One in the Eye 1966-1971

From Private Eye 21st January 1966

PAUSE FOR A SMILE: The circulation of the Daily Express is now reliably reported to be approximately in the vicinity of 3,800,000 – the lowest figure since the war.

From Private Eye 19th February 1966

The Daily Express excelled even itself with its absurd moon picture scoop. But readers would be wrong to think that its astonishing self-adulation was simply a coolly-calculated publicity stunt.

The atmosphere at the Express was one of hysterical joy. And the Editor, Derek Marks, never one to disguise his emotions, went into a delirious seventh heaven. More phlegmatic members of staff were astonished when later in the day a special notice went up on the board. 

It consisted of the St Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V: ‘We few, we happy few, we band of brothers’ and was signed by the Editor.

Even those accustomed to the excesses of the Daily Express thought that this might be construed as ‘overdoing it a bit’.

From Private Eye 27th May 1966

Pandemonium was caused in the offices of the Daily Express last week when in the early hours of the morning the Editor, Derek Marks, suddenly appeared at the Foreign Desk.

‘Gibraltar!’ he shouted at the sleepy occupants, ‘Gibraltar! Vital talks are opening tomorrow! We must send a man out there soonest!’

Unfortunately for Marks, in view of the early hour there was manifest lack of personnel to undertake the vital mission to the Rock. However a correspondent, recently returned from Africa, was found to be free.  But his wife being about to give birth to a baby, he pleaded, justifiably, to be excused.

Eventually the old veteran George Gale agreed to take on the assignment. A plane ticket was booked for later that morning.

It was only when dawn broke and Gale was en route that it was pointed out to the Editor that the vital talks were being held, not in Gibraltar, but in London.

*Marks vigorously denied this story in the following issue of the Eye

From Private Eye 16th February 1968

The merger fever has gripped Fleet Street to such an extent that the obscene rumour of a merger between Beaverbrook Newspapers and Associated Newspapers has now got out of hand. According to the more fanciful of El Vino’s wags, everything is now agreed. The Mail and the Express will merge into one paper, and Lord Rothermere will be chairman of the new company. The only difficulty concerns the evening papers. The News is much bigger but makes a small loss. The Standard, because of heavy advertising, makes a small profit. Who should take over whom? The is the – entirely hypothetical – question still being asked in Fleet Street.

From Private Eye 13th March 1970

A touching tale: When Sid Reynolds retired the other day after working for 35 years as a copy taster on the Daily Express, a special farewell ceremony was arranged at which he was presented by the management with an inscribed silver cigarette case. A colleague who was present asked him afterwards why he had not overjoyed at being given this luxury item.

‘After 35 years,’ said Reynolds, ‘you’d think they’d know that I don’t smoke.’

8th May 1970

One day last week two men in white coats presented themselves in the office of Derek Marks, Editor of the Daily Express. ‘We have come to take away the TV set for repairs,’ they told the secretary. Whereupon the men unplugged the luxurious Consul colour TV set and took it away in a stolen wheelbarrow.

When Marks wanted to watch the Newmarket races, he found it gone. ‘Where is my TV?' he fumed. The secretary explained that it had been taken away for repairs. ‘But there’s nothing wrong with it,’ retorted Marks.

It slowly dawned on the Editor – and his secretary – that the men in white coats must have been thieves.

Action Line has been informed.

From Private Eye 22 May 1970

A bewildered reporter from the Daily Express was surprised  to be sent out to Hampstead Heath  on a Sunday afternoon to see a demonstration of skiing on grass.

’We can promise you a lot of space,’ said the beaming news editor, ‘off you go.’

Our intrepid reporter’s bewilderment was not diminished when he arrived at the Heath and found himself the sole representative of the Press, not one other paper, not even the Hampstead and Highgate Express, thinking the event worthy of sending even a junior reporter to cover it.

Elucidation was near. Up came the organiser of the event, Mr James Riddell, ‘So glad you could come,’ he said. ‘I’m a personal friend of Sir Max you know.’

And sure enough, the next morning the crusading paper was unique in its coverage of the great non-event – devoting a three-column picture and story spread on the happening.

11th September 1970

Alarmed by the flood of well-informed leaks in the Eye, the Editor of the Daily Express – whose name for a moment escapes us – has issued the following edict to all his underlings.

Will you please take the necessary steps to inform all members of staff for whom you are responsible that no information of any kind concerning the Daily Express or Beaverbrook Newspapers may be passed to any outside organisation – news agencies, trade magazines – without my express authority or, in my absence, that of the Managing Editor.

Within hours of it being sent out, a copy of the edict was in Lord Gnome’s capable hands.

4th December 1970

Grovel writes: I was sorry to hear that Brian Vine, the engaging chief of the Daily Express’s New York Bureau, has been refused a pay rise.

