Is that Pounds or Guineas ?

They tell me that, at one stage yesterday, all British national newspapers were interested in buying those photos of the Prince Harry starkers. Then ever so slowly, and one after another they dropped out. A few still published them on their websites, then gradually one-by-one they pulled them from their site. They were, apparently going for 10K a set. I don’t know if that was 10k Exclusive, English Language rights only, or as a share. Seems a lot of money to spend on a set of snaps, knowing that your rivals up the street had exactly the same set of pics.

The Sun mocks-up its own           version of those photos

Maybe it was this high price which made them pull out of the deal. Maybe it was the risk of upsetting Lord Leveson. Perhaps they didn’t want to upset The Palace or the NPA, or whoever nowadays hands out press passes to national events. We will have a couple of funerals in town coming up in the not-too-distant future, I guess, then a coronation and probably a christening or eight ? That’s a lot of monkey positions in the press pen to be giving away for the sake of a muzzy pic of some ginger pubes. Or maybe they didn’t buy the photos because they stopped and thought “Hang-on! Why don’t we respect this guy’s right to party on down. Public don’t need to see these. Stuff the pics ” ?  No, I don’t think that happened either. I do know one journal which did exactly that, but they are not in Fleet St. Anymore.

So you’re looking down the wrong end of a £10,000 deal for a set of not-very-exclusive snaps of a nude ginger bloke. Hmmm… I guess in the world of the internet, it’s rather difficult to keep anything at all exclusive. Back in the day of hard prints, analogue wires and when BBC Ceefax was the source of information 24 hours a day, it was a lot easier to find a set of exclusives.

In around 1985 I was a young freelancer selling photos generated by a very small agency to national newspapers in Fleet St. I was enjoying a beer (no, really, I was) one evening after work with a colleague when a young photographer we’d sent out a few hours earlier “to see what you can find” came and found us at the bar. He had on him a developed roll of colour transparency film which had on it various dancers/strippers, C-listers and Christopher Bigginses which a night photographing London usually threw up. Then as I got down to the end of the of the roll of film, there were two blurry frames of a bloke, who looked uncannily like Prince Andrew, walking next to a fat redhead.

A bun is awarded for anyone who can                       tell me what he was thinking of.

“Who’s that ?” I asked the snapper

“Oh that Prince Andrew and some fat redhead” (I told you it was) “I saw a royal motor outside Les Mis so I hung around to see who was in there”

These were the first photos of Prince Andrew and his latest squeeze Sarah Ferguson. They were with a Royal Bodyguard getting into a Royal Jaguar. This meant she was official. She was Andy’s “One” (if only we knew…), confirming what Buckingham Palace had been denying for weeks – that Fergie was gonna be part of the firm real soon. As odd as it must sound now, this was really big news at the time.

Being a Royalist, I immediately cut off the two frames and got a cab down to The Daily Mirror. For reasons which don’t escape me, I refused to go to Wapping and to Rupert Murdoch’s strike-bound News International (what does escape me is why I lifted that self-imposed ban to go work for those wankers later on in my career), and The Mirror was my weapon of choice.

Up to a point.

I arrived at The Mirror‘s picture desk only to find it deserted. Normally I wouldn’t care less that everyone was in “The Stab” down below (The White Hart pub, known by Mirror hacks as The Stab in the Back” – for obvious reasons), and on any other evening may have gone to join them (it was, after all, one of the reasons I wanted to be a journo in the first place) and sell them the odd snap. But this was different. I had a pic which I knew everyone would want, and I had to get it into a paper NOW. On THIS edition. I couldn’t take the risk of other photographers having captured the young couple together and selling it before I could. I certainly couldn’t wait for the Mirror Picture Desk to sober up. So I took a decision. I went off to The Daily Star.  Ooh Aah.

It wasn’t what I wanted, but I was in luck . Perhaps the Popinjay (Express Newspaper’s version of The Stab) had burnt down that night as both numbers 1&2 on the picture desk had returned from the pub, unaided, and were just about awake. I think one of them could have been mistaken for being sober. At a distance. The other, his boss (a legendary scotchman and a scotch man) could not.

