Happy Hack: A Memoir of Fleet Street in Its Heyday

Happy Hack: A Memoir of Fleet Street in Its Heyday

by Michael Molloy

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Overview

Today, Fleet Street is just a term for the newspaper business. But not so long ago it was a real place. Each paper had its own favourite pubs, its own extraordinary characters, and its own stock of legendary tales about the triumphs and disasters that had befallen friends and enemies. It was the Street of Dreams; the Street of Adventure; the Street of Disillusion and, in the end, sadly, the Street of Profits. But once upon a time it was a place of magic.
Mike Molloy began in Fleet Street as a messenger boy on the Sunday Pictorial, and subsequently worked as a cartoonist, page designer, feature writer, and features executive. Eventually he was appointed the thirteenth and youngest editor of the Daily Mirror, a post he held for ten years. To his surprise, as he had opposed the take-over, when Robert Maxwell bought the Mirror, Maxwell made him editor-in-chief of the group.
This is Molloy’s spellbinding, and often hilarious, account of his years working with some of the giants, and pygmies, who produced the nation’s daily papers. Along the way he tells of his encounters with politicians, prime ministers, rock stars, American presidents, trade union leaders, members of the royal family, and some of the legendary figures of show business. In the final sector of the book he charts his astonishingly surreal five years with Robert Maxwell, whose chaotic reign brought new heights of blundering absurdity to the role of the tyrannical ‘press lord’.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781786060518
Publisher: John Blake Publishing, Limited
Publication date: 01/01/2016
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Mike Molloy began in Fleet Street as a messenger boy on the "Sunday Pictorial," and subsequently worked as a cartoonist, page designer, feature writer, and features executive. Eventually he was appointed the 13 and youngest editor of the "Daily Mirror," a post he held for 10 years.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

PUBLISH AND BE DAMNED

In the early summer of 1956, I began work as a Fleet Street messenger boy, the job I'd applied for five months after my fifteenth birthday. It proved to be the luckiest decision of my life. Recently, I'd been idling away my time at Ealing Junior School of Art, a type of establishment, now long abolished, that prepared pupils for entry to the senior art school. Once there, students could prepare for a teaching diploma.

My parents hoped that a teaching career would provide me with a respectable living, but the idea filled me with foreboding. The man who'd encouraged me to go to art school was a dark, melancholy figure known as 'Pop' Reed. Although of average height, he seemed bigger because of his thick body. His head was on the large side, too, with bold, fleshy features and hooded eyes.

Pop Reed had been a brilliant student at the Royal College of Art, but somewhere along the way he'd abandoned his plans to be a painter and drifted into teaching youths like me, who, for the most part, displayed the higher feelings of farmyard animals.

Despite Pop Reed's encouragement, I had no desire to devote myself to art. Drawing was just something I could do a bit, like riding a bike or whistling; still, it proved enough to pass the examination.

Once I was there, it was clear that we junior art students were simply an unwanted appendage to the rest of the school, which was studying conventional academic subjects. But the headmaster, a wintry character called Faukes, suffered from the delusion that he was running a much grander Establishment school, and we, the art section, let the side down.

After a few days, at the morning assembly, Faukes directed his remarks to us members of the new intake. Grasping the collar of his gown, he began to speak in a curiously growling manner, as if he were chewing his words.

'In previous years this school took its students from the cream of Middlesex,' he began. We glanced about us incredulously. It was obvious this hotchpotch of boys and girls were of average merit. How had Faukes transformed them in into his fantasy of gilded youth?

He continued: 'This year's intake is the first ever to be granted places without interviews.' He paused significantly. 'It is an experiment that is never going to be repeated. From Monday, the new intake will commence instruction from our newly appointed elocution teacher.'

This announcement presented no problem for me. My mother had a pleasant voice, with a slight trace of her Durham upbringing as a publican's daughter. My father had been born and brought up in Paddington's Lisson Grove, a place Eliza Doolittle claimed 'weren't fit for pigs', but a lifetime of reading three library books a week had given him a fair command of the mother tongue.

Although I'd attended state schools, the staff and pupils tended to use what we might term BBC English. However, my own tones were occasionally influenced by the longish periods I'd spent in rural Durham.

In the years, after my grandparents had given up keeping pubs, they'd lived as tenants on a grand estate, in a mews cottage festooned with honeysuckle. It was across a stable yard from a Georgian house occupied by a solicitor, his wife and their two young children, Emily and Thomas. As I was the same age as Emily, I was invited to share her days in the nursery under the supervision of the nanny. There, my accent was gentled, and the nanny even taught me to read from a set of children's books that had been in Emily's family for generations.