Brian apparently based his claim on the cost of living. Unfortunately the Express management were able to point out that despite this Brian had managed to purchase a $5,000 racehorse, Copper Mine, and ship it from Ireland to New York City, where he is currently maintaining it at $150 a week.

18th December 1970

Grovel writes: The party thrown for Mr John Gordon of the Sunday Express by Sir Max Aitken on the occasion of the former’s 80th birthday was a splendid affair. The Banqueting House in Whitehall was a most appropriate venue and it was a brainwave to invite Sir Arthur Bryant, the distinguished veteran historian, to make the congratulatory speech.

If only Sir Arthur could have remembered the guest of honour’s name, rather than referring throughout his speech to Mr John Junor.

Nor did Sir Max add to the dignity of the occasion by his remark at the end of the speech, inadvertently heard over the microphone: ‘Well, he made a right balls up of that didn’t he?’

From Private Eye 29th January 1971

Fleet Street's roving correspondents were startled recently to be rushed off to Cuba. Brian Vine of the Daily Express's New York office had apparently discovered the whereabouts of the Canadian kidnappers and had even observed them washing their babies' nappies. 

The correspondents arrived to find that the hideout was a deserted girls high school and that there was not a kidnapper in sight.

Before they could get back to Havana and have it out with Vine, he had written another story saying that he was about to be deported and was being fed on a diet of fish and rice.

Some weeks later a package arrived in the London offices of the Daily Express. It had been airfreighted from Cuba, via Prague, and inside were two shirts and a bill for £41. A note said that the bill was for laundry and air freight of the shirts, which Mr Vine had left behind him in the room of Comrade Maria Diaz at the Hotel Havana Libre.

The hotel menu on the night before Mr Vine flew back to New York included fish and rice.

26th February 1971

Amazing scenes at the Daily Express when Barbara Griggs (who is paid £7,500 for her weekly column) turned up in a trouser suit. The rule at the Express is that girls who wear trousers suits are to be sent home. The day after Miss Griggs’ appearance trouser suits were to be seen on every floor. (Grovel)

23rd April, 1971

Hard times on the Express. Mr John Coote, the managing director, has pinned up a notice offering two weeks holiday to anyone who can come up with an idea for advertising the paper.

Meanwhile, the staff of the Sunday Express have been again forced to start writing letters to themselves. On 14th March the leading letter was signed by ‘Mr Peter McKay of Queen’s Gate, SW7’ and told a desperate little story about the japes his colleagues played on each other on the way into the office.

Mr McKay is editor of Town Talk, the paper’s diary. 

4th June, 1971

I am glad to see that Mr David Pitman, formerly of the Daily Express’s William Hickey, is making his mark as a grocer on the Isle of Mull. He is famous as the only reporter to conduct a telephone conversation with a member of the Royal Family while held upside down with his head in a wastepaper basket. When he broke off to remonstrate with his Express colleagues about this, they merely cut off his braces and secured his feet to the overhead water pipe. Somehow, despite all, Mr Pitman prevented Prince William of Gloucester from tumbling what was going on.

18th June, 1971

A prize of some sort must be awarded to Mr Ian McColl, the new teetotal editor of the Daily Express. Within a few weeks of taking up his appointment he has managed to print his own obituary.

It happened when Rene McColl, former chief foreign reporter, died. The Express decided to ask the Foreign Secretary Baillie Vass (212) to write a tribute. The Baillie, who had vague memories of the Scottish Daily Express (where Ian McColl was editor before), immediately dashed off an elegant piece about ‘how this paragon Rene McColl had always put Scotland first, and how he would be sadly missed,’ etc, etc.

This duly appeared in a early edition of the Express, although it caused some surprise since Rene McColl was not Scottish and was always thought to have taken some trouble to avoid that country.

Finally, the razor-sharp Ian McColl (known from his late-night eating habits as ‘Chips and Six Forks), realised what had happened and the Baillie’s masterpiece was dropped altogether.

13th August 1971

Fears are being expressed for the health of Mr Jocelyn Stevens. My friend Patrick Lichfield’s reports that Jocelyn’s attempts to grapple with Princess Alexandra at a dinner party given by Sir Max Aitken in Cowes were not well received. Nor was his ridiculous Mexican moustache, a recent growth a la Lord Snowbum. 

13th August 1971

Sir Max Aitken’s days as chairman of Beaverbrook Newspapers may be numbered. Members of the board have been meeting to discuss ways and means of heaving him upstairs.

Informed City sources point at the recent steady rise in Beaverbrook shares and the possibility of a renewed merger bid for the Express group by Vere Harmsworth and the more stable Associated Newspapers Group.

