At 91, the Express’s El Syd keeps sailing on

NORMAN GILLER catches up with one of his old sports desk mates, a veteran of the early years of our Association

Sydney Hulls and I pooled our 125 years of newspaper-world experience this week and agreed: “The game’s gone.”

We were communicating on the 91st birthday of Kidney Pie, a nickname given to Sydney about 50 years ago by cartoonist Roy Ullyett, when the three of us were taking Lord Beaverbrook’s shilling on the Daily Express.

Sydney Hulls: celebrated his 91st birthday last week
Sydney Hulls: celebrated his 91st birthday last week

I should point out that of those 125 years, Sydney has the lion’s share with a career that has spanned nearly 70 years. I am still chuntering on after 57 years chasing headlines and deadlines.

All we members of the SJA should bow the knee to Sydney, because no man has given greater service to our dwindling band of brothers than this old master of Fleet Street.

Sydney was an enthusiastic member from 1948 to his retirement in 1986 – back in the day when we were the Sports Writers’ Association ¬ and he held several key committee offices and, in particular, the position of treasurer for what was then a record 12 years.

I knew our accounts were in good hands, because Sydney’s skill at massaging his expenses during his days at the Black Lubianka had given him the ideal grounding for the job.

He and I go back to 1950s, to the days when I was a young reporter/sub on the fight game tradepaper, Boxing News, of which Sydney was then a chief shareholder. His famous namesake father, who had been the top British boxing promoter of the 1930s, had left the shares to him.

Sydney Junior was a hugely respected boxing and athletics correspondent for the Express for 33 years, and a treasured colleague. There was no better or more charming a companion at lunches at the Cheshire Cheese, the Albion and Simpsons in the Strand. You could warm your hands on the glow emanating from him when the meals approached. I have rarely known anybody to match his appetite, and a knife and fork to him were weapons of war. He won every battle.

He was also good company in any bar where there was a piano, and could play all the old songs with polished style.

There are few places in the world where the globe-trotting, fluent Spanish speaker Sydney has not stepped foot, either as a reporter, skilled yachtsman aboard his pride and joy El Cid or as a regular passenger on world cruises.

The one place he has not visited is Tokyo. Back in 1964 he was pulled off the Express Olympics reporting team at the last minute as brutal punishment for the Mail getting a manufactured scoop. They had a front-page photograph and story on British sprint rivals Adrian Metcalfe and David Jones having a mock dawn duel.

Sir Peter O'Sullevan: another veteran of the Express sports desk, who of course was also the BBC's voice of racing
Sir Peter O’Sullevan: another veteran of the Express sports desk, who of course was also the BBC’s voice of racing

Excitable editor Bob Edwards went ballistic, and demanded Sydney’s head on a plate. Many would have walked out over this humiliating treatment, but dear old Kidney Pie just put his head down, got on with his work and exacted his revenge with even more thoroughly massaged expense claims.

There must have been something in the water at the Express. Sydney, Peter O’Sullevan, Steve Curry and I had our desks so close to each other that you could have covered us with a blanket. Now there’s Peter 96, Sydney 91, me 75 next birthday and young Curry, coming up 73, all of us survivors of the golden age of the Express, when it sold 4 million copies a day rather than a week. David Miller, who joined us later, is still punching his weight at 78.

Sail on El Syd, and thanks for the memories and your sterling service to our Association.

IT’S NICE TO BE proved right. For five years or more I have been telling young would-be sports journalists to concentrate as much on conquering the technology of the web as learning the art of reporting.

The dramatic shift of emphasis of newspapers from the print world to the internet is proof that being matchless with descriptive words does not matter as much as knowing your cookie from your cache. If you think Java is a cup of coffee or an Indonesian island, you’re in trouble.

For this old hack, with newsprint in my veins, it is heartbreaking to see six senior Telegraph sports reporters axed this week, along with the senseless sacking by The Times of the supreme Simon Barnes.

New editor-in-chief, Jason Seiken, trumpets that Telegraph Media Group will be bringing in 40 recruits. That’s the good news. The bad news is that among the jobs being advertised few are for what we would describe as journalists in the old accepted sense.

The jobs are in the main going to technology engineers and web designers, those who know their elbow from their #hashtag. The geeks are taking over the asylum.

One question: who is going to get the stories?


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