Express newbies raised our hats to veteran reporters like Hoskins and Pincher

AWESOME TO SOME, DULL TO OTHERS: Crime reporter Percy Hoskins

Many of us Baby Boomer subs arrived at the Express in the early Seventies fired up with pride and a little trepidation at joining one of the biggest selling newspapers in the world. We walked through the doors of the Black Lubyanka, home of legendary journalists such as Arthur Christiansen; Percy Hoskins and Chapman Pincher and it was daunting.

Beaverbrook had died and behind the scenes the management of the paper was in turmoil as his son Sir Max Aitken struggled to save it, while circulation plummeted, and the unions had a stranglehold. We arrived to rumours of takeovers and mergers with the Daily Mail.

This was to be the decade that brought us the launch of Concorde; decimalisation; Bloody Sunday; the Watergate scandal; the break-up of The Beatles; the death of Elvis; the Queen’s Silver Jubilee and the UK joining the European Community.

It began with Ted Heath as Prime Minister and ended with Margaret Thatcher walking into No10. Somewhere in between were the unions and the Sex Pistols. And along the way the Express circulation dropped from highs of over four million to under three and was still falling.

Many of us had been hired by managing editor, Eric Raybould, who by all accounts had been a perpetual No2 or No3 on the Express (no one could quite work it out apparently) for many years. He wore carpet slippers everywhere when he was in the building, and looked like a double of Alfred Hitchcock, from every angle, of which he was proud. His secretary Christine adored him.

Former Express editor (twice) Bob Edwards, pictured below, said of him: “He was driven around in a Humber Super Snipe that looked as if it was the flagship of the Godfrey Davis fleet and smoked Manikin cigars in it as if they were Havana Havanas. 

Like many journalists at the time, he was a simple, rather dull man with an instinctive knowledge of his craft and was most at home in the composing room.” To us newbies though, he was awesome. Typical of Fleet Street at the time. When we wanted something, we headed for Christine, not him.

Cars then were just as important then as they are today in the promotion stakes, except that back then your rank was apparently indicated on whether you had extras like double wing mirrors, a sunroof, or a rear windscreen wiper, even better … leather upholstery. And there was a fleet of cars too … for executive use, something else that later disappeared under the accountants’ red Biros.

The newsroom; alleyways, pubs, clubs; cafes, sandwich bars, cigar shops, restaurants and even hotels around Fleet Street, were to become our home for many years. It was very much our patch from Mickey, landlord of the late-drinking Albion, George, in the Punch Tavern and Josie in the Poppinjay to the Press Club, the Wig & Pen and on to the Savoy, where tales of Express executives being fired over their breakfast kippers abound, it was our stalking ground and will never be the same again now that we have all left.

When we moved out of the Black Lubyanka in 1989 and headed across the river to the end of Blackfriars Bridge, we didn’t just leave the building, we left our village and our very own church, St Bride’s, not forgetting our long-time neighbours, journos and staff at the Telegraph, Sun, Mail and others who were on the move too.

The 70s and 80s newbies, our own beloved Lord Drone being one of them, were to be the last of a breed from a dying world. We will never forget it. Or the Editors who came and went, like the song 10 Green Bottles. The Express was to have 24 between then and now. When some of us arrived in 1972 it was No.11, Ian McColl.

The Savoy loved Fleet Street Editors and looked after them. Head waiters never worried about their bills; the hotel management just sent them on. And even the loo attendants were briefed to greet them by their names as they handed them a towel. Editors who dined there loved it and guests were impressed. One Express Editor said: “The best thing was when you handed in your overcoat to the cloakroom attendant … and did not receive a ticket in return. Just a nod. People were so impressed.”

History often comes full circle and even keeping drivers waiting late at night was a tradition for Express executives before the newbies arrived, it seemed. The passageway outside the Press Club in St Bride’s Place at that time, was always filled with Express drivers sitting on car bonnets waiting to take Night Editors, Editors and News Editors home. The unions made sure the drivers were adequately rewarded with plenty of ‘Mickey Mouse’ overtime payments … and the executives who drank inside did too. These were pre-breathalyser days and pints of beer would be regularly sent out to them. Often, they drank more than their passengers.

One well-known driver was a guy named George, who liked his bitter. He told a well-reported story about one Express Editor. George apparently said: “He works so very hard. At lunchtime I took him to the Boulestin French restaurant in St James’s with an important guest and they worked until half past three. In the early evening he had another important meeting in Poppins with another journalist and I waited outside for an hour before taking him to a restaurant to go over his notes, where I waited again for a couple of hours.

“When he finally came out, I took him back to the office for his coat and when he returned, he had to pop into Poppins to give a message to someone, when he popped out, he had to go across the road to talk to someone in the Press Club about a story and would only be a minute.

