Of course we received the blog last week….McQueen was obviously pissed. Loved the piece on Harrap, but particularly the memory of Bill Marshall.
“Journalist,” said I proudly, having just been fired from the Sandbach Chronicle for landing a fantastic exclusive about Jodrell Bank without telling the editor first. He claimed I wasn’t qualified to find such a great story, and certainly not senior enough to write it. “Fuck!” said the lady at my side, which obviously left me wondering why she harbored a deep distrust of our species. “I was married to Bill Marshall,” she admitted with very obvious regret.
That would be Kathy, his first wife who threw terrific parties, from which her husband was barred
THIS WEEK'S BLOG
I spent my childhood nights in an air raid shelter whilst Nazi bombers did their best to shorten my childhood. We were a nation of Burrowers, in turn cowering and exuding relief in pits covered with corrugated iron as bombs exploded. Yet every night we listened eagerly to the Berlin Radio from whence a phony Englishman we called Lord Haw Haw warned us that Hitler was going to annihilate us. We thought it hilarious.
The Ministry of Information plastered the walls with posters warning us that spies were listening to our every unguarded word. Wisely the Ministry had them drawn by a talented cartoonist called Fougasse. We thought them hilarious too.
In his book on Stalingrad Anthony Beevor writes: "When a winter-campaign medal was issued the following year, it quickly became known as the ‘Order of the Frozen Flesh’. There were more serious cases of disaffection. Field Marshal von Reichenau, the commander-in-chief of the Sixth Army, exploded in rage just before Christmas on finding the following examples of graffiti on the buildings allotted for his headquarters: ‘We want to return to Germany’; ‘We’ve had enough of this’; ‘We are dirty and have lice and want to go home.'
"In Berlin, a city all but flattened by our reciprocal bombs, the humour was typically more dark and gothic than ours. 'Buy a useful present this Christmas," their comics advised. 'A coffin'."
Hardly a joke that would make it to ITMA, our weekly radio laugh-in. The programme was produced in Bangor by a man called Worsley whose son was to become a broadcasting chum of mine. He came home from school one day demonstrating a schoolboy jape. If you talked into the rim of a glass you could deepen your voice. His father was delighted. There was a new character in the show that week. It was a German spy called Funf who spoke into a glass darkly. It swept the nation.
If you look at any photographs taken in the Fifties everyone is smiling yet in contemporary photographs there isn't a happy tooth to be seen. Our media resembles nothing so much as the Fat Boy in the Pickwick Papers 'who wants to make yer flesh creep.'
This week we have reacted with horror to the news that the Government is reading our emails. It came as no surprise to me.When I was suspected of being a Welsh terrorist, Special Branch detectives showed me album after album of processions and demonstrations taken by Plod Photographers.
Today most of my email consists of bewildering pictures of naked women, sent to me by friends old enough to know better, and jokes so venerable one wonders they make the journey unaided. I feel sorry for any luckless terror-taker who has to read them every morning.
There is admittedly diminishing cause for glee. Although we are among the 'rich' nations we are closing libraries and lavatories, the roads are a disgrace, respectable people are queuing at soup kitchens and the disabled are being evicted because they cannot afford to pay an iniquitous bedroom tax. The cream of our warriors are being taken from the front line to be thrown on the scrapheap. In the past century our Leaders have launched 165 wars in which 180 million have given their lives at the cost of 350 million dollars. The Ministry of Health plans to strip 135,000 elderly and disabled survivors of basic care such as help with washing and dressing, yet despite protests they do not need it, we continue to hurl gold coins at the heads of Africans, Chinese and Indians who are much richer than we are.
Rather than cheer us up the Government is intent on wiping the smile off our collective faces. They have set up a watchdog, the Efficiency and Reform Group, to house keep. It costs £72 million a year to run but it apparently hasn't noticed £500 million spent sending the children of senior officers and diplomats to public schools. Members of the Civil Service, which complains of cuts, get two and a half privilege days off a year, £75 evening dress allowance, loans to buy bicycles, as well as £912,000 a year subsidized flying lessons, diving lessons and trips to Barbados. Members of Parliament, of course, are preoccupied negotiating a massive pay rise for themselves. No wonder we cannot take life as light heartedly as when we were only being bombed.We are living in a world where in two years we are likely to be plunged into darkness. We are tied into a Europe which is going bust, country by country, where one in four young people cannot find a job. I wish it were yesterday.
