SUNDAY 19  MAY 2024


How measly Express bean counters failed to put
the Tel back in Tel Aviv

HEARTBREAKING and shocking news last week when Hamas massacred over 200 young Israelis at a party in Israel and kicked off a cruel and bloody war that still rages throughout the Gaza strip.

 It is doubly sad for me because Israel, and in particular Tel Aviv holds such wonderful memories. I went there to represent Nick Lloyd and the Express after we won a special award from the World Variety Club for our work helping sick and needy children. But the trip was anything but straightforward.

 And you won’t be surprised to hear that cost-cutting and disinterest from ‘upstairs’ marred this wonderful and important occasion. It is sad but true, that costs, budgets, and bankruptcy were words that seemed to haunt us New Boys and Girls to the paper from the moment we stepped up the marble staircase to the Editorial in the early Seventies.

 The years that followed were always full of speculation, rumours, and stories of our newspaper’s imminent demise, unlike the Daily Mail which always stayed solid and went from strength to strength, bigger profits and circulation increases. We were even going to be bought by them, at one stage, so the rumours said. We often envied the Mail. The paper always rewarded their journalists and valued them too, (still do) unlike life in the Black Lubyanka. Roger (Buffy) Watkins and I always said: “Right job, wrong paper!”

 As Editors came and went, we lurched on. And in the middle 90s Nick asked me to “cuddle up” to the Variety Club of Great Britain. Bring them on side with the paper. Such a brand name would add to our profile and there would also be a galaxy of good contacts and stories.

 The Chief Barker at this time was multi-millionaire businessman John Ratcliffe, who made his money inventing a trailer contraption for lorries in his garage at his Hertfordshire home. His wife Marsha Rae, a former Chief Barker herself, had just created the club’s Gold Heart campaign, where little gold heart badges were sold for £1 to raise money for sick children. They were designed differently each year so that they became collector’s items. Off I went to meet them armed with a folder of my own ideas.

 We hit it off and, in the year, or so that followed, I worked with the Club developing stories about children in desperate need of help. Some couldn’t see and needed special operations; others couldn’t walk or talk or even move. It was often heartbreaking to go to their homes, hospices, or events to meet them. Nick then agreed with me that we should bring the Gold Heart campaign into the Express and so I got even closer to the heart of the Club.

 As time went on, I began to scratch the surface of this worldwide charity and the people who ran it here in Britain. Soon I realised that it wasn’t the stars who ran it at all, it was businessmen, and the word was that many had joined in the first place to get nearer to the celebrities as they raised millions for their worthy causes. They had made millions themselves from selling everything from black plastic bin liners to pork pies.

 Their events and meetings were always at the best hotels … The Grosvenor, the Hilton, The Savoy or The Dorchester … or even at the leading racecourses, Ascot and Sandown among them. No back rooms in pubs for this outfit.

 They had their own office politics too, never mind the rows between stars and simmering dislike of some for each other. Others of course were a bit ‘up their bums’ but mostly everyone had one aim in mind, to help the kids … they were the real stars.

 I was given tables for fund-raising dinners in the ballrooms of the best venues and would invite Nick and his wife Eve, a lady I always found to be great fun, along. Others came too like Buffy Watkins and his lovely wife Carol; Craig Mackenzie and his partner, and Paul Potts and his wife. But even then, life wasn’t easy. Many times, I had to plead Express poverty to get the table set aside for us. Times were hard in newspapers, I would say. 

Sometimes I went cap in hand to the Express management to pay. But it was an uphill task and mostly the Club agreed to give me the table for free.

 The Variety Club was good to us and always pushed the Express at every event. Using our masthead in their artwork and on their publicity boards and advertising. Selling our papers at events and all that.

 Sometimes I found these events a little surreal, as we Express lot strutted our stuff on the dance floor of the Grosvenor next to Wendy Richards from EastEnders, Barbara Windsor and Ted ‘Dusty Bin’ Rogers. Comedian Ted and his wife seemed impressed with the old Monmouth jive of swivel hips Buffy and his wife, and I watched Ted once trying in vain to follow their steps and overhead arm movements.

