The Golden Age of Journalism

Don Short JournalistDon Short

Journalism has changed radically over the last 50 years. This is not news. The ‘Golden Age of Journalism’, so-called because of the thriving scope of newspapers and magazines and the associated ‘glamorous’ lifestyle of journalists in the 1960s, seems a world away from journalism today.

I interviewed Don Short, one of Fleet Street’s legendary journalists, to get a clearer perspective on the transformation of the profession.

Don Short worked as the Show Business Columnist on The Daily  Mirror in the 1960s. At the time, the Mirror had a circulation of over 5 million – more than all the other newspapers put together.

Not only did he have the chance to travel the world with Hollywood icons, but he was given carte-blanche to report on them. It was Short who coined the now ubiquitous term ‘Beatlemania’ to describe the excitement and hysteria that the band inspired among fans.

‘Journalism has entered a new age as everything is now on screen and online. When I was working as a reporter your main equipment was a notebook, your crucial contacts book, and a telephone kiosk if you could find one. It was always a matter of dashing to get to the telephone box first! You’d have copy-takers at the end of the phone in the office who would take your dictation as you told your story to them straight from your head as quickly as possible, while a queue of other journalists formed behind you urging you to hurry up. Of course now everyone has a mobile phone from which you can call or email so it’s much faster and more direct.’

‘The hours were quite different too: your shift might start at 9am and was set to go on until 6pm, but at 5.50pm you could be sent anywhere in the world to cover a breaking story. You could then be away for several days, so you always had to have an overnight bag ready.’

‘Fleet Street was a community in its own right, and had a fantastic atmosphere. Each paper had its own – unofficial – wine bar or pub.  So if you heard that a paper had a big exclusive and wanted to find out more, then you’d go to the relevant pub. The Daily Mirror’s was the White Hart (known as ‘the stab in the back’) and there would often be physical fights between journalists over stories!’

The Golden Age of Journalism certainly seemed very glamorous indeed…

‘We always stayed in the best hotels with the stars, you had to do that otherwise you made yourself detached from the story. Although I once worked on a story about Elizabeth Taylor when she was in Paris, and she always stayed in the Lancaster Hotel, but I couldn’t get a room there at that time so I had to rough it and stay in the neighbouring Georges V hotel! [one of Paris’ most exclusive hotels] For the Cannes Film Festival I often stayed at the Carlton Hotel.  When I went to cover a story in New York I either stayed in The Plaza or the Waldorf Astoria. Another favourite was the Hotel Byblos Saint-Tropez.’

‘The Daily Mirror had two aeroplanes at Gatwick Airport on stand-by as part of a contract with Morton Air Services, which they could use as and when they needed them. One of which is now outside Croydon Airport on the Purley Way in Surrey. I had quite a few flights on that plane: I went to Austria to cover the story of a plane crash. I travelled with a photographer, whom I literally had to hold on to while he leaned out the plane door to take pictures of the scene below. And I also flew to Greece where a cruise liner had gone down.’

Showbiz Journalism is very different to how it used to be, partly because Hollywood has changed so much, as Don Short explains:

‘I don’t think Hollywood has the same aura as it used to as the stars are very different; some of their personalities seem rather vacuous compared to the characters of the 1960s and 70s.’

‘Now journalists often have to agree to terms and conditions when interviewing a celebrity: the publicist hands them certain stipulations before the interview and journalists must feel almost gagged by the parameters of the questions. I’m all in favour of journalists saying ‘No’ to having to agree to the set questions.  Journalists often want to discuss other areas of interest to colour their interviews, while the stars want to mainly talk about their latest show or album. Stars often wanted to see the story before it went to press, which is always problematic for a journalist.’

‘I remember Sophia Loren wanted to see her photographs to check her hair was in the right place and to make sure she was looking her best!’

Don Short described some of his best scoops:

‘I reported on the death of Brian Jones from The Rolling Stones.  He was found dead in the swimming pool of the house he’d rented in East Grinstead (which had previously belonged to A.A. Milne, the author of Winnie the Pooh.)  I was there within a couple of hours of the incident and I wrote up the story which went to press for the front page of the next day’s paper.’

‘I also broke the story of Elizabeth Taylor marrying Richard Burton; and the break-up of The Beatles’, Surrey resident Short said with much modesty.

The Golden Age of Journalism: so very aptly named.


