Inside story: Introducing the Press Gang

Need someone to pass judgement on the various goings-on within the world of the media? Then call on one of the following grand old men and women of the press commentariat.
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The Independent Online

ROY GREENSLADE EVENING STANDARD

Age: 59

Educated: Dagenham County High School and University of Sussex (mature student)

First break: Barking Advertiser (1962)

Books: Goodbye to the Working Class (1975)

Style: "I'm not in the least bit squeamish. After all, I sat through the video of Robert Maxwell's post-mortem without closing my eyes."

This laid-back, snooker-playing Brighton dweller has the most eclectic CV of any press commentator. He was on the Daily Mail, The Sun, Daily Star and Daily Express before becoming The Sunday Times managing editor under Andrew Neil. He was briefly Daily Mirror editor in 1990 and has since written for The Observer, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and now the Standard. Recent interviews with The Times' editor Robert Thomson and The Independent's proprietor Tony O'Reilly show how trusted he is by Fleet Street's elite. Greenslade recently left the Telegraph media pages after complaining of censorship by its acting editor John Bryant. Married to journalist Noreen Taylor and stepfather of Hollywood actress Natascha McElhone, he has been professor of journalism at City University since 2003.

DONALD TRELFORD THE INDEPENDENT

Age: 68

Educated: Bablake School, Coventry, and Selwyn College, Cambridge

First break: editor of the Times of Malawi (1963)

Books: Len Hutton Remembered (1992)

Style: "I agree that buy-ups (viz the News of the World's Rebecca Loos 'scoop') are an easy form of journalism compared with finding out the facts yourself."

This silver-haired Majorcan is the press commentariat's grand old man. After nearly 20 years as Observer editor he deserves a knighthood for his multi-award-winning tenure and subsequent services to journalism. Sadly, this tabloid-sized snooker buff is perhaps best remembered for his amatory jousting with Sunday Times editor Andrew Neil. After Neil's girlfriend, Pamella Bordes, was exposed as a hooker in 1988, Trelford was also revealed as an admirer. Trelford spent three years freelancing as Africa correspondent for The Observer, The Times and BBC before joining The Observer staff in 1966 and replacing the patrician David Astor as editor in 1975. Retired in 1993 he claims not to miss editing. "By the time I'd left newspapers in my mid-50s editing was largely to do with marketing, cutting editorial budgets and redundancy programmes." In 1994 Trelford became professor of journalism studies at Sheffield University and then its visiting professor.

KIM FLETCHER THE GUARDIAN

Age: 49

Educated: Heversham Grammar School, Westmorland, and Hertford College, Oxford

First break: Sheffield Star (1978)

Books: The Journalist's Handbook (2005)

Style: "This is not to say that newspapers are finished, not so long as people remain willing for reasons of convenience to buy a paper the contents of which they could read for nothing on a computer screen."

After 25 years on Fleet Street, Fletcher has contributed to most quality newspapers as news reporter, sports columnist and feature writer. He found his niche as a Sunday Telegraph executive, becoming news editor and deputy editor. In 1998 Fletcher was appointed editor of The Independent on Sunday, leaving 13 months later to make way for Janet Street-Porter. He returned to the Telegraph group in 2000 as editorial director. But a possible conflict of interest posed by the promotion of his wife Sarah Sands as Sunday Telegraph editor led to his departure in 2005. Fletcher takes an entertainingly belligerent view as Guardian media commentator. He has little time for the Rothermeres, Murdochs, Desmonds or Barclays, whom he believes show little respect towards editors. Currently chairman of the National Council for the Training of Journalists.

PETER PRESTON THE OBSERVER

Age: 68

Educated: Loughborough Grammar School and St John's College, Oxford

First break: Liverpool Daily Post (1960)

Books: Dunblane: Reflecting Tragedy (1996)

Style: "Who needs British weekly opinion magazines any longer? Surely they're out of date and out of time? But no: absolutely not."

It is hard to be a doyen for more than 30 years, but Preston almost manages it. He joined The Guardian in 1963, became editor in 1975 and retired in 1995. Even then this uncharismatic, nerdy figure retained his influence: as editor-in-chief and chairman of The Guardian and Observer until 1996, editorial director of the Guardian Media Group until 1998 and a member of the all-powerful Scott Trust until 2004. Under Preston's editorship his paper's liberal agenda flourished, despite stiff competition from the newly launched Independent. Two Preston political scoops about Tory sleaze brought down two ministers, Neil Hamilton and Jonathan Aitken, and contributed to John Major's 1997 general election defeat.