 These were the days when comedian Michael Barrymore was king of the stage and TV and Cliff Richard would pop in to our dinners. Barrymore always came along and was always funny. By this time, I was having regular drinks at the bar with many of the stars, and even went to the barbecues at the homes of some.

 I was in awe of my teen idol, guitarist Bert Weedon, whose book on learning to play in a day was how people like Eric Clapton and Hank Marvin learned to play. He told me that the book earned him more money than his hits like ‘Guitar Boogie Shuffle’ ever did. He built two swimming pools at his home with one royalty cheque alone and every year the big money kept rolling in from across the world.

 Magician Paul Daniels and his wife Debbie always seemed to be there, and I learned that we had a mutual connection, La Manga Gold Club in Spain where I often went. He was given the ownership of a luxury villa near one of the hallowed greens for doing three acts at the Hyatt Hotel there.

 Lorraine Chase (of Luton Airport and Emmerdale fame) was always in attendance and would bellow out across the tables at dinners … “Hiya Tel, how are you mate? She was later to help the Express so much. Other stars always at the events included Vera Lynn when she was well enough. She was a close friend of Chief Barker John Ratcliffe and lived in the mansion next door to him, across the acres.

 I was eventually made a Barker of the club and Media Chief of their Gold Heart campaign. My whole cosmic experience was to culminate in a deal with Sky TV for the Express to host a Gold Heart Telethon, filmed in our newsroom and screened to the nation.

 Jenny Hanley, of Blue Peter fame and Christopher Biggins agreed to host it for me and cut their fees to next to nothing when I pleaded poverty again … I had a hell of a job trying to pay them anything at all from the non-existent budget, which I won’t go into. Suffice to say, we always appeared to be the poor man of the newspaper world to the Variety Club.

 The Telethon was a huge success even though some hacks in the newsroom showed no interest in it whatsoever and at times it was difficult to get the coverage in the paper it deserved. Some people seemed to believe that the space in the Express was theirs. Some, I felt, didn't want any of it because they weren't involved.

 The result of all this led to the Express winning the coveted Global Media Award from the World Variety Club to be presented in Tel Aviv. It was unanimously voted for by all 52 Tents (Variety Club organisations) across the planet. A great honour for the Express. In London, the Variety Club was so thrilled for us. There was one obstacle though. I was invited to go to Tel Aviv to pick up the award for Nick and the Express at their international conference being staged at the Hilton.

 My problem was accommodation and flights and the Express wouldn’t pay. I tried hard. But well, the Express didn’t have the money, as usual, although a little friendly bird from upstairs had told me that Boardroom bonuses were good that year. But I guess that probably wasn’t true because we were always being squeezed.

 To be fair, it would be an expensive trip, nearly £2,000 with flights and the Hilton Hotel accommodation. And what for? Just for Terry Manners to have a good time, I suppose. That might have been the thinking. I was beaten but be damned if I would fork out the dosh, as much as I desperately wanted to go and did not want to show the Express up as the poor man of Fleet Street again.

 So, I found an excuse to turn the trip down. Pressure of work in the short-staffed newsroom or something. But they kept on with repeated calls to me from the Chief Barker, who threatened to storm in. And I think he would have done. I hope I didn’t make him feel the World Variety Club Award wasn’t up to much. For them it was a big thing … and for the Express a real accolade worldwide.

 In the end, the Variety Club said they would pay my costs, and so I went. In Tel Aviv I picked up the Award, a big metal Gold Heart, to a standing ovation for the Express in the Hilton ballroom packed with Barkers from across the globe. My speech had been all about how my newspaper believed in helping our country’s sick and needy children and what we had done in our partnership with the club. It was peppered with heartbreaking tales.

