Tag Archives: Daily Mirror

That halcyon golden era before Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister and the trades unions ran the UK

PravdaLogoIn 1984, I went to the USSR. When I came back to my work at Granada TV in Manchester, I happened to mention that, in Moscow, I had taken a metro train out to the end of the line, had taken a walk round the bleak suburban area, gone into a few shops and found virtually nothing on the shelves. In particular, the food shops had a lot of empty shelves and very few items of food.

When I mentioned this to one of my Granada workmates (who had never been to the USSR but who had a university degree), she told me: “Oh! You’ve been listening to too much Western propaganda. It’s not like that.”

I have always remembered this conversation.

I told her I had been to Moscow, walked into shops and seen things.

She, never having been there, told me with total confidence that I had listened to too much anti-Soviet propaganda.

Because she knew what the truth was. She had talked to people she knew who had the same outlook as she did.

This was a university-educated person in her early thirties.

Beware of that most dangerous of all things: an airhead with a degree.

And beware of people who have inflexible opinions on events and eras which they never experienced.

I am buying a new carpet for the stairs in my house.

Yesterday, I was talking to a shop assistant who is younger than my stair carpet. My stair carpet was laid around 1986 – the height of Margaret Thatcher’s period as Prime Minister.

Also yesterday, someone not born when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister told me they found my blog of a couple of days ago very enlightening. It was about the trades unions pre-Thatcher.

Let me take you back again to that halcyon golden era before Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of the UK and ‘took on’ the unions…

When I worked at Anglia TV in Norwich, you could get no captions or graphics artwork of any kind made for an hour – sometimes two hours – in the middle of the afternoon, because that was when the Graphics Dept men (they were all men) played cards.

It was a pattern widely repeated in many ways in many other departments across the ITV network.

I started at college when Margaret Thatcher was newly Prime Minister. I took Communication Studies – it is now called Media Studies. We had lecturers who worked at the Daily Mirror newspaper.

The non-colour printed Daily Mirror in 1986

The non-colour printed Daily Mirror in 1986

At that time, for several years past, the Daily Mirror had had colour printing machines standing in their building under covers which they had bought for large amounts of money. (Newspapers, at that time, printed photographs only in black-and-white.)

The print unions told the Daily Mirror that the machines could not be used. In fact, they told the company that, if the covers were even removed from the machines, there would be a strike which could possibly close the newspaper.

The Daily Mirror did not print colour photos regularly until 2nd June 1988, after Margaret Thatcher had ‘taken on’ the unions.

Before that, I personally knew someone who was a part-time comedy performer and also a print union member. He ‘worked’ for the Sunday Telegraph in London on a freelance basis… except he lived in Norfolk and never went in to the Telegraph building in London. His friend ‘clocked’ him in and, as far as the newspaper was concerned, his name was Michael Mouse (as in Mickey Mouse – this is NOT a joke).

Getting into the ACTT union or the print unions was difficult but, once you got in, you were untouchable and the companies were terrified of even the threat of strikes. In my view at the time, the closed-shop ACTT was 10% a union protecting its members and 90% a protection racket, coercing money from its members and controlling how the TV production companies worked.

You – and the companies – did what the all-powerful union officers said or you suffered the consequences.

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The News of the World, the Profumo Affair and the planned military coup

(This blog was later published in The Huffington Post)

I studied journalism at college – well, radio, TV and journalism.

The man in charge of the journalism part of the course was the Production Editor of the News of the World. So we got lots of good lecturers – people like Cecil King, who had created Mirror Group Newspapers and the then-all-powerful IPC.

As a result, we got a very good insight into the real workings of the press and occasionally some great anecdotes.

One was about Rupert Murdoch’s take-over of the News of the World in 1969.

At the time, obviously, there was a lot of publicity about the re-launch of the ‘new’ Murdoch version of the paper and the News of the World’s TV ads promised one big thing – the REAL story of the 1963 Profumo Affair which had brought down Harold Macmillan’s government.

The News of the World had been a major player in the 1963 scandal and had interviewed almost everyone involved in the affair on tape at the time and had sworn affidavits from all and sundry.

But, when Rupert Murdoch took over the News of the World in 1969, he realised that, sitting in the basement in boxes of tapes and papers, there was much that had gone unpublished in 1963 – in particular about the sexual proclivities of Profumo’s wife, actress Valerie Hobson… and about exactly what type of sexual services Christine Keeler provided to Profumo (the UK’s Secretary of State for War) and to Yevgeny Ivanov, the senior naval attaché at the Soviet embassy in London.

