Driving along Farringdon Road (which leads to Fleet Street) at lunchtime, I soon found myself stuck in a traffic jam. Since London is full of traffic jams these days, because all the roads and bridges are undergoing simultaneous repairs (presumably as part of some Keynesian make-work scheme), I just switched off the engine and read the paper. When I eventually raised my eyes to see if there were any signs of movement, I was surprised to find myself facing a line of policemen carrying machine-guns. There were at least 10 of them, plus three policemen on horseback, 20 or so ordinary police, and several police cars and vans. They had parked one police van across the opposite carriageway and were letting vehicles through one at a time, waving the cars on, but stopping all the mini- vans and pulling them over to the kerb a few yards from where I was stuck. I asked one of the nearest policemen what was going on. 'You might have noticed, madam,' (he was one of those) 'that there have been a lot of BOMBS in London. This is an armed police roadblock in order to catch the bombers.' But hang on, I yelped. If one of the vans they were stopping did indeed yield an armed squad of IRA bombers, as they seemed to expect, what was I doing in the middle of their shoot-out?
The police had closed the street to pedestrians but I and the other drivers stuck in the southbound lane were just sitting there. I proposed giving him my car keys and retiring to a nearby pub but he said, 'Oh come on, it's only an exercise'. Hm. I wonder if the City of London police still believe that journalists work in Fleet Street?
HITHERTO, my most hated logos have all been members of the wafty drawing school - the Labour Party's rose, the Liberal Democrats' yellow bird, BT's climbing man, the Prudential's sheikh. They all look as if they belong on heated hair rollers, though the Lib Dems' bird is puzzlingly evocative of the calypso 'Yellow bird. High up in banana tree.' But I'm not sure that Carlton Television's logo is not more irritating still. It consists of the word CARLON written properly in Gill with a stupid baby T nestling in the crook of the L. For why? Was it because the 'design team' (it is always a team) decided that the Lon would help viewers remember that they lived in London and that a car would stimulate advertising? Or was there a bloke called Carl somewhere in the background who wanted to be on television? Or a Chinese bloke called Ron who hoped to get a car? I asked Tim Simmons, Carlton's head of Presentation and Promotion, to explain, and he said that he briefed the designers Lambie Nairn & Co to come up with something 'warm, friendly, accessible, all the usual things' and that Carl(t)on was the result. Bizarre.
ON FRIDAY I attended the funeral of my first editor and mentor, Harry Fieldhouse, which was conducted as he would have wished with no religion and lots of laughter and New Orleans jazz. He hired me as an editorial assistant on Penthouse straight from university, and taught me to sub-edit and hence to write. Reading Eng Lit had made me love words, but Harry taught me to use them so that every single word in a sentence would do its job. He would take his black fountain pen and hack away superfluities: that 'single' in the previous sentence would have had to go and would probably have earned the exclamation mark in the margin indicating his deepest contempt. He believed it was immoral to waste words: 'Our readers are busy people,' he would say, despite the considerable evidence to the contrary of Penthouse's postbag.
Later, when I left Penthouse and no longer had to fear his fountain pen, I came to feel that a certain amount of padding in a sentence was sometimes justifiable on aural grounds, but I still hear Harry's bark every time I write the word 'very'. His Everyman's Good English Guide remains invaluable on knotty points of grammar and usage, all the more enjoyable for its occasional dottiness, as when he reprimands Tennyson for writing 'Theirs not to reason why' instead of what he should have written: 'Theirs not to question why.'
He was the most unlikely person to find editing Penthouse. A tall, slim, somewhat military figure (a Major at 23, he served as Mountbatten's aide in South-east Asia), he looked and sounded like the quintessential English gentleman. Yet he admired all things American - American cars, American jazz, American spelling, and, oddest of all, his American employer, Bob Guccione. America was 'modern' and he approved of modern; he also approved of anything 'scientific' and was always turning up with new products - ionisers, gadgets for testing electric wiring, suntan pills, unbelievably complicated burglar alarms - saying 'This will change your life'. Whenever I see those Innovations catalogues and wonder who on earth buys all the stuff in them, I think, 'Oh, of course - Harry Fieldhouse.'
Whereas most of the rest of us regarded working for Penthouse as a joke, Harry always claimed that he had 'the most envied job in journalism'. Whether he actually believed it or said it to boost staff morale, he made us feel that producing Penthouse with every spelling and comma accurate, even in the dreaded 'Pet copy', was a worthwhile pursuit. He was nearly always good-
humoured, though sloppy work would produce a sudden, alarming bark.
Despite his deep cynicism about human nature, he was one of the kindest people I know - not least for taking so much time and trouble with beginners such as me. I doubt I would be writing this column today if it were not for my training under Harry Fieldhouse.Reuse content