Hard times at bleak house that is Desmond’s Express

NORMAN GILLER’s unimpressed with the Glasgow Games, and is saddened by the latest round of 200 job cuts at his old newspaper

I’m so relieved I don’t have Richard Desmond’s head on the pillow at night. How does he sleep knowing that he is pitching so many worthy people out of work, all in the name of profit?

Look familiar?
Look familiar?

At about the same time that he was cashing in on the sale of Channel 5 for £450 million, his minions were announcing another 200 job cuts across the board at his Express and Star newspaper titles.

The NUJ has described Desmond as Britain’s greediest billionaire. To me, he behaves as if he is one of the worst villains from the darkest chapters of a Dickens novel.

Dickens was once editor of the Daily News, and he would never have followed the Desmond decree for front pages that are among the most mundane and predictable in the history of national newspapers.

I was proud to take the Beaverbrook shilling back in the day when the Daily Express had a 4.2 million circulation and was the paper the others tried to match and catch. Now, with its daily diet of Maddie/Diana/Weather/Dementia banner headlines, the Express has become a joke. I hope the journalists who survive the latest cull try to give the paper the kiss of life before Desmond applies the kick of death.

My few old friends left on the Desmond payroll tell me their orders are for the shrinking staff to pour all their energy and creative force into copying the Mail’s success online. They will need to show more imagination than goes into their choice of front-page leads, and there needs to be an emphasis on more news in their thinly stretched sports coverage.

IT WAS THE SUMMER of 1964 when I was first ploughing the Express fields for football stories, and at the same time my former local newspaper stablemate, Ivor Davis, was travelling across the United States with a group called The Beatles.

Ivor, then the Express man on the West Coast, had the enviable task of ghosting George Harrison’s column at the height of Beatlemania. He has now put his memories down in book form, The Beatles And Me On Tour.

Ace reporter Davis was not the man who discovered The Beatles, but he was the man who discovered what they were up to and it is all in his revealing book that opens a window on a historical and often hysterical tour by the Fab Four.

There will be scores of old-school sportswriters grateful for Hackney-born Ivor’s help and hospitality during trips to the States for the major sporting events, as he and his late wife, Sally, often put up stranded journalists at their then home in spectacular Malibu.

Once a top-flight amateur footballer with Clapton, Ivor has had a life and career that could have come out of the imagination of a Hollywood scriptwriter. His Beatles book captures a golden era that gives an insider’s view of the Swinging Sixties. Nobody got closer to the stars, the stories and the scandals of the day than the dapper, headline-making Davis.

South Africa's victory over New Zealand in the Commonwealth Games Rugby 7s was a rare highlight in Glasgow
South Africa’s victory over New Zealand in the Commonwealth Games Rugby 7s was a rare highlight in Glasgow

We agreed this week that we were lucky to work for the Express pre-Desmond. Yesterday, was such an easy game to play.

WE WERE SO spoiled by the 2012 Olympics that I have rarely been pulled out of my sofa seat by the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

Much of it in the athletics seems ordinary by world standards, and there was so little time between the swimming heats that one race merged into another.

The BBC has been way below its best with coverage that has been more Blue Peter than Blue Riband. With the exception of the authoritative Michael Johnson and the insightful Mark Foster, the talking heads – keeping up my children’s TV metaphors – could have belonged to the Woodentops,

A major success was the Rugby s7s, and it will be fascinating to see if the sport catches on in the Rio Olympics. It won’t be for the want of trying.

AS THE TIMES continues to consider the future of suspended tennis correspondent Neil Harman, my thoughts and sympathies are with a sportswriter I’ve always admired and respected in the 30-plus years I’ve followed his career.

Neil agrees he was guilty of extreme stupidity in lifting great lumps of tennis match reports from the works of other writers to pad out his Wimbledon annuals. It was at best lazy and, at worst, a theft of sorts.

But those of us who know Neil well will confirm that it’s completely out of character for him to sink to such depths. He clearly lost judgement when chasing tight deadlines. I cannot believe that anybody who has worked with Neil wants him kicked off the tennis circuit for his moments of madness. Let he who is without sin serve the first ball.

The young American journalist who has gone into depth with his research revealing the unpardonable plagiarism seems to think he is in the Woodward and Bernstein class as an investigative reporter.

He has made his point and should now get on with trying to build a career half as successful as that enjoyed by Neil Harman.

It’s been a hard day’s night. New balls please.


Edit amended August 3


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