However, when the News of the World published their ‘new’ stories about the Profumo Affair, they were just the re-heated previously-published stories. There was nothing new or earth-shattering.

Apparently this was because there had been such unrelenting legal, political and financial pressure on the News of the World that they had backed off. There were even stories of the police listening to tape recordings in one room while, next door, News of the World staffers were busily erasing parts of tapes.

I am a great fan of Doctor Who and, boy, do I wish I had a fully-functioning TARDIS so that I could come back in 100 years or 150 years and find out what had really been happening during my lifetime.

Cecil King, our occasional lecturer at college, was an interesting man because, with some good reason, he had an ego that engulfed any room he entered. Years later, it was claimed or revealed (two words that expose a gulf of possibilities) that he had, in 1968, talked to Lord Mountbatten (who was later assassinated) about the possible overthrow of Harold Wilson’s government with Mountbatten replacing the Prime Minister.

It seems to have been a relatively low-key bit of idle ego-boosting by Cecil, as opposed to the more seriously-thought-through plans for a military coup to overthrow the Wilson government in 1974-1975.

This plan for a military coup in the UK was briefly mentioned in some editions of Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times in 1987 but, I think, removed from later editions. The article does not seem to exist online at the Sunday Times, but I have the original newspaper cutting.

I did once ask the MP Dale Campbell-Savours about the ‘Cunard Affair’ – part of the plans for a military coup in the UK – as he had brought the subject up in the House of Commons. He asked me to phone him at home at the weekend, not at the House of Commons. I did. And he then told me he could not remember any details. “We were looking into a lot of things at the time,” he told me. “I can’t remember.” I always thought this was a little strange. However many murky affairs you were looking into, a planned military coup to overthrow the UK government (with a dry run during which tanks were taken to Heathrow Airport), might stick in the memory.

Only journalists or time travellers know the truth about history while it is actually happening.

The general consensus seems to be that the perceived necessity for a military coup in 1974/1975 lessened and became unnecessary when Margaret Thatcher became leader of the Conservative Party in February 1975 and subsequently won the 1979 General Election. The so-called Operation Clockwork Orange in which Margaret Thatcher’s close adviser Airey Neave (who was later assassinated) may have been involved may also have had some effect.

Clockwork Orange and the linked Colin Wallace affair, in which he was framed and imprisoned for manslaughter after he claimed the security services had tried to rig the 1974 UK General Election, surely has the makings of a feature film. A pity the title has already been used.

Conspiracies and conspiracy theories are always gripping entertainment, especially if they are real and who knows what is real?

Earlier in this blog, I specifically wrote that both Lord Mountbatten and Airey Neave were peripherally involved in political machinations and were both later assassinated.

Paranoid conspiracy theorists could have a field day with that. But, of course, they were both assassinated by Irish terrorists for reasons totally, utterly unconnected with the alleged plots: they were assassinated because they were high-profile targets.

As for other matters, I always think it is healthy to maintain a certain level of paranoia. There was a saying circulating in the 1960s: No matter how paranoid you are, they are always doing more than you think they are.

I wish I could get a time machine and go forward 100 years to see what was really happening in the world during my life.

If only.

If only.

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News of the World. Forget the hacks. It’s The Bill you always have to pay.

I have worked as a researcher and sub-editor for BBC TV News (via their old Ceefax teletext service) and, briefly, in the newsrooms at Anglia TV, Granada TV and ITN. I have known a lot of journalists. But even I was shocked by the News of the World and other tabloids’ amorality.

I don’t mean the telephone hacking scandal which has now seen Rupert Murdoch close down Britain’s biggest-selling newspaper.

I mean the cheap Killer Bitch movie and Katie Price’s ex-husband Alex Reid being caught on camera with his trousers down.

Police corruption comes later in this blog.

In what must have been a moment of madness I financed Killer Bitch without reading the script (look, it was cheap) and I was away at the Edinburgh Fringe for weeks when shooting started.

While I was away, a sex scene was shot between Alex Reid and the lead actress, the director’s girlfriend/partner.

Alex Reid’s chum/manager asked the director if it was OK to have a photographer on set that day – not to take photos of the sex scene itself but just of Alex arriving, being on-set, being glamorous. The director said Yes.

And, of course, when the sex scene happened, click-click-click and off in a corner Alex’s photographer goes to e-mail out his photos.

