How Esther Took the Michael

UNHAND ME SIR: Esther Harrod gets some unwanted attention from Mike Shmith

THE man looks respectable enough in his collar, tie and smart sports jacket but the girl looks decidedly reluctant. But it’s all a bit of innocent fun as two members of the Daily Express staff pose to illustrate a story on sexual harassment for the paper in 1980. The girl in the picture, features secretary ESTHER HARROD explains how she eventually got her own back on her make-believe sex pest, features sub Mike Shmith

I worked as Features Secretary for several years, mostly under the editorship of Bill Spicer (still alive and living back somewhere in Geordie Land and now known fondly by his old school mates as “Billy”!)

I fondly remember Charles Govey, Mike Shmith, Terry Ryle, Bernie Workman and many of the writers and Features Subs. We worked hard and played hard. The man in the picture is Mike Shmith, an Australian whose mother was the second wife of Lord Harewood. Mike eventually returned to Australia and I believe, still works on the Sydney Morning Herald.

Mike loved to play jokes on people but he met his match in me after he’d phoned in pretending to be some old geezer who had an arthritic penis (following a feature on a seaweed supplement for arthritis sufferers).  There I was, being totally sympathetic to this poor guy, completely taken in and forgetting there isn’t a bone in this appendage. I only cottoned on when I could hear giggling and sniggering behind me, with Mike actually being on the phone at my rear, so to speak. 

Revenge is a dish best served cold, so I waited my time until Mike wrote a rather scathing travel piece on a pub called the Royal Oak which he had visited in North Yorkshire, presumably on his way back from the stately pile of Harewood House where his mother lived with his stepfather.  Mike criticised the lack of facilities for children as the Royal Oak advertised itself as a family-friendly pub 

I got Tim Holder, who was art director, to handwrite the following letter I had composed and then mailed it to stringer Elsie Robinson so she could return it back to London with a North Yorkshire postmark.  The letter, dated May 1980,  read:-

Dear Mr Shmith

With reference to your defamatory description of The Royal Oak, it is regrettable that you only visited our “Tiny Tots” section. Had you taken the trouble to walk round the other side of the pub, you would have seen our very large and attractive paved courtyard which accommodates a Wendy House, a see-saw, four swings and a climbing frame, not to mention the newly-installed pond complete with gold fish.

With regard to the food. It is true that the food is not displayed on the counter, but I wonder why you missed the prominent notice which states that our Banqueting Manager (recently acquired from his three-year apprenticeship with the London Hilton) is very happy to discuss our vast selection of open sandwiches and hot meals. We even offer our smaller customers special half portions

In conclusion, I must tell you sir that unless you print a further article within 14 days I intend to seek the advice of my solicitor. 

Yours sincerely, Robert Carter, The Manager, The Royal Oak

PS  I am sending a copy of this letter to Mr Victor Matthews (Chairman)


Robert Carter was my cousin but Mike wasn’t to know that. I waited until Mike was off rota before the letter was sent down to London so it was ready and waiting for him on his return. Bill Spicer and Bernie Workman were in on the joke and promised not to let the cat out of the bag. 

When Mike arrived back to work, we watched him open the letter. He went quite pale. Then he phoned his wife Joannie and whispered the letter to her with his hand held over the mouthpiece so we couldn’t hear. When he put the phone down he started to clack furiously on his typewriter.

I asked him if anything was wrong. Then Bill said “what’s the matter Mike?” I joined in with “could I get you a coffee perhaps, you don’t look very well”. Then I innocently added “Oh by the way Mike, while you were away, Lord Matthews’ PA rang to speak to you. Could you call her back please?” 

In panic, Mike then took Bill to one side to show him the letter and told him Lord Matthews’ office had rung to speak to him.  “What shall I do?” Mike cried

Bill wisely advised Mike he should write a very, VERY apologetic letter and hope for the best. Mike spent about half an hour on this, steam coming out of his ears. He showed his efforts to Bill who quietly said (but so we could all hear), “sorry Mike, not quite grovelly enough, try harder”.  It was very very hard not to laugh.  But in the end Bernie Workman, who was sitting opposite Mike just lost it followed by the rest of us. 

“You BASTARDS,” Mike said with huge relief.  “Touché for the arthritic penis was my reply. He added: “I guess I don’t have to phone Matthews’ secretary now then do I?

Poor Mike, it was classic. I think it taught him a lesson that day not to play jokes on people if he couldn’t take a joke back.

© 2005-2022 Alastair McIntyre