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SUNDAY 19  MAY 2024

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Our hero! How Father of the Chapel Jim saved the jobs of two Express stars

REUNITED: Jim and his wife Pat, who died in 2022

By TERRY RYLE

Not just a great reporter, features writer and bloke, but, as FoC in the ’Eighties, Jim Davies was a great negotiator.


Possibly his finest hour was in persuading Jocelyn Stevens not to fire two of the Express's stars and legends, Michael 'Oafers' O'Flaherty and Tom Smith.


For once, Piranha Teeth (the bastard once called for my head) had some sort of justification.

It followed the infamous lunchtime reception at the Ritz given by Express chairman Victor 'Fingers' Matthews for the great and good including Employment Secretary Norman Tebbit. Mike and Tom were assigned to cover it and the way they comprehensively trashed the occasion – opening with a yell of 'Oi! Norm! Gies a fracking job' and proceeding, subs'-lunch-style, to loudly demand more wine and chuck crusty rolls - is now part of folklore.


A tough job for the defence, but Jim took it on.


Tom Smith, he pointed out had recently returned from covering the Falklands War where he had not only done a magnificent job but, on Tumbledown in particular, a truly heroic one. I don't think the phrase post-traumatic stress was in use back then but could be inferred and, anyway, firing a hero is never good PR.


Mike was more of a problem having returned to the office to kick in the office door of the poisonous Felicity Green and roundly insult her, being escorted onto a train home then alighting at the next stop and getting back to the office for Round 2.


However, under Jim's guidance, a combination of a letter from an obliging doctor saying Mr O’Flaherty had not been fully warned not to mix his medication with alcohol, profuse apologies, acceptance of last and final warning, swung the day. As I recall, it was then that Mike began to lay off the sauce, probably adding years to his colourful life.

******

Tribute to a fine and gentle man 

BY PETER MASON

“Jimbo”, as he was best known to his many friends and Fleet Street colleagues, was one of those exceptional reporters that every young would-be journalist wanted to emulate. 


I first met him nearly 50 years ago in a troubled South Africa which was in the process of tearing itself apart through interracial violence. The Soweto riots, which had beleaguered the entire country throughout much of 1976, were still in full swing, and the running battles between the mainly black demonstrators and the predominately white police had been spreading to other parts of the country and gaining a foothold in the Eastern Cape. 


A year earlier I had been dispatched to Cape Town to set up and manage an editorial bureau for the Durban-based Sunday Tribune. I  knew my way around the black townships and had good contacts on both sides of the racial and political divide.  Jim, who had established a well-earned a reputation as the Daily Express’ fireman extraordinaire, had been parachuted in to report on the worsening situation, and had sought me out in one of the many hostelries where journalists tended to gather in times of crisis.


So began a series of township tours, meetings with black activists, interviews with opposition MPs and government officials. and guided tours to some of the worst — and in many cases most dangerous — trouble spots in and around Cape Town. But in between we somehow managed a day off and I took him on a day trip to Stellenbosch and the surrounding wine growing regions for which the Cape is fabled.  

When, at the end of one of the most interesting and rewarding weeks of my time in South Africa, I dropped him off at the airport for his flight back to Johannesburg, and from there to  London, he gave me his number and made me promise to give him a call when, and if, I ever made it back to Fleet Street. Which, of course, I did; and which is how, within the year, I found myself on the foreign desk at the Daily Express, striving to emulate the man who became first my mentor and, later, one of my closest friends.  


Although we worked in close quarters as colleague-in-arms for a little over 10 years, we kept in close touch for another 30 or so after that. I retired from newspapers at the end of the 80s and set up my own PR and promotions company, but we managed to maintain that bond that journalists never seem to lose. Throughout all the intervening years Jim never failed to return a phone call or answer an email (though it has to be said that computers were never his strong point!), and even after Jim quit the Express and exchanged the hustle and bustle of Fleet Street for the quiet life of rural Cornwall there was always time for reminiscing about the good old days (and they were, too). I will miss those days reminiscing, and the good old days, too.    


Random notes: Not a lot of people know this, but Jim played a mean jazz piano. One of his favourite anecdotes – and no-one could tell an anecdote like Jim — was about the night he accompanied the great Blossom Dearie on piano at Ronnie Scott’s. (I think he might have even joined her on the microphone, too). Years later, over a pint at his local in Tregony, I remember Jim regaling my two sons, then in their late teens (they’re now in their 50s!), with tales of his adventures paddling a canoe up the Amazon with Sting. 


I spent years trying to persuade him to write a memoir, but he always brushed aside my entreaties and countered by saying that every Fleet Street hack had written one of those; and, anyway, and who in their right mind would be bothered reading yet another one. Well, I’m one of those Fleet Street hacks who’s read loads of memoirs and autobiographies set in the Street of Shame and I’d be first in line outside Waterstones to buy a signed copy of Jim’s. 

If only he’d got around to writing it.    

*****

TERRY MANNERS said: ‘Jim was such a lovely gentleman. We have been very lucky to have been part of that Fleet St era with such a collection of wit, knowledge, words and friendship. And what fun we had together. We just all fitted in that great old battleship called The Daily Express. We take our memories of each other with us and Jim is up there on the Bridge.’

*****

JOHN INGHAM, who sat on the neighbouring desk in the office, offered these memories. 


Covering the Iran-Iraq War, Jim saw the Iraqi soldiers capture lots of prisoners whose pleading eyes revealed they knew what their fate would be — they knew they would be shot as soon as the journos had left. He also interviewed Saddam Hussein, the late Iraqi dictator.  


During the civil war in Lebanon, he managed to get across the front line by climbing into the boot of a car and being driven at high speed through the fighting. 


There were moments of danger much closer to home. James was in Northern Ireland during the Troubles in 1971 when internment was introduced, at a time when Catholics were being arrested as the British struggled to halt the violence. On at least one occasion, he and a colleague were caught in the middle of a stand-off between the IRA and a British army unit. They managed to extricate themselves unscathed before bullets started flying. 



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