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SUNDAY 19  MAY 2024

*

Nick Lloyd’s tedious devotion to Thatcher, aided by Potts, led to decline of the Express

MAKING WAVES: Margaret Thatcher and Norman Tebbit celebrate the Conservatives’ 1987 election victory in Smith Square, London


Everyone on the Daily Express in the Eighties knew that Editor Nick Lloyd was a Thatcher groupie. But few beyond his inner circle understood how completely in thrall he was to the Iron Lady.

 

He was seduced not merely by her political ideas, which he embraced with utter loyalty, but also by the aura of power that surrounded her.

 

Sir Nicholas, as he would soon become, gave an interview to journalist Tony Gray for a book Gray was writing on the dissolution of The Street, called Fleet Street Remembered.

 

Lloyd gushes like a starstruck schoolboy about the night when Thatcher won another term as Prime Minister and consolidated her grip on power.

 

“I was very closely involved in the 1986 General Election [I think he means ’87] because I happened to be Editor of the Daily Express at the time. I enjoyed being part of the power process to be honest,” he told Gray.

 

“I enjoyed being kept in the picture as to how things were going. And that night when she won again and came down to the Central Office at three o’clock in the morning, that was a great night.

 

“You remember those bits you saw on television, all the people leaning out of the windows, Tebbit and Parkinson, and all the others, well, I was actually in that room.

 

“I talked to her for about 10 minutes that night. And if you remember that bit where she’s making this speech about the inner cities and, as she walked in, her face suddenly lit up and she grinned: at that point she was saying hello to me, she really was.

 

“That’s the silly bit, you don’t talk about it too much, but that’s the romantic bit. That’s the power bit.”

 

This beguilement with his proximity to power helps to explain the tedious obsession the Express developed with Thatcher’s politics. I supported Thatcher but I thought then, and still think that this devotion to Maggie – aided and abetted by such figures as Political Editors Paul Potts and Chris Buckland and spin doctor Bernard Ingham – was one of the factors in the continuing decline of the newspaper.

 

There was such a thing as maximal Maggie and we surpassed it.

 

I never met Dublin-born Tony Gray, who died in 2004 aged 82, but he was Features Editor of Mike Molloy’s Daily Mirror, which I think was the greatest newspaper I ever set eyes on, and as credentials go, that’s good enough for me.

 

His book, published in 1990, is in two parts. The first tells the story of Fleet Street, from the Middle Ages to the Wapping exodus, and Gray’s life in it. The second is interviews with notable Fleet Street veterans (whom we are supposed to call survivors now).

 

Lloyd’s contribution is one of these and it offers insights into his efforts to turn around the paper’s fortunes.

 

He tells Gray: “I followed Larry Lamb as Editor of the Express. One of the troubles of being Editor of the Express is that in the days of Beaverbrook, it was the best-selling paper in the country, selling over four million a day.

 

“Over the past twenty years, it has lost more than two million of that circulation because it became old-fashioned and out-of-date, the sort of paper our dads used to read.

 

“Then the Sun came out and totally undercut it with a very different sort of popular journalism.”

 

Lloyd says the Express should have gone tabloid sooner and moans about the seesaw search for its place in the market.

 

“We’ve been middle-marketed, down-marketed with Derek Jameson and up-marketed with Alastair Burnet … God knows what the readers thought; we used to have a new editor every 18 months. The paper had no consistency, no pattern.

 

“What we are trying to do now is to be squarely middle-market, A, B and C1, hopefully age group 20 to 35; we’re aiming at a much younger market now.”

 

Lloyd, who started his Fleet Street career on the Daily Mail – “I was never trained as a journalist,” he reveals – was Education Correspondent and later Deputy News Editor of the Sunday Times and edited the Sunday People and the News of the World as well as the Express.

 

Looking back on his career, he says: “I was with the Mirror group in the last days before the Maxwell take-over and that was when the inmates were really running the asylum and although it was a lovely time, the papers were really being run for the benefit of the staffs and not for the shareholders or the profit of the Reed group.”

 

He speaks reverently of Rupert Murdoch, for whom he worked for 12 years. “I think Murdoch is a genius. He is Hearst, he is Beaverbrook, he is Sam Goldwyn.”

 

Lloyd adds: “If I have one regret, perhaps it is that I didn’t stay in America. I went to America with Murdoch for a year and he wanted me to stay, and I think perhaps I should have stayed. Otherwise, I have no regrets…”

 

*Fleet Street Remembered, published by Heinemann, is out of print but you can still get a second-hand copy on Amazon.


