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2021 January-December

PLANS to build a “justice quarter” in Fleet Street which will involve the demolition of eight buildings and a pub have been approved by City planners.

Heritage campaigners claim the move will ruin views of St Paul’s Cathedral.

The plan, passed by the City of London Corporation, involves the demolition of eight buildings in a conservation area on the opposite side of the road to the old Daily Express building.

The multi-million pound scheme for a new base for the City of London Police and an eight-storey magistrates, crown and county court, was hailed as a major step which "will enhance city’s reputation" and support 2,500 jobs — 400 new ones. 

The Corporation, which is both the applicant and decision-maker, is opposed by Historic England, the Government’s heritage advisers, plus SAVE Britain’s Heritage, the Twentieth Century Society and the Victorian Society.

The buildings facing demolition include Chronicle House, at Nos 72-78 Fleet Street, built in 1924 in a stripped-back classical style with art deco influences. It is one of the buildings that recall the street’s heyday as the centre of the British newspaper trade and once housed the now defunct News Chronicle. 

At Nos 80-81, the neo-baroque Barclays bank building, which dates from the same period, would also come down.

The Victorian Hack and Hop pub (formerly the Coach and Horses) in Whitefriars Street will also be demolished but will be replaced by a larger hostelry.

A Georgian house, now offices, at 1 Salisbury Square will also be knocked down.

STOP THE DEMOLITION! SIGN THE PETITION

In a letter to The Times, the historian Marcus Binney, executive president of SAVE Britain’s Heritage, said the loss of the “handsome” frontages would “desecrate” a view to St Paul’s Cathedral that the corporation was recently proposing to protect.

Fleet Street is on an ancient processional route from the Palace of Westminster to St Paul’s, to which Mr Binney said the 1920s buildings added “gravitas and quiet splendour”.

A report by the corporation’s planners said the proposal would result in “less than substantial” harm to the area.

Henrietta Billings, director of SAVE Britain’s Heritage, said: “Conservation areas like this one are designed to recognise and protect the special character, flair and heritage of our important streets and places.

"Fleet Street is famous for its rich newspaper history, as well as its largely well-preserved streets and alleyways and medieval street pattern. Large scale demolition-creep of this kind is crass and short-sighted in any location — let alone in a so-called conservation area. The whole approach needs a re-think." 

__________

THE legendary Donald Zec, one of Fleet Street’s finest showbusiness reporters, has died at the grand old age of 102.

Zec, who worked for the Daily Mirror for 40 years, had extraordinary access to the world’s greatest stars in the 1950s and 1960s. This picture of him sharing a bed with John Lennon and Yoko Ono illustrates this point perfectly.

Thanks to his outgoing personality and sense of fun, Zec is regarded as perhaps the greatest showbusiness writer of all time.

His older brother Philip Zec, who died in 1983, was one of the foremost political cartoonists of his day. When his drawing of a shipwrecked sailor clinging to a wooden plank in an oil-saturated sea and captioned “The price of petrol has been increased by one penny” appeared, the government threatened to shut down the Daily Mirror for sedition.

Novelist and Expressman ROBIN McGIBBON has shared with Drone the following email exchange he had with Donald Zec in 2017.

From: Robindmcg@aol.com

Sent: 01 April 2017 18:15

To: Donald.Zec@sky.com

Subject: Belated birthday greetings

Hi, Donald,

You probably don't remember me, because it's 40 years since we met (!), but I certainly remember you.

I've decided to email after speaking with my good friend, Don Black, who tells me you celebrated your 98th birthday last month.

Many, many belated happy returns, Donald.

Don says your memory is exceedingly good...so, you might, just possibly, remember me as the managing director of Everest Books: we had a most convivial lunch in the Press Club when you were looking for a publisher for a novel - The Colonel - you'd written.

At that lunch, you gave me some advice I followed every time I went to Los Angeles. You said: "Never try to do any work for 24 hours - no matter how much you feel up to it." 

Don says you're in great shape, mentally, Donald: long may you continue to be so.

Warmest regards,

Robin McGibbon


From: donald.zec@sky.com

To: Robindmcg@aol.com

Sent: 01/04/2017 19:07:08 GMT Daylight Time

Subj: RE: Belated birthday greetings

Dear Robin.

