A Short Walk Down Fleet Street by Alan Watkins

Wednesday 26 February 2014 04:35
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The distinguished political columnist of The Independent on Sunday recalls the days, now as distant as the Jurassic era, when the pubs of EC4 were packed with pressmen. The Telegraph's pub was "a complete hellhole". El Vino's was preferable. "D'you know that one of the waiters here is a Tory MP?" Paul Johnson told the author. (The co-owner was MP for Basingstoke.) One Guardian hack was such a regular that El Vino's put up a brass plaque in his honour. He complained that his name was misspelt. "But we checked with The Guardian," came the reply.

Watkin's formal style is splendidly at odds with the gossipy titbits he retrieves from his phenomenal memory. There is a hilarious description of the office manoeuvring of Donald Trelford, and much on the legendary sayings of John Junor and Bill Deedes. All absorbing stuff for anyone interested in the inky trade, though the lengthy account of the vicissitudes of The Observer during Tiny Rowland's ownership is for devotees only. Lamenting the fact that newspapers are now filled by people who make phone calls and tap endlessly at computer keyboards, Watkins recalls Lord Beaverbrook's view about telephones: "Rip out the cord and throw it away, that's the way to get exclusive news."

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