When I returned home to the suburb of Alperton, I sounded pretty much like Little Lord Fauntleroy. Upper-class accents were far more polished and precise in those days; consequently, I was mocked by my friends, who spoke with more slovenly vowels. So I learned to speak with two tongues: the accent of west London and the smarter tones of a BBC newsreader. Also, my best friend, Clive Bowler, had, since he was a small boy, wanted to be an actor. Because of his influence we'd been going to the theatre since we were able to see over the ticket counter.

Elocution lessons were nothing: I was undaunted by a few instructions in rolling my R's, articulating my vowels and speaking from the diaphragm. The rest of the time, apart from lessons in English grammar and literature, mathematics, geography and history, was spent drawing plants, lettering in the Roman style, mastering perspective, understanding the composition of pictures, and the theory of colour.

After the first year I was bored to distraction. Eventually, for relief, I would stay away from the classrooms for longer and longer periods and read in the library. I was never challenged – who would expect to find someone playing truant inside the school?

It was in the school library that I came upon a book that changed my life. Publish and Be Damned, by Hugh Cudlipp, tells the story of the men who, in the early years of the twentieth century, had fashioned the Daily Mirror from its failed beginning as a newspaper for gentlewomen into the most popular and politically influential publication in Britain.

Cudlipp told the story with such engaging gusto I was fired with a desire to see what life was like on a newspaper: particularly one of the Mirror's political persuasions. Cudlipp had applied for a job on the Mirror after seeing a small ad in London's Evening Standard. When I'd finished the book, there then occurred one of those Dickensian coincidences that can sometimes happen in real life.

I looked at the classified pages of my father's copy of the Evening Standard, something I had never done before. And there were a few lines announcing that the Daily Mirror was offering a single year's employment for messenger boys.

I knew immediately what I would do. My plan was to apply for one of these temporary jobs on the Mirror and then, after a year's employment in the big city, return to art school as a man of the world. I was confident that I could re-enrol with a plausible excuse for my year-long absence.

I didn't for a moment expect to make a career in journalism. The idea of working with the written word seemed out of the question, as I was aware that I had a problem in that department: I was dyslexic. This condition – the inability to spell because of word blindness – was hardly understood in my childhood. Reading presented no problem because I see words as overall shapes, but spelling can sometimes prove impossible.

By good fortune, my part-time nanny in the North had taught me to read by recognising whole words rather than breaking them down into individual characters. Had I been taught in the conventional way I might have had trouble reading for the rest of my life.

But, even so, my most influential teacher, Mr Fowler, was puzzled by the gulf between my grasp of subjects during discussions in the classroom and my inability to write an essay that was not pockmarked with infantile spelling errors. 'If you could manage to take more care with your written work you could be quite good at this,' he said with a sad shake of his head.

Now, however, the Mirror's advertisement acted like a clarion call. My father was not happy about my decision, but, reluctantly, he agreed, probably because, at the age of sixteen, he'd lied about his age and, against his own parents' wishes, had enlisted in the army. A year later he'd found himself on India's Northwest Frontier as a trooper in the 11th Hussars, where he'd wake up each morning to find his downy chin being lathered by a servant before being shaved in bed.

We took two newspapers at home, the Daily Express and the Mirror, but the Mirror was closer to our way of thinking: its politics were our politics.

I was born into the Labour Party; the only member of my family who didn't vote for Clem Attlee was Uncle Howard, who was a communist. But, still, the attitudes of my family were hardly revolutionary. They thought if people were ambitious enough to work their way up in life, or were prepared to face the stress and worry of self-employment, then they deserved what they earned.

By the age of fourteen I'd already become hooked on politics, and, looking back, I realise I was a bit of a prig when I railed against my father's relative contentment compared with my own dissatisfaction with the injustice of the world.

My father, whose views on life were shaped by his long experience as a soldier, held a more pragmatic view of human nature. 'I've known decent people in every walk of life,' he told me, 'and some nasty bastards from all classes.'

I would discover just how true his words were as I continued along the journey I was about to begin.

CHAPTER 2

THE JOURNEY BEGINS

Having abandoned school, I set out on the half-hour journey to Fetter Lane, a turning off High Holborn. This byway, leading to Fleet Street, was still gapped with bomb sites, like missing teeth in an ancient smile. At the head of the lane overlooking Holborn Circus, was a vast building site, designated to be the Mirror Group's new headquarters.

At the centre of the Circus was an equestrian statue of Prince Albert. Never would I have imagined that one day I would have an animated conversation with the Queen about that statue.

At the Fleet Street end of Fetter Lane was a scattering of shops – all that remained of a little high street that had once served the working-class inhabitants who had been bombed out in the winter of 1940. Later, I discovered that I'd been born during that air raid – but in the safety of a nursing home in Hertfordshire. My father, who was on leave, said that when he'd left the hospital before dawn the sky over London glowed red with the fires.