It’s a delight to receive your birthday greetings.  In my 99th year a convivial lunch forty years ago is, I regret to say, a shade beyond recall. But I remember the Press Club when journalists were not happy to call themselves hacks but preferred the title, Gentlemen of the Press ...before Murdoch and Maxwell pulverised Fleet Street and tossed the ashes over Canary Wharf. In brief; The Colonel did get published and occasionally I get 5p because someone in the village of Champing-at-the Bit, picked it up in a car boot sale. I’ve published a dozen books since then; and in my 90th year learned to play a Bach sonata’ took up drawing and due to an obvious aberration by the judges had a sketch of my grandfather selected for the 2013 summer exhibition. Since then I’ve enjoyed bad health, become a widower, look out of my window and wince at the name Donald Trump.

Forgive the nostalgia. You caught me in an agreeable moment before I retire to be enfolded in the arms of insomnia.

Best regards

Donald Zec

The Times has published an entertaining obituary of the great Donald Zec

__________

By PEARL BREVIER, Lord Drone’s minion

RELAX chums, Tricky Dicky Desmond has finally pulled out of newspapers.

The former Daily Express, Channel 5 and porn mogul, has sold his shares in Reach, meaning he has no stake in the UK media market for the first time in almost 50 years.

Tricky’s poshly-named Northern & Shell sold the Express and Star titles and celebrity magazines OK!, New!, and Star to Reach (then Trinity Mirror) in a £127m deal in 2018.

Part of the deal granted £20m in Reach shares to Northern & Shell, which Desmond founded in 1974, making it one of the largest shareholders in the biggest commercial news publisher in the UK.

Press Gazette reports that New Companies House filings show Desmond had intended to hold on to his shares as recently as December but subsequently made the “strategic decision” to sell.

This was put down to two reasons: an approach made to buy Northern & Shell’s shares, and a significant increase in Reach’s share price.

The shares were sold for £62.5m, which together with dividend income of £3.7m meant Northern & Shell made profit of £46.2m with a 213 per cent return.

According to the Companies House filings, the shares were valued at £35.2m in 2019 and £38.7m at the end of 2020.

Northern & Shell will focus instead on its bid to take over the National Lottery licence in 2023, earmarking about £20m for the project. It already runs the Health Lottery.

Calculations by the Guardian in 2017, five months before the sale to Trinity Mirror was announced, showed Desmond had made almost £350m in pay, dividends and rent from Express Newspapers over 17 years.

Reach’s share price jump is likely due to confidence in its customer value strategy, which means users are now asked to register with their email. Reach said recently it was “well on track” for its target of 10m registrations by the end of 2022.

Drone media commentator ARTHUR CAKES writes: If Tricky had made £350m from the Express by 2017, and has made a further £62.5m by selling Reach shares, he is presumably ahead by £412.5m so far — while still sitting on the land in Docklands earmarked for hundreds of flats which must also be worth north of £50m.

He paid £125m for a “busted and valueless” group in 1999, with Deutsche Bank stumping up most of the money … and presumably then got dear Rosie as Editor included in the baggage free of charge!

__________

AS EXPRESS fiascos go, it was far from the worst but something of an embarrassment nonetheless. Hence it appears to have remained buried in the let’s-just-forget-about-it-and-move-on file for the past 50 years and more.

When Sir Francis Chichester tackled Cape Horn in Gipsy Moth IV on his way to becoming the first sailor to circumnavigate the globe single-handedly, the British Press descended en masse on Patagonia.

It was March of 1967 and the Express sent a team of three led by David English, then head of the New York bureau. Setting up camp in Punta Arenas in Chile, they hired planes and boats as they prepared to brave the notorious storms of the southern seas in search of the intrepid sailor. They were determined to beat The Times which had signed up the 65-year-old Chichester. 

What they accomplished isn’t exactly known but in terms of column inches it amounted to absolutely zero. For the entire communications network in that part of Chile suddenly blacked out and remained dead for days.

I was night editor of the Buenos Aires Herald and stringer for the Express and the first I knew of this was a frantic cable from the foreign desk asking if I could make contact and relay copy. Sadly, all attempts to reach them failed. 

So I cobbled together a story from various sources, including the Argentine Coastguard, and whacked it off to London. In response came a cable from David Ross of the foreign desk saying: “MANY THANKS YOUR SPLENDID EFFORTS WHICH GETTING YOU MAJOR PAGE ONE STORY STOP IF YOU CAN CONTACT OTHERS COMMA TELL THEM GO HOME COMMA THE PARTYS OVER.” 

A year or so later when I was being interviewed for a sub’s job on the Express, I related this story to Eric Raybould, the managing editor, who called for English, recently promoted foreign editor, to join us and mercilessly took the piss out of him. I don’t think English ever spoke to me again. But it possibly got me the job.