What the director didn’t know was that the manager guy had, all week, been playing-off the News of the World against The People to get a higher price for the sex scene pictures. The People ran their photos on the cover and in an “exclusive” double-page spread that Sunday.

But the News of the World, unknown to anyone else, had secretly set up a hidden camera in the grotto where filming took place. They took their own photos and ran a single-page ’spoiler’ about “sickening footage” in the “vile and degrading hardcore porn film” in which Alex had been involved in a “disgusting rape”.

In fact, it wasn’t a rape scene at all. Never was. Never scripted as rape (I read that bit later); wasn’t shot as rape; wasn’t edited as rape. I saw the uncut footage when I came back from Edinburgh and it simply wasn’t rape.

But, bizarrely, journalists often believe what they read in tabloid newspapers, so this story about the vile rape scene in a hardcore porn movie (which is wasn’t) quickly spread across the world, sometimes using the same words the original News of the World had used.

The movie, which had only just started shooting and which was months away from being edited, was reviled as “violent porn” by The Times of India, a “vile and degrading movie” on Australia’s Perth Now website and “violent, aggressive… icky stuff” by TheHollyoodGossip.com. Back home, totally unseen, the Daily Mirror slammed it as “a sick movie” with “vile scenes…stomach churning”

Fair enough. Good publicity for a small film, though sadly much too early to profit from.

Two weeks later, The People ran a new cover story and two-page spread about how Alex Reid had “returned” to the Killer Bitch set “to shoot more torrid outdoor sex shots”. This had never happened. It was a complete fiction. But The People had detailed descriptions, actual photos from this supposed second sex scene (they were re-cycled from the original scene) and they even had a direct quote from the director saying, “I can confirm that Alex filmed these scenes within the last seven days”.

The director told me not only that The People had never talked to him about this alleged re-shoot but, at that point in time, he had never actually talked to anyone at the newspaper about the film ever.

Obviously, you expect to be mis-quoted and have your words twisted by newspapers. Now, it seems, it’s common to simply make up entirely fictional stories.

The New York Daily News correctly reported that “the film’s producers don’t seem bothered by the publicity.”

Fair enough. Publicity is publicity.

But just as the Stephen Lawrence affair, to my mind, was not about racism but about police corruption – an investigating policeman was paid-off by the father of one of the accused – the current News of the World scandal is not about phone hacking but about endemic police corruption.

Two days ago, I saw a Sky News double interview with, on the one hand, Brian Paddick, former Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, and on the other ex News of the World journalist Paul McMullan.

McMullan could be seen almost literally biting his tongue off after he said that, if you were investigating police corruption, the only way to find out the facts was to talk to other policemen. As they might lose their jobs by dishing the dirt on fellow officers, they could not be expected to do this for free or for a few pounds and it was not unreasonable to pay them £20,000 or £30,000.

This figure was picked up by the interviewer.

Brian Paddick, who was basically defending the Met, said this was terrible but “clearly everyone has their price”.

This is an interesting thing to say because it is an acceptance by a former senior Met officer that, if the price is high enough, any Metropolitan policeman can be bought.

Yesterday’s London Evening Standard led on a story that “Corrupt Met police received more than £100,000 in unlawful payments from senior journalists and executives at the News of the World.

It also claimed that two senior Scotland Yard detectives investigating the phone hacking scandal held back: “Assistant Commissioners Andy Hayman and John Yates were both scared the News of the World would expose them for allegedly cheating on their wives if they asked difficult questions of the Sunday tabloid.”

Today’s Guardian says: “Some police sources suggested there was no evidence yet that officers had actually received the payments and what would also be investigated was whether the journalists involved had kept the money themselves.”

Obviously some Met officer here, limbering up for a career as a stand-up comic.

Police in the UK taking bribes? Shock! horror! – And the Pope is a Catholic?

The system-wide corruption within the Metropolitan Police in the 1960s was supposedly partially cleaned-up.

Bollocks.

On 4th December 1997, former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Condon gave evidence to the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee and said there were around 100-250 corrupt officers in the Met. By “corrupt” he meant seriously corrupt – they dealt drugs, helped arrange armed robberies etc.

Condon is also the man who coined the phrase “noble cause corruption” – the idea that some police justifiably ‘bend the rules’ to get a conviction when officers ‘know’ the accused is guilty but do not have enough proof to convict. So it could be seen by some as “noble” to plant evidence, lie under oath and generally ‘fit up’ any ‘known villains’ when there is no actual evidence which would prove their guilt.