Fetter Lane contained four public houses, but the most imposing building was the churchlike Public Records Office, which overlooked the three-storeyed Mirror building. The floors of this building were piled on top of one another in diminishing tiers, like those of a wedding cake. It was set back beyond a wide asphalt yard crammed with motorcars and lorries, where the gigantic rolls of newsprint were discharged.

It turned out the jobs on the Daily Mirror were filled, so I had been assigned to its sister paper, the Sunday Pictorial, whose offices were located in Geraldine House, a more conventional Edwardian building across from the Public Record Office (now known as the National Archives), its façade forming the third boundary of the Mirror's publishing yard. I presented myself at the doorman's cubicle and told the uniformed figure – who, I would learn, was called Horace – that I was reporting for duty. He handed me a door key, an armful of post and a large bundle of newspapers rolled in brown paper.

'Third floor, the door opposite the lift gates,' he said sharply. 'It's your job to open up.'

Next to the staircase was an old-fashioned caged lift. I struggled with the concertina gate and my pile of post. Before I pressed the button, a tall, rather shambling figure wearing a heavy, dark-blue overcoat and a homburg hat also entered. He looked at me without expression and I said, 'Good morning, sir.' 'Good morning,' he replied, in rather a high-pitched voice. We were not to speak again for another seven years.

The door I unlocked revealed a room about thirty feet wide and fifty long. This space was filled with metal desks, some standing alone, others pushed together, each desk equipped with a telephone, the lead dangling from the ceiling, and a typewriter. Wire baskets were piled high with books and papers. The linoleum floor was scarred with cigarette burns and the ceiling stained brown from rising smoke. Banks of filing cabinets stood against the walls piled with telephone directories, and there were a few smaller offices with half-metal walls topped with reeded glass. A battered wooden desk was placed just inside the door, where I deposited my load.

I looked about me and tried to guess the function of each area. The wall opposite the entrance had large windows overlooking a glazed-brick light well. An art table rigged with an Anglepoise lamp stood next to a large plan chest piled with art equipment. Another pair of desks pushed together had a bank of telephones. At the far end of the room was a long wooded desk surrounded by chairs. The tops of the filing cabinets in that area were heaped with boxes of flashbulbs. In all, the room contained seating for thirty-five people.

With nothing yet to do I began sorting the post. By the time I'd finished I was joined by a new arrival. He was a neat, hunched figure with suspicious eyes fringed by a lock of dark hair falling over his forehead. He hung up a gabardine raincoat and looked me over.

I'm Tap,' he said. 'Arthur Tapping. I'm in charge of the Sunday Pictorial tape room. What's your name?' 'Michael Molloy, sir,' I answered.

'What do they call you? Michael? Mick? Mike?' he asked. Here was an interesting decision. My mother insisted my family call me Michael. But, to friends, I'd always been Mick. Suddenly I had a chance to break with the past and start making myself a new man-of-the-world identity.

'Mike,' I decided.

'Right, Mike, I'll take you around with the post,' he said. 'From tomorrow you do it on your own. You call me Tap.'

We began a tour of the paper's other satellite offices in Geraldine House. The sports department stood, self-contained, away from the rest of the paper. Down a long corridor was Rex North's office. Rex was the Sunday Pictorial diary writer. Newspaper diaries didn't bother much with show business in the fifties. 'Café society' still dominated the columns. It was a world where a ragtag of debutantes, Guards officers, fading aristocrats and slightly shady 'businessmen' went to nightclubs togged up in dinner jackets and long frocks.

Like the rest of the journalists, Rex had not yet arrived, but his secretary had. I was introduced to Annie Bishop, a great-looking, red-headed girl who had a smile to lighten anyone's day. We have remained friends for the whole of our lives.

Another office was shared by Bernard McElwaine, a feature writer, and Paul Boyle, the television critic. It also served as an anteroom on the route to the offices of the editor and his secretary. Bernard and Paul's secretary, Trixie Newburgh, was at her desk. And so was Sadie Zussman, the editor's secretary. These two rather grand ladies smiled on me in a kindly fashion.

'I've got one rule,' said Tap, as we returned to the newsroom. 'When in doubt, shout out.'

Tap further explained my duties and I was surprised to learn I would never handle reporters' copy. That was a man's job. Messenger boys fetched tea, brought cigarettes and delivered packages about London. Only union membership entitled men to carry the copy. When a journalist shouted, 'Boy,' his call was answered by a man. But often the slowness of their response bordered on that wonderful army charge: 'dumb insolence'.

