FRIDAY January 31:
THERE ARE TWO DIFFERENT sorts of newspaper exclusive: the story the world and his wife would pay good money to read and the story no self-respecting editor gives a damn about missing. Yesterday’s Daily Mirror ‘world exclusive’ unfortunately fell into the second category. ‘EXCLUSIVE! Son of Lord Lucan’s murdered nanny claims to have found missing Earl alive!’ roared the red-top title I once edited.
Neil Berriman, son of the murdered Sandra Rivett, claimed to have found his mother’s 1974 killer, Lord ‘Lucky’ Lucan, ‘living as an 85-year-old Buddhist in Australia’.
‘Lucan Alive!’ stories are as commonplace as Loch Ness monster sightings and just about as believable. But they sell well. And even a cynical media has been careful never to write off the possibility, however remote, that the elusive earl is still on the run. It was the wily old Scottish editor and columnist John Junor who once cannily observed: “Laddie, you don’t ever want to shoot the fox. Once the fox is dead there is nothing left to chase.”
The equally wily Garth Gibbs, my one-time Mirror colleague and society diarist, took the Sunday Express editor’s advice to heart and as a result had a great life on expenses chasing Lucan ‘sightings’ all over the world. His famous boast? “I regard not finding Lord Lucan as my most spectacular success in journalism.
“Of course, many of my colleagues have also been fairly successful in not finding Lord Lucan. But I have successfully not found him in more exotic spots than anybody else.
“I spent three weeks not finding him in Cape Town, magical days and nights not finding him in the Black Mountains of Wales and wonderful and successful short breaks not finding him in Macau nor in Hong Kong nor even in Green Turtle Cay in the Bahamas where you can find anyone!”
Old Garth may now be sitting on the hottest story never told. . . Lucan was last seen in 1974, believed deceased shortly afterwards; Garth died in 2011. Wherever they both ended up, I’m betting that the sit-down interview took place long ago and that Garth has spent some years trying to communicate his ‘World Exclusive: Lucan Dead – Official!’ back to the Mirror news desk.
MONDAY, February 3
I WAS DELIGHTED AND PROUD that political journalists walked out of a Downing Street briefing en masse after one of Boris Johnson’s aides banned reporters representing publications deemed ‘unfriendly’ to the PM from attending. The confrontation took place inside No 10 after Lee Cain, Johnson’s most senior communications adviser, tried to exclude political staff from the Mirror, the i, HuffPost, PoliticsHome, the Independent and others from an official government briefing.
At a time of escalating tensions between Downing Street and the media, Labour accused Johnson of deploying Donald Trump-like tactics to avoid scrutiny.
The incident happened in the foyer of No 10 when journalists on the invited list were asked to stand on one side of a rug, while those not allowed in were told by security to stand on the other side.
When Cain told the banned journalists to leave, the rest of the journalists decided to walk out collectively rather than allow Downing Street to choose who scrutinises and reports on the government.
Among those who refused the briefing on the UK’s trade negotiations with the EU were the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, ITV’s Robert Peston, and political journalists from Sky News, the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, Sun, Financial Times and The Guardian.
As a result, Johnson’s attempt to mimic His Master’s Voice resulted in an exclusive toadies’ briefing going unreported. Butthe lesson was lost on shame-faced US journalists, some of whom were later excluded by Trump from a State of the Union speech briefing in Washington two days later but failed to react with a similar comradely boycott.
It was good to see support from politicians of all complexions led by Labour leadership contender Sir Keir Starmer condemning the attempt at selective censorship. “Johnson’s decision to ban selected media from having access to civil service briefings damages democracy,” he Tweeted. “I have written to the Cabinet Secretary to ask him to investigate this matter.”
Well said, sir! But wait: wasn’t this the same Keir Starmer who vowed just a fortnight ago, “I certainly won’t be giving any interviews to The Sun during the course of this [leadership]campaign”? It certainly went down well at the leadership hustings in the Sun-hating city of Liverpool but a man who might well replace Johnson in ten years’ time should be able to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. . .
TALKING OF KEIR STARMER, it is my experience that going on the razzle with the guy can get you into a lot of trouble. He was the guest speaker at a Society of Editors’ annual black tie dinner on Lake Windermere some years ago when, seeking livelier entertainment than the hotel bar could offer, Sun editor Rebekah Brooks filled a mini-bus taxi with editors and the then Director of Public Prosecutions and directed the driver to a nightclub in nearby Barrow-in-Furness.
Upon arrival we were ordered by the burly bouncers on the door to “get yer monkey suits an’ dicky bows off or you can’t go in!”
“But we are newspaper editors,” protested the flame-haired Ms Brooks.
“So what? Makes no odds to that lot in there,” said the Head Bouncer, jerking a thumb in the direction of the brain-deadening dance music and multi-coloured strobe lights. “They’ll think you’re bouncers, looking for a rumble.”
“But he’s the Director of Public Prosecutions,” Rebekah persisted, pointing to a dumbfounded DPP.
“That’s worse,” said Head Bouncer. “Don’t tell a bloody soul!”
We editors allowed ourselves a single defiant round of nightcaps at the bar before buttoning ourselves back into dinner jackets and beating a hasty retreat back to the Windermere Hotel, taking the bewildered DPP with us.
’Course, we didn’t know then that he might be Prime Minister one day.