Some further tales that were edited out of my over-written first crack at Deadlines will gradually be added here. Other relevant snippets arising from day to day news will also slide in. Any further news on Wellington Z1110 and its six crew will be posted under Updates. Meanwhile……
An Epistle from an Earl….
The obituary pages of The Times inform me that The Honourable Grania Maeve Rosaura Guinness, Dowager Marchioness of Normandy, died in January at the age of 97. Her grandfather was Lord Iveagh of the Guinness brewing family. Last year I discovered that my Dad had exchanged correspondence with the 2nd Earl of Iveagh at the end of the war. The reply he received in Italy is now with the Iveagh family archive in Suffolk.
Seven months after the war ended in Europe, Dad was still in Italy where he had been a motorbike despatch rider with The Royal Corps of Signals. He was based in a family home in Asolo in the Veneto region of north Italy. The house was requisitioned by the Army as the Allies pushed north. The owners were back in Britain – Rupert Edward Cecil Lee Guinness, the 2nd Earl of Iveagh and his wife Gwendolen.
It appears that Dad wrote to the Earl to say that the British Army was now using his Veneto home and that the building had not been damaged in the fighting. Indeed the soldiers, including a group who were planning to become Anglican priests once they got home, were enjoying the property and its gardens and were looking after it.
In April 1946, a letter arrived for `Dr` W Fitz H Curtis at the Rear HQ for the 13 Corps in Asolo. It was a `thank you` letter from the 2nd Earl of Iveagh who was living at Pyrford Court near Woking in Surrey. The envelope also included two calling cards – one for the Earl and one for the Countess of Iveagh both of `11 St James`s Square, S.W.`
`My wife and I are most grateful to you for writing to us about Asolo. We have been amazingly fortunate in that, not only did our house escape damage during the war, but that it has been occupied, as it has been during these last months. It has been a double advantage to know that it is being cared for – and that it is being put to so useful a purpose.`
They looked forward to seeing it again and were sure that everyone who was working there would remember the place fondly – St Georges House, the little walled town of Asolo and Monte Grappa. Asolo is called the ‘city of a hundred horizons’ and ‘pearl of the Veneto’ – a town beloved by generations of poets, artists, writers and composers. During the Second World War, the Partisans sought refuge on Monte Grappa. Here the Nazis killed a huge number of soldiers, and those who had not been killed in battle were publicly hanged at Bassana del Grappa.
I found this letter and the calling cards among some family papers years after my Dad died. Some research led me to the Elvedon estate in Suffolk owned by the current Earl of Iveagh (the 4th), known to his family as Edward or Ned. Rupert and Gwendolen Iveagh were his grandparents who died in 1967 and 1963 respectively. He said it was a `tremendously kind act` of Dad to bother to write and described the letter and cards from his grandparents as a `little gem`. I have donated it to the Iveagh family archive.
Plucked from Chapter 1 Picture in a Frame…..
`My Dad always kept a photograph of his brother on his study desk at the Vicarage. This faded photo witnessed the full names for the christenings (Robert Andrew Scarborough Ferris, anyone?), the couple`s bliss of the impending wedding banns, and the undertaker`s latest list of departures.`
So begun a paragraph in the first chapter of Deadlines. Robert Andrew Scarborough Ferris was the full name of Bob Ferris, one of The Likely Lads. In the television comedy `Whatever happened to the Likely Lads`, written by Dick Clement and Ian Le Frenais and first broadcast across 1973 and 1974, Bob aspired to greater respectability and middle class status. His friend Terry Collier, back in Newcastle upon Tyne after five years in the Army, hung onto his working class roots and ridiculed Bob`s pretensions. The series attracted 27 million viewers.
Bob never told Terry his full name. So Terry (played by James Bolam) made sure he was in the church when the wedding banns of Bob and Thelma were read out by the vicar. `Scarborough?` roared Terry from a pew at the back, somewhat disrupting the solemnity of the occasion. In the pub later, Bob revealed that the middle name of Scarborough alluded to the seaside resort where he was conceived. I guess he was lucky he was not conceived in…….well, you choose.
Bob Ferris was played by Rodney Bewes who died at his home in Cornwall in November 2017. He was six days away from his 80th birthday. In one of Bob`s most memorable and lugubrious lines, he lamented: `In the chocolate box of life the top layer’s already gone. And someone’s pinched the orange crème from the bottom.`
Edited from Chapter 15 Postcards of Scarborough…..