 But the story didn’t end there. Back home, some months later, I was told by ‘a friend’ in the Variety Club, that my trip had really been paid for by one of the club’s millionaire businessmen out of his own pocket. He was a well-known mover and shaker in the charity, and was determined I should be there. I was humbled. And very down for weeks that our paper should be known about this way in some circles.

 Sorry, but one last agony for me. When Nick Lloyd left the Express and we awaited the arrival of Richard Addis from the Mail, I wandered down to the Wendy House … (Nick’s office and conference room where his secretary Wendy ruled) ... late one night. The posters and bits had been stripped from the walls and there were bins and boxes everywhere. I rummaged in a couple of waste paper buckets and there at the bottom of one was the Gold Heart I had brought back for Nick and the Express from Tel Aviv, glinting up at me. I can’t begin to tell you how I felt. I rescued the little fellah, and today it hangs in my study, where it will always remain, as long as I remain.


It’s not size that counts

I AM fascinated with the story that keeps popping up in the Express and Guardian on a tiny isle in the Pacific that is the third smallest country in the world and one of Putin’s few friends as he continues his war in Ukraine.

 Who would have thought that this island, 3,000 miles off the coast of Australia that most people have never heard of, is a thorn in NATO’s side and a loud critic of the UK for backing Zelensky? Only 10,800 people live there. But it apparently could be part of Russia’s thinking for rebuilding its Pacific Fleet with new bases and refuelling depots, following its chummy relationship with China. Alarm bells are ringing in the West.

 I did some digging: The island of Nauru is so small (8 square miles) you can run round it in three hours, depending how fast you can go. It is the second smallest republic after the Vatican City and visitors call it the Pearl of the Pacific. It was once one of the wealthiest isles in the world with rich deposits of phosphate rock, used for fertilisers across the globe. But not now.

 Its rich deposits of phosphate had a flourishing mining industry for 100 years … but they kicked the guts out of it. The phosphate became exhausted in the 1990s and they went broke, but not before they polluted the island.

 Today nearly half of all its women have experienced sexual violence; a third of all its schoolchildren aged 13-15 have attempted suicide and a fifth of them are stunted. The drinking water has been contaminated by household and toilet waste. Now they must import it. Nearly half of the population don’t even have toilets and half of all marine life around its shores has been poisoned. But then along came Russia.

 When Moscow launched an international campaign to get support for the breakaway states of Georgia at the UN … Abkhazia, on the eastern coast of the Black Sea and South Ossetia in the North … only four countries backed them, and one was Nauru. It bagged itself £6.3million in Russian money as a reward from Putin. More is on the way.

 The Russian leader flew in to find out how he could direct the money and guess what, it is being used to develop a deep sea port and docks. Very handy for battleships, don’t you think? Fascinating, like the war board game Risk, eh?


Away from the madding crowd

Want to get away from it all? How about renting this remote cottage with a sea view in Iceland? Not for me, though. How do you get the shopping home, not to mention a crate of beer? But it is incredibly popular and on rental offer at Airbnb. Amazing.

Picture research by: Kristina Bogcanovitch, long lost relative of elusive Express Picture Editor Chris Djukanovic, believed to be running another Department of Grainy Snaps, somewhere in Oz.


Wally of the week is:

Leftie Cambridge student Harvey Brown who wants us all to celebrate the Hamas massacre in Israel. He tells us on Twitter (X) that he enjoys posts that support the killings and decapitations, including his favourite one that heralds “a day of celebration” after Hamas fighters crossed into the coloniser’s territory. Does he know that his own country has designated Hamas a terror organisation? Should he even be at university? Catch up mate, no not mate, you’re no mate of ours.

 Bonkers Brown said: “Today should be a day of celebration for supporters of democracy and human rights worldwide, as Gazans break out of their open-air prison and Hamas fighters cross into their colonisers’ territory. The struggle for freedom is rarely bloodless and we shouldn’t apologise for it.”

 So, it’s OK to cut the heads off babies and rape women at machine gun point, eh? Let’s hope you never get to power, Brown. The nation would be doomed. Have a think about it. What rights did the Israeli babies and women have?


