Express delivery brings end to Giller’s 50-year era

NORMAN GILLER bids a reluctant, but final, farewell to his days as a Fleet Street journalist

A funny thing happened to me on my way to this blog. I received a letter which reads: “Dear Mr Giller, It is with great regret that I am writing to give you four weeks notice on your retainer with Express Newspapers.”

That’s quite historical (even hysterical) in my little world. It not only breaks a 46-year bond with the Express, but it also means for the first time in more than 50 years, I will not be earning a penny piece from Fleet Street.

I was a football reporting staffman with the Daily Express for 10 years from 1964, and have had regular freelance income from the Daily and Sunday ever since tunnelling my way out, with things like an Eric Morecambe Sportsmile feature, a regular sports TV column and puzzles and quizzes mainly contributed these past 10 years by son and partner, Michael.

This latest letter follows the economy axe coming down on me in recent months from The Sun and The Times, where Michael and I ploughed another fertile furrow.

Suddenly, the recession is not just an elephant in my room, but an entire bloody zoo.

Old home: the Express office in Fleet Street

With so many bodies flying out of Fleet Street doors, I should not have expected a trumpeted departure from the Express. But it would have been nice to have something more than a cold out-of-the-blue letter from a faceless “Assistant Managing Editor” of whom I know nothing. Thank you and goodbye, Mr Andy Taylor. Parting is such sour sorrow.

Everywhere I turn, newspapers and magazines are cutting to the bone. It is so sad to witness, and even sadder now that I am up to my neck in the bloodbath.

I cannot complain because I have drunk copiously from the Fleet Street well since starting out as a 21-year-old holiday relief sub on the Evening Standard back in 1961, and before that I worked as a copyboy on the London Evening News and as a reporter for Boxing News, then at 92 Fleet Street. So the Street and I had a good run.

But it is my sports statistician son Michael who mirrors what is happening throughout the world of newspaper journalism. He is 40-something, has a wife, two boys and a mortgage taken out in the good times that is now the proverbial millstone.

Suddenly, knowing who was the second man to run a sub-four-minute mile means nothing in the Jobseekers’ office.

Our self-publishing book writing business is on rocky ground, because you need income to finance it. Catch-22 with bells on.

I am opening up for pubic scrutiny here, just to touch nerve-ends with other journos going through the same pain barrier.

The internet should be the saviour for all of us. But getting people to part with money for words – our stock in trade – is not easy, as Rupert Murdoch is discovering as he continues to try to entice punters through the News International paywalls.

Anybody who dips into Sky will know that The Times are throwing the kitchen sink at viewers with their advertising that stresses “access from only £1”, and arty-farty content that is beautifully produced but hardly likely to float the boat of Sky viewers.

The major problem is getting a happy marriage between the editorial creators and the commercially minded advertising department.

Online newspapers can crow that they have millions of unique users, but the advertisers want guarantees that they can reach them with their commercials. A question for you: When did you last purchase something because of an advert you saw online behind a paywall?

Mmmmmm, me neither.

Dunprinting in Dunfermline

The one thing with which I can console myself is that in all my years in Fleet Street, my words always got to press.  Not so the sportswriters on the Dunfermline Press.

The paper managed to go to press recently with its entire sports section missing. It was described as “a printing error”.

I just hope readers who bought the sports-less paper rang and complained, otherwise it could put a terrible thought into the heads of publishers. Because if no one noticed that the sports section wasn’t there…

That would lead to a lot more redundant sports journalists joining me on the scrapheap and my son in the job-seeking queue.

Anybody looking for a brilliant all-round sports journalist who knows that John Landy was the second man to run a sub-four-minute mile (in Turku Finland in June 1954) please contact me here via the SJA and I will put you on to my son.

My Fleet Street days are now officially finished.  It was great while it lasted.

Read Norman Giller’s previous columns for the SJA website by clicking here