“What ye got, young fella?” the boss asked.

Carefully avoiding the hot, sweet airstream of scotch & best bitter coming from his mouth, I showed him the two frames.

“It’s Andy and Sarah Ferguson at Les Miserables tonight. Our man…..”

But I could have saved my breath, for he was off. Off an a lap of honour of the newsroom. Past the news desk (yes they had one) and the foreign…erm…reporter, past the back bench, the subs and the assorted ‘tired’ journalists and cleaning staff. He skipped, he whistled, he paused to show and tell his colleagues “Look what I got, ye bastard ye”.

Once the Scot and the scotch had settled, he agreed to pay ten thousand pounds for the photo. (What Sarah Ferguson would do nowadays for £10,000 is a story for another time). It appeared on the front page the very next day. The Mirror’s Picture editor, nicknamed “Grumpy” called me, sparrows fart. ‘Why didn’t I sell the pic to him ?’ he wanted to know. ‘Because he was in the pub’, I replied. ‘Why didn’t I call him out ?’ he demanded. ‘Because he was already well and truly out‘ I said. He didn’t speak to me for months and months after that.

As far as I know, that little photo agency of ours never did get the £10k promised to it by the pissed old fart that night at The Star. He sobered up and swore blind that he’d said FIVE not ten grand. The photographer never believed me, I don’t think. It’s all true, believe me. Over the next few weeks we did get some decent money for the pic from American, Aussie and, oddly, German rags, but nothing on the scale of what The Star (should have) paid us.

I wonder if Harry’s “mate” who took the pics of his arse will ever get paid ? It’s out there now. Everyone has it, or at least has seen it. And once everyone has seen it, who will want to buy it ? If the photos had landed in my lap today, would I have flogged them ? Probably not. When I was 21 who-was-doing-what-and-how-to-whom-and-how-often seemed really interesting to me. I’d passed my “smash the state, bring down the Monarchy” phase, but was still walking around with a press ticket metaphorically stuck in the band of my trilby”.

Not now. Now I care little for that shite. Pop and celebs interest me not.  Sod The One Show, give me the World at One. I’m into Big Gussets not Big Brother. Less X-Factor, more Ex-Lax. I’d still like the money, though.

Some Day My Prince Will…erm…

Question: If we care anything at all about photos of Prince Henry flashing his King Edwards about, should our prudish ire be focused on the Prince for doing what so many twenty-somethings tend to do, or should we be pointing fingers at the so-called mate who released the blurry phone photos in the first place ? (by the way, who has a camera phone that poor in quality any more ?) .

When Harry was lambasted for turning up at a fancy dress party as a Nazi, showing all the tact and class of his granddad (he is out of hospital, isn’t he – else I won’t use that line) I was right up there booing him from the highest gable of my humble terraced abode.

But when an apparently good looking, seemingly fit, charming, ginger (look ! – ginger hair runs in the family, alright ??? – leave it) bloke get’s his kit off during a game of Pissed Strip Billiards, why do we act so surprised? Why is he behaving like this ?? Because he can. He’s a young man, his prospects ain’t bad, and the throng/thong of surrounding scantily clad babes who were dribbling over him that evening seem to have quite enjoyed it. He’s a Royal. Royals have been acting like this for a thousand years. Harry’s Third in Line to the Throne. He’s going to have nothing to do for the rest of his life except drink, shag and dress up as a Nazi. Have we really already forgotten what Prince Andrew was like when he was a kid (let alone how he behaves even now) ? Harry, like uncle Andy, went to war and became a national hero. Now please don’t tell me that because he got his willy wet in Las Vegas he’s now a pariah ?

I’m sure I read somewhere about what people do behind closed doors is their business. He wasn’t garrotting grannies, or molesting beagles at the time, was he ? He went to a party with some blonde birds, got pissed and got his tackle out. Wow ! That’s a first for a young bloke.