I spent the evening of the Great Storm of 1987 in the company of Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Roger McGuinn and John Peel. The storm was the worst to hit Britain in nearly 300 years with gusts of up to 115 miles an hour. Eighteen people lost their lives and 15 million trees were flattened.
At Wembley Arena on the night of 15th October 1987, Bob Dylan appeared to be in a blustery mood. Supported by Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, he hurricaned into an initially unrecognisable `Blowin` in the Wind`. It was an apt choice which gave more clues to what was to come weather-wise later that evening than Mr Fish`s unfortunate television prediction.
Dylan was dressed as if he had been blown through a hedge backwards. It took a while to recognise some songs as they no longer resembled the original studio versions. It was, shall I say, a challenging and unpredictable experience which I nevertheless warmed to in seat D105 in Block 75.
Radio 1 DJ John Peel, sitting on the row behind me, hated it. Peel wrote a review for The Observer in which he lambasted Dylan as irrelevant, a has-been and an embarrassment. He said `Being an enigma at 20 is fun, being an enigma at 30 shows a lack of imagination, and being an enigma at Dylan`s age is just plain daft.` I don`t think he mentioned the contribution from the Byrds founder Roger McGuinn or the set by Tom Petty and his band. He got a lot of what we used to call `hate mail` about his review. Now it would be a `social media storm`.
A gentle breeze was wafting down Oxford Street about 11pm as I headed back to the hotel after the Wembley concert. Apparently half an hour earlier, the impending storm had changed course and was now heading north towards the UK. By the time I surfaced next morning, it had rampaged across the south of England and was starting to blow itself out over the North Sea. I had slept through it all.
I was heroically on the `first train out of Kings Cross` later that morning, heading for Newark and eventually Lincoln. The county of Lincolnshire escaped relatively lightly but East Anglia took a battering. I remember being a shocked a couple of years later at the `disappearance` of the forests around the Woodbridge and Bentwaters air bases in Suffolk. The following night Bob Dylan included his song `Shelter from the Storm` in his set list – he has always had a sense of humour.
(Note: Thirty years on from the night of the Great Storm and that Wembley concert……Tom Petty has died suddenly after a cardiac arrest on 2nd October – the day after the Las Vegas shootings. The country star Jason Aldean, who was on stage when the gunman opened fire, later paid tribute to the dead and wounded by playing the Tom Petty song `I won`t back down` on the `Saturday Night Live` national television show.)
Another Wellington crew member who was killed during the war and never found was the 21 year old brother of Sir Bruce Forsyth. The story came to light again with the death of the entertainer in August 2017.
John Forsyth and his crew were practising laying mines off the Scottish coast near Turnberry in May 1943. One of the three Wellingtons ditched into the sea and the two other aircraft went back to help with the search and rescue operation. These two aircraft collided. There were 18 aircrew in the three Wellingtons – only seven were picked up. Flt Sgt John Forsyth-Johnson, to use the full family name, was not one of the lucky ones. Sir Bruce said he never forgot his brother for a moment.
In the last chapter Debrief, I explained some chapter titles: `Glamour Profession` is a song by the American rock band Steely Dan, formed by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker in New York in 1972. The song, which has nothing to do with journalism, association football or being a fighter pilot, would be on the shortlist for my Desert Island Discs selections. Of course the name Becker is part of the Colin Curtis story. I wonder…..`
What I was wondering was whether in some complicated and convoluted family tree, Walter Becker had a long lost connection with Ludwig Becker, the Luftwaffe night fighter expert who shot down Colin`s Wellington bomber. Walter Becker died on 3rd September 2017 aged 67. None of the obituaries revealed anything of the family tree beyond stating that his father Henry imported office machinery from Germany. According to The Times, his British mother, Joan, abandoned her husband and son when he was a small boy and returned to England, leaving him to be raised by his father and grandmother. His father was a distant figure who was frequently absent on business in Germany, but they grew closer after he had a heart attack when Becker was 16.
Donald Fagen (now 70) said in his tribute to his musical partner in Steely Dan: `Walter had a very rough childhood — I’ll spare you the details.’
Edited from Chapter 26 What`s Going On…..
Middle Wallop July 1982. The middle of the Wallops, north of Nether and east of Over in deepest Hampshire. I am helping the IAT commentary team again in support of the Greenham Common organisation who are putting on an air show on behalf of the Army. It is a punishing three day enterprise.
