Thursday, 4 December 2008

As I would have been saying had I not been rudely interrupted

I used to rent the mouth out for money in broadcasting, with a nice sideline in after dinner speaking.


My favourite gig was the occasional gathering of old friends of the Liverpool Press Club and I thought it would be nice, in view of recent events, if I bowed out from mouth-renting with a last speech at their luncheon this year.


Alas, though the spirit is willing, the flesh is getting weaker by the minute.  So I will deliver it here.


Ladies and Gentlemen


I had enjoyed three peaceful years on evening papers in Yorkshire.  Then I went to Liverpool to join the Daily Dispatch.  A week later a Daily Mirror reporter called Bill Marshall came back from his holidays and my life went into free fall.


I should have sensed there was something odd about him when he sold my passport for thirty quid.  Fair play, he gave me half, but it meant I couldn’t go abroad for years.


Then he became a Drug Baron.  We spent our thirty quid from the passport on what Marshall insisted was hashish.  When we got back to the Club with it, he spotted Bert Balmer and Jimmy Morris, two very senior detectives, at the bar.


He gave me the hash and said, “Go and ask them if it is genuine.”


I think, probably, I was too trusting.


So, anyway, there I was, in possession of thirty quidsworth of hashish, asking the Head of the CID and his deputy to identify a substance that should have been a one-way ticket to the Bridewell.


Bert looked very serious when he took it off me and buried his nose in it, sniffing audibly.


Then, very gravely, he passed it over to Jimmy Morris.  “What do you think?” he asked.  “Rhododendron or Azalea?”


“Oh, Azalea,” said Jimmy as he handed it back to me.  “But tell your mate Bill it will never grow.  He’ll need seed for that.  Not shredded leaves.”


Bill knew how poor I was.  I was getting fifteen quid a week and sending ten of it back to my family in Doncaster.  The fiver I had left paid for my digs.  But if I wanted to eat as well I had to play poker.


Fair play, he was always very worried about my poverty and constantly thought of ways of making us both rich.


Like the roulette game he set up in the Club.  I had taken a few quid off John Edwards, who was working – but not very often - at the Daily Post at the time.

Marshall allowed me to put most of my winnings in the bank.  He even left me enough to buy a black shirt and a white tie.  Because he said the croupier had to look the part.

Did I mention that he decided I was to be the croupier?


I realised why when at the first spin of the wheel we lost £75.  Most of it to Les Clare who was not famous for benignity.  Which is probably why we couldn’t find Marshall anywhere.


I don’t think I will ever forgive him for shaving off half Jackie Yeadon’s beard whilst he slept in the bar, then making me help to lift him onto the parapet outside the big windows and shout to the shopping crowds below in Lime St: “Roll up an d see the dwarf with half a beard.”


Jackie was tiny but he could look after himself.  He got extra meat during the war by telling the butcher he was the captain of a midget submarine.


Mind you, there were pluses to my friendship with Bill.  If I hadn’t met him I would never have got pissed with Hoagy Carmichael.


I was sleeping on the files in the office at the time having run out of digs money.  This one morning the phone rang.  It was Marshall.


He said: “Hoagy Carmichael is staying at the Adelphi.  We must go and pay him homage.”


Carmichael couldn’t have been nicer.  He invited us into his suite and plied us with scotch.  Marshall wanted him to play “Stardust” for us.  Hoagy said he hated the tune but he would be happy to play anything else.  So he did.


We were just having this personal concert when Marshall spoiled the mood by yelping.  He had just remembered he should have been in court across the way in St. George’s Hall.


Nobody did disaster better than Marshall.  It certainly worried Carmichael.  “Is there anything I can do?” he wanted to know.


That was something you never said to Marshall because what happened afterwards was always bad.


“Well Hoagy,“ he said, “there is something but you may not be too keen.”


“Try me,” said Hoagy.  Very foolishly, in my view.


“My news editor Rolly Watkins is a great fan of yours.  If I were to ring him up, we could put the phone over the keyboard and you could play a few bars of Stardust and say ‘Hello Rolly, I have your man Marshall with me and I want him to interview me.”


Good as gold, Hoagy played the few bars and spoke into the receiver as ordered.  There was a pause.  And then a very cross Hoagy barked:


“No, this is not Bill Marshall and I am not taking the piss.  Nor am I pissed as you dare to suggest…………..”


He did his show at the Royal Court that night and afterwards came over the Press Club where he played for another hour before he stopped.


By this time Marshall was in charge.  “Play, Hoagy,” he demanded.


“Bill, I get a thousand pounds for a concert.  I think I have done enough.”


“Oh,” said Marshall, “money is your god, is it?”


And before my horrified gaze he wrote a cheque for a thousand pounds which he threw at Carmichael.


I was back sleeping on the files the next morning when the phone rang and Marshall asked, “Did I write any cheques last night?”


“Only one for a thousand pounds,“ I told him, and rejoiced in the strangled scream.


He insisted we get the cheque back but Hoagy wasn’t playing.  “I’m sorry, Bill,” he said, “I cashed it first thing this morning.”


He let Marshall squirm a bit and then admitted he still had it.


”But you cannot have it back,” he said.  “I am going to get it framed and hang it in my study to remind me of the best night out I have had this year.”


My favourite memory of Liverpool concerns the minesweeper the Admiralty forgot.  It seemed to be welded to the dock wall.  The crew had honorary membership of the Press Club and we enjoyed membership of the Ward Room.