Roy Greenslade The Guardian

This interview was featured in Roy Greenslade’s Media Blog on The Guardian Website on Wednesday 26th March 2014. Click here to see it.

*Although the piece says that Daily Mirror circulation figures are incorrect, I found the information here:

Daily Mirror circulation figures  (look at the top left hand story)
Picture Source: Hold the Front Page Blog

The Lemon Grove book review

The Lemon Grove book

Everyone is familiar with the sense of trepidation you get when you just know something is going to be a bit different and you have no control over it, but you can’t possibly explain just how it’s going to differ until it’s actually happening or has passed. And it’s how people act in those moments of change that can redefine us and alter our outlook on life.

The Lemon Grove revels in what can happen during those times of flux.

The story takes you on a summer holiday to a villa in Mallorca with a non-nuclear family: Jenn, our protagonist, her husband Greg, his teenage daughter Emma and her new boyfriend Nathan, the unknown and the stranger of the group. The novel cleverly observes how the dynamic changes when someone comes in and disturbs the ‘peace’ of a family who are not without their own tensions; Jenn frequently battles with the innate complexity of raising someone else’s child; Emma struggles with her own hormonal ‘weathervane’ moods and everyone has secrets. So how does one manage a stranger amongst the family as well as attempting to keep things relatively tranquil and enjoy a well-earned break simultaneously?

Helen Walsh’s answer is simple: you don’t.  Instead, you have lots of fun with them. You invert familial convention and direct little energy in resisting temptation. You focus on attaining the thing you desire, as Nathan very quickly becomes the object of Jenn’s extremely intense affections and fixations.

It’s a beautifully written and smartly constructed novel. You feel the plot progress with the same rhythm of Jenn’s (asthmatic) breaths. Disaster is contracted into a few words as it happens rapidly, which is in stark contrast to the long, atmospheric descriptive passages of the abundant lemon and olive groves in the heat.  The sense of place is a powerful one: you too feel like you are going up round the narrow, mountainous winding roads of Deià with everyone. As the family goes for a walk they find themselves close to the edge of a cliff, which proves to be a catalyst for action.  Afterwards their holiday happiness rests on similarly unstable ground.  Jenn is critical of her middle-aged body, feels very unhappy about her loss of youth, and, like her name, she feels abbreviated and incomplete, so vents her frustration by behaving recklessly.  Cue very steamy sauce on the sand!

The Lemon Grove is a fierce book which encompasses so much and manages it so well: it directly challenges the notion of entitlement; characters move in unexpected ways.

You’ll be gripped and you will love it!

The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh is released on 27th February 2014, published by Tinder Press, RRP £12.99.

My copy of ‘The Lemon Grove’ was kindly sent to me (on my request) to review.

Valentine’s Day Chocolate Fondant Recipe

Chocolate pudding with melt in the middle centre

Here is a recipe for what can only be described as the chocolate version of a hug.  A delicious chocolate sponge pudding with a melt-in-the-middle chocolate fondant centre. This recipe makes about six small puddings, so you can halve the amount if you’re just serving two. Obviously the smaller the ramekin dishes the more you’ll make. Serve with your favourite vanilla ice cream.

75g butter, softened
300g good quality milk chocolate (or 70% dark if you prefer)
75g light muscovado sugar
4 organic free range eggs
40g plain flour
Half a tsp vanilla extract
A chocolate truffle or a square of chocolate per ramekin dish
Optional: either 2 tbsp strong filtered coffee or Tia Maria

Preheat the oven to 190°C/400F/gas mark 6. Grease out the ramekins with extra butter.

Break the chocolate into pieces and melt in a bowl over a saucepan of water on a low heat. Place to one side.

Separate the egg whites and yolks into two bowls. Whisk the egg whites with an electric whisk until fluffy and starts to form soft peaks.

Place the softened butter, sugar and vanilla extract in a bowl and whisk together.  Add the egg yolks and stir.

Add the egg whites and whisk until smooth. Don’t over-whisk as the eggs will curdle!  Add the melted chocolate – check it’s cooled first – and mix together.

Sift in the flour and stir until smooth. Add the coffee or Tia Maria, if using.

Pour the mix into the ramekins filling each one three quarters full.

Place a mini chocolate truffle or a cube of chocolate in the middle of each one before putting them in the oven for 10 – 12 minutes.