One night a hangar is turned into a disco plus a live band to entertain the volunteers and the Wallop-based troops. It was also an era when a night to remember in an aircraft hangar was enhanced by a couple of exotic dancers. I wander outside for a breath of fresh air and amble over to inspect a Wasp helicopter by floodlight. Out of the darkness comes the sound of a heavy boot and a clear `Hold It There!`
It`s an army policeman – nicknamed a Redcap on account of the scarlet on their peaked caps. They are not the most welcome sight to a tired and emotional squaddie lurching back to barracks after a night on the town. This one is polite and courteous. No, I am not going to swat the Wasp or even pat it. `How`s it going in there?` he nods towards the hangar where The Pointer Sisters `Slowhand` is sliding off the turntable.
`Ah, well you know. Loud and hot…..’ He bemoans his lot, nailed to the night shift guarding the static display until dawn while his colleagues down pints and strut their stuff. I confess to being with the commentary team and say we can give the night shift a mention tomorrow – up all night ensuring the safety and security of Middle Wallop so that you, the great British public, can enjoy your day today. `Blow the girls a kiss for me,’ he mutters and melts back into the night.
I circle round to the back of the hangar, unwilling to return anywhere near to the dance floor as `Come on Eileen` takes over. In through the out door and I appear to be backstage. I push another door and it is opened for me. `Can we help you?` says one of the dancers. `Oh hello…..,` I stammer. `You can come in if you want to. You won`t see much more in `ere than you will out there.`
I stay. Some bouncer called Eric comes in but she waves him away. I go into journalistic mode and start to interview them. Well, ask them questions about their lives. She says her name is Eileen. The disco sounds as though it has moved on to `Bette Davis Eyes` so she would probably have been Bette if I had turned up a couple of minutes later. I report that I had two Auntie Eileens when I was growing up. In fact I think there were three. Bloody loads of Auntie Eileens. She adjusts some tassles and offers me a cigarette. I recognise that I am on the cover of an early Tom Waits LP called `Small Change`.
I offer to give them a mention from the commentary tower tomorrow. `What would you say about us then?` Er, a big thank you to everyone working back stage at Army Air `82. The military policemen and women who secured the airfield overnight….and all the display teams and, er, exhibitors who have performed so enthusiastically over the weekend. They won`t be around to hear it anyway. After the show here, it is straight off to some hotel near Portsmouth and a pub show tomorrow lunchtime. They will be driven there by Eric in his Ford Cortina. `That`s her name – Tina,` says Eileen nodding at the quiet one. What are your real names? It doesn`t really matter. `Eileen` kisses me on the forehead and whispers `Enjoy the show` as she glides past. In time-honoured journalistic fashion, I make my excuses and leave, watching the rather unexotic show from the bar at the back, clutching a double bourbon.
Edited from Chapter 10 South West Approaches…..
A lot of information contained within these (personal contacts) books was quite `sensitive` but was given to journalists on the understanding that it was respected as confidential. In Cornwall, we all had the home number of Sir John Nott, the Defence Secretary who offered to resign after the Argentina invaded the Falklands. Nott was a local MP, representing St Ives from 1966 to 1983 when he stood down. In Lincolnshire, I had the phone number of the former Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon, who lived near the county boundary. He agreed to an interview with me about the state of the RAF shortly after he retired from the service in 1997. Twenty years on, Sir Michael is still articulately expressing concern about the state of the RAF.
During my time at BBC Radio Oxford, we had some high profile Conservatives in our patch like Douglas Hurd (my MP in Witney) and Michael Heseltine who lived near Banbury but was Conservative MP for Henley-on-Thames. Airey Neave, who was Margaret Thatcher`s confidante and her Northern Ireland spokesman, was the MP for Abingdon. Neave, who was the first British officer to escape from Colditz prison in 1942, was assassinated by the Irish National Liberation Army in March 1979. They hid a device on his car which exploded a bomb as he drove up the ramp of Parliament`s underground car park.
I got the last radio interview with Airey Neave. On Wednesday 28th March 1979, James Callaghan`s Labour Government lost a Vote of No Confidence and a general election was called which Margaret Thatcher went on to win. As the late reporter on that Wednesday, I had arranged to ring up some of our MPs to get their reaction to the Common`s vote. I got Airey Neave on the line for a two minute recorded interview for the following morning`s Breakfast Show. Two days later Airey Neave was dead.