CRISTINA ODONE THE GUARDIAN

Age: 45

Educated: Marymount School, Washington, and Worcester College, Oxford

First break: Catholic Herald (1985)

Books: A Perfect Wife (1997)

Style: "The last time a Sun leader made a huge impact was in 1992, with: 'If Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights'."

This Italian-American enjoyed a speedy rise to power, albeit in a small pond. She became Catholic Herald editor in 1992 aged 32, having gained only a modicum of outside experience on The Times's diary. Odone's coquettish personality found her much in demand on radio and television as a Catholic spokesperson on awkward moral issues such as abortion, contraception, premarital sex and homosexuality. This role sometimes fitted uneasily with her reputation as an eligible beauty on London's society circuit, her adventures chronicled by gossip columnists and Private Eye. Once she surprised devotees by saying: "Catholicism is like a bowl of spaghetti - full of different strands. It is only if you eat them altogether that it will do you any good." Odone's father Augusto, a World Bank economist, became a hero in America following his campaign to find a cure for his son Lorenzo's rare progressive degenerative disease ALD (adrenoleukodystrophy). A Hollywood film, Lorenzo's Oil, starring Susan Sarandon and Nick Nolte, was released in 1992. Cristina found that the glamour of editing a weekly paper, with a tiny staff and budget, plus an interfering editorial board holding entrenched views, eventually palled. After four years she resigned. In 1998 Peter Wilby enticed Odone to join the New Statesman as his deputy. But she left six years later, ostensibly over an argument about a front cover depicting Tony Blair as Josef Stalin. (She claimed the real reason was that she had received an offer to present a Channel 4 programme on religion.) Now she writes for The Guardian. Since her 2005 marriage to The Economist journalist Edward Lucas and the birth of her daughter Isabel, she has gone uncharacteristically low profile.

STEPHEN GLOVER THE INDEPENDENT

Age: 54

Educated: Shrewsbury School and Mansfield College, Oxford

First break: The Daily Telegraph (1978)

Books: Paper Dreams (1993)

Style: Andrew Neil "would make an ideal editor of The Daily Telegraph: authoritative, politically sophisticated and experienced".

Glover's background as a vicar's son invariably underscores his prose. He takes strong moral positions on world events and the conduct of public figures, particularly politicians, policemen and members of this parish. Glover's early career as a Telegraph leader writer and parliamentary sketch writer barely prepared him for co-founding The Independent in 1986, with Telegraph colleagues Andreas Whittam Smith and Matthew Symonds. He was its first foreign editor and the launch editor of The Independent on Sunday in 1990, lasting a year. Glover has been obliged to declare his links to the Daily Mail, for whom he has written a column since 1998, when criticising Associated Newspapers turned Telegraph supremo Murdoch MacLennan and Express proprietor Richard Desmond. He enjoys a love-hate relationship with his "esteemed colleague Roy Campbell-Greenslade" (sic). But he defended his right to freedom of expression during Greenslade's recent spat with Telegraph acting editor John Bryant. The latest Glover "victim" is Daily Mail parliamentary sketch writer and drama critic Quentin Letts, whom he outed as Fleet Street's busiest snitch to media diary columns.

PETER COLE THE INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY

Age: 60

Educated: Tonbridge School and Queen's College, Cambridge

First break: London Evening News (1968)

Books: Can You Positively Identify This Man? (with Peter Pringle, 1975)

Style: "A heatwave brings out the worst clichés and the most grinding puns. The Telegraph captioned a photograph of a Leeds student in full academic dress sitting in a deck chair. 'Graduation day ... allowed graduates to bask in two kinds of degrees.'"

Cole is the most low key of our egocentric media commentariat. He reluctantly expresses his opinion, preferring to let facts speak for themselves and to quote others. "As Dominic Lawson put it in The Independent: the red-tops 'have always been gripped by the issue of violent crime ... because so many of their readers, on council estates or deprived areas, are more vulnerable to violent crime than those who read this newspaper, The Guardian or The Times'." Cole, like many Fleet Street editors, began as a gossip columnist. He edited the Evening Standard's Londoner's Diary before moving to The Guardian as news editor and later deputy editor. In 1989 he was appointed editor of The Sunday Correspondent, billed as "the first new quality Sunday title" since the launch of The Sunday Telegraph in 1961. It closed 11 months later, beaten many said by the launch of The Independent on Sunday in January 1990. A rebranding as "Britain's first quality tabloid" lasted three months. Cole then joined Andrew Neil's Sunday Times as News Review editor, before quitting Fleet Street for academia in 1993. He became professor of journalism at the University of Central Lancashire, transferring to the University of Sheffield in 2000.

