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TUESDAY 16 JULY  2024

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Guess who was dragged from a court, the worse for drink, shouting NOT GUILTY 

O’FLAHERTY OF COURSE!

Mike moved to South Africa after leaving the Daily Express in 1996 where he married Bheki, an African princess. He died on 12th February, 2012 only eight days short of his 75th birthday. He had been suffering from heart problems and skin cancer.


By PLAINJOHN SMITH


Your recent piece on Mike O’Flaherty stirred many memories.


Back in the late 1950’s, Mike and I were reporters in Bristol, me on the Evening World, Mike on the Western Daily Press. (My colleagues on the Evening World included Kingsley Squire, later to become a Daily Express stalwart and Tom Stoppard, the paper’s loquacious diarist and theatre critic. Wonder what happened to him?).


A freezing December morning in the pre-dawn darkness found us standing on the quayside at the Avonmouth docks. A Voodoo jet fighter pilot, flying from an American aircraft carrier in the Atlantic, had suffered engine trouble and been forced to eject into the ocean, miles away from any hope of immediate rescue. In the freezing winter waters of the Atlantic his chances of survival were slim.


But by some miracle (I feel a headline coming on) a Bristol-bound freighter was the only ship in the area and they were able to pluck the semi-conscious flyer from the waves. Now, with the rescued pilot still on board, the ship was due to dock in Avonmouth — huge story for the Bristol media.


As we stamped our feet trying to keep warm on the icy quayside, Mike fortified himself with regular swallows from a hip flask of brandy. As daylight dawned, a Jeep carrying a four man uniformed team of Public Relations Officers from the US Air Force arrived. Obvious acutely aware of the needs of the British Press, they were armed with bottles of bourbon and other assorted spirits.


The following press conference aboard the ship, with a colourful account of the dramatic (sorry, miracle) rescue, was fuelled by generous tots of the American PR booze. Having been the first to enthusiastically take advantage of this Yankee hospitality, Mike fell asleep in the car on the way back to Bristol. On arriving in the city, Mike stood swaying on the pavement, obviously very much the worse for wear. But despite our concerns, Mike insisted he was still fit for duty, which happened to be his daily coverage of the Number One. Bristol magistrates court, which was about to convene.


On wobbly legs, he stumbled into the Press Box and sat down. First up was a local man charged with being drunk and disorderly and Mike, perhaps sensing some affinity with the accused, stood up with all the authority of an Old Bailey barrister and announced: “Your worship, in this case there will be a plea of Not Guilty.”


Somewhat bemused, the clerk of the court chose to ignore this interruption and continued to read out the charge. Mike stood up again and shouted: “Did you not hear me? This man is NOT GUILTY!”


At this point a court usher and a policeman hurried across, prised Mike from the Press Box and dragged him towards the exit. Mike, legs trailing on the floor, turned his head to bellow one more “NOT GUILTY” before being bundled through the door.


Not surprisingly, word of Mike’s courtroom antics reached his bosses at the Western Daily Press. Dismissal was very much on the cards. But wiser heads prevailed and insisted that Mike’s eccentricities were a small price to pay for his continued employment as a talented and highly valued reporter and feature writer.


So Mike stayed, roaring around Bristol on his Vespa motor scooter, heading  for even more adventures in Fleet Street.



24 June 2024


COLIN HENDERSON remembers:


WHEN an obviously well-oiled O'Flaherty lurched on to a Kent coast-bound train one evening in the Eighties he came to a standstill alongside a chap who had worked on the Express. After inquiring how he was faring, our hero, in an increasingly loud voice, and to the bemusement of half the carriage, forcefully marked the cards of those still on the paper. The editor did not come out well, nor did the subs, individuals on the back bench or in features. In short, the daily was "run by a bunch of shysters."

As for expenses, they were getting worse. Things were far better on the Mirror, with its legendary bank in the sky. "Executives put in for so much cash that when their secretaries go to collect it they have to have escorts to make sure they don't get mugged in the lift," thundered MIchael as, to a round of applause, he departed the train, the night still young for more mischief.


*****


FIFTY years ago this autumn The People football team went on a four-day tour to Benidorm, complete with wives, mistresses — and, unexpectedly, a supporter in the shape of O'Flaherty, then working on the paper. "It OK folks, I'm on the wagon," he announced at Gatwick's check-in. To widespread amazement, that's how things remained at all the parties, at the flamingo extravaganza and the discos. All the while he pretended to be The People's gruff but effective FoC, who had an endearing way of mangling the English language. The team was not visiting Benidorm, but Dormiben, and so on. 

The laughs never stopped. What would Mike's life have been if he had stuck to those Fanta-based concoctions downed on that trip to the Costa Blanca?


*****


THE Skytrain flights and four-nights b&b in a basic hotel cost only £24.99 per person. The remarkable deal was secured by Spanish speaking reporter Denis Cassidy, of Cassidy and Leigh fame, and father of Downton actress Raquel Cassidy.

At the time Skytrain was mostly idle as Freddie Laker had not secured a deal to fly to the States, So he was quite happy to let the plane potter around Europe for virtually nothing and throw in dirt-cheap accommodation.

Those certainly were the days.



27 June 2024