Manson, Muhammad Ali and Beatlemania, via Butlins

This week, NORMAN GILLER sends a vote of thanks to the old colleague who went from the East End of London to the West Coast of America to establish himself as a media master

There will be dozens of old sportswriters out there who will smile and nod in agreement when I state that Ivor Davis, pictured right, has been one of the most successful newspapermen ever to leave these shores to pitch his tent in the United States.

For any young journalist with the spirit of adventure let me tell you about Ivor, who went from the East End of London to the West Coast of America to establish himself as a media master.

Come with me back to the mid-1950s. I joined the Stratford Express (at the heart of where the 2012 Olympics will be staged) as replacement for Ivor, whose sportswriting apprenticeship had been interrupted by his National Service.

When he finished his two years serving Queen and Country, Ivor returned to Stratford to inform editor John Jenkins that he was quitting journalism to become a PR at Butlins.

Jenkins, later a powerhouse at the Daily and Sunday Express and night editor at the Daily Telegraph, has printing ink pumping through his veins, and he told Ivor in my hearing: “You must be crackers. You are one of the finest young reporters I have ever come across. You can be the best there is. How can you sell your soul to bloody Butlins?”

Ivor’s reply has stayed etched in my memory: “It’s just to get enough money together to get me to America. I want to become a Hollywood reporter.”

Fast forward 50 years to this summer of 2009 and Ivor Davis, ace Hollywood reporter, is doing a whistle-stop tour of the United States promoting his astonishing updated book on the Charles Manson murders. Called Five to Die, it was so brilliantly researched and written back in 1970 that the prosecutor used it to help with the evidence that convicted drug-crazed killer Manson, who swore that he would kill Davis.

Yes, Ivor had lived up to the John Jenkins billing. He is the reporter who can open virtually any door to a Hollywood celebrity, and over the last half century has got a lorry load of scoops in his roles as West Coast staffman for first the Daily Express and then The Times.

It was David English, then Express foreign editor before building his legend at the Mail, who spotted Ivor’s talent after he had travelled coast to coast across the States as a freelance. A cruise liner once broke down two miles off the coast of California. Ivor hired a motor launch, boarded the cruise ship and interviewed virtually every English-speaking passenger on board and sent individual stories to each of their local papers. Enterprising or what?

Ivor made his name during the 1964 Beatles tour of America, ghosting a George Harrison column and helping to spread Beatlemania. One day he must write his inside story of boozing, birding and boarding with The Beatles. He has remained in contact with Sir Paul McCartney, and quotes him in the new version of the chilling Manson story.

These days he is a freelance for dozens of magazines, and pumps scores of stories into the internet. His partnership with his beautiful Irish-born wife, Sally Ogle Davis, a supremely gifted writer, is one of the most prolific in American journalism, even rivalling the output of icon couple Harold Evans and Tina Brown.

What is Ivor doing here in a sports journalism blog? Well for a start, he was an exceptional young sports reporter, and dozens of Fleet Street sports writers visiting the West Coast have been grateful over the years for the Davis hospitality and news tip-offs.

Ivor was also an outstanding amateur footballer, winning gold medals with England in the Maccabiah Games as a dapper, ball-playing left winger. He later also represented the United States in the worldwide Jewish Games.

Ivor has a deep knowledge of all sports and covered many of Muhammad Ali’s fights, getting so close to the great boxer that he was able to feed quotes and inside information to the travelling British contingent of boxing writers.

He was 15 years an Express staffman and then 13 years on The Times. He is saddened at the way the newspaper world in which he grew up has changed beyond all recognition, but is excited by the potential of the internet and is busily ploughing the new promised land.

Another thing he dislikes about the modern Hollywood beat (and to an extent the world of sport) is the way publicists spoonfeed facts to journalists. He has always been fiercely independent, wanting to get stories his way and not have them shaped for him by spinmeisters. His constant sniping at the PR puppeteers has brought him lots of flak, but he is unrepentant and remains strictly old school reporter.

It is good to have this opportunity to thank Ivor on behalf of myself and a procession of journalists for all the hospitality and help when we are on his territory … and a very belated thanks for many free weekends of amusing mayhem when he was PR-ing at Butlins. Ah, The Untold Stories.

Read previous Norman Giller columns by clicking here.

Click here for more recent articles on journalism, sport and sports journalism

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