A Taste of Art Exhibition at Guildford House Gallery

St Mary's Guildford by Henry Pether
St Mary’s Guildford by Henry Pether (Image from Guildford Borough Council) 

A local art exhibition has opened at Guildford House Gallery displaying beautiful images of Guildford past.

The collection includes paintings of the River Wey and atmospheric Surrey landscapes as well as ceramics from the borough art collection.

Landscape towards Peaslake by William HygeLandscape towards Peaslake by William Hyde (Image from Guildford Borough Council)

Guildford House Gallery lends itself nicely to the character of the paintings as it’s such a lovely building, with a fantastic feature staircase, intricate ceiling design and charming panelled walls.

‘A Taste of Art’ is on until 22nd March 2014.  Open Monday – Saturday 10am-4.45pm.  Free Entry.
T: 01483 444751. Guildford House, 155 High Street, Guildford GU1 3AJ.

Guildford Borough logo!

Liz Earle perfume set


2013 marked the centenary of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and to celebrate Liz Earle made this absolutely beautiful perfume, Botanical Essence No.100, which bottles the scent of a British flower shop. I first spotted it for sale in the RHS Wisley gift shop last year and it was love at first scent.

It’s not at all overpowering, yet the longevity of this perfume is truly remarkable. I sprayed some on my Fairisle scarf on Friday and on the following Monday I was greeted with the fresh smell of it once more; the top notes of mandarin and bergamot harmonise with comforting rose, light vanilla and sandalwood. I wish there was a way you could smell it for yourself by reading this!

Liz Earle The Look of Love

So you can imagine my excitement when I went into Liz Earle in Guildford to find this lovely perfume in a limited edition set: for the price of a 50ml Liz Earle perfume (£47) you also get a Liz Earle Sheer Lip Gloss (worth £13.50) in Water Lily – a  shimmery nude and a bright Strengthening Nail Colour in Pink Perpetue (worth £7.50.)

Obviously perfume choice is so personal and you can also choose one of the other Liz Earle perfumes (Botanical Essence No.1, or Botanical Essence No. 15.) to be in your set.

It’s only available until 17th February, making it a perfect gift for Valentine’s Day!

Liz Earle The Look of Love £47 available in store and online

Andrew Graham-Dixon Guest Lecture at St John’s School

andrewgrahamdixon (Picture courtesy of St John’s School)

St John’s School in Leatherhead opened its doors last Thursday to host a guest lecture by the world-renowned art critic, historian and broadcaster  Andrew Graham-Dixon.

Past St John’s pupils gathered with current students in the school chapel to hear the lecture on Caravaggio and his relationship with Christianity in his art.

Andrew Graham-Dixon’s talk ‘Whose Christ is it Anyway?’ explored Caravaggio’s unruly and indeed  obscure background; in fact there are few concrete biographic details, and some of the most illuminating information about him can be found in criminal records of the time.  He famously killed a man and was regularly in fights.  His artistic technique mirrored his shadowy life, as Andrew Graham-Dixon observed that: ‘Light and shadows are key to his work and he himself was like a living chiaroscuro.’  He skilfully played with light on his canvas while dodging the spotlight in life, as he purportedly wore black and had his hair untidy to aid his camouflage!

Caravaggio lost most of his family to the bubonic plague when he was young. The Renaissance was a time of great uncertainty over what happened in the afterlife, so the present-day tensions only heightened those concerns.  Graham-Dixon explained that Caravaggio often captured that very doubt in his paintings. Also, in a similar way, Caravaggio’s treatment of miracles is particularly interesting, paradoxical even, marked in a step away from the ‘fanfare’ announcement of a miracle taking place.  The audience was told that: ‘Miracles are subtle in Caravaggio’s paintings.  The Supper at Emmaus  shows those who see the miracle, and those who don’t.’

Caravaggio frequently revisited the dramatic physicality of death in his paintings. Andrew Graham-Dixon told the audience that we can learn through the x-ray of Judith Beheading Holofernes  that   Caravaggio repositioned the head of one of his  subjects to depict the most dramatic and bloody angle; and that Hollywood director Martin Scorsese had remarked to him that it was Caravaggio who had taught him ‘How hard it is to kill a man!’ – the similarities of the difficulty involved in showing the physical elements of death on screen and in art.

I thoroughly enjoyed the informative lecture.

Andrew Graham-Dixon’s book ‘Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane’ published by Penguin. RRP £12.99