ANDREW NEIL EVENING STANDARD

Age: 57

Educated: Paisley Grammar School and the University of Glasgow

First break: The Economist (1973)

Books: The Cable Revolution (1982)

Style: "All editors aver that 'my door is always open'. In practice so much crowds on to an editor's desk every day requiring major decisions that you can't simply leave your door open to all and sundry."

Neil is renowned for his administrative, inspirational and proprietor-manipulation skills rather than writing prowess. But he has strong views on Fleet Street, particularly its technological advances (or lack of them) and the activities of his mentor Rupert Murdoch. The nightclubbing bachelor began as an Economist correspondent in Belfast, London, New York and Washington, before becoming UK editor in 1982. The following year Murdoch poached him to edit TheSunday Times, where he became Margaret Thatcher's favourite editor. Under Neil's ruthless but brilliant leadership the ST set the Monday news agenda. But Murdoch began to resent his protégé's increasingly high profile, both in the broadcast media and gossip columns. Ironically it was News International's own News of the World that in 1988 exposed Neil's relationship with call girl Pamella Bordes. Neil (reluctantly) left The Sunday Times in 1994 but continued to work for Murdoch at Fox Network News and Sky TV. He has now transferred his loyalty to the Barclay brothers, as publisher of The Spectator and Apollo. He has also surprised former ST colleagues - who remember his dour, driven personality - by reinventing himself as a relaxed, twinkly TV personality. But Neil, ever the conspiracy theorist, wonders why both his BBC programmes, The Daily Politics and This Week, remain in off-peak slots.

AMANDA PLATELL NEW STATESMAN

Age: 48

Educated: University of Western Australia

First break: Today (1986)

Books: Scandal (1999)

Style: "Sky's Adam Boulton was wise not to work for Blair. He would have been branded New Labour for ever. All political careers end in failure, but not necessarily journalistic ones."

This Rubenesqe, feline-fancying alpha female arrived here from Perth on a backpacking trip in 1986 and decided to stay. After a short stint as a Today reporter she became its deputy editor and then moved to the Mirror Group, eventually becoming Sunday Mirror acting editor. In 1998 Platell became Sunday Express editor, but was sacked a year later by her Labour-supporting proprietor Lord Hollick. He objected to her revealing former Trade Secretary Peter Mandelson's gay affair with a Brazilian student. Platell then became Tory leader William Hague's spin doctor, earning criticism for her gimmicky, controlling approach. She received further opprobrium when she secretly filmed a Channel 4 video diary during the 2001 general election. This charming but abrasive Aussie brings a Bridget Jones quality to her writing. She once wrote a touching Sunday Express feature about losing her moggie in Hampstead, complete with contact number in case it was found. She also airs her sharp views in a Daily Mail column. Her recent description of Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott as "this bloated, unfaithful, sneering hypocrite" could have come from Scandal, her racy political and journalistic roman-à-clef.

BRIAN MACARTHUR THE TIMES

Age: 66

Educated: Helsby Grammar School and Leeds University

First break: Yorkshire Post (1962)

Books: Eddy Shah: Today and the Newspaper Revolution (1988)

Style: "Judging newspaper awards is always a cheering experience that restores one's faith in journalism as an honourable trade."

This stocky Cheshire-educated Islingtonian is one of journalism's renowned trenchermen, an aficionado of three-star Michelin restaurants and stalwart Garrick Club member. "Office-bound journalists sitting in front of screens are vulnerable to the PR machine, the con men, the special interest groups and, above all, errors that have been trapped in electronic or paper files," he insists. MacArthur has been editor of the Western Morning News, founder editor of the Times Higher Educational Supplement and editor-in-chief of Today. But his wide publishing industry contacts mean that he is best remembered as Fleet Street's top book-serial fixer. For most of his 40 years on national newspapers he has worked for News International at The Sunday Times and The Times. His recent book, Surviving the Sword: Prisoners of the Japanese 1942-45, proves that all those years spent speed-reading galley proofs were not in vain. Thrice-married MacArthur now styles himself a "media consultant", having recently ceased to be The Times's associate editor.