Please shut up about All Our Yesterdays

FOR goodness’ sake, I do wish people would shut up about the Empire those nasty British had. About how we raped the world and should pay for it now out of our taxes. Can’t they just play table tennis, or go to the movies or collect car park tickets or something? Get on with life today. Better still, help the sick and needy. We are not responsible for the sins of our fathers, no one in the world is. And there was a lot of it going on in most countries.

 Now Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy is at it, telling the world we Brits have a record of betrayal, duplicity, oppression, and discrimination. “We have a colonial mentality long after nearly all the colonies are gone,” she said at a Palestine-backing meeting of the Labour Party Conference in Manchester. And added: “The rubble of the Empire is all around us because of British Foreign policy.”

 Good newspaper fodder to interest us hacks and no wonder it was so widely reported, even if most of us are sick of our own citizens knocking our country to the world.

 “Britain has a record of betrayal, duplicity, oppression and discrimination,” she added, laying the blame of the crisis in the Middle East at our door. “We have nothing to be proud of.”

 Oh yes, we have, Bell old love. We brought technology, engineering and medicine to the world. We brought countries the railways, the car and the plane; the telephone; TV and the internet. Yes, there was slavery 200 years ago and it was wrong. But it was another time, another way of thinking in the world. Many countries did it. We have apologised, even compensated for it and stopped it.

 So how about doing something positive today, as you are an MP. Plenty to do … the cost of living; homelessness; hospital waiting lists, the list goes on in our mostly patriotic country that you live in. Get real old love, and do what you are paid for. Stop waiting for Corbyn, your Messiah, to change our way of life for the worst.


Forget the boats, a hurricane looms

Some journalists just look at the world through rose-tinted glasses and see no danger to countries, people and borders by outsiders, it seems. They forget that human instinct is to protect what people feel is rightfully theirs. What they own and love. That is why there are wars. People are in the main patriotic and will fight to keep their country which has been passed on to them by their ancestors. They are proud to be British, Italian, French, Egyptian or whatever. Proud of their heroes and monuments and culture, and of course, their religion. Just like being a Manchester United or Liverpool fan … loyal and dedicated.

 This, in my view, is what some Guardian columnists and leader writers don’t seem to grasp. In their book, patriotism is racism, fascist or just plain Right Wing and is almost a crime. I have always read the Guardian for its alternative point of view. Indeed, I was a hack for it, before joining the Express in the Seventies.

 But today I find it difficult that so many of their Leftie writers believe and spout about a new world of multiculturalism with no borders. We are all equal, all the same, just people, they say. We must all dine at the same table and love each other. Trouble is, we’re not all the same. And we are not all equal. Some people are killers and rapists or terrorists. Some are not. Some people have different beliefs, different religions that breed hate; some people are cleverer than others; some are more skilled; some seek power, others don’t. The list goes on.

 So, it irritated me when I read the words of journalist Gaia Vince in a Guardian Opinion piece last week, who said that Home Sec. Suella Braverman’s speech at the Tory conference was full of “nationalism and the trumped-up threat of outsiders invading the UK”, along with a “mysterious woke menace”.

 Sorry love but isn’t an army of thousands of unidentified young male Africans arriving here illegally on our beaches demanding health care, education, food, and housing, when we can’t afford it for ourselves, a threat to our economy. And aren’t you lot banning the word ‘mother’ in hospitals and asking children what gender they fancy being, man or woman?

 None of this matters in the world of the Vinces it seems. As she probably rightly says: “A hurricane is coming … hundreds of millions will move North as the climate changes. We must prepare with investment in housing, healthcare, education and infrastructure and invest in a society that helps new and existing citizens thrive with us.

 “We will not be able to prevent people from moving with hateful statements, building walls, or turning back the boats. We need a policy that recognises the new world we are entering.”

 So, the die is cast … and we must all get on together. I do hope they all like us, then. One big happy family forever. Dig up the fields and knock down Buckingham Palace, eh?



“Down the hole, please Harry!”

16 October 2023