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That Reminds Me: Heroes and villains of Fleet Street


I HAVE written previously about some of the wonderful and talented people I worked with in Fleet Street, including Gordon GreigLynda Lee-Potter, Nigel Dempster and Keith Waterhouse. Obviously, the Daily Mail also had its share of complete numpties.

One in particular comes to mind: a specialist writer who was the embodiment of the principle that the worse the journalist, the higher his opinion of himself. He used to turn in the most godawful rubbish which the long-suffering sub-editors had to translate into English. He would then send off cuttings of the results in the hope of winning whatever press awards might be going, yet he made it clear that he never had any time for subs. He was also a shameless freeloader, running a company Jaguar and once overheard boasting to a contact: ‘We journos are a high-maintenance breed.’ What a wally.

One evening he turned in a particularly egregious screed of drivel which was forwarded to me for the sow’s-ear-to-silk-purse treatment. I had to interview him for fully ten minutes to discover what he was actually trying to say, then turned it into a story considered good enough to make the splash. Not a word of the original remained, apart from his byline.

A couple of weeks later, on the way to the canteen, I noticed a case of champagne on his desk. ‘What’s that for?’ I asked. ‘Oh, it’s for that splash last month. It’s won me an award.’

‘Given that I wrote it,’ I said, ‘how about a bottle or two for me?’

‘I don’t think so,’ he replied, laughing nervously, unsure whether this northern herbert was about to stick one on him. Sadly, there would have been too many witnesses.

By contrast, at roughly the same time 20 or so years ago I subbed a story by the distinguished Australian author and freelance journalist Phillip Knightley, formerly a leading light on the Sunday Times when it was a newspaper to be reckoned with. It was about the then lack of success of British tennis players in the world game.

Knightley concluded that it was time to set up a national training system to catch promising youngsters early and maximise their potential. I called him and told him that this was already in place – our eight-year-old daughter Elizabeth was at Bisham Abbey on such a scheme as we spoke, being coached by among others Mark Cox and the former Wimbledon finalist Olga Morozova, known as the godmother of Russian tennis.

Knightley was furious with himself at having made an error but thanked me for pointing it out. He offered to send a new version but I said I would alter it myself.

The following evening I got a call from office reception saying a man was asking for me. It was Phillip, bearing a bottle of fine single malt whisky which he handed over. He had travelled across London to say thanks for what was a routine piece of subbing. A true gent, unlike the champagne hogger.

The food drink of the night

WHEN I were a lad, no café was complete without its Horlicks machine. This comprised a deep metal cup in which sweet malted milk powder was combined with hot water then whisked together by means of a long steel nozzle which aerated the mixture and provided a lovely frothy drink costing about sixpence (2½p), if memory serves.

You could make Horlicks at home by making a paste with the powder and water, topped up from the kettle or a pan of hot milk, but it wasn’t quite the same.

Nevertheless Horlicks, marketed as ‘the food drink of the night’, was a firm family favourite and was always produced in our house when one of us was struggling to get to sleep.

James Horlick was born in 1844 in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire. He and his brother William, who was two years younger, moved to London in their late teens with William working as a saddler and James at a homeopathic pharmacist’s where he began to develop a food for infants and invalids based on malt and bran mixed with milk and water.

Both brothers emigrated to the US and in 1875 they founded the Horlick Food Company in Chicago. William explored the possibility of a dried milk product which was patented in 1883 and trademarked as ‘malted milk’ four years later. It quickly took off in America, and in England after James returned in 1890 while William remained in Racine, Wisconsin. In 1906, Slough in Berkshire was chosen as the location for a massive factory.

In 1909 and 1910, Horlicks was used for nourishment on expeditions to the North and South Poles by Robert Peary, Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott. In 1914, with sales and worldwide exports booming, James was made a baronet. By the end of World War One Horlicks was established in India after being brought home by soldiers of the British Indian Army as a dietary supplement.

In 1935 the American explorer Richard E Byrd named the Horlick Mountains on the edge of Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf after the brothers. Horlicks Tablets were developed as a chocolate-flavoured treat for children and were supplied to British and US troops as an energy boost, also appearing in lifeboat rations.

By the 1940s Horlicks had been adopted as a family drink by better-off Indians and it was seen as a status symbol. India, where it is made with buffalo rather than cow’s milk, remains the product’s major worldwide market. After bottled water, it is the country’s best-selling drink and in 2010, by then owned by GlaxoSmithKline, it accounted for 85 per cent of the company’s Indian income.

In the UK, Horlicks drifted out of fashion although as lockdown began it was apparently being seen as a comfort food for a new generation. However, the Slough factory had been closed in 2018 and it is to be redeveloped into more than a thousand homes plus a network of offices, gyms, restaurants and cafes. I bet none of them has a Horlicks machine, though.

Old jokes’ home

A blonde goes up to the bar and orders a double entendre. The barman gives her one.

A PS from PG

I was at a loss to comprehend how the society of Madeline Bassett could cheer anyone up, she being from topknot to shoe sole the woman whom God forgot.

PG Wodehouse: The Mating Season

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Alan Ashworth
Alan Ashworth
Alan Ashworth is a former national newspaper journalist now retreated to the Ribble Valley, where he grows cacti and tramps the fells. He and his wife Margaret run a website, A-M Records , which includes their collected TCW columns plus extra features including Tracks of the Day. Requests, queries and comments can be sent to

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