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RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: Here’s to Fleet Street’s finest (and that includes you) 

Reading the supplements celebrating 125 glorious years of the Daily Mail has been like watching my life flash before me.

Not that I’ve been around for 125 years, although sometimes it feels like it.

The lovingly recreated highlights of this newspaper’s, and our nation’s, history have transported me on a sentimental journey.

For instance, I was reminded of the first time I encountered in the flesh the Grande Dame of Fleet Street, Ann Leslie.

I was assigned (condemned?) to spend a month on Neil Kinnock’s battle bus during the 1987 election campaign. Ann was parachuted in for a day, sweeping on board like a Spanish galleon under full sail.

The lovingly recreated highlights of this newspaper’s, and our nation’s, history have transported me on a sentimental journey

Despite seemingly spending most of her time dealing loudly with some domestic crisis, after commandeering the Mail political reporter’s cumbersome mobile telephone, she managed to produce an impeccable hatchet job on the hapless Labour leader for the following morning’s paper.

Like everything she touched, it was insightful and elegantly written. Later we were to become firm friends and colleagues.

Ann is just one of the roll call of Fleet Street legends featured over the past six editions. Some, like the brilliant Ian Wooldridge and the wonderful Lynda Lee-Potter, I have been privileged to know. Others I have known only by reputation.

On Saturday, we featured Rex North’s marvellous dispatch from HMS Belfast during the D-Day landings. His was a name I’ve been aware of for most of my career, but to my eternal shame until this week I had no idea he had been a war correspondent. I always thought of him as a gossip columnist.

In the early 1970s, I worked for a provincial news agency in Peterborough run by former Fleet Street hack Rex Needle. 

One of Needle’s proudest possessions was a framed herogram from North when he wrote for Rex North’s Diary in the Sunday Mirror.

Monday’s supplement reproduced Vincent Mulchrone’s legendary ‘two rivers’ report on Winston Churchill lying in state. I felt as if I knew it off by heart.

It used to hang on the wall of the bar named in honour of Mulchrone at the Harrow pub, off Fleet Street, where as a young industrial correspondent on the Evening Standard I would often meet my colleagues from the rival Evening News for a mid-morning heart-starter.

I was assigned (condemned?) to spend a month on Neil Kinnock’s battle bus during the 1987 election campaign. Ann was parachuted in for a day, sweeping on board like a Spanish galleon under full sail. Mr Kinnock is pictured above

I was assigned (condemned?) to spend a month on Neil Kinnock’s battle bus during the 1987 election campaign. Ann was parachuted in for a day, sweeping on board like a Spanish galleon under full sail. Mr Kinnock is pictured above

Perhaps the greatest of them all was Edgar Wallace, who covered the Boer War for the Mail before decamping to Hollywood and writing King Kong.

One of Wallace’s most devoted admirers was Keith Waterhouse, the columnists’ columnist, also formerly of this parish. In the volume of his memoirs covering his arrival in Fleet Street, Keith writes about making a point of paying homage to the Edgar Wallace memorial plaque at Ludgate Circus — a ritual he would repeat over the years.

Wallace’s job description reads simply: ‘Reporter.’ Underneath is engraved: ‘Of his talents he gave lavishly to authorship — but to Fleet Street he gave his heart.’

That’s a sentiment which I am certain could be applied to all those whose work has been featured this week. They are first and foremost reporters, and Fleet Street is their spiritual home.

Reading the immaculate copy filed by Mulchrone, Wallace, Wooldridge and Leslie reminds those of us still chipping away at the wordface of the standards to which we must aspire daily.

The Mail's former offices just off Fleet Street in central London

The Mail’s former offices just off Fleet Street in central London

But journalists privileged to work front-of-house must acknowledge that none of it would be possible without our colleagues who toil in the engine room — the sub-editors, the secretaries, the artists, the printers, the delivery drivers.

Nor would our endeavours have much purpose were it not for the most important element in the newspaper equation — the loyalty of our magnificent army of readers. Over the past 125 years, the Mail has run countless campaigns, which could not have been successful without your wholehearted support.

