Friday, 22 May 2015

Tabloid Secrets

I was most interested to read this book, largely because the News of the World, whatever you thought about it, was a phenomenon. I think that's the right word. There never was another paper quite like it. I used to read it regularly. Even in the fairly short time since the paper closed, at the behest of its owner, well I won't bore you with why that happened, but there was phone hacking and a whole bunch of stuff, and I suppose the brand finally became tainted, the dead-tree press has become less relevant, and less important to people's lives, and perhaps as a consequence, people have become more credulous.

My grandfather, a butcher by trade who was of Welsh heritage and worked in the Harrods food hall in the last years of his working life, used to read the Daily Mirror. He read it every day, and was highly sceptical about what he read there. He thought the government mostly lied to the people, and that most of the papers copied out their lies most of the time. He was probably right. He used to like the News of the World too, but my grandmother wouldn't have it in the house because of its raunchy content, and because she thought reading it might give my grandfather "ideas" - what sort of ideas, she never said, though my brother and I used to try and persuade her to.

My parents used to read the Daily Sketch, and later on The Times. Most of the rest of our family thought they were getting above themselves for reading the "Top People's Paper", as it styled itself at one time. My father was fairly sceptical about what he read too, but less so than my grandfather had been. He used to wonder aloud about what was "meant" by what was published. He knew there was another message there under the headlines, but he wasn't quite sure what it was. My mother very rarely commented on the news. When the Profumo affair broke I was nine years old, and my parents got their "information" about it from the newspapers they read. I remember their rather clumsy attempts to use coded language when they talked about that story in front of their children. I think they were trying to avoid one of us asking "What's a call girl?"

I read newspapers when I was younger, to my shame the Guardian at one time, poisonous racist rag that it is, and I read The Times on line sometimes now - I get bored and let my subscription lapse, and then I start again - but newspapers aren't part of my life any more. I use public transport every day, and you never see people reading newspapers on there any more. Freesheet giveaways, maybe.

Neville Thurlbeck, sometime news editor and chief reporter on the News of the World, describes the old Fleet Street and tabloid reporting as a "vanished world", and so it is. Twitter and so on have more or less put paid to it. And we are all the more gullible as a result. Retweet something when you have no idea whether it is true or not, which people do every day in their millions, and where in all that is knowledge? There used to be a saying up north "some folks'll believe owt" I think it was, perhaps regional linguists can correct me (I'm from London and the South). And so they will.

If you read this book expecting to discover the vanished dark arts of story-getting, you will be disappointed, although the blurb tells you that is just what you will get. No. It gives you background on the chasing around that goes with breaking a tabloid story, David Beckham's affairs, that sort of thing. And as such is good fun, and rather interesting. I remember a lot of stories from the NotW (I was even in one once, the headline was "Woman On Top"), and it would have been great to find out some of the back stories, but most people are more interested in David Beckham than they are in some choirmaster being caught out fiddling with a choirboy. though they shouldn't be.

Of course, there was "the one that got away". A senior politician, whose sexuality was not what he made it out to be, allegedly, but who was never exposed. If he had been, the political landscape would have been "radically altered", we are told. Well, who might THAT be, then?

I think this book is rather a valuable contribution to the history of the media. Journalists, other than very pompous ones who think themselves historians and so on, don't usually write books that make a contribution to the sum of human knowledge. This one has.  


Anonymous said...

I must say I am now looking forward to it - and I am relieved that I am not featuring in its pages. From an on the edge 'inside' perspective at one time, I always remember how flustered the Sunday boys would get as the week trundled on to about Wednesday and as yet, they had not secured the splash that would keep their editors happy and themselves in a job. I also recall almost feeling a responsibility to assist - on one occasions blatantly feeding a totally false political defection story that made front page in two Sundays and also top item on Broadcasting House. I never met NT but feel as if I did, if that makes sense? Some of the journalists on NOW had beautifully exotic names that were absolutely authentic - such as 'Lewis Panther' and a woman writing at the same time with the surname of Fox. But was I ever devoted to the paper and have I missed it? The answer is not really but I have to admit to suffering almost physical withdrawal symptoms if deprived of The Daily Mail for a single day. Whenever abroad I take pride in being able to source a copy from the most unusual outlets and although I have, from time to time fallen out with it I could never keep up a grudge. It taught me to read aged about 4 and one could argue that it is still continuing to do so. But as for The Guardian - that is a very dark place and it is best not to go there. So I am looking forward to NTs' book and I hope that he returns to newspapers at some point in the future. Too many 'old style' journalistic scoundrels are now kicking their heels doing PR and sipping mineral water instead of drinking El Vino's dry. I salute them one and all.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous as above part 2)

Informative re things like the Marbeck/Beckham / Loos exposes; rather chilling on the Robin Cook section - but I never felt I got to 'know' any of the 'colleagues' (Wade/Coulson/Warren/Marunchak et al) - all of whom were described in very bland and uniformly laudatory tones. Were they ALL so wonderful and tip top at their jobs? I actually did 'know' myself three of those four but only on acquaintance and not really. Would have liked much more on the paper re personality/skulduggery etc. The best WRITING was by far the early part - background/miners with scarred backs etc. Perhaps that's the way to go now, Nev?