Friday, 24 May 2013
I wish to right a wrong. No one dismisses, as I did last week, Joe Minogue in a paragraph.
Joe Minogue was a giant cloth cap, a cigarette and a pronounced Manchester accent. It was possible to know him for several weeks before realising that beneath the cap lived a face like an angry nut and the body of an apprehensive leprechaun.
He had been a tank driver on D.Day and possibly the only tank driver to be wounded in the backside, that part of the body covered by the tank. He had dark suspicions the bullet had come from inside the tank, but nothing was proved. After the war he was translated from being a penny-a-line municipal correspondent at Manchester Town Hall to foreign editor of the Manchester Guardian. He said there was little difference in the two jobs, except that as foreign editor he was much bothered by coups in parts of the world you had to look up in an atlas. Though he said the politics in Manchester Town Hall were often much bloodier. When he was appointed, the cap toured the world visiting the Guardian's distinguished foreign correspondents. Alistair Cooke - which he pronounced with three ‘o’s, as he did coups - was particularly fond of him.
I worked for him for nearly three weeks in the Fifties before he was forced to sack me. He didn't like to tell me, so he gave me a letter for my wife asking her to tell me but to be sure to add there was nothing personal in it.
He did feel a little out of place in the rarefied Oxbridge atmosphere of the Manchester Guardian (never the Guardian despite what the masthead said). He was surprised when he took office to find his telephone was kept on the floor near the door. He never moved it in case it was a tradition. If you went to his office, the desk would, like as not, be unoccupied but you would find him curled up on the floor, settling a coup on the telephone.
Ever subversive, Minogue formed an Anti-Culture group at the paper which he invited me to join when I was a very senior reporter on the Mirror. Alas, the editor Alastair Hetherington refused to have me anywhere near the paper when he learned I hunted foxes although I had a pretty impressive cuttings book.
It must be admitted that Joe and I were among Nature’s subversives. When we could not work together we set out to undermine the industry with a series of improbable “Letters to the Editor” in which his boss, the news editor Harry Whewell, joined. I have written about how I wrote to the editor of the Manchester Evening News recalling how, as a boy, I had hunted my uncle’s pack of Rochdale Flock Hounds over the Lancashire moors and wondered what had happened to the breed.
Minogue responded by saying that although he remembered the breed well he was never convinced they had the true nose which one only found in the Doffcocker Dandy Dinmont, though for tongue he had always preferred the Chowbent terrier.
What was very odd was the spirited correspondence this produced from other readers until we began to believe in the breed we thought we had invented.
Tiring of this subject into which others had introduced an acrimonious note, Whewell wrote to the Oldham Chronicle to enquire whether there were any photographs of his uncle, a Sioux chieftain who had come to the town in the mid 19th century as part of a delegation of American Indians to examine the cotton industry.
I wrote to say that I couldn’t help with a photograph but I did have a fragment of a war bonnet picked up in the eighties in Ashton under Lyne market by a relative of mine. Though it was a much treasured relic in our family, I offered to pass it on if the writer could give some proof of ownership.
Watching a TV broadcast of the “Antiques Road Show” some time later, I learned Lancashire was afloat with Indian chiefs in the mid 19th century and my daughter Gay, who looked after me this weekend, tells me that many districts in Lancashire have their own strain of dogs, such as the Ormskirk terrier. So Oscar Wilde had it right. Nature does imitate art.
Readers' Letters once ruined an editorial power lunch. Hugh Cudlipp, who ruined the Mirror, was in my view a foul-mouthed bully of little talent who did irreparable harm to the paper. From time to time he would descend on Manchester and inflict lunch on his executives. The better to enjoy tearing them apart, he always invited two reporters. It was not a pretty sight. The Mirror also owned the Glasgow- based Daily Record so when Cudlipp invited his executives for ideas to increase circulation the executive who suggested we do more Scottish stories was unwise. “Isn’t that a bit like Mr Marks out-voting Mr Spencer?” rasped Cudlipp.
Gerry McGee, the sports editor, was not falling in any traps. When Cudlipp said, “I now call on Mr McGee to give a short address”, he replied, “21 Washaway Road, Sale.”
It was not original but, by God, it was brave.
Cudlipp was bested only once and that was by my friend Bill Barton, who sadly has since gone on his lunch break in the sky. (For Bill, a lunch break that only lasts for eternity will seem sadly curtailed).
Besting executives was what Bill did best.
Cudlipp had been saying that everything in the Mirror was true. “Nay, nay, Mr Cudlipp,” roared Bill, whose “nay, nay” had the illuminating force of the Edison Light, “what about readers’ letters?”
“The readers’ letters are genuine despatches from the good people who buy our great newspapers,” answered Cudlipp.
“Nay, nay, Mr Cudlipp,” said Bill, “I had to write three before I could come here this morning.”