NICK FERRARI EVENING STANDARD

Age: 46

Educated: Eltham College

First break: Kentish Independent

Books: The World According to Nick Ferrari (2006)

Style: "Anyone would be hard-pushed to get near one of my bloopers that went out live one night on Sky News while I was reviewing the papers. As I commented on Harold Shipman hanging himself in his prison cell I closed my piece with the observation: 'He was a man in distress - someone who'd reached the end of his rope.'"

Ferrari is that rare Fleet Street beast, a hack who made a big splash in journalism and moved to greater glory on radio and TV. As host of LBC's weekday breakfast show he has a particularly loyal following among London's cabbies, drawn to his right-of-Genghis Khan views. In 2003 the Broadcasting Standards Committee criticised him for his "active reinforcement of prejudiced views about asylum-seekers". This roly-poly spieler's family business is Ferrari's Press Agency (founded 1945) whose newshounds cover London and the South-east. He began there himself chasing ambulances before joining the Sunday Mirror in 1981. If you watch the 1983 James Bond film Octopussy, you may glimpse our young Jack the Lad as an extra. Ferrari's brash, matey, forthright approach owes much to his early years at the Kelvin MacKenzie finishing school. He edited The Sun's Bizarre column, then moved to the Daily Mirror as assistant editor but quit to launch Sky News in 1989. Later he was briefly reunited with his mentor MacKenzie as programme director of the offbeat cable channel L!VE TV. A contributor to the Evening Standard's media pages he remains the only Press Gang member never to have been an editor, but he can earn £2,000 for giving a speech.

BILL HAGERTY BRITISH JOURNALISM REVIEW

Age: 67

Educated: Beal Grammar School, Ilford

First break: local papers in east London (1955)

Books: Flash, Bang, Wallop, with photographer Kent Gavin (1978)

Style: "Most of those on the receiving end agree that size isn't everything" - about the new-look Guardian.

In his 1980s heyday Hagerty was the Michael Caine of Fleet Street. A handsome, nattily dressed schmoozer, he was friends with many of the showbiz stars he interviewed. A Mirror person for most of his career, Hagerty is old-school Fleet Street, the last of the proudly working-class dinosaurs who once occupied editors' chairs. He was educated at "the university of life", with a Pitman's shorthand primer rather than an Eats, Shoots and Leaves in his hand. He was briefly editor of both Sunday Today and the Sunday People, but his forte is writing rather than editing. Jazz- and cricket-loving Hagerty now holds one of journalism's cushiest jobs: drama critic of The Sun. He also writes about the press in the New Statesman, The Guardian and The Independent. "Long before the dust had settled over the rubble of the World Trade Center the drivel began," he roared in the NS. "The initial outstanding newspaper journalism recording and analysing the events of 11 September quickly gave way to a poisonous concoction of misinformation, hysteria, mud-slinging, 'patriotism', supercilious and ill-informed opinion." Since 2002 he has further pontificated on Fleet Street's ills as editor of the British Journalism Review.

PETER WILBY NEW STATESMAN

Age: 61

Educated: Kibworth Beauchamp Grammar School, Leicestershire, and the University of Sussex

First break: The Observer (1968)

Books: Parents' Rights (1983)

Style: "The point about parties - as anyone who arrives late discovers - is that they are fun only if you are inebriated."

Wilby is proud of his egalitarian views and regrets the social revolution that has overtaken the media. "Journalism was one of the most democratic occupations," he cries. "People started at 15 or 16 and rose to the top positions in the national press. Now it is among the elitist - most leading journalists and news broadcasters went to fee-charging schools and have degrees, preferably from Oxbridge." Wilby spent most of his early career as an education correspondent on The Observer, New Statesman, The Sunday Times and The Independent. He embellishes his own working-class street cred, often referring to "us crusty old lefties", by living in Loughton, Essex. Wilby briefly became editor of The Independent on Sunday in 1995 where he hired Alan Watkins and Harry Enfield as columnists. As New Statesman editor from 1998 to 2005 he turned its turgid, socialist pages into a plausible rival to The Spectator. But he needed all his diplomatic powers to deal with the NS's controversial owner, millionaire MP Geoffrey Robinson. As the Evening Standard and the New Statesman's media critic Wilby rails against newspapers juggling with their ABC figures, using DVDs instead of scoops to boost their circulation. Today he must be gutted that his NS successor John Kampfner has already added 25 per cent circulation.

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