I HAVE written before about the drinking culture that prevailed on national newspapers in the days when words were scribbled on copy paper and computers were still a distant threat. Great attention was paid to the break after the first edition, which was usually completed by about 9.30pm, leaving us plenty of time to go out and soak up some ale.
When I started on the Daily Mail in Manchester in 1978, we tended to frequent the many pubs near the office, none of which was particularly exciting. One of them, the Sir Ralph Abercromby, was quite close to the Free Trade Hall and therefore often patronised by members of the Hallé Orchestra.
I remember one evening when an attractive and beautifully spoken cellist complained to the landlord Alf about her glass of claret, which had come from a winebox on a shelf behind the bar that had probably been there for months.
‘What’s wrong wivvit, love?’ said the licensee in a broad Mancunian accent.
‘I’m afraid it’s off.’
‘’Ere, lerrus ’ave a taste.’
The aristocratic musician reluctantly handed over her glass. Alf made a great show of sniffing it before taking a swig and rolling it around his mouth.
‘Nowt wrong with it, sweetheart,’ he declared. ‘Lovely drop o’ claret, that.’
‘Sorry, but I fear you are wrong. I cannot drink tainted wine.’
‘Wait a minute, I know what’s wrong,’ Alf said with a knowing look. ‘I bet you ’ad onions fer yer tea, didn’t yer? Didn’t yer?’ he repeated as the cellist stormed out, never to return. Not the first customer lost by Alf, nor the last.
In time we started to venture further afield, even as far as Salford, where some of the pubs were real rough-houses. The Dangerous Breaks Club, as we called ourselves, was disbanded after one of our number arrived back in the office with broken spectacles and a torn shirt. It was safer to go and play snooker in the Press Club.
Over the other side of town, the Daily Mirror staffers made us look like little boys. They would go on marathon three-hour pub crawls while casual sub-editors did all the work. I completed one shift there and have never toiled so hard in my life. Page lead after page lead, and I even had to do a caption for a picture of a topless model, one Sian Adey-Jones, who would later appear in the Bond film A View to a Kill. In those days you were simply given the photograph of the glamour girl, with her name and age written on the back, and you had to invent two or three paragraphs about her. I blush as I write this, but I claimed she was a keen squash player and ‘drove the fellas up the wall’. Crap, I know, but the chief sub lapped it up and asked me back the following week. I said no thanks.
There was a strong curry culture in Manchester (still is, so far as I know) and the Mirror subs would often repair to Rusholme, where there was a road full of cafes and restaurants known as the Curry Mile.
From there, it was a natural progression to take a train to Bradford and enjoy a swift vindaloo before returning to Manchester and grabbing a couple of beers before closing time. One night, however, the curry was slow in arriving and the half-dozen hacks missed their train back. The chief sub picked up the phone to hear one of them confessing sheepishly that they might be a little late at the office. They had to thumb lifts, arriving back after the final edition. At this point they were forced to concede that they had gone too far.
One of the veteran Mirror subs was a Scot named Johnny Cope, who also worked on the News of the World, where I met him. It was his boast that he was the only senior newspaperman to have vomited on a member of the Royal Family. While editor of the Sunday People, he drank so much at an official reception that he puked all over Princess Anne. Not really something to be proud of, in my view.
Old jokes’ home
Deep sea diver comes across a giant squid. He is just about to harpoon it when it pleads: ‘No, don’t shoot! I’m feeling terrible. I got out of the wrong side of the sea bed this morning and things have gone downhill ever since. I’m sure I’ve got a temperature and I can’t even feel my tentacles.’
‘Oh dear,’ says the diver. ‘I’d better take you back to the boat and let the doctor have a look at you.’
The pair arrive at the sick bay and the doctor asks the diver: ‘What the hell is this?’
‘It’s that sick squid I owe you.’
A PS from PG
She snorted with a sudden violence which twenty-four hours earlier would have unmanned me completely. Even in my present tolerably robust condition, it affected me like one of those gas explosions which slay six.
PG Wodehouse: The Code of the Woosters