“But his meeting went on for so long, that I got through a few pints myself. By the time he finally finished work in the early hours, a thick fog had come down. We could hardly see the road ahead. After about half an hour, he was so tired he kept falling asleep on me as I drove.

“We were only halfway through the journey, and I was bursting to have a you-know-what, having all that beer, so I pulled over into a lay-by, keeping the engine running so that he wouldn’t think we had stopped and were home.

“When I got back to the car in the thick fog, he was gone. I looked everywhere for him, even driving slowly up and down, and shouting out his name. But the fog meant I could hardly see a thing. His house was miles away. I stopped and heard a voice call out: “Good night, George!” from some distance away, no idea what direction. I shouted back: “But sir, you ain’t home yet!” No answer. I never found him and went home.”

The next night, George picked him up to take him to another restaurant with someone important and he worked hard again … the story continued much the same.

On the News subs’ desk, stories came and went before our eyes as we transformed them into Brev across twos and LP, Brev and Min, one after the other, desperate that we would be given a page lead, or a juicy serial killer spread. 

As time went by, we were dragged into one union battle after another … like the memorable fight over the editorial tea bar on the bend to the staircase leading to the canteen, which our new Managing Editor Struan (Beeching) Coupar was cutting. The News Subs pledged their support for tea ladies Alice and Maureen who dropped in our stained sugar lumps. We lost.

Editor McColl, pictured, a wiry, bespectacled Scotsman, was followed by TV newscaster Alastair Burnet, who was a strange choice to replace him and most of us struggled to understand why. He was a top TV news presenter and brilliant Editor of The Economist, but it soon became clear that he was unhappy and didn’t understand the nuts and bolts of a national newspaper. For a start, he couldn’t grasp the fact that the Express had four editions or more and each edition could be different from the last. “My goodness, you mean you produce four papers of the same paper every day,” he once said.

Word at the time was that he was hired in the hope of restoring some of the prestige the paper had lost in the decade following Lord Beaverbrook’s death. But he didn’t bring that to the party and his ‘economist’ think pieces on trade deficits and the balance of power in the Pacific didn’t cut it for the man on the Neasden omnibus or his wife wanting to try a new diet. Alastair would say: “Why don’t we do it in that squiggly type.” Meaning italic.

He was painfully unhappy, I thought. And several times I sent his suit jacket home by car with his wallet in it, after he left it on the back of a Backbench chair and disappeared out into the London nightclub wilderness for a drink or two. He resigned in 1976 and died in 2012.

All around us Baby Boomers on the Express were those who once worked with Arthur Christiansen and other great editors of course. Some even knew Lord Beaverbrook.

An example is the late, great Peter Hedley, splash sub of our parish. His work on the big murder stories often impressed both Beaverbrook and Editor Robert Edwards who said of him: “One year, Peter was struggling a bit trying to pay his children’s school fees. I wrote down the names of six of Beaverbrook’s favourite well-known journalists on the paper and said: ‘I would rather lose any of these people than the unknown Hedley,’ I told him. “I got him the biggest pay rise ever awarded to an Express sub-editor!”

Some reporters on the Express became as famous as the stories they covered, such as Chief Crime Reporter Percy Hoskins and spy chaser Chapman Pincher, whom Drone columnist Richard Dismore wrote about a few weeks ago.

Both were revered by the public, staff and even Beaverbrook. They ruled the roost. But to many of us newbies it was the fact that the Express provided Hoskins with a swanky apartment in Mayfair’s Park Lane (No.55), to drink with the top Yard cops of the day, that impressed us. What a great paper to be on, we thought. Even the Police Commissioner was said to pop round for a drink with Percy.

Apparently, Hoskins, another Hitchcock lookalike, became great friends with Beaverbrook and came and went as he pleased. He refused to have a desk in the newsroom, so no one knew where he was. He would just ring in; except he left a contact number for running court cases. Even the News Editor didn’t know what his working hours were. His fame and his friendships spread as far as America. He could ring J Edgar Hoover at the FBI any time.

Most of us never saw Hoskins in the newsroom, for obvious reasons, and his heyday was the 50s and 60s when he also wrote murder scripts for TV and radio. But I remember one early evening in the early 70s, when our beloved late copy taster, Les (trouser snake) Diver came rushing over to me on the subs table to point out a man standing in the doorway.

“That’s him, that’s Hoskins, Tel,” he said excitedly. Les had always been a fan of the iconic reporter and would tell me about him long before I joined the Express. I looked up and saw ‘Alfred Hitchcock’, leaning against the doorway and staring across the newsroom. Then like a UFO, he disappeared in the blink of an eye.

Hoskins was doubly admired when he became the only reporter in the world to believe that suspected serial killer and devout Christian, Dr John Bodkin Adams, pictured left, was innocent after long interviews with him, following Adams’ arrest in 1956. Adams worked at a hospital in Bristol, before becoming a GP in Eastbourne. He liked to care for a lot of old female patients, many of them rich. More than 130 of them left him money in their wills. When rumours grew that he was killing them with heroin and morphine over a period of 10 years, the police moved in.

