The flamboyant viscount
whose weekly column charmed London society


Lord Castlerosse and his first wife in
the vibrant 1920s, they loved.

Beaverbrook had a great love for cartoonists and gossip writers … and he was hardly ever seen at a party without them swanning around in the background.

The most flamboyant of these was Viscount Valentine Brown, Lord Castlerosse, who wrote the popular Londoner’s log for John Gordon’s Sunday Express. Playboy Castlerosse weighed 18stone, lived the high life and was terribly well connected, with high society eager to see what he’d written each week. He was reported to be the most Malicious Man of Gossip on the Street of broken dreams.

 He was a notorious playboy, eater, drinker, gambler and womaniser – seducing most women who crossed his path.

He seemed to live on foie gras and wined and dined at Claridge’s, the Savoy, Cannes and Palm Beach totally on Express expenses. Not that the Beaver cared, he took him everywhere. Even New York. But then, most people knew that the Beaver was something of a sexpert on sleaze himself.

 For 18 years, Castlerosse produced a weekly column of 3,000 words so compulsively readable that high society hostesses had to order a Sunday Express for each of their guests so that none would have the cachet of having read Castlerosse’s “Londoners’ Log” first. But he was a terrible romantic.

 On one high society do, in Germany, Castlerosse popped into a florist to buy orchids for a lady he planned to dine and sleep with that night. Because luxuries were scarce in Germany, however, the shop could produce only a single spray.

 "Get me more!" Castlerosse demanded, sensing he had an audience, "more, more, more!"

 "But how can we get them My Lord?"

 "Wire for them. Send planes for them, anything!" Castlerosse shouted.

 "Yes, m'lord, it shall be done."

 And so it was that the telegraph wires hummed and airplanes converged on Baden Baden from various towns around Europe, packed with orchids for Lord Castlerosse’s lucky lady. The following morning the orchids filled her entire ballroom from all over the world. The cost was astronomical.

 Castlerosse never brought an orchid again.

 His enormous stomach, matched with enormous drinking, didn’t put the women off though, although some did take the mickey. At a party in London hosted by Beaverbrook, a woman guest commented to him about his large physical bulk, “Lord Castlerosse, if that stomach was on a woman, I would say she was pregnant.”

 “Madame,” he said. “Half an hour ago it was, and she is!”

 His enormous stomach and enormous appetite for food and sex did him no favours in the end. He died of alcohol complications. aged 53 in September, 1943.


Oi! Leave our Backbench wordsmiths alone, Burnet
or whoever it may concern!

I HAVE always been incensed with the claim about our newsroom’s Backbench, in the book ‘Voice of Britain: The Inside Story of the Daily Express’ by R. Allen, formerly of the Science Museum, which was published in 1983 with a foreword by Lord Matthews, that, irritatingly, completely ignored our founder and first Editor, Sir Arthur Pearson, who created all our jobs. (Proof-read of course, by the efficient Morris Benett, once Managing Editor of our parish).

 The book refers to editors of the past and one of them is ITN Newsreader Alastair Burnet. Memories of life under the three-year editorship of Alastair are still raw for many of us and we can still see in our mind’s eye his jacket hanging on the back of a Backbench chair as he disappeared into the evening during the paper’s busiest time, to be followed by a telephone call to us hours later to send his wallet home or to a hostelry hours later.

 Alastair, a perfect gentleman; a hugely intelligent man and a nice bloke who liked a large tipple as most of us do hadn’t a clue in the opinion of most of us, how to run a popular daily newspaper or how it worked. 

He was more at home on the Spectator. He just liked the ‘squiggly type’  (italics) and would often be fixated with it when the world and its stories were breaking around him. He would mostly ask for a copy of the foreign page to read before any other. And I never saw him change a headline or kill a story. He had little overall editorial ‘presence’.

 And so, the Backbench were ‘left to get on with it’ as they always did when the Editor took his hand off the tiller. It is wrong, therefore in my view, that the man who was apparently brought in to give weight to the up-market image of DX80 (remember that?) failed because he was not given much chance to succeed, according to the book which states:

 “Burnett’s influence, whilst apparent from time to time, did not permeate the paper as a whole. Like other Editors before him he had to deal with an entrenched conservatism; a set pattern of news judgements dictated by the Backbench … a corps of senior sub-editors and layout men who could keep the paper much as they liked it, whoever was Editor, particularly if that Editor was not able to dictate technical terms. Whatever directives the Editor of a daily newspaper issues, his power is very limited unless he can execute them himself.” 

There was no right of reply given of course. What a lot of cobblers!


Our own gutsy Emilie …

Emilie Peacocke: Beat the odds

POLICE were always alerted if the mystery “girl with a mass of hair” was spotted waiting for a crowd to form on a street corner in London. For it often signalled that suffragette leader Emile Pankhurst and her followers were due to arrive and cause trouble.

 That girl was Emilie Peacocke, (née Marshall), the first woman reporter on the Daily Express. Tough, no-nonsense Emilie came to Fleet Street from Darlington in 1902, at a time when women had a difficult life making a name for themselves on newspapers.

 Even Fleet Street restaurants and pubs were a male enclave. It was a time when women were even given smaller portions than men when they ordered a meal (a ‘ladies plate’). This came from the belief that genteel Victorian women should only ‘toy’ with their food in public, to show good breeding and manners.

In the newspaper industry women generally worked as secretaries, tea ladies, copytakers, and cleaners. Worthy, but not why they arrived on the steps of the Black Lubyanka by horse bus. If they wrote, it was mainly about children’s clothes and knitting.