These men tended to see themselves as members of their union rather than employees of the newspaper and often looked upon the journalists as class enemies. In those postwar years the them-and-us attitude had gradually replaced the wartime all-in-it-together type of cooperation that I could still actually remember.

When I was a toddler, for instance, my mother was taking me home from a brutal session at the dentist. My mouth was bleeding and I was crying with the pain. As we passed Alperton Bus Garage a driver standing on the opposite side of the road called out, 'What's the matter with him, missus?' 'He's had a bad time at the dentist,' she replied.

'Have you got far to go, love?' he asked.

'About twenty minutes,' said my mother.

'Hang on,' said the driver.

To my mother's astonishment he went into the garage and re-emerged driving a double-decker bus. 'Hop in,' he called out.

The estate where we lived was a long walk from a bus stop and the sight of a gigantic double-decker stopping on our tranquil street is a memory that has stayed with me through life.

Arthur Tapping was an exception to the hostile attitude. Tap's integrity was granite-like. He'd seen a lot of action in the North Atlantic and he regarded the Sunday Pictorial as his ship. He considered his work an honourable job and never concealed his contempt for those who didn't.

By 10.30 that first day the newsroom was bustling. I was enchanted to see how the staff matched the characters portrayed in films. Men wore trilby hats, some bowties. The two women reporters also wore hats, and elegantly tailored two-piece suits.

But it was the conversation that impressed me most. Sharp, funny banter flashed between them, typewriters clattered and the air filled with cigarette smoke.

'They work hard,' I ventured to Tap. He smiled ironically. 'Tuesdays are the first day of the week on a Sunday newspaper. They're doing their expenses.'

The deputy news editor, Peter Hawkins, a tall, languid man, called out to the reporters in general, 'Has anyone seen Ray Wilson? I thought he was coming in for a freelance shift this morning.'

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "The Happy Hack"
by .
Copyright © 2016 Mike Molloy.
Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

TITLE PAGE,
EPIGRAPH,
FOREWORD BY MICHAEL PARKINSON,
FOREWORD BY ANNE ROBINSON,
PART I: BEFORE MAXWELL,
1: PUBLISH AND BE DAMNED,
2: THE JOURNEY BEGINS,
3: GETTING TO KNOW LONDON,
4: THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE GRUMPY,
5: PIECING THINGS TOGETHER,
6: OF DOGS' EYES AND SUEDE SHOES,
7: NEW BOSS, NEW GIRL, NEW JOB,
8: THE SKETCH TEENAGE ARTIST,
9: MIRROR, MIRROR ...,
10: GNOMES, CRAZY PAVING AND SWINGING CATS,
11: ANDY CAPP AND A BEER-SWILLING CHIMP,
12: CALL ME HUGH,
13: SUN RISE,
14: FRANCIS, LUCIAN AND A HORSE CALLED CHARLOTTOWN,
15: HOSTING THE GREAT AND THE GOOD,
16: 'MIRRORSCOPE',
17: BIRTH (AND DEATH) OF A MAGAZINE,
18: OUR GREEN AND POISONED LAND,
19: THE ENTERTAINING MR CUDLIPP,
20: REACHING FOR THE STARS,
21: GO WEST, YOUNG MAN,
22: THE NAME'S BROCCOLI, CUBBY BROCCOLI,
23: UNDER SIEGE,
24: RISING THROUGH THE JAM FACTORY,
25: LEGENDS FROM THE NORTH,
26: SEX, SATIRE AND RUPERT MURDOCH,
27: A MYNAH OFFENCE AND A TRIP TO TINSELTOWN,
28: THE ECCENTRIC MR WATERHOUSE,
29: THE PEN IS MIGHTY,
30: THE SWAN AND THE TEASMADE,
31: FRIENDS WHO ROCK,
32: MISTAKEN IDENTITIES,
33: JUST LIKE THAT!,
34: HOUSE OF FUN,
35: WAR STORIES, REVOLUTIONARY SOCIALISTS AND ROYALTY,
PART II: THE SPECTRE OF MAXWELL,
36: ARRIVAL OF THE CUCKOO,
37: THE AXE THAT DIDN'T FALL,
38: MALICE IN WONDERLAND,
39: MAXWELL PSYCHOANALYSED,
40: DEALING WITH THE BOSS,
41: A NOVEL OCCASION,
42: BINGO! AND A YEAR OF SUNDAYS,
43: NOT SEEING EYE TO EYE,
44: NOT TODAY,
45: THE PRESIDENT AND THE PRINCE,
46: DOING THE CONTINENTAL,
47: WHAT'S IN A NAME?,
48: END OF AN ERA,
PLATES,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR,
COPYRIGHT,

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