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SUNDAY 19  MAY 2024

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Picture which shows the paternal regard that Beaverbrook had for legendary Editor Christiansen

HOW ARE YOU MY BOY? Lord Beaverbrook, right, greets Daily Express Editor Arthur Christiansen

I came across an intriguing picture the other day of Arthur Christiansen, fabled Editor of the Daily Express, greeting his lord and master, Beaverbrook.


Except it wasn’t quite like that. If you take a closer look, you might think it is a son meeting his father for lunch.


“How are you, my boy? Good to see you.”


“I’m fine, thanks, Dad. Your usual, with a twist?”


The pair are shaking hands at a function of some sort. Beaverbrook is smiling fondly, his eyes seeming to dance with mischief. Christiansen wears a broad grin, relaxed, genuinely pleased to see his boss.


The picture appears in Christiansen’s autobiography, Headlines All My Life, published by Heinemann in 1961. The caption on it reveals that Christiansen asked Beaverbrook to autograph it. The Press baron sent him a letter of refusal, adding: “This picture speaks for itself about our relationship.”


I have no experience of being an editor, only of being close to a few. Close enough to know that it’s a tough job.


You scrabble up the greasy pole for years and finally make it to the top. You’re the boss and the world is your lobster (as Arthur Daley once memorably said).


But, of course, you’re not the boss. The man who owns the newspaper is. How the editor deals with that determines how long he stays in his job. Christiansen stayed for almost 25 years, so we may assume he handled it pretty well.


Beaverbrook was famously demanding of those who worked for him, especially editors. Christiansen says that he was always being asked, “What is it like working for Beaverbrook?”


Usually, he says, the questioner provides his own answer: “It must be hell.”


“It is hell,” writes Christiansen, “– and it isn’t.”


The eager Beaver never let up. “No week, no day, no hour conformed to any pattern, except that the telephone constantly rang.”


The old man had a notebook laid with the cutlery on his dining table, “as though it were as essential for eating purposes as a knife and fork.”


A guest might let slip some juicy gossip and he would scribble it down, saying: “I’m going to use this in the Daily Express.”


If the guest objected, he would grumble: “People shouldn’t tell me news if they don’t want me to print it.”


One day, Beaverbrook suggested Christiansen join him on a car ride. They ended up at a house in Kensington and when they entered, they were in the studio of the sculptor Jacob Epstein, who took a wet cloth off a lump of clay and continued to mould what was to become the head that rested in the front hall of the Express from 1934.


As Epstein went about his work, Beaverbrook asked Christiansen to read aloud the latest Beachcomber column.


Christiansen devotes pages to The Daily Bulletin, his regular critique of the paper for staff to pore over.


“The Bulletins… were dictated as my last task each day before lunch and they were pinned up in a locked, glass box, pictured right, outside the News Editor’s room when I got back from lunch.”


He gives examples of what he put in the Bulletins. My favourite is:


“I have just come across a saying by Charlie Chaplin on films which seems to be the basis of good journalism, good writing, good lay-out, in fact everything good in our craft. It is this:


‘I cut, I rewrite, I cut again… simplicity is no simple thing.’”


That glass box, incidentally, is still, as far as I know, in the possession of former Daily Express Night Editor Terry Manners, who acquired it as the paper was moving from Fleet Street to its new premises on the south side of Blackfriars Bridge. 


Some readers will recall the nefarious purpose it was put to during the short and pointless tenure of one of our editors, who perhaps fancied himself as the new Christiansen.


He began to post his own daily bulletins, without ever having shown that he might in any other way emulate the great man. They were not well received in some quarters.


A scoundrel, who shall forever remain nameless, took to posting his own satirical and subversive versions of those bulletins in the box. But it was kept locked and no one could work out how the rascal did it. (Simple, really. He just slipped his sheet of A4 in a gap at the top of the box and let it fall in front of the genuine bulletin. Or, ahem, so I was told.)


The irritation of the editor – and the amusement of the staff – grew with each new humiliation and an inquiry was ordered. But a culprit was never found. A teacup came into the story somewhere but I can’t remember why.


Now here’s the thing. Our seditious troublemaker may not know this but the same gag was played on Christiansen in 1939.


Here are some extracts from the spoof:-


“A magnificent paper this morning, edited with great skill, vigour, dash and aplomb.


“It is a credit to all, particularly to the Editor. He has a sure touch, firm and resolute, never faltering in moments of stress. I cannot criticise anything he does.”


And later: “The financial page is very good today, largely as the result of advice from the Editor, who surprises one and all by knowing all there is to know about finance. In future he advises that all Stock Market prices be printed incorrectly. We have printed Stock Market prices correctly for thirty years. To hell with it – don’t let us be slaves. The Express depends on these touches to bring the paper to life…”


Christiansen took the ribbing differently from the later incumbent. His secretary found a crowd of grinning reporters gathered around the box, reading the pastiche, and asked if she should take it down.


“No,” said Christiansen. “Get me Gunn on the telephone.” Herbert Gunn was the Managing Editor.


When he came on the line Christiansen told him: “Congratulations, Bert. I wish I could write like that.”

*****

The Duke of Sussex yesterday missed the opening day of his own phone hacking case against The Mirror.


Harry, 38, was apparently unable to make it because he was celebrating the second birthday of his daughter Princess Lillibet in California.


His absence earned him a rebuke. The judge, Mr Justice Fancourt, confessed he was “a little surprised” that his directions had not been followed. He had instructed that witnesses should be in court a day before they were due to give evidence.


Mirror Group’s lawyer Andrew Green called it extraordinary and accused his legal team of wasting the court’s time.


Harry will appear today, making him the first senior Royal to enter the witness box in 132 years.


His no-show begs the question: was this the arrogance of a princeling, or is he getting cold feet?


It will be interesting to see how he fares when the defence brief holds his feet to the fire.


6th June 2023