SLOPING off to the pub was a popular pastime for sub-editors on the Daily Express in the anarchic 1970s and 1980s. Two of the foremost exponents of this art were Bertie Brooks and Bingo McIntyre, but there was a less unsung hero who would disappear from his desk leaving only a puff of smoke, as JON ZACKON remembers
One year deep into the Eighties it seemed assured that the annual Lopes Cup would be won once again by that cheeky boy, Bingo McIntyre, aided and abetted by his equally impudent co-sloper, Bertie Brooks. Like quicksilver Bingo and Bertie would vanish from their desks evening after evening around 5pm. It was wonderful to see … or, well, not see.
And did they not strengthen their claims enormously with one of the most daring and innovative slopes in the history of the Daily Express subs’ table? I refer, of course, to their legendary synchronised slope, when they left the room in perfect harmony, like two tap dancers in a Hollywood movie, waving imaginary boaters as they went. It was a picture I carry in my mind to this day, bringing back as it does pangs of anxiety to my gut, seeing as I was chief subbing that evening and had at least ten stories to give out.
Bingo had first revealed his remarkable prowess during the Falklands War. Against my better judgment I was forced to ring the Press Club at well after midnight and ask him to return because, you know, there was a bloody war on. I had counted the subs going out, but there were none to count coming in! Bingo came storming back, his face puce, crying out, “Why me? Why not the others? I’ve only been out an hour and a half!” I was bound to concede that he was right, give or take ten minutes the wrong way.
Yes, Bingo and Bertie were the best. Or were they? A nagging doubt nags at my doubt strings. Is it possible that there was another, worthier claimant to the glorious title? Someone so good that his feats were almost undetectable? And wasn’t that the point of the Lopes Cup – to get away with it?
The candidate I have in mind was known as The Grey Ghost. He was the stuff of a chief sub’s nightmares.
Many was the time that the following scenario would take place - I would get fresh copy, say for Page Two, earmark The Grey Ghost as the man to sub the lead, glance up compulsively to make sure he was there, at his desk, straight in front of me, glance down to finish reading the last sentence of the story, glance up to see if he was still there, at his desk, straight in front of me … and, yes, the bird would have flown. It was uncanny. As close to anything supernatural that I have ever experienced.
The astounding technician I speak of, the Grey Ghost himself, was Ted “Kipper” Keeling, a terrific bloke who is tragically no longer with us.
There are many wonderful stories surrounding his exploits. When he was on the Express he would slope off to the Telegraph pub, the King and Keys. When he joined the Telegraph he would venture forth to the Express watering hole, The Popinjay – until one night when Bill Deedes, also visiting The Pop, caught up with him. It must have been like finding the yeti. Sadly, it was also to be the end of a memorable career as a truly great sloper.
The odd thing about the Lopes Cup was that only two people were ever allowed to vote for it – Bingo and Bertie. So sorry, Bingo, if by some chance I were to be granted a retrospective casting vote, I would surely give the Lopes Cup for 1984, or perhaps 1985, to the iconic Kipper Keeling. You can keep it for all those other uproarious years.
EDITOR'S NOTE: I see this matter entirely differently and am considering my reply.
The other famous Kipper Keeling story was his encounter with Express colleague Geoff Compton. Geoff was relaxing on a beach inn Greece when he saw a shambling figure in the distance. As the person got nearer Geoff recognised the man as Kipper.
"Hi Ted. What an amazing coincidence," cried Geoff, holding out his hand. "Hello, Geoff," replied Ted. And carried on walking.
Picture shows Zackon hard at work in the 1990s at the Express Blackfriars office while McIntyre contemplates his next wily move.