SUNDAY 19  MAY 2024


Junor was a red-faced sex predator but I liked him and Beaverbrook did too

I HAVE been sad to read so many tales and titbits (is that the right word?) of the sexual antics of our legendary and iconic editor of the Sunday Express, Sir John Junor, 27 years after his death, isolated and ostracised at his country mansion, even by his own family.

Since he died from gangrene of the stomach in May 1997, aged 78, he has often been described as a “red faced, bulging eyed, predator of women feared by his own staff” and recently in the Daily Drone new stories of his antics have resurfaced.

I got to know Sir John after he asked me to take over as night editor and sit next to him every Saturday on his Sunday Express backbench in the 1980s. I was chief sub of the Daily at the time and sometimes he would take me to lunch in the week at his favourite Italian restaurant, where he had his own seat in the corner opposite the door, so that he could spy on any of his staff coming in, and who spent what, on what.

I quickly realised that he had an eye for the women, and he was forever talking to me about Anthea Redfern’s legs, but I knew little about his so-called promiscuous life. To me, he was a journalist with guts and probably the most hard-hitting columnist of his day in my book. I liked him, always will.

Loved by Beaverbrook who gave him a mansion and estate, he took on the IRA, the establishment and police. Of the Brighton bombers, he wrote in 1984: “With compatriots like these wouldn’t you rather admit to being a pig than be Irish?” The following year he was censored by the Press Council for his words.

But who can forget how he made the small town of Auchtermuchty in Fife famous and people began to copy his catchphrase: “Pass me the sick bag Alice.” He had terrible prejudices though … distrusting men with beards; brown shoes and those who drank white wine. They were ‘poofters’. He even refused to review books written by black authors.

Over the two years I sat with him, I learned from his ‘asides’, especially after he had been to El Vino, that he felt he was being followed by the secret services … and once, I think, in the brain fog of all those years ago, he had some sort of accident in his Land Rover, and believed it wasn’t an accident.

I was so pleased when after he left, taking his column to the Daily Mail, I heard that he was getting more money than he had ever earned from being editor of the Sunday Express.

But this week I dug out a cutting from an old copy of Press Gazette, written by JJ’s Literary Editor Graham Lord, who must have had an axe to grind and obviously hated the man who gave him his first journalistic break. Perhaps with reason.

Graham wrote 13 years after his editor’s death: “JJ looked like a seedy gargoyle as he grew older he leered at almost every woman he met.

“He propositioned the wives of almost every member of his staff, including mine. During one Sunday Express cricket match against his Surrey village, Charlwood, on a blazing summer’s day, the very good-looking wife of one of our sports writers was foolish enough to remark how hot it was.

“Junor pounced. He kept insisting that she should go with him to his nearby farm, Wellpools for a cold shower, and he was so persistent that eventually she agreed. As she stepped out of the shower, she saw him standing in the doorway wearing nothing but underpants and a leer.

“Oh, John!” she said. “We’ve been such good friends for so long, let’s not spoil it.” He crept red-faced out of the room, and she escaped unsullied.”


Disney’s dream city in Palm Springs, one of many on the way

When you wish upon a star

Sometimes it is difficult to believe in God, or should I say Gods in these politically correct times?

Watching the terror of Gaza unfold on TV as children are blown to bits and their mothers starve and seeing endless queues of kids with buckets collecting dirty water to drink in the desert, I wrestled with my conscience this week.

My guilty feelings followed the Press reports of Disney’s new magical desert city in Palm Springs, California, where families will live in multi-million-dollar luxury homes by sparkling turquoise lakes that will stay avatar blue all year round and never reveal a lump of mud or grit. There won’t be a single bucket in sight.

Disney will be everywhere. Homebuyers will live and breathe the movie maker’s lifelong dream and live Walt’s stories as well. Their themes are down every turn. He once lived in Palm Springs of course, near Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra and other celebrity neighbours.

People will drive futuristic cars; live in theme parks from Disney stories and bond with neighbours in the mansion of Incredibles 2 over art lessons on Disney characters, then enjoy dinners on shipwrecks and spacecraft, every Disney dream will be fulfilled in the new Cotino community. 

