Sir, The Gentlemen of the Press are Here

The British, or to be more precise, the British Press, or to be more precise, the English Press don’t like Sepp Blatter, though they’re not exactly alone on that one. They think he takes bungs, fixes elections, is anti-English. Fresh from the “row” about whether the English football team could wear poppies on Remembrance Sunday, and following his insightful views on women’s football (“Let the women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball. They could have tighter shorts.”), match fixing (“I could understand it if it had happened in Africa, but not in Italy.”) and homosexuals (“I would say they should refrain from any sexual activities.”) there has been a torrent of outraged copy spewing out of Fleet Street regarding Blatter’s latest decree. The head of FIFA has opined that racism on the pitch should be forgotten with a handshake after the match. A ridiculous opinion indeed, but what a godsend for the hacks of the press ? Immediately headlines such as “Now Beckham and Cameron slam Sepp Blatter over racism in football” (Daily Mail) and Blatter Must Go” (The Sun) have ploughed into nasty Sepp in exactly the way they…er…didn’t attack John Terry when he was filmed calling Anton Ferdinand a f**king black c*nt”.

Exactly the same organs demanding the hated Blatter’s resignation are the ones not calling for Terry to go:  “Terry vows to clear his name in race storm” (Daily Mail) and “Terry is Gagging for Action with England” (Sun). That’s telling him ! Strong stuff, indeed.  The Blatter affair has saved the tabloids from having to chastise the serial-shagging Terry and focus their sights on nasty foreigner Sepp. There’s something quite ironic the Mail labeling someone a racist. But that’s another yarn for another day.

This latest case of double standards pales into insignificance compared to the coverage of the official inquiry into the workings of the press. When not attacking Johnny Foreigner, there’s nothing journalists like better than writing about other journalists. Journos think we, (or rather you) are, like them, equally infatuated with journalism and stories about it. This obsession with their own trade and fellow hacks more often than not supersedes any other story that may drop on their desks. And nothing, NOTHING excites a hack more than when other hacks are deemed to be up Shitestraße, a condition currently afflicting my old colleagues at News International. You may have noticed the absolute glee with which other media outlets have been reporting the phone hacking scandal.  The Guardian clearly has an axe to grind with the Murdoch press and are loving every second of the coverage. The BBC are visibly beside themselves. But they all should be very careful, I reckon.

One can only assume that the thus-far unquestioned members of the press have nothing to hide. Either that or they realise that Inspector Knacker is taking so long over the News of the World and associates, that by the time the law gets round to them the shredders will have been doing overtime and their friendly private eyes will have been shooed out the back door, taking a large wad of cash with them. All evidence of naughtiness will be long gone by the time the rozzers arrive at their door.

Wherever I worked, there was always a deeply held belief in the mantra “there but for the grace of god go I”. The Mail put in the wrong picture ? Poor sods – someone’s due for a kicking. Headline in The Times got a typo in it? Jesus, someone’s for it. We just knew that, sooner or later we’d drop a clanger and it would be our turn to be hauled over the coals. There was always a bunch of annoying hacks giggling about and reveling in the misfortune and the mistakes of other rags, but us photo bods knew better than to behave like that. We’d been there too often to carp.

But the recent events at the NoW are not the result of honest mistakes, no matter what Herr Flick says. This isn’t a case of mistakenly putting a pic of a boy from the wrong school in the paper (guilty as charged- Eton instead of Harrow) or putting a photo in upside down (property page – also guilty, your honour) or accidentally being pissed most afternoons (Happy Days. Oh fuck it, ok, I’d like 173 other offences taken into account). No we’re talking serious, intentionally-undertaken crimes here. As much as we’d like to think that this sort of behaviour was confined to Fortress Wapping, I think we all know that that’s unlikely. If I was the rest of Fleet St, I’d treat the phone hacking story with due reverence and respect. These things have a nasty habit of turning around and biting you on the arse, just when you’re gloating about them.

It only surprises me that all this seems to have come as a shock to most people. How the hell did they think the tabloids (and those pretending not to be tabloids) got their information from ? Through honest journalism ? Concerned readers offering exclusives to those nice gentlemen of the press ? Above-the-table briefings by policemen to reporters?