I was there one day when a messenger came on board from the office.  He said: “Mr Wigglesworth says not to hurry with your copy.  The paper has been bought by the Mirror and closed down.”


I must have paled because the skipper asked, “Bad news from home?” in the In-Which-We-Serve voice used by naval officers.


“My paper has closed down,” I said.


“Is this the first you’ve heard?”




“If their Lordships of the Admiralty had taken a ship of mine out of commission in such an ill mannered way I would send them a pretty snotty signal.”


“And if I knew Lord Kemsley’s telephone number I would give him a piece of my mind,” I retorted.

At this point Hugh Medlicott from the Mail (Harry Slime or the Turd Man, as he was known to Les Clare) broke in.  “It’s Mayfair 1111,” he said.


“If I was near a telephone……………………………”


“Use our ship to shore,” the skipper offered.


Several large gins later I plucked up the courage, rang the number and, thank God, a footman told me his Lordship was out but he would be glad take a message.


Brave now, I gave him a very abusive message indeed.  When I finished the skipper begged to be allowed to come on the phone.


“And that goes for Her Majesty’s Royal Navy,” he told the footman.


The footman seemed very pleased.


Predictably, Wiggie, who was the news editor of the Daily Dispatch and a man with favourites, had left me off the list of those joining the Mirror.  The Editorial Director Hugh Cudlipp heard the story and insisted I should be employed.





Many thanks for the good wishes.  My old friend Dr Barry Morgan, the Archbishop of Wales; the Chamberlain of York Minister; a priest, four nuns, an ex-nun and Alistair McQueen have all had a word for me upstairs.  Indeed the priest, Brian Jones, celebrated a Mass for me.


In view of this, Ladbrokes has extended the odds on the sting in my tail.  As a thank you may I offer this:


By J.S.Haldane


I wish I had the voice of Homer

To sing of rectal carcinoma,

Which kills a lot more chaps, in fact,

Than were bumped off when Troy was sacked.

Yet, thanks to modern surgeons' skills,

It can be killed before it kills

Upon a scientific basis

In nineteen out of twenty cases.

I noticed I was passing blood

(Only a few drops, not a flood).

So pausing on my homeward way

  From Tallahassee to Bombay

I asked a doctor, now my friend,

To peer into my hinder end,

To prove or disprove the rumour

That I had a malignant tumour.

They pumped in BaSO4

Till I could really stand no more,

And, when sufficient had been pressed in,

They photographed my large intestine.

In order to decide the issue

They next scraped out some bits of tissue.

(Before they did so, some good pal

Had knocked me out with pentothal,

Whose action is extremely quick,

And does not leave me feeling sick.)

The microscope returned the answer

That I had certainly got cancer.

So I was wheeled into the theatre

Where holes were made to make me better.

One set is in my perineum

Where I can feel, but can't yet see 'em.

Another made me like a kipper

Or female prey of Jack the Ripper.

Through this incision, I don't doubt,

The neoplasm was taken out,

Along with colon, and lymph nodes

Where cancer cells might find abodes.

A third much smaller hole is meant

To function as a ventral vent:

So now I am like two-faced Janus

The only* god who sees his anus.

(*In India there are several more

  With extra faces, up to four,

  But both in Brahma and in Shiva

  I own myself an unbeliever.)

I'll swear, without the risk of perjury,

It was a snappy bit of surgery.

My rectum is a serious loss to me,

But I've a very neat colostomy,

And hope, as soon as I am able,

To make it keep a fixed time-table.

So do not wait for aches and pains

To have a surgeon mend your drains;

If he says 'cancer' you're a dunce

Unless you have it out at once,

For if you wait it's sure to swell,

And may have progeny as well.

My final word, before I'm done,

Is 'Cancer can be rather fun.'

Thanks to the nurses and Nye Bevan

The NHS is quite like heaven

Provided one confronts the tumour

With a sufficient sense of humour.

I know that cancer often kills,

But so do cars and sleeping pills;

And it can hurt one till one sweats,

So can bad teeth and unpaid debts.

A spot of laughter, I am sure,

Often accelerates one's cure;

So let us patients do our bit

To help the surgeons make us fit.

                        - J.B.S. Haldane





In Lancashire community policemen are quelling drunks by giving them soap bubble pipes………………….


Faced with a recession which is the result of living in debt we have a Government who proposes to cure it by getting further into debt.


And to whom?  China, that is whom.  America already owes China a trillion dollars or so and we are in to the Tiddlywinks up to the hocks.  They won’t have to declare war on us: they will just call in the debt.


They wouldn’t do it?  America loaned us millions during the war and no sooner was it over than they asked for it back and brought down an Empire…………………………………………


Tony Blair assembled a panel of experts to assess the purpose and profitability of hosting the Olympic Games.  After a year’s intensive research the experts decided there was no profit or purpose except as a national feel good party.  Naturally the Government ignored the findings and grabbed the games with money they had not got.  They boasted this month that one of the “stadiums” was complete ahead of target date. Stadium?  It was the sea on which the dinghies will race.


My newsagent has not cleared the path in front of her shop this year.  She usually puts salt down to clear the snow.  But Insurance Companies have ruled that if she does, and a customer slips, she is liable.  If the customer slips on uncleared snow it is his own fault.


The American army is developing robot soldiers.  When they fight a robot enemy, how will they know who has won?


Oh Dean Swift, thou shouldst be living at this hour.




The Australian Navy has been given Xmas off.

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