Shopping parades and supermarkets will all be Disney products of course, with cinemas and theatres playing Disney productions. Residents will even die there.

Target age group for the project is 55 and homes up to $6million are already sold. But they start at around $1million. There will be other new Disney cities dotted around America, and who knows, perhaps the world. But not Gaza.

I wonder if the obsession of these 2,000 homebuyers, and others like them will lead to Disney-theme old peoples’ homes where inmates stare at the starlit ceilings believing they are Cinderella, Snow White or Peter Pan as Nurse Bambi gives them a wash in their Captain Jack Sparrow chairs.


Sarah Bernhardt

Sarah’s final curtain call

I so enjoyed reading former Express Editor R D Blumenfeld’s interviews with leading figures of the 1900s. Here is another with Sarah Bernhardt, reputed to be the greatest and most eccentric actress of all-time, who was known to often sleep in a coffin.

Blumenfeld met her in her dressing room at the Renaissance Theatre in Paris. They chatted for three hours as she stayed curled up on a sofa.

Sarah pushed gender boundaries to the limit by wearing trousers when it was illegal for women to do so; had a love affair with a woman artist and then an illegitimate son Maurice, by a prince. She paid for him, and he mostly turned up for money, even though she was running out. He was the apple of her eye and now her manager.

Blumenfeld wrote: The main focus of her conversation was the morals and speech of the younger generation.

“Every boy and girl over the age of 10 should be able to act and be taught to speak his or her native tongue correctly, as we do on stage,” she said. “No matter what social grade, they should be instructed in manners; how to stand; how to sit and how to enter and leave a room.”

She apparently felt the young of her day were unruly, rude and disrespectful.

Suddenly the door opened while we were talking and a foppishly dressed young Parisian boulevardier burst-into the room, hat on head, and cried, ‘Bonjour Maman!”

He marched over to the dressing table, struck a loud match and lit a cigarette and then with a crash flung himself into an armchair. Hat still on head. It was Maurice.

As I left the presence of the greatest actress ever, my mind turned over her firm dictum about the manners of young people, especially how they should enter a room and sit down.

I have often thought of that scene at the theatre. The enthusiastic, adoring, all forgiving mother and that flamboyant bore of a son, who was the living contradiction of her precepts and the destroyer of her hopes.

Madame Bernhardt’s various fortunes disappeared through his worthless fingers. The more she received, the more he wasted; Yet she went on slaving for him. She flung herself from continent to continent, wearing herself out to find money for the demands of this insatiable bounder. Even after she underwent an operation and lost one of her legs; Maurice required money for his pleasures and forced the old woman back on stage.

When she died there wasn’t enough money to bury her.


Shorts story time …

IT’S that time again. Spring. The time for the knobbly knees and bulging tackle brigade to drop their trousers. Postmen; delivery drivers and even male shoppers, all of the age when a big cover-up should be compulsory, are out and about, proudly displaying their spindly, white, vein-lumpy legs.

Meanwhile, those oldies fortunate enough to still have a healthier look, will insist on wearing Size X small shorts pulled up tight to tease those desperately trying not to look, believing they’ve still ‘got it!’ Ughh.

It won’t be long before the hairy armpits are out and about too especially in the supermarkets, older men stretching over for an apple in string vests, that slip out of their shorts to reveal builders’ bums with a rose tattoo rising from a bicycle parking slot.

“They seem to get over-excited when the sun shines,” says Liz Hodgkinson in her Oldie magazine blog bemoaning the old men baring their body parts. Forget Brexit. The really important talking point is legs-it.

“At the slightest hint of sun, you see something that, quite honestly, should never be glimpsed in polite society or even impolite society – old men in ancient shorts,” she says. “I’m 77. You never see old women in shorts – we have far too much self-respect.

“So, seniors, do us a favour – no shorts, please, ever – except perhaps on the beach. Admit it, you just haven’t got the legs, or even the face, for them any more.”

OK Kate, I’ll go home and take them off.


Express monster sales

Some things never change in Fleet Street and newspapers love the big stories now, just as they did over 100 years ago. The Express is proof of that.

When the newspaper was launched in 1900 its owner and editor Arthur Pearson needed a big story to get his sales rolling, and he found it in the shape of a terrifying monster of the jungle, the prehistoric Mylodon, a giant sloth.