I may not have left much of a mark in my five years on the Express but I've sometimes wondered if I might be one of the few subs – if not the only one – to have had a front page byline. 

__________

By ALAN FRAME

Much has been made in the fallout of the BBC/Bashir scandal that there is a direct link between the consequences of that interview and Diana’s death in Paris two years later. 

Both Earl Spencer and Andrew Neil argue that if the princess had resisted Martin Bashir’s crooked blandishments and not appeared in front of 23 million of us riveted to that Panorama programme, she would have kept her royal protection which had been withdrawn, leaving her to the tender mercies of Mohamed al Fayed’s security.

They may be right but it is without doubt that Diana was in such a fragile state by 1995 (and bearing in mind that Prince Charles had already admitted adultery in the TV interview with Jonathan Dimbleby) that she might well have readily agreed to Bashir even without his lies and forgeries.

The fact is her royal protection was withdrawn, just like her HRH title earlier. And the moment she became involved with Dodi Fayed, she became the star attraction of the mad circus run by his father. 

I know a bit about that particular show having worked for Mohamed for 18 months after leaving the Express in 1995. I should have known better because I had known him for 10 years before that and it was clear to me by then that billionaires do not play by the rules, at least not rules recognised by a civilised society.

Those oligarchs do not know that airport check-ins exist because they are taken by armoured Mercedes straight from their helicopter to the tarmac where their Gulf Stream jet awaits. When they arrive at their destination a fleet of black limos whoosh them away at high speed. I know all this because I have experienced it in all its scary detail.

Twice on arrival at Orly airport we were in the third Mercedes of a four-car convoy aiming for the Paris Ritz, 10 miles away through the usual crazy mix of Renault and Citroen. If we had gone by cab it would have been a 40 minute trip. But by Fayed Autos, with the boss in car number two, it took half that time. All four of the Mercs in our convoy were seemingly joined bumper to bumper and no other vehicles, no matter their size, would get in the way. It was terrifying and completely unnecessary (and I speak as one who enjoys speed and has owned the fastest of cars.) But at least our driver, at least to my knowledge, was sober. 

One August night in 1997 Diana was at the mercy of a driver who had been drinking most of the evening at the Ritz and the inevitable followed. She had been Mohamed’s greatest prize in his determination to avenge slights, real and perceived, heaped on him by the Establishment in general and the Royal Family. And now she was dead in the Alma tunnel.

Postscript: Two years ago I was at the opening of a friend’s art exhibition when I was introduced to Martin Bashir. His charm, which has much been reported in the past few days, was working overtime that night. So much so that he failed to correct me when I referred to him throughout as Mihir. I was confusing him with that splendid cricket writer Mihir Bose whom I have met. Top marks to Bashir for not saying: ‘Don’t you know who I am?’

__________

ALL is not well in the People’s Republic of Reach, in case you haven’t guessed.

Staff on the Express and Mirror titles have received a ‘Hi Folks’ letter from management regarding their class action for the return of the 10 per cent pay cut imposed on them last year.

An insider said the money was 'stolen during the three of the most stressful months of our careers’. 

But there is a sting in the tail of the letter, which reads:

For those of you who were with the business this time last year you’ll remember that we were going through some very challenging times, and like a number of businesses, in April 2020 we took the tough decision to reduce salaries for a period.

We know and appreciate that many of you understood the position the business was in at that time. And, while we have now weathered the worst of the storm, we need to continue to invest in the business so we build for the future, honour our ongoing commitments and remain vigilant with regard to any further impacts from the pandemic.

That said, we know that the pay cut continues to be an issue for some colleagues and it is one we want to resolve — so we have taken the decision to reimburse all impacted colleagues for the April to June 2020 pay reduction. This one-off payment will be made in September, and we’ll share more details about how it will work with you over the next week or so. The Board and Executive Committee will not be taking any reimbursement for their pay deductions.

Understandably, this decision will require us to review and manage our other operating costs carefully in the future. As a result, the business will regrettably not be in a position to make an all colleague share award this year, and at the same time we will look at other opportunities to recoup costs through reduced discretionary spend in the remainder of the year.

The Drone’s mole said: "Roughly translated: we will make you suffer for this."

__________

The Dyson Report gives both barrels to Martin Bashir over his duplicity and deceit in trying to secure an interview with Princess Diana, and if anyone cares to go digging as to how he came to secure his equally infamous Michael Jackson interview they'll probably find more of the same there too.