Beaverbrook ‘A’ shares alone have crept up from a 1971 low of just over 10s to over 14s 6d – the 1970 low was near 7s –  during a time when the profits forecast of the Express group is unlikely to be higher than in previous years.

Last year’s merger talks between ‘Mere’ Harmsworth and Sir Max Aitken floundered only on the final terms. Sir Max’s family holdings in the Express group are for sale – at a price. Their original plan was to merge the Evening News with the Evening Standard, thus establishing an evening monopoly in the London area, and integrating the Mail with the Express. Sir Max baulked on the final batting order in the merged group as both he and Mere, whose family-controlled group would have been the bidder, wanted to be top dog.

With a new compact Mail, believed to be selling rather less than the two million claimed, and the circulation of the Daily Express down to a bare 3,500,000, the logical step would be for Harmsworth to pursue his bid. The puny profits of the Beaverbrook group – around £1.5million on an annual turnover of about £40million – leaves it vulnerable.

The only way for the Express to avoid a takeover would be for the board to oust Sir Max from day to day control and replace him with a City whizz kid brought in from outside.

This reconstruction would be carried out by Evelyn de Rothschild, a partner in the family bank, who is a Beaverbrook director.

Sir Max may soon find himself in the position of titular President.

10th September 1971

Further signs of deterioration at the Daily Express.

Before going on an Australian holiday, ageing scoop-hound Chapman Pincher sent a memo to his superiors informing them of his vacation plans and the fact that he was leaving behind him a few articles which could be used during his absence.

He continued that it would be a good thing to add a little immediacy and glamour to these ‘fillers’ by heading them ‘Chapman Pincher, Bangkok’, or ‘Singapore’.

8th October 1971

Ian McColl, the sickening editor of the Daily Express, is still not settled in London. His latest illness occurred on the day after the well-known teetotaller was seen to consume half a bottle of wine over lunch in a Fleet Street hostelry.

His driver, Mr Mills, has to spend much of his time ferrying round London in search of a house within his slender means.

After one such afternoon, spent on the M4, McColl returned to the office saying that the driver was strongly recommending him to live in Dulwich.

He only found out later that Mr Mills lives in Dulwich.

3rd December 1971

Miss Jean Rook, the highly-literate Daily Mail columnist, will shortly be moving to the Daily Express, at a salary of £9,000 a year.

Mr Herbert Kretzmer, the Daily Express’s showbiz pundit, has been fined £10, with £2 costs, for operating a television receiver without a licence. (Grovel)

17th December 1971

Female members of the Daily Express staff may be interested to learn details of the contract offered to Miss Jean Rook, soon to be their Women’s Editor.

Miss Rook will be paid £8,500 a year, plus £2,500 tax-free expenses, plus any other expenses. Her contract is for five years with a two-year notice clause. Most important, she will have full rights of ‘hire and fire’ without any recourse to the editor.

Since the Express are trying to get rid of 20 per cent of their staff, the only point of paying about £60,000 to Jean Rook must be to enable her to reduce the numbers of her colleagues – such as Miss Barbara Griggs, who is paid £7,000 for her weekly column.

17th December 1971

Amazing scenes at the Daily Express where, in spite of expressions of confidence from the paper’s incorrigibly optimistic proprietor, Sir Max Aitken (Man of His Word, DFC, Iron Cross, Oak Leaves and Bar), there is considerable unrest among the journalistic staff.

On 9th December, the Express journalists voted 182-21 to ‘work precisely’ according to their ‘house agreement’, which effectively means that overtime will be banned. The effect of this action on the quality and quantity of Express production will be considerable.

The problem seems to be that the journalists take the view that Sir Max Aitken has broken his promise to them. Last December, when the journalists from the Mirror and the Sun struck in support of wage claims, the Express journalists were persuaded not to join in the fray, and later Sir Max assured them that he would match any payment made to the Mirror and Sun journalists. This pledge has been acknowledged twice subsequently by the manager and the editor.

Now John Coote, Beaverbrook Newspapers’ managing director, is urgently denying that any such pledge was made. The increases paid have left Express journalists some £300 worse off than their counterparts on the Mirror. Furthermore, Aitken and Coote are proposing 20 per cent redundancies.

Sceptical Express journalists are convinced that the management is attempting to force a ‘showdown’ with their recalcitrant workers. The hysteria of the management may be garaged [sic]  from the late-night statement on 9th December from Express editor Ian MacColl [sic] (who had that day joined that happy, well-paid band of Beaverbrook main-board directors). According to MacColl, Sir Max Aitken was so upset by the journalists’ three-hour stop work action, that he had to be twice restrained from coming down to Fleet Street and closing down the Daily Express there and then.

One in the Eye 1972

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