As we came to the end of the Victorian Age and the Edwardian era dawned, the great explorers were finding lost cities, temples, and tombs. The British public were captivated by tales of great bravery in jungles and on icy seas and cannibals who boiled us in pots to eat. They lapped them up. And no story more so than the sighting of a giant hairy mammal in the wilds of Patagonia, long thought to be extinct.

A skeleton of the sloth, with blood on it, had been given to the British Museum with reports that natives had kept it alive in a cave and fed it chopped hay.

Pearson, fearing Harmsworth and Daily Mail would track the beast down, was quick to act. He funded an expedition of 60 scientists and assistants, to find it, 5,000 miles away in South America. Within a week the Express was inundated with hundreds of volunteers wanting to join the exhibition and every newspaper carried the story. Sales of the Express rocketed.

Leading the team was explorer and big game hunter, 26-year-old Hesketh Prichard, who announced: “We shall land at Santa Cruz and then go 500 miles across the country, carrying our collapsible boat and food with us. We will be accompanied by natives, and I hope an escort will be provided by the Argentine Government.”

He told how the sloth was thought to be about 4m long, with big teeth, a furry coat and giant claws. Its long-haired coat was an adaptation to a life under cold climatic conditions in southern South America during the last glacial period. Historians and housewives were enthralled.

The expedition set off to a fanfare of trumpets and thousands of well-wishers on the quayside … and every day Prichard filed his stories and reports. The public couldn’t get enough of how the dangerous Patagonia natives lived and his run-ins with giant snakes. “We shall bring back the sloth against all hazards,” Prichard said.

In one report he wrote: “Last night we tied up the dogs, and dear old Tom howled till I had to get up and correct him. When I woke up, I let our poor little horse, Lady, loose, the last service I was ever destined to do for her, for today the wagon went over her belly, and she lies dead on the track a few leagues back.

“She was six months old, always cheerful, and wagging her whip of a tail, always up to the march. Half an hour before she died, I saw her hunting a young fox, her first. She had brown eyes and I had got fonder of her than I knew. Tom used to drive her from her food, biting her, I am now glad to think I sometimes made him give way to her.”

Hesketh never found the sloth and some other explorers criticised him for not travelling far enough. He didn’t bring back so much as a tooth. But for Pearson his bid to track it down was a huge success. Not only did it boost the Express financially, but Hesketh stumbled across a giant unknown lake which it is called Pearson Lake today. Meanwhile a previously unknown river was named Katarina, a present for his mother.


Rupert’s Hollywood dream

Rupert the Bear says goodbye to his mum and dad and goes for a walk in the hills near his house. His friends Edward Elephant and Bill badger are too busy to join him. In the hills he encounters a kaleidoscope of butterflies who lead him to a cave where a sign reads: Frogs Only From This Point!

Rupert ignores the warning, enters the cave and walks into a musical show that occurs just once every 200 years. Fireflies light up the cavern and fish and frogs sing and dance as toads fly in hot air balloons overhead.

Some of us can remember that this was the theme of a short film called Rupert and the Frog Song, by Paul and Linda McCartney, who wanted to take a full-length Rupert movie to Hollywood. The song We All Stand Together from the animated film reached No.3 in the UK Singles Charts in 1984. Voices on screen were Windsor Davies and June Whitfield.

Paul grew up loving Rupert and later read his adventures to his own children. But although he had bought the film rights from Sir Max Aitken back in the day, he couldn’t raise the money to make the blockbuster, reported to be £50million at the time. 

He had told Sir Max: “We’ve got to keep Rupert in England because if the Yanks get hold of him, they’ll make him talk like they have Winnie the Pooh and he’ll be an American Rupert.”

But secretly the ex-Beatle didn’t believe any of Rupert’s own stories were strong enough to take on the full-length Disney blockbusters like Winnie the Pooh. He would have to write one himself. Rumour is he never did, although he recorded many songs for the project.

Now there are rumours in Hollywood that someone plans to take on the job but does McCartney still have the film rights under his company? Some say he doesn’t. So, who if the rumours are true? Probably not.

Next week: John Lennon and how Rupert the Bear ended up as a porn strip.


15 April 2024