Bashir spent weeks badgering Uri Geller to try to help swing the Jacko interview for him, pleading with Uri, almost to the point of tears, and offering to let him see a previously unseen, allegedly very revealing, letter from Princess Diana.

When Uri got in touch with someone at the BBC to complain about the endless harassment, one of the questions they asked was "Has he burst into tears and offered you the Di letter yet?”

Source: Popbitch

__________

ANOTHER day, another book, this time by former Mirror reporter John Jackson, who calls himself Fleet Street’s Chief Rotter.

Reflections of a Mirror Man tells how Jackson realised that sports news stories from Olympic Games, World Cups, Wimbledon tennis and cricket tests aroused as much – if not more – interest as the competitions themselves.

The reporters who asked the questions the sportswriters dared not, in case they lost a contact, were named the Rotters. And John Jackson was known as the Chief Rotter. 

John said the book ranges “from getting Mandela out of prison to burying Maxwell in Jerusalem, news and sports stories from 22 Olympic Games, 10 World Cups, 35 Wimbledons, cricket tours and memories of The Stab and Vagabonds to Poppins, Ye Olde Bell and El Vino."

Available on Amazon, £9.99 paperback, £5.99 Kindle.

BUY THE BOOK HERE

___________

EXPRESS chairman Sir Max Aitken was full of optimism when he wrote about the future of the newspaper industry in 1967.

He was right about many things but wrong on the use of colour.

The following article was discovered by Victor Waters in a book published by the Press Club.

Today and Tomorrow: Newsboys all of us!

Can newspapers expand while faced with the competition of radio and television? Of course they can! This is the message of Lord Beaverbrook’s son, Sir Max Aitken, pictured, who was a pilot in the Battle of Britain and is now Chairman of the Board of Beaverbrook Newspapers, publishers of the Daily Express, Sunday Express and Evening Standard.


FLEET STREET Today and Tomorrow! You ask my views on that question. Why I think the present is fine and the future is glorious. Newspapers have their detractors. We must be aware of them and beware them. How to treat ‘em? Shoot ‘em down! They generally have no idea of our problems and the exertions we make to overcome them. 

A lofty Commission, reporting on questions of finance and manpower, has spread the impression that the newspaper industry is inefficient. Nonsense. The British newspapers are unparalleled in their speed of reaction to news and their flexibility in switching from point to point under the pressure of hourly events.

If the whole of British industry moved as fast off the mark under pressure in production as Fleet Street does we would be in a position, in the wartime phrase, to send bundles to America! 

In an era of inventiveness, in a period of bewildering variety of new means and of new methods of communication, the plain fact is that the newspapers hold and increase their hoId on the people’s heart. There is nothing like the British newspaper. No institution elsewhere in the world compares with it.

Reduced a little bit in numbers the Fleet Street newspapers today offer the public a complete range of opinion and expression totally free from outside direction in an age of growth of bureaucracy and central domination.

This is a wonderful achievement, and it is more expressive at times of the free institutions which have been the splendour of the country than even the House of Commons itself.

Our most subtle detractors are those who think we are overwhelmed by new media. The truth is the opposite. Radio, television and all the new networks have been proved not to menace us. They enhance us. This is because of human nature and of that very distinct form of it — British human nature — which Fleet Street understands so well. 

There is a superficial and flighty element in the new modes which compete with the newspapers. These weaknesses are exposed when the newspapers stick to their real functions of reporting, explaining and commenting in permanent form on the news of the day. 

When an individual sees an event himself or sees a picture version of it he is not content. He wants to read about it.  He is never satisfied with his own eyes: he wants to see with other people’s eyes as well and at greater leisure than the flashing screen permits. Nothing lasts with him like the printed word.

Most people have poor visual or eye memories. They have much stronger ear memories. Of course you use your eyes to read print. But good writing has the same quality as good speech. It is a voice not just a picture. The printed word sticks where the picture flickers. You see this in advertising where the television advertiser has no recourse except to repeat things until they nauseate but the printed advertisement respects the reader. It is there only when he wants it.

If he doesn’t take it in the first time he can look back over it as often as he is interested. It enters his personal computer. So I would say of all these new competitors: Be stimulated by them but never fear them. The future is with us.

Some people foretell the decline of newspapers on the ground that the future will see great national newspapers broken up into a thousand local editions produced by new processes or delivered through a screen or run off in pictures on your bedroom ceilings through a projector. Nonsense.