There’s a bloke I know who used to – stone cold sober, mind you – used to get his cock out and put £2.10 in 10p pieces (that’s old 10p pieces) under his foreskin and jangle it in front of any interested female or male close at …er…hand.  The same bloke (I can’t name names as he reads this column and I wouldn’t want to Sean Cooper him.) dragged on a cigarette with his anus while on his way to rugby matches.

Now if Prince Heinrich was photographed lugging on a Marlboro with his arse, one may have cause to question his judgement. As it is, romping with young women after a night on the turps is hardly worth  a bollocking from anyone save his nan. And I’m sure she’ll have a word.

We’ve all done stuff that we’re not particularly proud of. Some of our antics have ended up in national newspapers. I was once in a photo on page 2 of the Daily Mirror (that’s the page where they put their news stories) under the headline “Ban This Paparazzi Scum”. Mum was pleased with that one. I also once ended up in the linen of the Daily Star having posed as a randy removal man for a shoot they’d commissioned for some story they were doing (I can’t remember who wrote it – John Pilger, I seem to recall). It wasn’t my proudest moment. For the record I was bushwacked by the photographer (my boss at the time) and, as is often a studio assistant’s poor fortune, I was forced to dress up and pose. That is my story and I am sticking to it.

Unlike Harry, I knew that these photos were likely to appear in a paper (and unlike Harry I was very happy that they were to appear in the piss-poor Daily Star and therefore only 3 pensioners in the West country were ever likely to see my pic). In both cases, no-one was killed, and apart from my mum and HRH, no-one cared one jot. It may be news in the Daily Star, but any serious-thinking person would file it the Fergie Toe-Job bin.

Please note: I was told to keep my clothes on. It is, after all, a family newspaper.

Being Screwed in ‘C’ Wing (Read All About It)

It’s probably worth reminding ourselves that the reason there are eight News of The World employees facing charges over phone hacking is that they were shopped, grassed-up or exposed by other journalists. Proper journalists. Not coppers (bent or otherwise) nor Politicians (ditto), or members of the general public, but journalists. This bunch of whistle-blowers happen to have come from The Gaurdian, but they could have come from any number of sources. Because, just as everyone at The Screws wasn’t a crook, then not every newspaper journalist is on the take (whatever the BBC may have you thinking). Not every Grauniad hack will be as white as the driven snow, and there may have been other reasons for exposing the Wapping scandal other than good, honest investigative journalism, but let us not forget that the industry shopped itself, Westminster please note.

You can extend this thought to the fact that it wasn’t only Wapping hacks that were up to no good – just that they are the first to get pinched for it. The reader might like to note that this week PC Plod revealed that two Prison officers had received payments totalling over £50,000 from The Daily Mirror and Daily Star. As mentioned here before, the shredding machines all over Fleet St have been doing overtime whilst the Inspector’s time is taken up with Murdoch titles. Only time will tell if, by the time Sue Akers and her Mukkers get to “M for Mail” or “P for People” in Glenn Mulcaire‘s address book, the evidence has somehow vanished (like an old oak table).

The conversations may well get interesting as the assorted journos in HMP-issue uniforms are locked up for the night by the very people they were throwing cash at for info about their celebrity/muslim/titillating inmates. Retribution may ensue. The News of the Screws has never been a more appropriate nickname for their paper, in so many ways.

I can’t help thinking public would never have given a toss if the enquiry had merely  revealed that the papers had been listening into the phone messages of Elton John or George Michael, going through Hugh Grant’s bins or Jordan’s drawers. That is, after all, why the average knuckle-dragger buys The Sun and The N.O.W- for the gossip stuff that they always seem to get. Fuck actors and sportsmen and singers and the like. They’re not real people. They forfeited their right to privacy the minute they…er…became good at their job (something, thankfully of which I have never been accused).

