Down Memo-ry Lane

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ALAN FRAME has been delving in his drawers again

I have been ferreting through the memorabilia files (as one does at this age) and have found some gems ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. They bring back memories in a way that only your very own personalised Pathe Newsreel could.

 There is the memo from Christopher Ward to All Staff which could be best be filed under Not Worth the Paper It’s Written On recounting a conversation with the then chairman Lord Whelks [Victor Matthews] following the sacking of the excitable Jocelyn Stevens as Express Newspapers managing director. “The Chairman assured me …it is the intention to invest in our future success … we enjoy his complete confidence and would continue to receive his support.” Christopher, who was appointed in October 1981, was fired in April 1983. Fortunately for me, one of his first decisions after taking up his appointment was to make me Features Editor.

 There are many other memos including one I wrote to my old chum, the then Hickey editor Wislon (Christopher Wilson, for it is he) on December 19, 1984 which began: ‘I am not prepared to tolerate another shambles such as the one which engulfed Hickey last night’ and went on to catalogue the shambles. He replied: ‘I utterly reject that it was a shambles. The reason we were late was because two leads were killed in quick succession’ and proceeded to give as he got. I suspect the proximity to Christmas might have had some relevance.

 The best of the Hickey memos (which to be fair were frequent given the number of nests a gossip columnist is required to disturb – the Hickey motto was, after all, Their Despair is our Delight) was from that very special man Bernard Shrimsley and reads: ‘Your Max Bygraves item will seem snide, indeed cruel, to most readers. Please leave this sort of thing to the Private Eye thugs.’

 When Wislon pointed out in his reply that Bernard has actually approved the story for publication, this came back: ‘It is a pity that you cannot see the basis of my complaint. The fact that I blame myself for ever passing the story does not suspend the judgment.’ How’s that for cake and eating it?…

 Ward and I got on well until an extraordinary incident in 1983. My best pal Rory Crilly, with whom I had worked in Ireland and on the Express in Manchester, had died suddenly. His funeral was to be on the day I was expected at one of Christopher’s brain-storming sessions at the Howard hotel. I pointed out to him that I could not be there but that my deputy Chris Williams (whatever happened to him?) would stand in for me and would bring all the plans and ideas from our department. To my astonishment Ward was having none of it and there was a nasty stand-off which no doubt would have done my career no good had I not outlasted him.

 I was very upset by his attitude and made that clear to fellow invitees, namely Rick McNeill, Ted Dickinson and George Gale. They were disgusted and come the day showed it - first by George popping out of the morning session to go to the loo and, when he failed to return after 15 minutes, Ted saying he would go to check if he was ok. He certainly was – in familiar pose at the bar where he was joined by the deputy editor and within five minute by Rick, then night editor. It was a show of considerable anger at Chris Ward’s failure to understand my position and I was grateful for their support. Of course, maybe they were just thirsty…

george gale

 (Incidentally, George, pictured right, was a delight to work with. His polemics were clever, hugely literate and when I told him we needed it cut he would simply throw away the first page (we are talking of  pre-tech days). It worked every time. One day I called him at his hotel in Brighton where he was covering a party conference to discuss the line he would be taking. “I think I’m having a heart attack but I’ll file soon.” “For God’a sake George, bugger the copy, get an ambulance.” “When I’ve finished filing.” And that was that, he was having none of my nannying, he filed his usual immaculate copy and then departed for a week’s stay at the Royal Sussex County Hospital.)

 Christopher Ward had joined the Express from the Daily Mirror and as it happens I have come across some choice memos from the Mirror Group. One from Michael Christiansen (son of), while editor of the Sunday Mirror, berates some poor sap after the taps in ‘my personal washroom’ (those were the days) were mysteriously removed thus causing him to use the ‘public places where from time to time I wash my hands in public in order to keep up the morale of the staff’. I promise I haven’t just made this up though I think Christiansen might have been having some fun..

On a more serious note the late Victor Knight in his role as the distinguished Political Editor of the Sunday Mirror (which you will remember was hugely influential until the crook Maxwell came along) wrote to Bob Edwards in 1976 that poor Merlyn Rees (then Ulster Secretary when the Troubles were at height of their barbarity) was ‘reluctant to go into any detail on the size of the SAS forces operating in South Armagh’ but  ‘I got the impression that the Pincher story was too close to the truth for comfort.’ He might have added: ‘As all Chapman Pincher stories are.’

 Finally, and rather poignantly, there is a long list of names scribbled by someone while carrying out a collection (presumably of the leaving variety) while we were all in Fleet Street. Among the 70+ benefactors were James McMillan, Ruth Inglis, George Gale, Ben Vos, Don Coolican and Geoff Levy. I mention them because it helps to point to the date – definitely pre-1984 I’d say and post-1980. I gave an inordinate amount, 10 crisp oncers which were no doubt claimed back in my exes, but that points to the beneficiary being from the features staff. And the fact that at least £300 was raised, the equivalent of about £950 in today’s money, also points to the recipient being popular and possible long serving. Problem is, I can’t remember who it was. But I bet someone out there can.

I am sure Lord Drone will be as generous as ever should we have a winning entry…

I doubt it - Ed

© 2005-2022 Alastair McIntyre