My reflections on Richard Addis, spiritual guide of the Express
his family’s brush with fame

FORMER MONK: Richard Addis

ISN’T it strange how one thought triggers another, and the new thought provokes others and so on down the line until you wonder how you got to the last thought before putting the kettle on or downing a pint of beer. What a lot of codswallop, Tel! you might say.

But I was amazed the other day how a thought about people’s teeth in adverts, took me all the way to the door of Editor and ‘spiritual guide’ Richard Addis of our parish.

He and his buddy Mark Palmer (affectionately nicknamed Biscuits because his family founded Huntley & Palmer Biscuits) were the posh kids on the block when they arrived at the Express from the Mail.

But they were a long way from my mind as I was raking up the leaves from the oak trees in my garden the other day.

I am proud of my four oaks in the summer, always boasting in the pub that Nelson’s flagship Victory was made of good old English oak like the ones towering over my lawn.

But I hate the oaks in the autumn when they drop enough leaves to compost every garden in Dollis Hill. I suffer from the English disease of Rake Ache every December.

As I shovelled the leaves into extra-strength bin bags that day, I don’t know why but I began to think of the TV adverts the night before, and an actor who endlessly flashed his teeth that were whiter than snow. How do people get them like that? I thought. It can’t just be good toothpaste or polishing.

Then I remembered a TV documentary I saw once, in which archaeologists dug up the bodies of Roman soldiers in AD something or other and the Centurions’ teeth were still mostly firmly in place in their skulls and whiter than they should be.

That night I looked it up on Google … Romans, teeth, and all that. And I discovered Julias Caesar's lot cleaned their choppers with their urine and anyone else’s. Apparently, it’s some chemical process that happens in the mouth when you do this. Results are white teeth.

Actress Sarah Miles sprang to mind. I read she always drank her own urine back in the Sixties and many scientists say it’s good for you. Also, good if you suffer from cracked heels. You rub urine into them. Job done. Never mind paying out eight quid at Boots for something in a tube.

So, what did the Victorians do wrong? I thought to myself. They always seemed to have black teeth in the history books.

Not so, said Google. They cleaned their teeth with soot. Soot? But that’s black isn’t it. They did this by rubbing a rag of soot and salt onto their molars.

I learned they even used materials such as tree twigs, bird feathers, and animal bones to move things along, chewing on the side of the object until it was soft like a brush. This mechanical action helped to remove plaque from their teeth and helped to stimulate their gum tissue. But it still left old meat to rot.

I read more. The story of an inmate of Newgate Jail in the late 1770s who was an intelligent and refined rag trader for the silk trade named William. He had been convicted of causing trouble in Spitalfields during the silk riots of the time. Apparently, he hated the stench of the cells and people’s breaths, realising that his own would smell the same because of his teeth.

Watching a guard sweep the floor of his cell one morning, he thought about making a mini broom for them. So, he saved a small chicken bone left over from his meal and using a small piece of metal, he painstakingly spent weeks drilling small holes into it.

He persuaded the guard into giving him some bristles from the broom which he cut and tied into little knots at the end before passing the open end through the holes in the bone. Then he sealed them all with glue. And so, the world’s first toothbrush was born.

That man was William Addis, and although I knew that the Addis family made brushes and brooms, I didn’t know this story of how the business began.

After he was set free, William went straight into mass producing his little invention and became another extremely wealthy Victorian with Wisdom Toothbrushes. He died in 1808 and left the business to his eldest son … and so the Addis dynasty was born, of which Richard is one.

They became a mixture of financiers, bankers, and church leaders. Religion was always a strong theme running through the family and as we know, Rugby and Cambridge-educated Richard, who wrote fluent Latin, spent two years as a novice monk at the Anglican priory of the Community of the Glorious Ascension in Watchet, Somerset. He left to take up journalism in magazines and newspapers and eventually arrived at the Express in 1995, where many of us worked with him.

Finding out a little more about his background helped me to understand him and his era more. To me, he always radiated a kind of spiritual peace. I can remember times, late into the evening, when I would pop in his office to show him Page One or the Blurb for the next day.

Sometimes he was alone, with the door shut, playing Mahler on his stereo system as he sat looking out at the Thames, lit up in the darkness. He would speak of growing up as a boy who was very lonely, and he had become used to isolation.