But to hack into the phone of a little blonde girl who is a possible murder victim ???? Disgusting ! It is a mark of the country’s appetite, class and taste that had the victim not been a little girl, then not only would this intrusion not have registered with the moral code of Joe Public, but the original story would never have made the front pages of the tabloids in the first place. But sadly for Milly Dowler, and latterly Andy Coulson this was not the case. The girl was just the sort of target which his papers and readers salivate about, and the whole sorry saga was somewhat inevitable.

I’ve never bought into the Kelvin McKenzie argument that “papers only print this stuff because that’s what the readers want” but I’m prepared to make an exception in this case. It’d be nice to think that the avid Screws reader realises his own part in this sorry and sordid affair. Nice to think he would, but unlikely to be true, as The Sun on Sunday‘s figures still show. More tits, more bums, more shite, more readers.
Thank god Madeleine McCann wasn’t a 6 ft tall hod carrier from Bridgend – you’d have never heard of the case. News International likes promoting these cases on its covers, and  Maddie’s plight has been thoroughly reported over the years, none more so than by The Screws. The family felt this would do their cause some good, giving them some hope and support to find their little girl. Right up until the paper published mum’s personal diaries for the Editors and the average Wayne and Waynetta to dribble over.

So do I feel and pity for these eight (on the understanding, of course, that they are all completely innocent until proven guilty) and the torrid time the police and prosecution will put them through ? No, not much. Maybe sorry that they’ve been singled out, when there are many, many others around that need their collars felt. But the overwhelming feeling is of relief that the industry ratted-out itself and showed others how it should be done. Just don’t talk to me about a self-regulating Press Complaints Commission. It clearly doesn’t work.

Making a Living

Very, very occasionally I moan about my lot in life: Work is shit, they don’t understand/rate/like me (delete where applicable), my pc is on the Fritz, the boss is an arsehole etc etc. You may go through similar periods of woe-is-me yourself. Then every so often something happens which puts it all into perspective. On Sunday morning I got the call that an old mate of mine, Phil Coburn had suffered horrific injuries while doing his job in Afghanistan.

He was caught up in in a blast which killed his friend and colleague, reporter Rupert Hamer while they were embedded with the US Army in Helmand province. He is described as being in a ‘serious but stable’ condition in a Birmingham hospital. He escaped with his life but at a great cost.
Phil and I worked and drank together at The Telegraph many moons ago, and were the opening bowlers of the stick-yer-job-up-yer-arse XI most evenings in the pub after work. He was then a junior photographer, I was a junior picture editor. We moaned and we drank and we moaned some more and drank some more. He in his dark, Northern Irish brogue, and me in my North Kent nasally lilt.

I suspect we got on cos we were as miserable as each other, but could see the ridiculous in most anything. We often were at each other’s throats, then buying rounds for each other in the next breath. Work was the common enemy, or rather the people we worked with. After a night of this we went home to bed and started afresh the next morning.

After serving our apprenticeships on the paper we went our different ways, I went off to warm offices to get moaned at, Phil off to trenches to get shot at, in the name of journalism. We occasionally bumped into each other on jobs, or more often-than-not funerals and leaving dos. He was the star of my leaving do from The Telegraph: a beer-soaked 24 hour boat-trip piss-up to France where he entertained us with his moans and his hilarious gallows humour about life and work. He is a very funny bloke, that is when he’s not calling you a useless cnt.

So the next time you stand next to me in a pub and hear me moan about my current employer, or my horrid journey to work or the lack of lemons in the boozer, please feel free to tell me to fuck off: I have little to moan about. And it’ll be as if Phil were standing next to me.

Good luck, Phil, and hoping to see you in the pub sharpish. It’s your round, anyway.