In Stoke Newington the police did, indeed, ‘fit up’ guilty drug dealers who would not otherwise have been imprisoned. But their motive was not to ‘clean up’ the area but to clear away the opposition as police officers were themselves dealing hard drugs. Whether this comes within Sir Paul Condon’s definition of “noble cause corruption” I am not sure.

In 1998, the Telegraph got hold of (and one wonders how) a confidential document containing the minutes of a meeting organised by the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS). It quoted this police document as saying: “corrupt officers exist throughout the UK police service… Corruption may have reached ‘Level 2’, the situation which occurs in some third world countries.”

I once asked someone who had managed a ‘massage parlour’ – in other words, a brothel – how he had avoided getting raided by the police. He looked at me as if I was mad:

“Cos we fucking paid the Old Bill and gave them free services,” he said.

In Britain today, it remains a fact of life – as it always has been throughout my life – that you always have to pay The Bill.

Last night’s TV news shows reported that today the police would arrest former News of the World editor Andy Coulson. Now where would they have got that story from? Only the police would know. And today he was arrested.

Was the tip-off paid-for or was it just a nudge-nudge case of You do me a favour; I’ll do you a favour?

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Of 5-star reviews and sticking spring vegetables up the nose

(This blog originally appeared in What’s On Stage)

Saturday was a day of the good, the bad and the lovely. It started with my comedy chum Janey Godley getting a 5-star review for her stage show The Godley Hour from the Daily Mirror. It ended with me getting my car stuck in a 45-degree-sloped unevenly-cobbled alleyway with rough, uneven stone walls. It took me an hour and a half to get out.

In between was my science chum (Doctor of Astrophysics) Sophia Khan arriving with her mum for her (that’s Sophia’s) three free science-based shows Keen & Khan: Starstruck! with comedian Helen Keen (complementing Helen’s 4-star show It Is Rocket Science! V2).

Sophia claims she’s an ordinary person doing a nerdy job but “ordinary” might be a slight linguistic error. She has worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Goddard Space Flight Center, at Harvard University and for the Japanese Space Agency and is currently Assistant Professor of Astrophysics at Shanghai University; she is only 31. Ever enterprising, she decided to go to the ‘Meet The Media’ event at Fringe Central which, depending on your view, is either a speed-dating event for desperate students with bemused media people sitting at tables facing long queues like some movie about penniless immigrants being processed when they landed in New York in 1903. Or Britain’s Got Talent crossed with a Serbian concentration camp before the barbed wire arrives.

We can but hope the photo The Times took of Sophia looking through a circular window in a doorway to represent a spaceship porthole looks more Alpha Centaurian.

Later, Sophia, her mum, elfin stand-up Laura Lexx and I went off to see Lewis Schaffer’s show Free Until Famous. Lewis has been trying-out and tweaking this show since November last year – usually performing two shows per week, sometimes four… in a Soho basement… to an extraordinary mix of locals, international passers-by and students.

But, on Saturday night, he explained that, earlier in the day, another comic had suggested he shouldn’t bother to even try to keep to a scripted show and should just go with the flow. Lewis obviously took this very much to heart, as he pretty-much made the whole hour-long show up as be went along. I know his show in it’s various configurations quite well. As far as I could see, he made up 90% of Saturday night’s show, mostly built round three Australian, German and American punters and his near-encyclopaedic knowledge of trivia. Lewis is a walking Wikipedia and ‘unpredictable’ is an understatement in describing his shows.

The London Is Funny website, re-naming itself Edinburgh Is Funny for the month, listed him as one of the Fringe’s 50 Must-See Shows… their description “Outspoken and vulnerable New York comic Lewis Schaffer offends as many as he tickles” is pretty spot-on.

Then came the unfortunate car-stuck-down-the-alleyway-for-90-minutes scenario which I can’t bear to think of again.

And, even later that night, I found myself driving round the busy streets of Edinburgh at 2.00m, looking for medicine – Vicks and headache tablets – for a friend of my comedy chum Janey Godley’s who appears to have taken to stuffing spring vegetables up her nose for medicinal reasons. Don’t ask. I have no explanation of this.

But then, to really round off the day, Janey Godley suddenly discovered she had got ANOTHER 5-star review.

That’s the Fringe for you: people getting 5-star reviews while others stick spring vegetables up their nose.

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