The great presses will continue to run.

“The future of colour? Not nearly as important as is predicted for it. Colour has its place in advertisements. But it would be wrong to bring it generally into news pictures and editorial content. There is nothing like black and white for clarity, for swift impression and dramatic effect. We have an old saying: When in doubt — put it in black and white.

I do not foresee any sudden changes in the general production of newspapers. My father often said to me: “Change yes, but change slowly.”

It is only when you look back at fifty-year-old cuttings that you see with shock great masses of type which need a magnifying glass to read or tiny news pictures which today would be blown-up to half a page. Not so many years ago a two-column headline was a sensation in one of the heavies, or we might call them the less popular newspapers. We have advanced greatly in vigour and clarity and that will continue.

I am sure that the future of our industry will be happy and secure. We must always fight off the encroachments on our free judgment by governments and bureaucrats. We must fight the continued growth of privilege and secrecy which often exists not for the security of the State but of the party or of the official.

There is another sanction we must never forget. Many of the great figures of Fleet Street began life as newsboys with packs on their backs, selling newspapers. From the humblest to the topmost in Fleet Street we are all newsboys. 

We have something to sell. Nobody is compelled to buy it. The public is the judge of value for its money. It is a high-spirited world in which the best wins the most.

__________

By PEARL BREVIER, Lord Drone’s minion

RELAX chums, Tricky Dicky Desmond has finally pulled out of newspapers.

The former Daily Express, Channel 5 and porn mogul, has sold his shares in Reach, meaning he has no stake in the UK media market for the first time in almost 50 years.

Tricky’s poshly-named Northern & Shell sold the Express and Star titles and celebrity magazines OK!, New!, and Star to Reach (then Trinity Mirror) in a £127m deal in 2018.

Part of the deal granted £20m in Reach shares to Northern & Shell, which Desmond founded in 1974, making it one of the largest shareholders in the biggest commercial news publisher in the UK.

Press Gazette reports that New Companies House filings show Desmond had intended to hold on to his shares as recently as December but subsequently made the “strategic decision” to sell.

This was put down to two reasons: an approach made to buy Northern & Shell’s shares, and a significant increase in Reach’s share price.

The shares were sold for £62.5m, which together with dividend income of £3.7m meant Northern & Shell made profit of £46.2m with a 213 per cent return.

According to the Companies House filings, the shares were valued at £35.2m in 2019 and £38.7m at the end of 2020.

Northern & Shell will focus instead on its bid to take over the National Lottery licence in 2023, earmarking about £20m for the project. It already runs the Health Lottery.

Calculations by the Guardian in 2017, five months before the sale to Trinity Mirror was announced, showed Desmond had made almost £350m in pay, dividends and rent from Express Newspapers over 17 years.

Reach’s share price jump is likely due to confidence in its customer value strategy, which means users are now asked to register with their email. Reach said recently it was “well on track” for its target of 10m registrations by the end of 2022.

Drone media commentator ARTHUR CAKES writes: If Tricky had made £350m from the Express by 2017, and has made a further £62.5m by selling Reach shares, he is presumably ahead by £412.5m so far — while still sitting on the land in Docklands earmarked for hundreds of flats which must also be worth north of £50m.

He paid £125m for a “busted and valueless” group in 1999, with Deutsche Bank stumping up most of the money … and presumably then got dear Rosie as Editor included in the baggage free of charge!

__________

MADELINE CLARKE, the daughter of former Daily Mail journalist Harry Procter, has recounted the night her father and a group of other Fleet Street journalists managed to gatecrash Prince Philip’s stag night.

The cutting pictured above is from World’s Press News and  dated 27 November 1947.

FULL STORY

__________

Expressman Alan Frame’s book Toto and Coco is getting to the parts other writers fail to reach.

His latest fan is none other than Hollywood star Demi Moore who is pictured reading the best-seller on her sun terrace. 

Frame said of the picture, which Demi posted on Instagram: 'Maybe it’s Ms Moore’s way of bidding for a starring role…’

The book, which is being turned into a multi-episode TV series, tells the true story of Toto Koopman, beautiful cover girl in 1930s Paris and lover of Lord Beaverbrook and Coco Chanel, brilliant couturier and parfumier, and friend of Winston Churchill.

One chooses to relinquish everything to be a British spy; the other becomes a Nazi agent luxuriating in the Paris Ritz with her Gestapo lover. 

BUY TOTO AND COCO HERE

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© 2005-2022 Alastair McIntyre