Norman's Wisdom

DOING IT HIMSELF: Norman Luck, far left, addressing a reunion of former Daily Express staff in the grand foyer of the old Fleet Street building in 2008

ROGER WATKINS remembers a valued chum

Norman was on a foreign trip to “war-torn” Beirut and, like other correspondents, was holed up in a hotel which was regularly hit by artillery fire. Eventually they were all confined to a conference room which only had one phone.

Naturally, there was a queue of reporters from all over the world anxious to file copy. The man from the Washington Post finally reached the head of the line and crawled across the rubble-strewn floor to where Norman was finishing his latest despatch (Copytakers: “Is there much more of this, Norm?”).

The Washington Post’s finest listened in to Norman finishing off his piece, hoping, perhaps, to gain access to some amazing scoop.

Instead of gleaning hidden insight into the story of Lebanon in flames, he was in time to over-hear Mr Luck filing his weekly DIY column for the Express.

It's a shame that the classic Yasser Arafat in Lebanon story didn’t feature Norman but it was, in fact, Danny McGrory. Worth re-telling at this time anyway: Danny was interviewing the PLO leader in some rundown property in the back streets of Beirut when a particularly heavy artillery assault caused masonry to rain down upon them. 

They both threw themselves on to the floor under a table. Arafat, seeing that McGrory was, understandably, terrified, reached over and patted him on the back of the hand and said; “Don’t worry, Danny. It’s me they’re after.”

Back to Norman. Imagine the scene: Just before Christmas in the mid-nineties; Wembley Conference Centre packed to the rafters for a Salvation Army musical extravaganza; incongruously, guests of honour Terry Manners and me, Roger Watkins, are seated in the front row either side of the General idly wondering if there is any chance that alcohol will be served during the interval. 

We were just getting to the end of another Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam-style number. The bands were playing, the Sally Ann girls were beating their tambourines, everyone was singing and clapping when, suddenly, Norman appeared at the back of the hall and ostentatiously started to walk down the steps to the front. On spotting us, he indicated he wanted to speak to Manners who made his excuses to the General and quickly followed him out.

Hell, I thought (inappropriately), it must be something big for Norman to gatecrash the Salvation Army in front of several thousand people. Then, I got to thinking that it must be some bad news for Terry about his family, or something.

It didn’t take long for real paranoia to set in and for me to think: Oh, God, it must be that something has happened in my family and they are working out how to tell me.

When the interval came I bounded up the steps and out of the hall to find Manners leaning against a wall sipping orange juice (see what I mean about bad news?).

“What’s happening, mate? It must be awful? Go on, you can tell me,” I said.

“Oh, that’s just Norman,” Tel replied. “He’d noticed on a page proof that the subs had missed off his byline on the DIY column and he wanted me to ring the office to make sure it was re-instated.”

True story. I was there.

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