Sometime around 1990, John Major came into BBC Radio Lincolnshire when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was in Lincoln for a Tory constituency event and agreed to come in for an interview first. I did the `meet and greet` and later collected him from the studio and steered him to the manager`s office where he was offered a drink. A few years later as Prime Minister, he was frustrated by Euro-sceptics including the Lincolnshire MP Sir Richard Body, who rebelled against Major`s Europe policies. Major is reported to have said of the long-standing member for Holland with Boston: `Whenever I see him approaching, I hear the flapping of white coats.`
Douglas Hurd once referred to Sir Richard Body in a radio interview as `Dick` Body which initially took me by surprise. Having reported on his activities as a young newspaper reporter (I actually started one pre-election meeting report with the line `It`s a long way from Butterwick to Westminster….`) and then later as News Editor of BBC Radio Lincolnshire, it was the first time I had ever heard him abbreviated and called `Dick`. He was difficult to deal with and you never were sure which Body was going to wash up on any given day. On one occasion during the recording of an interview over the phone with one of my reporters, he took exception to the questioning and decided he would never talk to us again. Good story. He did, of course.
Edited from Chapter 18 Glamour Profession…..
The celebrated football commentator John Motson is also a `Son of the Cloth`. His father Bill was a Methodist minister and was born and grew up in the aforementioned village of Swineshead near Boston. Bill supported Boston United and his nearest `big` club which was then Derby County. `Motty` was quoted many years ago as saying that he always looked out for the Boston United result, now in the Vanarama National League (North) below the Conference. I always check it out too, along with Oxford Utd, Hull City and Lincoln City.
Living in Filey, I sometimes boarded the coach that took locals to watch Hull City. This was a challenging journey if it was the Sunderland fixture. Manchester City came for an FA Cup third round match in January 1970. Seven months later Manchester United were the visitors to the old Boothferry Park on a Wednesday evening in the Watney Cup. George Best was in the United team, along with Bobby Charlton, Alex Stepney, Nobby Stiles, Denis Law and Pat Crerand. They eventually won that semi-final on penalties after extra time – and went on to lose the final to Derby County only three days later.
Hull City featured their legendary twin strikers Chris Chilton and Ken Wagstaff (`Waggy`), and goalkeeper Ian McKechnie whose goal was regularly showered with oranges at the start of each game. Home fans had spotted him eating an orange after training one morning and decided it would funny to provide him with more, some including telephone numbers from female fans and others with messages of good luck. One Hull fan was arrested at an away game for throwing an orange on the pitch. McKechnie wrote to the court in his defence to explain this odd ritual.
(Note: 72 year old John Motson announced in September 2017 that he was retiring from fulltime commentary work at the end of the current season. He has been at it for 50 years).
Edited out of Chapter 10 South West Approaches……..
So you fancy doing a long walk for charity? And you need sponsors and support – and publicity. How about a really original route like John O`Groats to Land`s End? Fantastic – let`s tell the media including your local BBC radio station and BBC Scotland.
When Radio Cornwall went `on-air` in January 1983, little did the newsroom team suspect how much we would be in demand from our BBC colleagues around the country. How many of us picked up the ringing phone to hear `Hi, it`s Radio Lancashire! Someone from our patch is doing a charity walk from John O`Groats to Land`s End. And we wondered if you could cover his arrival for us?`
`Hello, it`s Radio Kent. We have a war veteran who is doing a sponsored walk from Land`s End to John O`Groats. We wondered if one of your reporters could do a piece for us as he sets off from Land`s End? It is for charity.`
There were about 40 BBC local radio station when we opened Radio Cornwall, plus the national newsrooms. They all thought nothing ever happened in Cornwall except people starting or finishing bleedin` (feet) charity walks at Land`s End. Our news editor put his foot down, so to speak. He announced that we would only cover them if they were doing something extraordinary like licking the tarmac all the way.
Edited out of Chapter 10 South West Approaches……..
In the months before Radio Cornwall opened, British troops had returned from the Falklands conflict and that campaign and its casualties were still raw and fresh in the mind for many people in Cornwall, especially those with links to Culdrose and the Navy and Marines at Plymouth. So it was very ill-judged to say the least for one of our team, on an anonymous night out in a pub on the Roseland peninsular, to write the name `Col. Galtieri` on a raffle ticket. Colonel Galtieri was the Argentinian dictator who had ordered the invasion of the Falklands.
