Piers Morgan: My favourite moments on Planet Tabloid
You couldn't make it up... Piers Morgan recounts some of his most outrageous edit-and-tell revelations from a decade spent at the grubbier end of Fleet Street
Monday 05 September 2005
Hunter S Thompson once described the music business as "a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."
It was such a great line that, like all good plagiarists, I promptly nicked it to use as the basis for my own view of Fleet Street: "Journalism is full of lying, cheating, drunken, cocaine-sniffing, unethical people. It's a wonderful profession." And so it is.
When I was so unceremoniously and cruelly turfed out of the Mirror - oh, all right, I know you all found it terribly funny - I immediately resolved to spend my new spare time writing a book about newspapers.
When I looked back over the diaries of my 11-year editing career, I simply felt amused. Most of it was hilarious. I decided to write it in a way that reflects the bizarre planet of tabloid newspapers, incorporating heroes and villains, and a few oddities that just made me smile. These are some of my favourite moments:
BEST TIP RUPERT MURDOCH EVER GAVE ME:
In the week Ronnie Kray died, we got a brilliant exclusive photo of him lying in his coffin. I laid out the front page in funereal black borders with a whacking image of Ronnie's corpse under the headline RONNIE KRAY - THE LAST PICTURE. I had no doubts it would sell papers on the shock value alone.
At 5pm, the proprietor called for his weekly chat, and I was very confident he'd be pleased.
"We've got a great splash, Mr Murdoch. The only picture of Ronnie Kray lying in state."
"What? Dead? You're splashing on a dead body?"
"Urm, yes, Mr Murdoch."
"Look, it's not my job to edit the papers, Piers, but one thing I can tell you is that stiffs don't sell papers. They sell American magazines. The National Enquirer sold out twice with Elvis's corpse, but not papers. Ring your mate Kelvin and ask him about Grace Kelly then call me back."
I rang Kelvin MacKenzie and he chuckled. "Bloody Grace Kelly. Ha! Trouble is, he was right. I thought the photos of her lying in state would sell buckets of papers but the bloody sale fell off a cliff. And he'd warned me not to do it, so when he saw the figures he went mad. I'd ring him back and say you've had a rather dramatic rethink and decided not to splash on Ronnie Kray's rotting body if I were you."
I did. Unfortunately, I hurriedly replaced it with a photo of Earl Spencer's wife in a clinic and ended up with the biggest public rebuke ever handed to an editor by a proprietor. The same Mr Murdoch who had told me NOT to splash on Ronnie Kray's dead body.
BEST BLUFF I EVER PULLED OFF:
I hired Michael Winner to write a comment column for the News of the World soon after I became editor, and he resigned after a month in a row about money. I was sure he was just trying it on, and decided to return the favour.
"Dear Michael," I wrote, "I am very sorry you are resigning because you were my first suggestion to Mr Murdoch and your resignation will inevitably reflect badly on me. It does seem extraordinary this should happen so soon, but you have obviously made your mind up and I will communicate the reasons to Mr Murdoch who I am sure will share my disappointment."
He faxed back immediately: "Dear Piers, you are a very naughty boy and you know it!!!! Anyway I wish you all the best and if you want to think it over and talk to me tomorrow please do. Love Michael."
I ignored him, so another fax arrived: "And I want another £50 for this fax!" I ignored this too. Later he called in a panic demanding to speak to me. I let another hour go by before finally taking his call.
"Michael, so sorry you're leaving," I said nonchalantly.
"I don't want to leave, don't be so absurd," he blustered.
"Sorry, it's too late," I replied. "I've told Mr Murdoch and he didn't seem too bothered and even suggested your Sunday Times restaurant column might have run its course too."
Winner erupted: "What? What!!!! Where is Rupert, I must call him."
I let a lengthy Murdoch-esque pause take its full effect before telling him I was only joking. He never tried to resign again.
CELEBRITY WITH THE THICKEST SKIN:
PR guru Max Clifford is a man uniquely skilled in the art of extracting an opportunity from every difficult situation. He also has the hide of a thousand rhinos. During negotiations with Max to buy the Lady Buck revelations - the ones that led to the then chief of defence staff, Sir Peter Harding, resigning - my deputy editor at the News of the World, Phil Hall, concluded a very reasonable figure of around £40,000 with him, put the phone down, and said to me: "Max is so bloody thick sometimes. He could have got double that."
Unfortunately Phil then realised he hadn't hung the phone up properly. And yes, Max was still there, listening.
"Hello, Phil," he said. "That's just cost you another £40,000, not a bad minute's work for someone so bloody thick."
MOST RIDICULOUS COMPLAINT FROM A READER:
Our front-page headline on the day Paul Burrell was arrested said DI BUTLER ARRESTED. The next day, a letter arrived from a Welsh reader called Mrs Di Butler, complaining quite seriously that we had made her life hell because all the neighbours think it's her who has been nicking Diana's possessions. I looked at my PA, Kerrie, and we both just slowly shook our heads.
MOST AMUSING SIMILE:
On quiet days I would amuse myself by taunting Sir Alan Sugar about the halfwits now running Spurs, and he finally cracked: "It's like watching the mother-in-law drive my Ferrari over a cliff."
BEST EXCUSE FOR NOT COMING TO A MIRROR LUNCH:
Michael Green, the TV mogul: "Dear Piers, it is with huge regret I have decided to miss your Christmas lunch and instead fly to the Maldives, first class, with people I love, and not have a care in the world. If my mobile works, I promise to send pictures."
MOST MEMORABLE EXCUSE GIVEN BY A COLUMNIST FOR REHASHING OLD MATERIAL:
When I caught Victor Lewis-Smith recycling gags he'd used before, he argued: "When Sinatra sang 'My Way', did the crowd ask for their money back because they'd heard it before?"
GREATEST LIFE STATEMENT:
Christopher Hitchens, by e-mail: "The four most over-rated things in life are champagne, lobster, anal sex and picnics."
MOST SHAMELESS PHOTO OPPORTUNITY EVER SEIZED:
Kent Gavin, the Mirror's royal photographer, was sent to photograph Doris Day in her eighth-floor Manhattan apartment. Kent was left with her beloved pet dog while she answered the phone, and started throwing a ball for it to fetch. He slightly overthrew it, the dog raced to fetch it, and Kent realised to his horror that the window was open. End of Doris Day's dog.
When she came back into the room, a shocked Kent said: "I'm terribly sorry but there's been a dreadful accident - your dog has fallen out of the window."
Minutes later, a sobbing Doris was cradling her dead, mangled pet in her arms . And what was the killer doing? "I thought I may as well take a few pictures while I was there," he confessed. The next day's Daily Mirror carried: DORIS DAY WEEPS FOR DEAD DOG - World Exclusive - Pictures by Kent Gavin.
MOST AMUSING ALLEGATION OF MEANNESS:
George Michael told me: "I went to Rod Stewart's birthday party once and I swear he served us Dairylea cheese quarters for the starter. I told Elton and he was sure it was too, you could see the imprint of the wrappers."
MOST SHOCKING PERSONAL REVELATION:
Two days into the David Beckham/Rebecca Loos scandal, I discovered she was my second cousin. And I had even apparently danced with her at a family wedding in Madrid. Despite this, she refused to switch camps from the News of the World and give the Mirror her story. It really does come to something when your own family flog their kiss-and-tells to a rival paper.
'The Insider' by Piers Morgan (Ebury Press) is out in paperback on 8 September, priced £7.99
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