When my good friend Jimmy Lovelock died few believed it. Death must have had quite a struggle because Jim was the stuff that old boots are made from.
Editor of a weekly newspaper in his twenties, he was crippled with polio as a child yet nevertheless became a mountaineer, a pot-holer and a member of the expedition which climbed Nuptse, Everest’s younger sister. Working for the Daily Mail, he once scaled the south face of the building and climbed through the window into the editor’s office.
He was also my boss for a day and a half when he was proprietor of Stockport News Service.
Jim was a remarkable man who collected oddities. The rest of the staff of Stockport News Service was an odd little chap called Mickey. We had to find him to be introduced - and that was never easy. A year after his arrival, no one knew Mickey’s surname and I don’t think anyone ever found out where he lived.
He was invariably respectful and called Jimmy 'Master'. He had a single purpose in life: to discover how millionaires made their first thousand pounds. Their memoirs, said Mickey who had read them all, always included the phrase, 'with my first thousand pounds I bought…' but never explained where the thousand pounds had come from.
He thought they had nicked it; but scorning that as being too easy, he tried dealing. He only really mastered the art of acquiring: disposal escaped him. To Jimmy’s puzzled chagrin, he used the Agency’s office as his warehouse. There were racks of clothes of improbable sizes; a job lot of stringless violins, picked up for a song, inevitably tuneless; twenty gross of heavily tinselled cards wishing 'A Happy Xmas for 1948' which he bought in 1951; and other less saleable items. You could never find a pen there, or even a typewriter; but anyone in need of a stringless violin was easily accommodated.
Next he tried gambling, a curious reversal. This time, disposing was child’s play: acquiring, he never quite mastered.
He had one suit he wore to the office, except on the days when he wore a mackintosh in the hope that 'Master' would not notice he was wearing only a shirt, tie and underpants beneath, having pawned the suit. The gartered socks were a give-away.
By the time I arrived, Jimmy had taken to paying him by the day. The second day there I got an out of town job - I was, after all, the only member of staff who could be relied on to turn up in a suit. Wilmslow Magistrates Court, which in those days could be reached from Stockport by train, was hardly outer space but Mickey anxiously took me for a couple of pints to stiffen the sinews. One pint led to another and by the time I got on the train I was exhausted, fell into a deep sleep and woke up in Crewe. I had seen enough Hollywood newspaper films to know what to do. I rang the office on a transfer charge call and asked Jimmy to wire me my fare back to Stockport. I was touched that he went further: he drove all the way to Crewe to collect me. I see now that the reason was that it gave him a greater opportunity for an in-depth character assessment, but at the time I thought it a charming gesture.
We were nearing Stockport when he ended his assessment. “Skiddy,” he said, “we have two alternatives. Either I employ you or we stay friends.” Again I was very touched: it was my friendship he valued.
He generously paid me for a day and a half, but despite the joint urgings of Mickey and myself, refused to add the one and a half hours’ holiday money to which we felt I was entitled. After over sixty years the debt remains unpaid, though I have over the years mentioned it many times, even sent bills to his retirement home in Spain. He always copped me a deaf ‘un.
In the fullness of time he came to work for me, doing shifts when I ran the night desk on the Sunday Pictorial. I tried to have my holiday money docked from his shift money, but the linage department was obdurate. No honorable amendment, not even when he made a fortune doing night shifts for six nationals, on one occasion sleeping in his car outside the vicarage in Cheshire in case his prey, the naughty Vicar of Woodford, sneaked back from his love-nest in the South of France.
In fairness, he did bring me a Kukri back from Nepal when he climbed Nuptse and I treasure it to this day.
I was especially touched because he would have had every right to be cross. George Harrap, the picture editor, and I had sent him a telegram as soon as the news broke of his successful attempt. “Is there froth on the top?” it read, rather cleverly, we thought. We didn’t know that it would take the Sherpa who delivered it three days to climb the mountain.
Mickey? No idea. The last time we met we were having lunch with Lord (Tony) Moynihan when his wife’s breast fell out. She was a tassle dancer and was very kindly demonstrating that antique art. Somehow, in the excitement of that, I never got round to finding out whether Mickey made his first thousand, but I was pleased to see he was not wearing his Mac.
My American chum Jerry Jasper brought a smile to my face with this: