Gosh. Wasn’t the choir wonderful? Jim would have loved it. Bruce Springsteen was his favourite musician.
But now for something completely different.
Most of us here today know Nicholas Tomalin’s Prescription for Success in Journalism… rat-like cunning, a plausible manner and a little literary ability.
Jim wouldn’t mind me saying he had all of these in spades. But he also had one other vital quality for success in the Street of Shame….the ability to laugh at the madcap nature of luck that can lift you up or down the snakes and ladders of the newspaper world.
So we think he will be laughing up there in the hereafter at the passage chosen from Scoop – Evelyn Waugh’s satire on the hectic pursuit of hot news.
To set the scene, Salter, the Daily Beast’s hapless foreign editor, has been charged by Lord Copper, the paper’s owner, with sending his star reporter, Boot, to cover a war in darkest Africa.
Sadly, Salter has briefed the wrong Boot – the one who writes about pets. In other words, a classic Fleet Street muck up.
But there is worse. The wrong Boot if refusing to go, which will get Salter in trouble with his boss. Well, we’ve all been there.
So, a desperate Salter resorts to the dark arts of executive persuasion. He threatens Boot with the sack but offers the balm of lavish expenses if he will do the job….a persuasive technique I suspect also familiar to many here today…
‘Listen,’ said Mr Salter. ‘I don’t think you have fully understood the situation. Lord Copper is particularly interested in your work and, to be frank, he insists on your going. We are willing to pay a very fair salary. Fifty pounds a week was the sum suggested.’
‘Gosh,’ said William.
‘And think what you can make on your expenses,’ urged Mr Salter. ‘At least another twenty. I happened to see Hitchcock’s expense sheet when he was working for us in Shanghai. He charged three hundred pounds for camels alone.’
‘But I don’t think I shall know what to do with a camel.’
Mr Salter saw he was not making his point clear. ‘Take a single example,’ he said. ‘Supposing you want to have dinner. Well, you go to a restaurant and do yourself proud, best of everything. Bill perhaps may be two pounds. Well, you put down five pounds for entertainment on your expenses. You’ve had a slap-up dinner, you’re three pounds to the good, and everyone is satisfied.’
‘But you see I don’t like restaurants and no one pays for dinner at home anyway. The servants just bring it in.’
‘Or supposing you want to send flowers to your girl. You just go to a shop, send a great spray of orchids and put them down as “Information”.’
‘But I haven’t got a girl and there are heaps of flowers at home.’ He looked at his watch again. ‘Well, I’m afraid I must be going. You see I have a day-return ticket. I tell you what I’ll do. I’ll consult my family and let you know in a week or two.’
‘Lord Copper wants you to leave tomorrow.’
‘Oh. I couldn’t do that anyway, you know. I haven’t packed or anything. And I daresay I should need some new clothes. Oh, no, that’s out of the question.’
‘We might offer a larger salary.’
‘Oh, no thank you. It isn’t that. It’s just that I don’t want to go.’
‘Is there nothing you want?’
‘D’you know, I don’t believe there is. Except to keep my job in Lush Places and go on living at home.’
It was a familiar cry; during his fifteen years of service with the Megalopolitan Company Mr Salter had heard it upon the lips of countless distressed colleagues; upon his own. In a moment of compassion he remembered the morning when he had been called from his desk in Clean Fun, never to return to it. The post had been his delight and pride; one for which he believed he had a particular aptitude…. First he would open the morning mail and sort the jokes sent him by the private contributors (one man sent him thirty or forty a week) into those that were familiar, those that were indecent, and those that deserved the half-crown postal order payable upon publication. Then he would spend an hour or two with the bound Punches noting whatever seemed topical. Then the ingenious game began of fitting these legends to the funny illustrations previously chosen for him by the Art Editor. Serene and delicate sunrise on a day of tempest! From this task of ordered discrimination he had been thrown into the ruthless, cut-throat, rough and tumble of the Beast Woman’s Page. From there, crushed and bedraggled, he had been tossed into the editorial chair of the Imperial and Foreign News…. His heart bled for William but he was true to the austere traditions of his service. He made the reply that had silenced so many resentful novices in the past.
‘Oh, but Lord Copper expects his staff to work wherever the best interests of the paper call them. I don’t think he would employ anyone of whose loyalty he was doubtful, in any capacity.’
‘You mean if I don’t go to Ishmaelia I get the sack?’
‘Yes,’ said Mr Salter. ‘In so many words that is exactly what I–what Lord Copper means…. Won’t you have a glass of port before we return to the office?’