As this is the season for reminiscences about the good old days of Fleet Street, I too have been ringing up some of the old-timers of the Street of Ink for their memories of the place. Apologies if you know all these stories already.
Marcus Dashwood (veteran foreign correspondent): "I remember those legendary long lunches at El Vino as if they were yesterday, probably because I can't remember anything that has happened since. My favourite drinking companion was a man called Jack Shirley, who was sports columnist at the Express and relied on his sessions at El Vino to pick up gossip. Well, one day he got even drunker than usual and went back to the Telegraph by mistake, where he sat down at a desk and did his column as usual. It so happened that the normal Telegraph sports diarist man was late with his copy that day, and they took Jack's stuff instead. The Telegraph man, who was called Mildew or something like that, was quite unfazed and went off to the Express to deliver his stuff there. Before you knew it, they had swapped jobs."
Simon Mallalieu ( sports columnist ): "I was in the Wig and Pen one day, when someone said, 'Mildew' - that was my nickname - 'Mildew, your editor is on the line to you' and gave me the phone. 'Mallalieu, are you working for us or are you not ?' said this voice. 'That depends which paper you are editing', I said. 'The Telegraph, you fool', he said. 'That will do nicely,' I said. 'Then where's your bloody copy?' he said. I looked round the Wig and Pen desperately, and by great good fortune saw that Ted Dexter, the great England batsman, had popped in for a drink. 'I'm interviewing Ted Dexter at this very moment,' I said. 'Good lad', he said, mollified. So I went over and had a chinwag with Dexter, and it struck me that he seemed to know very little about cricket. Then it dawned that, although he looked very like Dexter, he was in fact someone quite different. So I made the whole interview up, and the only person who noticed was Dexter himself, who was nice enough to drop me a note of congratulation, saying he was minded to adopt some of the opinions expressed in the piece.
Trevor Shortley (freelance freeloader): "I was in and around Fleet Street for 10 years or more, without ever working for anyone, because basically I just existed on freebies. I was the spitting image of Ted Dexter, so people were always buying me drinks and things. It would have been fatal if I had ever met the man, but funnily enough what undid me was the time Dexter famously broke his leg. I didn't know it had happened, and was still freeloading round Fleet Street until the day I was set upon by a group of journalists in El Vino and unmasked as an impostor, because I was walking normally. I saw the light that day and went into St Bride's Church to pray for forgiveness."
Canon Stephen Barnaby (former rector of St Bride's, Fleet Street ): "We liked to call ourselves the 'journalists' church', which was wishful thinking, really, as journalists never came near the place except for memorial services. So I decided to do something about this, and opened up a small lunchtime drinking place in the crypt where journalists could talk shop. As we were a bit short-staffed, I used to serve behind the bar myself and chat to the Fleet Street men, and I suppose I must have been a bit indiscreet, because Church of England gossip started appearing in the press - errant vicars, gay canons, atheist bishops, all that sort of stuff, and all coming from me. I'm amazed I was never rumbled by the Church. Anyway, I remember one day I was just going down to the crypt when I saw someone praying, and couldn't help noticing it was the England cricketer Ted Dexter. As he was leaving, I asked him down to the bar for a friendly drink. He didn't leave for eight hours. I have never really believed in the moral effect of sport since then."
Ted Dexter (ex-England cricket captain ): "May I just make one thing clear ?"
I'm afraid that's all we have time for today. Another time, perhaps.Reuse content