Time and again, Mail readers have demonstrated their overwhelming generosity, most recently giving £160,000 in just six days to our appeal to establish a lasting, multi-faith memorial to our Covid dead.

It’s not just the financial donations, either. I can remember Keith Waterhouse writing a column lamenting the fact that he could no longer obtain new ribbons for his trusty sit-up-and-beg typewriter. Within days, he was inundated with ribbons from readers all over Britain.

You also provide so much of the inspiration and, indeed, raw material. I get hundreds of emails and letters each week, not just commenting on what I’ve written but offering ideas, jokes, cuttings from local newspapers — some of which end up in the column or supply the spark for one of Gary’s fabulous cartoons.

So let me thank you, from all of us at the Mail. I’ve said it before and it’s worth saying again as we celebrate a landmark anniversary: this column, this newspaper, simply wouldn’t be the same without you.

Here’s to the next 125 years.

Earlier this week, I toyed with the idea of asking Gary to draw a cartoon for Tuesday’s column to go with a story about Morris dancers being forced to swap the traditional blackface for blue make-up.

The Eagle Hook Morris Men, from Hampshire, took the decision under pressure from the Morris Federation. 

Blackface dates back to the 15th century, when farmworkers used to smear their faces with soot to conceal their identity when begging illegally for money. But after ‘considerable soul-searching’ the federation has caved in to Black Lives Matter protests.

Anyway, with Gary keen to draw leatherjacket larvae fighting with Oak Processionary Mods, I decided it would keep until Friday.

Earlier this week, I toyed with the idea of asking Gary to draw a cartoon for Tuesday’s column to go with a story about Morris dancers being forced to swap the traditional blackface for blue make-up

Earlier this week, I toyed with the idea of asking Gary to draw a cartoon for Tuesday’s column to go with a story about Morris dancers being forced to swap the traditional blackface for blue make-up

My plan was that it would be illustrated by Smurfs waving ‘Blue Lives Matter’ placards. Then I turned to Tuesday’s letters page and read this ‘Straight To The Point’ from Keith Langley, in Nottingham: ‘The Smurfs have lodged a complaint of cultural misappropriation after Morris dancers painted their faces blue rather than black.’

Great minds, eh? Still, it’s too good an idea to go to waste. So, Keith, this one’s for you.

Where are you all coming from . . ?

After news that lockdown has led to more people turning to drink, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has declared: ‘There is currently no evidence that drinking alcohol interferes with the efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccines.’ Thank goodness for that. We’re safe!

With the Tories making little or no effort to recapture the London mayor’s office, I couldn’t see why I should bother voting.

The pollsters had that two-bob chancer Genghis Khan as a shoo-in, so there didn’t seem much point.

My vote would have gone to the actor Laurence Fox — young Hathaway from Lewis.

Fox talks a great deal of ‘anti-woke’ sense, but stood no chance this time round.

Still, maybe a few years down the line, there could be a future for Hathaway and his Reclaim Party.

Don’t forget, Nigel Farage and Ukip were considered a joke 20-odd years ago — and look how that turned out.

Minder how you go, Tracy

The Lib Dems grassed up Labour’s candidate for West Yorkshire mayor for giving away brownies on the campaign trail.

Police investigated, but decided Tracy Brabin, a former Coronation Street actress, hadn’t broken electoral law.

Labour leader Max Headroom, a lawyer, said he was surprised anyone had taken the complaint seriously.

She’s lucky Cheerful Charlie Chisholm wasn’t on the case. What we have here is another example of Life Imitating Minder.

In the classic episode The Balance Of Power, Arthur stands for the local council only to be disqualified when Chisholm discovers he’s been bribing voters with boxes of chocolate he had lying around the lock-up.

Naturally, the choccies were well past their sell-by date. Just like Max Headroom’s Labour Party.

The RAF has announced plans to hit net-zero emissions within two decades. Quite how they are going to achieve that remains to be seen, since no one has yet come up with an electric fighter jet. Maybe they’re going to send out a squadron of hang-gliders over Iraq. Or catapult pilots from the decks of former aircraft carriers.

Chocks away!


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