Times obituary: Arthur Gould

January 10 2018, 12:01am, 

The Times

arthur gould

                                  Arthur Gould worked under six editors

News doesn’t keep office hours. Even after it has been put to bed, a great newspaper can never sleep. There must always be someone on duty; someone alert, decisive, imaginative, capable of turning the pages around within minutes. Someone imaginative enough to turn the sub-editors’ bench into a table-tennis table; someone capable of beating all-comers at 2am, fag in mouth, bat in one hand, can of extra-strength lager (“lunatic soup”) in the other.

Arthur Gould was that man: undisputed table tennis champion of The Times with a sideline as night editor. He would steer that great ship through the dark hours, commanding from the bridge, toiling in the engine room and entertaining the crew with tales from Panzer Drill HQ (the local Tory club) and faux reminiscences of life in the Führer’s forces.

He was too young to have seen action (for either side) in the war, and the foundations for what may have been his finest hours were laid during National Service with the RAF, mostly in the Middle East. This was the battlefield where he learnt his table tennis. He signed on as a navigator, but Gould’s facility with words and paperwork led to him being assigned to an air commodore as personal assistant. He was impressive enough for the officer to suggest that he train as a pilot. Gould preferred journalism.

Arthur Gould was born at Crumpsall hospital in Manchester in 1928, the only son of Annie, a children’s nurse who received a British Empire Medal for her nit-detection work, and Joseph, an ambulance driver. He was educated at Manchester Grammar School, to which he won a scholarship, and on leaving he joined the Manchester Evening News as a messenger. He soon graduated to reporting and would return to the newsroom after National Service.

Dispatched to Ireland to cover the Dublin horse show in 1952, he and fellow reporters sought an evening’s diversion at a dance. Alice Casey, visiting her sister Pinky in the city, had a similar idea. A reluctant Pinky was eventually persuaded to go, but watching from the sidelines tested her patience. “If you don’t ask someone to dance in the ladies’ excuse-me, we’re leaving,” she said. “What about that chap over there?” she added, pointing to a man standing next to Gould. Alice asked Arthur instead; they danced all night, he went home with them and that was it. They courted by letter and married in Dublin two years later.

Alice’s father was a GP on the west coast of Ireland; Arthur was brought up in a Salford council house. His class-conscious mother was surprised by the match, but Gould was untroubled by the notion that he was marrying above his station and forged a good relationship with his mother-in-law through music: she taught it; he was useful on the piano and oboe (“It stood me in good stead in my interview at The Times”) and had played in an orchestra in his teens.

Finding local journalism a little staid, he uprooted his young family — they had two daughters — and went to work for The Times in 1965, joining as a sub-editor before working his way up to night editor. Over three decades, Gould worked for six Times editors, “each madder than the last”. Whatever their failings in that direction, all had enough sense to recognise a pro at work. “He had a ‘let editors beware’ look,” said one. “A wise and wonderful craftsman.”

The level of respect in which Gould was held as night editor was emphasised in the run-up to the Wapping dispute. In the weeks before the strike, a few journalists were “disappeared” one by one from the Times office in Gray’s Inn Road to work at the new plant in Tower Hamlets. Such was the level of secrecy that once they had gone, they were never to return, and excuses were concocted to explain the absences. Gould alone, apart from the editor Charles Wilson, was trusted to lead a double life: learning computer technology in Wapping in the mornings, bringing out the paper by night. “I trusted him 100 per cent,” said Wilson.

Whether the proprietor shared that faith is open to question. Queueing for fish and chips in the pre-strike Wapping canteen, Gould became aware of a presence on his shoulder. “Are they any good?” an Australian voice demanded of him. “How the f*** should I know?” came the reply.

Cloak and dagger stuff was nothing new to Gould: he had been involved in the secretive operation to bring out a Frankfurt edition of The Times during a year-long shutdown in the late 1970s. In common with colleagues during that period of enforced idleness, Gould kept his hand in at The Observer, where he had been doing shifts in tandem with his job at The Times. On both he was admired for the way he moved straight into top gear when the big stories broke — from the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia to the Lockerbie bombing.

Working all hours can cause a strain on family life, but Gould seemed to have discovered that elusive work-life balance. There were month-long family camping trips, often in France (“beautiful country, wasted on the French”), carefully planned to maximise excitement and adventure for Mary, a future cardiac nurse, and her sister Geraldine (appropriately nicknamed Bobbie — she would make her career with the Metropolitan Police).

Before moving to the seaside, Gould would return to the paper for occasional casual shifts, but in this he was renowned for neither diligence nor abstinence. One summer’s evening, a business sub took the page proofs to his office and found Gould drinking from a bottle of lemonade. “It’s hot in here,” said Gould. “Would you like a drop?” He found a plastic beaker and poured some. It was neat gin.

Arthur Gould, journalist, was born on October 9, 1928. He died of vascular dementia on November 26, 2017, aged 89

Drone editor’s note: This fine tribute was written by former Times sub-editor Liz Gerard who runs the SubScribe website

© 2005-2022 Alastair McIntyre