Their task was difficult because many of his suspected victims had been cremated. He was finally charged with killing one but suspected of killing as many as 160.The story broke worldwide. Most of the reading public assumed his guilt. But not Hoskins. His stance was seen by his peers as career suicide, but, in the end, Adams escaped the hangman and was acquitted.

The day he was cleared, Beaverbrook phoned his chief crime reporter and told him, "Two people were acquitted today.” He meant of course, the doctor and Hoskins. The quote later became the title of a book Hoskins wrote about the case called ‘Two Men Were Acquitted.’

After the trial Adams was whisked away to a safe house by the crime reporter and interviewed for two weeks. The two remained friends until Adams died and each year, on the anniversary of acquittal, Adams would phone Hoskins to thank him for another year of his life. When Adams died in 1983, aged 84, he left Hoskins £1,000 in his will, which the reporter gave to charity. Hoskins died in February 1989, aged 85, the year the Express left Fleet Street.

Next week: How the Beaver read all the opposition papers and ring up about stories we had missed.



That’s not cricket!

AS thousands of protesters, perhaps 100,000 prepare to march on London on Poppy Day next Sunday to demand a ceasefire in the Gaza-Israeli war, we must wonder what chance there is of multiculturalism ever working. There is nothing wrong with calling for a ceasefire, even if it is shortsighted, but it would give the evil Hamas killers breathing space to regroup and fulfil their pledge of wiping Jews from the Holy Lands.

Palestinians, foreign nationals, British foreign nationals; Muslims, Sikhs and many more often unite behind hate flags — and sometimes fight each other along the way. Their women are often treated like second class citizens, little mice to be kept in cages. It is a never-ending story. And more of these religions are coming in to mould us into the same mindset with forced marriages and misogyny.

Do the ladies handing out buns on the beaches at Ramsgate and Dover really think that the endless stream of illegal African male immigrants smuggling their way into Britain will end up playing cricket on the village green with the lads before lunch in the Royal Oak? How wrong can they be? As Kelvin MacKenzie (OTP) said last week in the Press: “I’ve given up on immigration!” Meaning, control will never happen. Most of us have given up.

Nothing wrong with it, we need a controlled level of immigrants to benefit the country. And there are some good people out there who deserve to come to our land and help us all prosper, including themselves. But sadly, that doesn’t always happen.

Now the Home Secretary warns that people who damage plaques and statues on Poppy Day will go straight to jail, and won’t pass Go. Well done, Braverman. The Church and charities are wringing their hands in despair, poor souls. But how much longer must we put up with the wreckers of our society and everything that we hold dear. For most of us it is not about religion, it is patriotism, the country we love. This is our nation. We are just sick and tired of the religious zealots, expecting a throne in the sky. They may be disappointed … and hurt a lot of people along the way.

As for the indigenous Brits who do the same and see no danger in open borders, they should take a look at what is now going on in Europe.

Many young Africans want what the ‘evil’ west has, as history shows on our own streets. They have seen how we live on their Smartphones.

Most Brits would not even think of burning a turban in the streets of a foreign country like Iran or Iraq. Or slapping paint over the face of Putin’s poster in Red Square. We wouldn’t dare. Yet here, they can pour petrol over the Union Jack, put the cross of Jesus on a Guy Fawkes bonfire or urinate over a plaque for Churchill for a fine of just a few bob.

Money for old vinyl

As Paul McCartney launches the new but old Beatles vinyl record ‘Now and Then’ and the Rolling Stones bring out a new limited edition vinyl album in red or blue, this is the time to buy early pressings and pass them on to your grandkids. They could be worth a lot one day.

‍ I looked at some of the old vinyl records that are making people money today. One is The Beatles ‘Till There Was You” a 10in demo acetate that is valued at £80,000. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (signed by all four Beatles) - £200,000. Any original 1967 pressing of Sgt. Pepper will fetch a decent price at auction, particularly if it’s a mono version with the black Parlophone label.

And let’s not forget 78rpm. Alcohol and Jake Blues sung by American Tommy Johnson and released in 1930, is now worth £40,000

The list goes on. There are hundreds of them out there, you just need to know what you are looking for


Farewell David

OUR old friend David Laws sadly passed on as you all know by now. He’s probably found an extra job or two Up There already. They will find he is a good man to have around. His daughter Elly has written to me asking if I knew why he was nicknamed Bunny.

‍ I said that I thought it was because he only ever came out late at night and was often spotted in the very early morning. Our own Lord Drone thinks it is to do with his bread round of years ago … delivering buns to Heathrow Airport.

‍ Any ideas?


6 November 2023