Over and under the table

They have just eaten lunch and amazingly the tablecloth is pristine, how different it is from the old days when the tablecloth, if there was one, would have been covered in fag ash and beer stains. 

The scene just shows you these former denizens of the Daily and Sunday Express (and virtually everywhere else in Fleet Street) have come on over the years.

Relaxing after lunch at Da Corradi in London’s Mayfair are, from left, Dick Dismore, novelist Rory Clements, novelist Jon Zackon and Daily Drone editor Alastair McIntyre. Zack was treating his old chums to lunch to celebrate his 80th birthday in December.

Many anecdotes were swapped, most of which are retold elsewhere on the Drone, but one story is worthy of mention. It concerns Daily Express reporter Michael O’Flaherty who has now sadly left us and joined the choir invisible.

Oafers, as we called him, was assigned to cover an important meeting of Express bigwigs at the Savoy. Knowing a good opportunity when he saw it our man grasped it with both hands … not to mention the free booze.

Having completely and utterly refreshed himself, Oafers retired under a table, as was the custom at the time (see Daily Drone’s passim).

Suddenly our intrepid reporter espied a pair of feet by the table so, in a generous gesture to lighten the weighty proceedings, he bit the ankles of the unfortunate guest. He had chosen well, for our man had attacked none other than Victor (later Lord) Matthews, chairman of Express Newspapers.

As you can imagine Matthews kicked up one hell of a fuss and threats of dismissal were issued to Mad Mike. Pleas were made on Oafers’ behalf, not least by the NUJ chapel which had some muscle at the time, and he kept his job.

Tell that to the kids of today and they wouldn’t believe you.

*There are other versions of this tale, with some insisting that Managing Editor Struan Coupar was at the receiving end of the ankle biting and that the chairman at the time was David (later Lord) Stevens and that the act was committed in the boardroom. Bingo (later Lord) Drone can’t for the life of him remember which story is correct and isn’t sure whether it matters much.

James Davies clears up the mystery: "As FoC at the time I can confirm that it was indeed at the Savoy where Mike O'Flaherty committed his spectacular act of lèse majesté and that it was Victor Matthews who was the recipient.  I count saving Oafers' job as the highlight of my 18 months as champion of the masses!  And congratulations to Zack on reaching this turgid milestone.  Jim Davies (aged  82 and a half)."

© 2005-2022 Alastair McIntyre