Nine punters try to restrain Coburn (far right) during a Telegraph tea and scones evening

Another moaning old bastard from that Telegraph drinking team, now in The Gulf, puts it this way:

David Sapsted
Foreign Correspondent

The war in Afghanistan seems a million miles from Abu Dhabi – and a few million more from we here in London.
Yet, early on Sunday morning, the bloody conflict pierced the very heart of my home.
Michael Smith, an old friend and the defence editor of the Sunday Times, rang my mobile. “Phil Coburn has lost part of his leg in an explosion in Afghanistan,” he said. “Rupert Hamer (defence correspondent on the Sunday Mirror) has been killed.”
I did not know Hamer, a 39-year-old father of three. But photographer Coburn and myself have been close for the best part of 20 years. To be frank, our off-duty antics have prompted bartenders’ eyebrows to be raised in drinking establishments across the world.
When we were both working in New York, our impromptu line-dancing performances at our favourite and oft-frequented Manhattan bar became the stuff of legend. Or so we liked to tell ourselves.
We have come through the odd bombing in Northern Ireland together, been scared witless by an exploding volcano in Montserrat and been moved to tears by the teenagers of Columbine High as they recounted the horror of the massacre there.
I was the first to know he had fallen in love with Alison Roberts – a fellow journalist and now the mother of Joe, their three-year-old son – and, as usual, he was the last to leave my silver wedding celebrations a couple of years ago.
And today he is lying in the acute ward of Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham, where the UK’s military trauma cases are treated, one leg shattered and the other missing below the knee.
Phil, a 43-year-old Ulsterman, and Rupert Hamer had been embedded with the US Marine Corps since the New Year. On Saturday, the vehicle they were travelling in was hit by a roadside bomb near Nawa in Helmand Province.
Rupert and a US marine died instantly. Phil and five other marines sustained serious injuries.
Both journalists were experienced Afghanistan hands, each having made several trips there previously. Invariably, when Phil returned from his other trips he would moan that his newspaper had “thrown my pictures away”, only using one of them on a piece on page 28 or some-such.
We would smile indulgently. It is a prerequisite of journalism that, whatever a newspaper editor does with your story or picture, it becomes a source of bitter complaint.
And Phil could have had earned himself a master’s degree in complaining. I recall him moaning to me once – during an assignment in the Caribbean, as we were stretched out on loungers beside a sun-drenched pool, large rum and dry gingers at out side – that he was “really fed up because I haven’t had a bloody holiday all year”.
When I pointed out the irony of his remark, he grunted, then giggled and then ordered a couple more drinks in a very loud voice.
But behind the sometimes grumpy mask lies what Londoners like to call a “genuine geezer” with a mischievous sense of fun, a devotion towards his family and a quite inexplicable loyalty to Liverpool FC.
Why anyone would want to blow him up is beyond me. Of course, it has always been beyond me, in a disinterested, reasoned sort of way, why anyone would want to kill or maim anyone, in Afghanistan or anywhere else.
Now, though, that violence has become personal. And it hurts.
At least, Phil Coburn escaped with his life, as so many in Afghanistan have not. And, when he is patched up, I have no doubt at all that he will be berating his picture desk, demanding to be sent back there because, after all, it is what he does.
And when he gets back from there next time, I am equally sure that he will moan incessantly about how “the idiots” have, yet again, thrown away his pictures on page 28.

And this from The today

Photographer Phil Coburn, who suffered serious leg injuries in the bomb blast that killed reporter Rupert Hamer, is a war-zone veteran.

Highly regarded throughout the newspaper industry, his bravery and commitment to the job saw him travel to Afghanistan at least five times.

Phil, 43, was in Iraq to cover the allied invasion in 2003 and had returned more than a dozen times since – always with his trusted companion Rupert.

The pair set off for Afghanistan on New Year’s Eve for what was to be a month-long assignment. Phil has a reputation for capturing moving images from the front line.

Mike Sharp, Sunday Mirror picture editor, described him as a “dedicated and passionate photographer” who could always be relied upon to produce great pictures under the harshest conditions.

He said: “Phil is simply an exceptional photojournalist. His personable and charming manner sets everyone around him at ease.

“Journalists, his subjects, and other photographers all remark on his commitment and his ability to relax afterwards – a unique skill which is invaluable in conflict areas.

“His dry, often deadpan humour has helped him escape some tricky situations.”

Phil lives in north London with his partner Alison Roberts and their young son Joe. He is due to be flown home today for treatment at Birmingham’s Selly Oak hospital.