No one would have known (including the rest of his group) that he had used the dictator`s name but for the fact that he won. The pub landlord running the raffle looked at the ticket and shouted `Colin Galt or something like that.` Our colleague unwisely arose to claim his prize and explain that writing `Col. Galtieri` was a joke. The pub fell silent. He got his coat.
Edited from Chapter 6 Life Short Call Now…..
Seven months earlier (August 1974) on the same day that Richard Nixon resigned as U.S. President, the station commander of RAF Coningsby and his navigator were killed when their Phantom collided with a crop spraying aircraft. The pilot of the Piper Pawnee crop sprayer also died in the accident over Fordham Fen near Downham Market in Norfolk. It happened on a Friday afternoon so it would be nearly a week before the next Lincolnshire Standard would be published. The story vied for top billing in the Boston edition with the funeral the following Wednesday of a local motorcyclist associated with the Hell`s Angels who had died in a road accident the week before.
There was some editorial debate (I was too junior at the time to be involved) as to which should be the lead story and main front page photographs. Should it be the funeral cortege with pictures of long-haired helmetless friends of the motorcyclist bringing Boston to a halt as nearly 20 bikes joined the cortege? Or should it be the photographs of two smartly uniformed RAF officers with short back and sides from the RAF base with the Freedom of Boston who had also lost their lives? The Editor decided that the motorcyclist story edged it although both shared the front page in a contrasting show of lifestyle.
Edited from Chapter 11 Mrs Simpson played the organ…..
National newspapers used to have a small spot on the front page for `Late News` which was usually just one line in red. They did not like to leave the slot empty as it might imply they were not on the ball. In the dirty, noisy way of producing newspaper in years gone by, type setters slotted `slugs` of hot metal bearing the words and adverts into a tray before running the whole page through the printing works. One editor was said to have an emergency metal bar in his pocket to ensure the Late News box was never empty. It said simply: `Snow fell in the Cairngorms yesterday`.
When a big story broke in your patch, the nationals would descend mob-handed. Despite most of these journalists starting on local papers, they forgot about local sensitivities in the scramble to get one over on their Fleet Street rivals. Years of good contacts and hard-earned respect in the local community could be swept away overnight as national reporters `door-stepped` bewildered locals and seized on small points for a hopelessly exaggerated opening paragraph, complimented by an exploding headline.
Back in the old days, they came with money and expense accounts, racking up impressive figures in bar bills in the local hostelries. When the story about the Lincolnshire nurse who got 13 life sentences for murdering and harming children first broke in 1991, I allocated one Radio Lincolnshire reporter to follow it all through to the end. One national newspaper simply bought a house in the child killer`s home village as a base for its team. After the trial finished two years later, it just sold it again.
For many of us, the paper round was our first paid work. We arose early and went out into the cold winter dawn whatever the elements to tramp the streets, stuffing newspapers through letter boxes.
We quickly learnt which addresses demanded some special care. Some had springy letterboxes that snapped back at your fingers. Others had rabid dogs that leapt at the slot as the paper sailed through. You edged it open then hit the rolled up paper with the palm of your hand, launching it across the hall and annoying the dog even more.
If you did a paper round in north Oxford, you had to have some strength. The roads linking the Banbury Road and the Woodstock Road were stuffed full of university academics and wealthy business people. They did not take The Sun or The Mirror – and very few took The Daily Mail or The Express. Oh no, their daily reading was The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian and The Times, still a broadsheet around 1980 (it went tabloid in 2003).
The bulk of the bags slung round the necks of these stoic youngsters doing a paper round were consequently vast. They were particularly heavy on a Sunday when their orange bags were full of The Observer and The Sunday Times with all their supplements and magazines. One of our news team at BBC Radio Oxford saw a heavy laden red-faced paperboy struggling on his bike and thought it might be make a feature for the breakfast show. It did – and hopefully increased the Christmas tips for those gallant souls.
Nearly 40 years on, I was reminded of this story while doing a paper round myself. I help out my local newsagent Yunus occasionally when his delivery team is reduced by illness or holiday or when the papers are late from London. It gives a purpose to an early morning stride round the neighbourhood and reminds me that much of my working life involved bringing the news to people. Instead of coming out of the radio speaker, I am posting the news through the letterbox.
One Monday, I had 15 deliveries in my bag. The following day, I turned up to do the same route and the same letterboxes but the pile of papers seemed bigger and certainly heavier. Of course! It was the day after the announcement of the engagement of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle – and most of the tabloids were breathlessly trumpeting souvenir editions and 24 page supplements. Thank you, Your Royal Highness…..