo in triplicate of my stories and get on with it. I mustn't get turned over by the Mail.

I’m standing on the shoulders of giants. Legends.

George Gale, John Akass, Peter Tory, Nina Myskow, maybe Peter Hitchens...?

Fuck me, that’s one highly emotional crew at 4pm.

Nina's having her usual breakdown. Lovely Peter is in his cups ringing around the Street for another job.

George takes me out for a livener. 

I return and John says we should go for a swift one.

I can't recall anyone writing anything. Me included.

My problem was staying awake for the desk-call after the rivals’ first editions dropped around 10 pm.

Match that at approaching midnight ... not fucking easy.

So Michael Jackson is opening his world tour in Rome.

I get a kind of briefing that living legend Jean Rook is going too. We haven’t met although I know her hubby from PA and was raised on her Express stuff as a kid.

The deal is: I do showbiz news, she does features etc. Of course. No problem.


Can I do the first colour piece, centre-spread with front-page picture caption because Jean's not that quick and the first edition deadline is tight. So she can’t watch it, write and file in time.

Pretty much I have to make it up. Fine. (I already have tbh).

I like an easy life and I know the gig inside out.

Oh and Jean's by-line will be on the story.

Ok. Although my colleagues thought that was a bit rich, I figured it was quite an honour to stand-in for Ms Rook. 

So I bang it across early afternoon.

Mike Parry takes the check call. “Are you a fucking psychic now?  Gig’s not for hours.

“But actually that’s not bad. Reads well. Suppose you’ll go on the piss and leave all the hard work to Jean Rook eh?”

Fuck off. Of course.

But  as soon as I come off the phone, there’s  a problem. Whacko Jacko has gone missing. Really. No publicity stunt.

So the gig might be cancelled.

Things then take a very strange turn, which nobody ever believes, even though it has been printed in many a Jacko biography.

I’m having a drink with a colleague in a bar near the Trevi fountain wondering how to play it, when we notice a very animated crowd gathering.


It turns out to be the Prince of Pop throwing three dimes in the fountain. He's vague and lost. What’s new?

I take a few snaps, coax him into a taxi and head back to his hotel.

He says he just wanted to have a look around and after the day before (when his chauffeured limo ran over a fan) he's not allowed out.

We deliver him, and, in the ensuing panic, I leave the fucking camera on the back seat of the taxi. There’s a blur of management melt-down.

So I save the show, but lose all evidence of this crazy story. And I must meet Jean instantly and escort her to the gig.

It kicks off and I call London to say run it. We beat all the other papers who are filing on the hoof. Silly. They miss the edition.

Jean does her bit.

People are very complimentary about my first file. Some want to let it run. I know that’s impossible.

I really can’t remember what happened next. I was mortified about losing the camera.

Over a few drinks Jean asks me to go to the Vatican city and buy a huge tome on Michelangelo’s art for her.

Her son Gresby could use it for his studies at Eton?

Now, I don’t want to sound ungallant, but it’s one thing being Jean Rook's leg-man, but personal shopper? That was a little too far.

And I’d be wasting good drinking time.

But it was an honour to be considered worthy of writing a piece in her name.

© 2005-2022 Alastair McIntyre