*****

 

I remember when the only thing I had to charge regularly was my glass. Not any more.

 

We live in an electronic age and everything now has to be plugged in. Yesterday was a day that made me long for the old analogue ways.

 

I got up to find that my new electric toothbrush had not charged itself overnight. Oh, well, back to the bristles.

 

Then, downstairs, I had choices to make. Whose iPad most needed a shot. Mine was low on juice but as I seldom use it before mid-morning, Madame’s got preference. That way it would be ready for her post-breakfast browse of the news sites.

 

However, it meant that I could not charge the Apple watch without schlepping it upstairs and I just couldn’t be bothered, so that had to wait.

 

I put the iPhones on their charging pad and decided to read a little. I picked up the Kindle – every one of my bookshelves is rammed and so I even read electronically – but immediately a warning came up on screen. The battery was low and I’d be lucky to get a couple of pages in.

 

Ohm my god, this was getting serious. The Chinese hack of the Ministry of Defence and the latest crippling failure of airport e-gates at Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester and Edinburgh paled by comparison.

 

Where’s this all going to end? Pretty soon, wars will be fought in cyberspace and the jobsworth in the IT department will be the new infantryman. (Bored tone: “Have you tried switching the missile off and switching it on again?”)

 

I am a latecomer to the reality of how dependent we are now on technology and how vulnerable we are as a result. And by the way, all this stuff plugged in is costing me a fortune – and it’s not very green, is it?

 

But without my laptop, how would I file copy to the Daily Drone?

 

Fear not, My Lord, I still have my old Olivetti portable in a cupboard somewhere. The ribbon is faded but it still functions. And I shall attach hard copy to the leg of a carrier pigeon, which will wing its way to Drone’s dovecote.

 

The World’s Greatest Online Newspaper will come out with, as my old chum Geoff Compton used to say, “all the right words, all in the right order”.

 

Or not. A bit fickle, these pigeons. But then, so is broadband.

 

*****

 

Finally, justice is served. The Court of Appeal overturned a manslaughter conviction against Auriol Grey and set her free.

 

Grey had waved her arms at an oncoming cyclist, shouting: “Get off the fucking pavement.” The woman on the bike, retired midwife Celia Ward, 77, veered into the road in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, and was killed by a car.

 

Grey, 50, was convicted in March last year and sentenced to three years in prison. But last week the Appeal Court decided that, far from killing someone, she hadn’t committed any offence.

 

One judge, Dame Victoria Sharp, said: “In our judgement, the prosecution case was insufficient even to be left to the jury.”

 

Adrian Darbishire, KC, for Grey, told the court that her “hostile gesticulation” was not a crime – “otherwise we would have 50,000 football fans each weekend being apprehended.”

 

It is important to acknowledge that someone died. The whole episode is a tragedy and Celia Ward’s family deserve our sympathy. But you cannot send someone to jail out of sympathy.

 

I wrote in anger here about the case a year ago. I could not see how Grey’s actions could be construed as manslaughter and she certainly did not deserve three years.

 

Grey, who has cerebral palsy and is partially sighted, has recently been diagnosed as autistic. Now she is a free woman again. But that should not be the end of the matter.

 

Who allowed a case with no basis in law whatever to proceed? Why did police charge her with such a serious offence, or at all? Why did the Crown Prosecution Service let it reach court? And why didn’t Judge Sean Enright seize on the key flaw in the prosecution case and halt it in its tracks?

 

Someone’s got some explaining to do.

 

*****

 

It’s a tough job, producing a hit TV series. You can never know when you’ve got it right.

 

I’ve been watching the second series of The Responder, the BBC drama about a Liverpool copper sinking under the weight of everyday professional horrors and a personal life that’s unravelling before our eyes.

 

It is beautifully written with snappy, often witty dialogue and brilliantly acted by Martin Freeman in the title role. It should be one of the best things on telly. So why does it make me want to slit my wrists?

 

Perhaps what happens in Liverpool should stay in Liverpool.

 

*****

 

My favourite story of the week, courtesy of the Prufrock column in the Sunday Times Business section…

 

Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves, a former junior chess champion, gets to meet her hero, Garry Kasparov and asks him for a game.

 

Her chief of staff, Katie Martin, intervenes, telling her there isn’t time.

 

Kasparov says: “Katie, this will not take long.”



RICHARD DISMORE


14 May 2024