What will hang Fleet St is the same that has kept the UK tabs thriving for so many years: The ability (thru piles of cash) and the willingness (thru the unique competitiveness of the Street) to work outside the law to obtain ‘scoops’. The Scews was not the most read rag in the world for no reason. It delivered all the tawdry and ugly stories that the British public craved after. Whether the public demand for such shite is reason enough to go get these stories is a moot point. However, they spent fortunes hunting down these yarns, keeping them from the notebooks of their competitors, out-bidding anyone else that showed an interest. So many competing national papers in one small county propagates such a frenzied pursuit of higher readership figures.

The sort of pressures between titles, almost unique to London’s papers, made it almost inevitable that one day they’d go too far in their quest for the best story. What “too far” actually meant was open for debate for a long time. Apparently, if you happened to be successful and obtained celebrity through your work, reporters sneaking around your bins and eavesdropping on your private conversations was truly shocking, but frightfully readable, and understandable.  Gordon Taylor, (“that’s rotten, got any more?”) Elton John (“awful! what else ?”), Hugh Grant (“terrible! love it”). Then the manure hit the air-conditioning system. The Milly Dowler episode clearly was “too far”. Even the well-kept coppers, some of whom passed on vital info to the newspaper,  now displayed the sort of outrage and indignation a guilty party will often show. The mucky business was rife. Everyone knew it, but somehow no-one now admits they did.

A while back I was asked for a colleague’s mobile phone number. This colleague was a reporter who happened to be vaguely connected to someone famous who happened to be in the news at the time. The reporter who asked me for this number had gotten my number from a friend. I gave him a “fuck right off” for his trouble. This reporter was not working for the News of the World. He must have been another “lone rogue reporter” (there’s a lot of them about). I don’t know why he wanted the number. I just had a good idea why he wanted it. He was (and still is) a dodgy, slimy cvnt. I wasn’t playing his game.

Not that I am suggesting that the Mail, Mirror, Express, Guardian etc etc have anything to worry about. This is clearly only an issue which needs to be addressed over at Wapping and Wapping alone.

Nowhere else.

At all.

There’s nothing new here. You’d think that this distaste for and distrust of the press was a new thing. Don’t be fooled. In 1959 Peter Sellers, in “The Goons” episode The Scarlet Capsule had the line:

“Sir, the gentlemen of the press are here. I tried to hold ’em back, but they burst through by putting money in me hands”.

It could have been written yesterday.

…and there’s more…

Back in 1987 Jim Hacker was certainly under no illusions about the newspapers of London – or at least who they were read by.


Over 20 years later, comedians Hugh Dennis and Steve Punt updated it. Not much has changed. Apart from the addition to the list of The Independent and the fact that the Express and the Star are now recognised as newspapers – if that is the right word:
The Times is read by the people who run the country.
The Telegraph is read by the people think they run the country.
The Guardian is read by the people who have run the country for the past 12 years and realised they’re blown it.
The Independent is read by people who got to the newsagents after they’d run out of The Guardian and The Times.
The Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country.
The Express is read by Marcus Brigstocke to wind himself up.
The Mirror is read by the people who vote for the people who read the Guardian and have now blown it.
The Sun is read people who’ll vote for people who’ll run the country to suit the people who read the Financial Times while somehow convincing themselves that those people will give a toss about the people who buy The Sun the moment the election’s over.
And The Star is read very … slowly … with your lips moving.

Times Up

Dear friends and others

After what seems like only 10 months at The Times, Mr Murdoch and I have decided to part company (though I don’t think he knows it yet. He’ll doubtless be distraught when he finds out). My last day here will be Friday June 4th, after which I shall be sat on my arse at home watching the World Cup and Test Cricket.

So this is just a quick note to say bye-bye to those with whom I’ve worked here, and hello to all you out there who might wanna employ me in future (oh come on ! surely?) My mobile should remain the same, if I can get the bastards to give me my PAC code.

Keep in touch, it’s been a blast. Honest.

Soon Not-to-be Features Picture Editor
The Times

Mike is available for wakes, strikes, global recessions, individual depressions, international financial slumps, natural disasters, acts of God, play-off humiliations, county court judgements, redundancy settlements, post-mortems, political carve-ups, serial killings and weddings. Standard network rates apply. Calls from mobiles will be higher.