Although critically wounded, he is expected to pull through.

Phil has worked for the Sunday Mirror for eight years.

He trained as a photographer in his native Belfast.

He spent several years living in New York as a freelance for American picture agencies before returning to the UK where he also spent some time working for the Daily Telegraph. Colleagues and friends last night hailed him as a consummate professional with a natural talent for the job.

His impressive portfolio includes images of British troops burning a massive heroin haul found in Taliban compounds.

He captured soldiers on gruelling, lengthy patrols in the Afghan desert and others as they patrolled downtown Basra in Iraq.

Daily Mirror photographer Roger Allen said: “Phil is a larger than life Irishman with a great sense of humour – a very funny bloke.

“He’s got a great eye for a picture and he works hard and plays hard.”

Quick nurse, the screens: It’s happened again


I think I’ll go for a curry tonight. Not ground-breaking, Pulitzer-winning, hold-the-front-page stuff, I grant you, but I thought I’d celebrate the Gurkha’s latest victory, this time in the House of Commons. I like showing solidarity with other nations’ or peoples’ celebrations. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Back in the days of yore at The Telegraph we would religiously celebrate Beaujolais Day by getting a crate into the office. Anzac Day didn’t go unrecognized either as pallets of Fosters and XXXX would turn up to be supped through the days work. Paddy’s Day (as mentioned here earlier) was celebrated every day BUT the official one, and there was often some sub-editor or late-stop asleep at his desk having mistakenly celebrated Burns night in mid-July.
Of the five (and counting) curry houses in Blackheath three are Nepalese so there’ll be plenty of happy lads to serve my taka dahl and garlic chilli chicken this evening. Goody! I could eat a scabby horse. Before Khans restaurant changed hands the staff would serve in Gurkha regimental ties. You didn’t get many run-outs from there, I can tell you. They used to do a Chicken Gurkhali which I drunkenly and foolishly ordered one evening. “It’s what the Gurka’s eat, Sir” I was told. Ignoring their warning I tucked in. The effects were devastating, trousers ruined and the coastguard alerted.
Around the corner at the Sopna (which became Everest, now called Saffron) they used to do a Terry Waite Special, in honour of the local devil dodger/CIA stooge who spent all that time attached to that radiator in the Lebanon, and was allegedly what he ordered when he came home. If memory serves it’s a whole chicken stuffed with keema mince , topped with cheese and roasted. The dish on the menu is meant for 2-3 hungry people (give him his due, Waite is a big unit and hadn’t eaten a proper meal for 4 years) but I sat and watched a good pal of mine devour it on his own in minutes. I cannot mention his name here, but suffice to say he hadn’t eaten since the Sunday Mirror canteen had closed two hours earlier.

Four fried chickens and a coke

Four fried chickens and a coke

The third these is the Mountain View which was a Barclays Bank, then a bar —Flame (still full of Barclays Bankers)— and has all the atmosphere of Harry Ramsdens, Heathrow Airport. The fat, smiley guvnor is ok if a bit overpowering, and they do a line in the world’s sweetest cake and will sing (terribly) happy birthday to any of your party who happens to be celebrating. It doesn’t matter if it IS actually your birthday—could be your anniversary , new job or decree nisi—they’ll sing Happy Birthday anyway, it’s excruciating. I can only imagine their songs have been passed on, father-to-son by generations of political prisoners in Kathmandu to remind their successors of the terrible pain meted out on them by the ruling classes. Where they must have shoved their kukris is anyone’s guess. But the food’s good and they serve Gurka Beer (brewed in Horsham) to take your mind off the singing.
So it’s to one of the above I shall repair to this evening, in the hope that they’re still feeling particularly chipper after their commons victory and that there’ll be the odd free poppadum or dry sherry on offer. I’m still hanging out for Argentina to re-take the Malvinas—there’s a great Argentinian steakhouse in the village. But there’s no point in Turkey becoming an EU member—we don’t have a kebab house.