 Emilie was 20 when she was offered £3.10s a week as an Express reporter. Her father was the proprietor and Editor of the Northern Echo John Marshall and she worked for him as a proof-reader’s assistant. But she left the Echo to chase her reporting dream, on the Church Family Newspaper and was sent to cover church life in Canterbury and York. It proved to be a move that would pay off.

 But being a woman was still a problem — she was not allowed to attend church meetings that mattered. She caused so much trouble about it, that finally, she was allowed to sit in an area roped off by a red silk cord, indicating her non-presence but not allowed to ask questions. But at least she heard everything and made good contacts.

 Her big break at the Express came when she went after a tip through her family, that told of a secret print of sacred ancient hymns being revised by vicars. Male reporters had failed to track it down and put it down to rumours. 

Express founder Arthur Pearson, a devout churchman, was furious when he found out about the hymns, after all, his grandfather was the author of “Abide with Me”. Impressed, he instructed editor RD Blumenfeld to give Emilie a rise to £4.10d a week … and she was off. He became her favourite. The only way was up from then.

 Top jobs were given to her, and she got close to the Trade Union movement and Keir Hardy. Then suffragette Emily Pankhurst became her friend, although sadly there is little in books, cuttings, letters and archives about their relationship. Documentation is mostly lost. And I always wondered why she never wrote a book on her life. Only a dusty two-page archive is in a bunch of documents in an antique book and manuscript seller’s shop. It tells of her life in the days when she travelled, choking through the cigarette smoke on the London Underground, arriving in Shoe Lane by horse bus. More of that some other time.

 Even a BBC radio play about her has vanished from Aunties’ library of tapes.

 Emilie often found herself filing the big news stories and her name regularly appeared on the news schedule at editorial conferences, almost unheard of for women news reporters of the time.

 One item I dug up said: “Miss Peacocke has been sent to see a theatrical lady with an undecipherable name who implores us to report the sad death of her beloved pet lemur. This dangerous beast has been the pet of the entire theatre world. It has scratched Marie Lloyd and been kissed by Henry Irving. And it loved to ride on donkeys!”

Emilie had an affair with Daily Express news reporter Herbert Peacocke and married him in 1909 but kept the marriage secret for a while. In 1928 she joined the Daily Telegraph as women’s page editor and stayed there until retirement.

 She died in January 1964 at the home she shared with her daughter Marguerite, in Kensington and Marguerite went on to become the first woman President of the Institute of Journalists, toasting at her inauguration her mother, “the girl with a mass of hair”.


The books with no heart

SO MANY books about the Express have overlooked the rich colour and tapestry of the newsroom and its people along the way. Not everyone in the scheme of things was a budding Beaverbrook; a great writer; TV critic; political guru or spy catcher.

 In fact, the main characters were just a large number of lead actors in the play they fronted. It was this army of subs and reporters, features, news and sports executives; messengers, tea ladies, Uncle Tom Cobley and all, that kept the Express clock ticking. Even the Front Hall cashier.

 Mix that with the heartache; anecdotes; rows and stories behind the stories and life on the Express truly unfolds. In the engine room.

 That is why the Daily Drone, I believe, is unique. Given the mammoth mess of the priceless lost files; letters; notes, contracts, and other data from our newspaper age, it tells in anecdotal form the real story of what went on down below decks and the people at the heart of the empire that made it what it was.

 How sad that many of those memories have gone forever in rubbish skips; London market stalls and backrooms of book shops and attics, as researchers tell us.

 Only last week former long-time staffer Cliff Seabridge told me that he was shopping in London’s Leather Lane shortly after we moved across the water to the other end of Blackfriars Bridge, when he saw a market stall selling bound editions of the Express from our Library. Remember those? Journos would often pop round to the Library counter and check back issues.

Dennis Griffith, Doctor of Philosophy in Journalism at The City University, tells us in a report: “As newly-appointed Archivist of Express Newspapers, my initial reaction in commencing my research was to examine material in the Evening Standard library.

 “The result was most disappointing — only two brown envelopes with a half dozen faded news cuttings and memoranda. No correspondence had been retained for the pre-1960 decades and the in-house files of the paper existed only for the past few years with an obsolete microfilm unit.”

 It all goes downhill from there. He later found a wealth of Express cuttings and material dumped in a skip. I wonder what dear old Struan Coupar, entrenched for years in the Managing Editor’s Box Office at the Editorial Stage Door that orchestrated such strides of editorial excellence, would make of that now? I can hear the haunting echoes of Mike Dean’s laughter, floating over foggy banks of the Dublin Liffey.


Old London scene by Harry Bishop

I’m just wild about Harry …

I WAS looking for some prints of old London horse coaches (don’t ask) recently and came across this wonderful piece of artwork by Harry Bishop. It was for sale from a dealer for around £600. The most interesting thing to me however was that Harry was the Express Gunlaw strip artist in the 1950s. He drew the strip based on James Arness who played Matt Dillon in the hit TV series Gunsmoke. Harry was obviously an incredible artist in his own right. He also drew numerous western strips for Junior Express including Wyatt Earp. Great stuff.

 Harry suffered a chronic eye infection in 1984 that left him no longer able to draw. He died in 2015 at the age of 95.

Next week, Beaverbrook, Aitken, Castlerosse and even Churchill were all launching their affairs from the Beaver's parties.


1 July 2024