Mrs Trellis*

Two weeks into the new job and an unexpected bonus: On Wednesday I resumed the position of “World’s Best Dad”. Having spent the last couple of years as boring, square, fat dad I regained the initiative with my kids by placing a photo of them in the paper. We needed a shot of cute babies/toddlers for a story we were doing, so I raided my archives and pulled an old pic of my girls in nappies, sitting inside a cardboard box. Job done. Editor happy, me happy, kids feigned embarrassment when they saw it, before taking copies of the paper to school to show their mates and boasting “look what my dad did!”.

What’s more I was both photographer and parent so I could ask myself for permission to use this photo, knowing I would be unlikely to change my mind and complain to myself about using pics of my semi-clad children in a national newspaper (their mother couldn’t wait to see her kids cringe). In this post-Blair bonkers world where parents aren’t allowed to attend school sports days, you can’t photograph your own kid in the park lest someone else’s get snapped in the deep background, and holiday snaps are frequently reported by the girls at Boots for being iffy, I knew I was in the clear with this one.


Or so I thought. Turd in the water tank.

On Friday one of my new colleagues approached me and asked if I knew who the kids were in that photo.
“Yes I do” I smiled “and I know the snapper pretty well too” I added, smugly “that’s a pic of my girls years ago”
“Oh!?!?” my friend said, eyebrow raised.
I felt something was awry. “Whassup?”
“Well, I’ve had a call from a woman who is very upset that we’ve used a pic of her daughters on the cover”
Guffaws in the office, the meerkats popped up over their pc screens.
“She a loony?” I asked?
“No, she sounded pretty normal, just very pissed off” he replied. “Wanna give her a call?”
“Love to”
“Mind if I stay and listen?” he said, rather excitedly.
“Not at all, old bean”
He passed me the slip of paper with the woman’s number on it. As I dialed, three more interested chums pulled up chairs to listen to the action unfold. How would the new boy handle this one? Was the reader a nutter ? Was Bealing so hungover that day that he’d forgotten what his kids looked like?

Modern digital  IP phone (isolated on white)

Let’s not use the lady’s real name.

Mrs Trellis?”
“Good morning to you, Michael Bealing from The Times. I understand you called my colleague with a problem.”
“Yes, I DID” her hackles were in the upright position—notsomuch as a ‘good morning’. “I’d like to know how and why you have use a photograph of my daughters in your newspaper?”
“Erm… I’m afraid we didn’t, Mrs Trellis, they’re my daughters”
“NO THEY ARE NOT. That is my photograph of my twin daughters, taken over 20 years ago.”
I was a model of calm and restraint.
“I’m sorry, but they really are my daughters. That’s Kate on the left, and her elder sister Lucy on the right. It was taken about twelve years ago.”
That’s impossible” she barked “My daughters are twenty-four!”
I hesitated as I tried to work out what that meant. My workmates could see I was perplexed. One of them was making little circles with his index finger around his temple area, querying the woman’s sanity.
She went again “I have that exact picture of my girls in a cardboard box. Even their haircuts are the same!”

(Even the haircuts are the same????? Kate was 9 months old—she’d never had a haircut!)

“Honestly, Mrs Trellis, I took that photo of my girls in the box years ago, I guess a lot of children like cardboard boxes.”
I was inches from offering to send her a copy of the photo, but then thought “Sod it”. And a good job too, cos in a flash she relented
“Well I suppose I’ll just have to believe you” and with that she hung up. It was over as quick as that. I would have offered my apologies again for her mistake, perhaps my phone number, and I don’t-know-what, but I was hoping I could convince her and placate her. But she’d gone. Buggered off. Vanished, like an old oak table, to coin a phrase.


You know when you know you’re right, when you know black is black then someone comes to you with such conviction that black is, in fact, white and you start doubting yourself? Well, that’s how I felt. She’d made me doubt what I knew to be fact. I had a mental image of Mrs Trellis, steam pumping our of her ears, crawling around the attic looking for that photo album to find that picture. For the rest of the day I kept one eye on the phone in case she called back triumphantly, having found the pic and demanded compensation and a written apology in the newspaper (not what a new boy needs in his first couple of weeks on the firm). Luckily, no such call came.

My colleagues and I resumed work on our next story. It was about the merits of breast feeding vrs the bottle. We chose a lovely photo for the cover: a delicate close-up of a baby suckling from a mother’s breast. Baby’s eyes wide-open, lips clasped around the nipple. Beautiful, classy, classic and very tasteful. I just pray to God that it’s not Mrs Trellis and her daughter.