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SUNDAY 19  MAY 2024

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FOUND The dusty file that
holds fascinating secrets
of Daily Express’ early days

LEADER: Former Sunday Express editor John Gordon, left, with Tom Blackburn, chairman of Beaverbrook Newspapers, and secretary
Peggy Murray, pictured in September 1967


THE MYSTERY of an unpublished book on the history of the Daily Express, compiled with the approval of Lord Beaverbrook, that seemed to vanish in the mist of time, has been solved at last, writes TERRY MANNERS.


Many people have asked what happened to the letters, memos, interviews, memories, notes and records packed into a box file, that were intended for editing and publication documenting the early years of the newspaper. 


Stories of the dusty file surfaced a few years ago and it was believed to have ended up for private sale.


 The words were put together by a hand-picked team of executive journalists under the watchful eye of John Gordon, Editor of the Sunday Express between 1928 and 1952 and included correspondence going back to Daily Express Editor Ralph Blumenfeld in 1904.


 The team were Expressmen of the day; SE News Editor Jack Garbutt; and other executives. They assembled material; conducted interviews with former staff still alive and went through the correspondence of Blumenfeld himself.


 They even visited homes of those who had retired. A letter from Gordon to Beaverbrook in 1954 revealed a file that had already produced 100,000 words for the book, provisionally entitled ‘The Shoe Lane Story’.


 Some of the overspill was in seven worn, brown card folders and people who last saw it tell of how the paper was lightly aged and full of anecdotes and stories of the day. But it was never published.


 In all, some 200,000 words were waiting to be printed at the time it vanished. A wonderful archive, recently missing along with the magnificent and priceless cobra art deco stair-rail from the Daily Express front hall. I wonder whose house that's in? It needs to be big.


 In the documents, Beaverbrook reminisces on his financial dealings in Wall Street, and Roaring Twenties socialite Lady Diana Cooper presses the button to start the new Sunday Express for the first time.


 There is a treasure trove of memos bollocking staff, some concerning Blumenfeld's complaints about war correspondent Perceval Phillips's excessive use of the word 'STOP' in telegrams.


 "Stop wasting money on STOP or we STOP salary," Blumenfeld messaged. Phillips cabled back "Won't stop STOP if you STOP salary." The Editor even got the accountants to work out just how much Phillips's STOPS cost the firm in a year as the row went on.


 Just about everyone who played a part in producing the Express, which sold four million a day around that time, contributed with tales. Even claims from Lord Beaverbrook that he was a very ordinary boy until a lawn mowing machine went over his head and split his skull, which gave his brain room to expand. Something he used to tell bankers who believed him.


 Now I have spoken with the man who has this impressive file, and it is indeed up for sale but has the modern newspaper industry left these wonderful stories of the early days behind? Aren’t publishers interested any more? All that work; all those memories; the birth of an empire, all in a Pandora’s box of Pearson's and Beaverbrook’s dreams and the lives of generations of families up and down the land.


 There is even a movie in there. Wish I had the time and years.


 For more info, you can contact Terry through the Drone.


TERRY MANNERS


8 May 2024