“I had a beautiful early life Terry, sitting on the sands of a lagoon, with palm trees all around me, watching the little waves of the ocean in the moonlight,” he would say. “But I didn’t have any friends. I was always on my own. It gave me a different perspective on life.” At lunches, functions and other times, he would often hark back to those days when he chatted.

Richard on his travels, educating the world

I always wondered about that lagoon in paradise and where it was, and only now, as I look back at Richard’s background, after I had daydreamed about teeth that day, I realise that it must have been in The Seychelles, as his father was Governor there.

An important job too. Sir William Addis was minder to Archbishop Makarios who was exiled to the island of Mahe in the Seychelles, in 1956, the year Richard was born.

On another occasion, one Sunday morning I was number two to Ian Monk, another Mail arrival, as he edited the paper. We were in a bidding war with the Mail over a book contract, and Ian desperately needed to speak to Richard, who was on holiday, about the latest bid from Dacre.

All morning we had been ringing Richard’s mobile, but no answer. Finally, we got through and all we heard was the sound of bells … bong, bong, bong, slow and pulsating.

Finally, Richard came on the line over the buzz box in Ian’s office.

“So sorry, I’m in Tibet (or somewhere similar), and it has been difficult to get the donkeys up the mountain.”

Richard was bristling with ideas that were always different from the kind of editor we had worked for before. He took the Beachcomber column to the stage at the Edinburgh Festival, getting our excellent scribe Peter Tory to write the script, hiring out-of-work actors, and getting me to produce it. It was a success, but I doubted that it put on sales.

And he had a fascination for colours, believing they influenced moods and habits. He got me working with a colour psychologist finding out what colours we might do the Page One blurbs in to promote interest and sales.

Red was excitement; blue – trust; yellow – optimism and orange was friendly etc. We matched the colours with the blurb lines. We would use red and yellow for the big competitions for example.

I later discovered that when he was editor of Homes & Jobs magazine, he insisted that all his staff wore different colour clothes every day that matched, so that the editorial floor would look colour co-ordinated yet different every day.

On the Express of course, he would bring astrologer Jonathan Cainer in to join editorial conferences for added perspective. A sort of sixth dimension.

I liked Richard a lot, but not a lot of people did. He was different, charming, and his ideas were sometimes off the wall. When he left the Express, he launched various media start-ups including the UK’s first hand-written newspaper, The Manual … (that’s right out of the Addis book — handwritten).

In January 2011, he finally launched The Day in a new incarnation as a daily online news title for "schools, colleges and inquiring minds".

It claimed to be the "world's first current affairs teaching and learning website” and had subscribers in 21 countries and a daily reach of over half a million teenagers, many of them in poor African countries, which he visited.

Today, a recent internet wealth site puts his fortune at £7million.

There’s more to his story of course, much more. But as we tuck into the Christmas pudding this year, perhaps we should remember that Richard’s Addis dynasty brought us the world’s first artificial Christmas tree. That's something to be joyful for.

Tell it as it is …

Nick Fletcher, the elephant in the Commons

Why is it that people who are against illegal and mass immigration are always branded right-wing when left and centre people are often against it too. Why does The Right always have to be treated by some as a kind of political leper colony? Or depicted with pictures of thugs in vests with tattoos?

Just look at the hoo-ha over Tory MP Nick Fletcher (Doncaster) saying that immigration is turning parts of the UK into a ghetto where no one speaks English. My word, you would think he had shot his grandmother. But is it the truth? I think it is, along with millions of others.

The trouble is that we are so politically correct and in fear of the hand-wringing churchmen and bleeding-heart liberal thinkers that we can’t solve the problem because we can’t have an honest debate. The elephant in the room has had its trunk cut off! A bit like the NHS horror.

Fast money

SLOW DOWN Martin, we’re trying to see if everything adds up

Martin Lewis promised us that he would talk slower, but he is still a car crash at 78rpm as he roars through his TV programme about our dosh. You can’t even keep up with the small words on his message board as he jumps from point to point. How some old folk understand it all, I don’t know. You can’t even follow it in shorthand — and yet his mission statement is to make it all simple. Slow down Martin, we know that you know it all, but give us a chance to catch up.



18 December 2023

Terry will be back in January