Locked out at Lord’s with the ghost

Sports stars in the Press Box? Never! NORMAN GILLER sets aside all moral indignation to recount a tale of an Ashes Test series from more than 50 years ago

Michael Atherton’s nomination for the prestigious SJA Sportswriter of the Year award took my memory tumbling back to another former England cricket captain whose first foray into journalism caused a Fleet Street war.

I was a copyboy on the late, lamented Evening News in London in 1956 when the newly knighted and newly retired Sir Len Hutton was signed to “write” on the Ashes series.

EM (Lyn) Wellings, a former Oxford Blue and Surrey off-spinner and the News cricket correspondent since the end of the war, went a purple-faced apoplectic when he heard of Hutton’s appointment.

I just happened to be in “the sportswriters room” at Ludgate House when he was told that Hutton would be commenting at the Lord’s Test. “The fuck he will,” snapped Wellings.

To hear the “F” word falling from the lips of Wellings was as shocking to the ears as hearing your maiden aunt cussing. He was an extremely dignified and awfully posh man with a cut-glass accent, and who always wore either a cravat or an MCC tie.

Wellings was not revolting against Hutton becoming his unwelcome team mate so much as the fact that his copy would be ghost-written. This was a tinderbox issue throughout Fleet Street at the time, with the NUJ leading the fight against the employment of non-journalist sportswriters.

Using his influence as a distinguished founder member of the Cricket Writers’ Club, Wellings managed to get Hutton barred from the Lord’s Press Box.

The compromise was that three seats were made available alongside the covered, glass-fronted Press box. One for Sir Len. One for his ghost, the esteemed Julian Holland (later the driving force of BBC’s News At One programme). And one for the copy telephonist – me.

I was not allowed to use a Press Box telephone, and had to gallop downstairs to a public phone box every 20 minutes or at the fall of a wicket. If the phone was being used by one of the 20,000 spectators, I would then have to race outside the ground to another call box, with Hutton’s priceless thoughts on a sheet of paper in my hand.

After one dash, I returned breathlessly to my seat to find it occupied by an Evening News reporter on a day off. It was Leslie Thomas, who in his spare time was writing the book that was to earn him his fame and fortune: Virgin Soldiers. I have since often reminded him how he graciously allowed me to stand beside him while he sat on my chair.

BBC television was covering the match live, and when commentator Brian Johnston referred to the “Hutton barred” story, the cameras panned the Press Box and then showed Sir Len on the outside, giving his considered views to the typewriter-tapping Holland.

Wellings was tipped off that the cameras kept showing close ups of him and Hutton just yards apart. He waited his moment, and when the camera next started on a panning shot, he held up a foolscap pad on which he had written in large block capitals: BOLLOCKS.

I was a member of the NATSOPA union at the time, and got a rollocking from our FoC for being an innocent (I thought) co-conspirator in the ghosting of Hutton.

Many years later I was scripting a This Is Your Life tribute to Denis Compton, and went to Sir Len’s Surrey home to film a short piece. I reminded him of the Lord’s affair, and he told me: “Wellings and I never saw eye to eye. He was always critical of me because he did not think a professional should captain England.”

There is a hilarious/appalling punchline: Wellings (full name Evelyn Maitland Wellings) wrote for the Evening News for 36 years until it became unlovingly embraced by the Evening Standard in 1980. He received a letter about pension entitlements from the Associated Newspapers management that read: “Dear Mrs Wellings …” The same company sent Reg Gutteridge his gold watch for 40 years service in a brown paper envelope.

In that Lord’s Test of ’56, Keith Miller claimed 10 wickets to lift Australia to victory by 185 runs. Less than 10 years later Keith was my colleague on the Daily Express as a non-ghostwritten journalist.

He used to hold us enthralled at liquid lunches at the Cheshire Cheese and the Albion with tales from the dressing-room. I asked him what the pressure was like when Jim Laker was skittling the Aussies at Old Trafford later in the ’56 series.

“What pressure?” said the former RAF fighter pilot. “Pressure is when you’ve got a Messerschmitt up your arse.”

Keith had a million anecdotes. I should write a book about them … and talking of books, I have some questions being put to me by colleagues interested in my self-publishing adventure with The Lane of Dreams, the story of White Hart Lane before the ground is bulldozed into history.

1) Why self-publish – could you not find a traditional publisher?
I did a round of the publishers, and got just one taker. Like everybody else, he has been pushed into a corner by the economic climate, and I turned down his offer of a £4,000 advance.

2) What does it cost to self-publish?

It would take a book to answer that. Perhaps one day I will self-publish one. I have been down the self-publishing road five times, and have never done better than break even. There are dozens of printers hungry for the work, and you should shop around for the best quotes.

If you want to put it into the hands of an east European or Asian company, you can get unbelievable deals, but I prefer to work with printers I can physically get to during the drawn-out publishing process.

My last three books have all been A4, 224-page size, and have come down to a unit price of £2.80 … for that you need to commit to a print run of more than 2,500. And don’t forget your photographic bill, never less than £1,000 for my books, which I like to have lavishly illustrated.

3) How much does it cost to get the book stocked by the likes of WHSmith, Waterstones etc?
There is no easy answer. For a start, few will take your book unless you are registered with distributors Gardners. You do your business with them, and all sorts of complicated discounts come into the negotiation. You can reckon on 53 per cent of your RRP price being eaten up … and then there’s the dreaded SOR (Sale or Return). You could find four months down the line most of your books coming back to you, and then you have to refund any money you took up front.

Other little doorsteps over which you can trip: don’t forget to take into account costs of receiving, storing, dispatching and handling (and often pulping) stock; all rates that you have to agree with Gardners or which ever wholesalers/distributors with whom you work.

Oh yes, and there’s also extras like the barcode and four-colour jacket. And dare you fly without a legal check?

Amazon have several deals worth considering, too complicated to go into here. Their website has in-depth information.

My last book (Banks v Pelé, The Save that Shook the World) had a limited edition run of 2,500 copies and will be sold mainly as a collectors’ item with the autographs of Pelé and Banks. I produced it in harness with entrepreneur Terry Baker, who represents both players in the UK. That’s the way to work with celebrities.

Marketing will take up much of your time and energy, and thanks to the World Wide Web it has become a whole lot easier to get your message out. Stretch your imagination and concentrate on reaching groups interested in your subject. Set up a website, and don’t go near the project unless you are guaranteed of selling at least 1,000 books.

If much less than 1,000, look into the print-on-demand process. The unit price for each book will be a lot more, but you are not risking a huge amount to the printer upfront.

Bottom line, self-publishing is risky, time-consuming and also exciting. Then, just as you think you have it conquered, you walk into Tescos and find them discounting books at less than half price. Agggggh. Or you find a Harry Harris coming out with a well-funded, well-founded book on a similar theme.

If you want to invest £2.99, you can see my book in PDF form … download from here.

If I were you, I would go to a reputable publisher like Randall Northam for a quote before you commit to self-publishing. He really knows what he’s talking about. I am tap dancing in the dark … and without a ghostwriter.

More sports journalism links

Join the SJA today – click here for details and membership application form