When evening papers were a Joy to behold

The purchase of the London Evening Standard has prompted NORMAN GILLER’s memories of the days of that paper’s urbane correspondent, the former Arsenal and England centre half, Bernard Joy, a giant – physically and intellectually – of both football and sports journalism

I started my Fleet Street career as a holiday relief sports sub on the Evening Standard in the summer of 1962 (having told my bride of six months that it was a staff job). The sports editor was a cold, ex-Army officer type called Peter Goodall, who was a cross between David Niven (looks) and Atilla the Hun (temperament).

My main task was to edit the constantly changing cricket scoreboard through seven editions, in the days when the county game had huge support. It was the most aggravating job of my life, with queues of people standing at my back looking for their county scores. They included Goodall, not searching for counties but cock-ups.

One afternoon I took my eye off the ball and let through a literal, or rather a joke by the boys in the composing room. These were the days when The Nawab of Pataudi was gracing the Oxford University team. To get his title to fit in the scoreboard we would abbreviate it to The N’w’b of Pataudi. This particular day it got into the paper as The Nob of Pataudi.

Goodall took the laughter it generated as aimed at him personally, and soon after I was going cap-in-hand to the Daily Herald to beg for a staff job on their sports desk. I felt a complete knob.

All this brings me to Bernard Joy, who was the hugely respected football correspondent of the Standard. He used to slowly and patiently handwrite his copy, as if marking homework in his schoolmaster days before the war when combining playing football for Arsenal with teaching.

A serious, reserved man, Bernard (pictured left during his pre-war playing days) will forever be in the record books as the last amateur to be capped by England (a 3-2 defeat by Belgium in 1936). He captained the Great Britain Olympic team in the Berlin Games and – a dedicated Corinthian – played for the Casuals while winning 10 England amateur international caps as a towering, tactically aware centre-half.

He was an intelligence officer in the war, and during visits to his home to get hammered by him on his tennis court, Bernard used to hold me enraptured with tales of how Britain out-thought as well as outfought the Nazis.

Goodness knows what Bernard would have made of an ex-KGB spy buying the Standard for £1. This would have been MI6 meets Smersh.

We fast forward to the summer of 1974. You may recall the dramatic story of how Kevin Keegan was beaten up by airport guards in Belgrade during the England tour under the caretaker management of “Uncle” Joe Mercer. Bernard, with open mouth, witnessed the whole incident and thought he had the scoop of the season.

There were only daily newspapermen on the spot with Bernard at the airport, where three armed policemen laid into Keegan as if he was a drug runner. He and his Liverpool teammate Alec Lindsay had been skylarking by the luggage conveyor belt, and the guards had reacted by frog-marching Keegan off to a side-room, beating him up as they forced him to kneel in front of them.

The incident happened right in front of a disbelieving Joy and affable provincial newspapers reporter “Brummie” Bob Harris (later sports editor of the Daily and Sunday Mirror).

While Bob alerted tour manager Mercer to what was happening, Bernard dashed to the nearest telephone. The true amateur had become the cold-eyed professional news sleuth.

As it was early afternoon, he knew he had time to catch the late editions of the Standard with what was a certain front-page splash. He booked a call to his Shoe Lane office, and while waiting for his connection got first-person quotes from Mercer and even from Keegan, talking through swollen lips and nursing a black eye and cuts. (“I don’t love it, love it …” perhaps).

When the call finally came through, the switchboard operator on the Standard said in a pleasant tone: “Good afternoon, Mr Joy. What’s the weather like? It’s a beautiful sunny day here.”

Bernard snapped: “I’ve got no time to discuss the weather. Put me over to the copy-taker immediately. I’ve got a major story.”

There was silence at the other end of the line that could be measured in fathoms. “Uh, but Mr Joy,” the operator said. “don’t you realise it’s Sunday. There is no paper today.”

In those earlier days when I was climbing the slippery Fleet Street rope, there were three paid-for London evenings – “Star, News and Standard.” This was the call you would hear on many street corners from newspaper vendors. Out in Stratford there was one lovely old Cockney character who used to shout: “La-di-da, evening-blues, standat-ease.”

Bernard Joy’s fierce rival throughout much of his Standard-reporting career was dear Vic Railton, on the Evening News. You could not have had two more contrasting people. It was caviar versus jellied eels, toff against barrow boy, thoughtful writer up against dedicated reporter.

Even Harry Harris would have to bow the knee to West Hammer Vic as being the best contacts man in the business. He did it all by telephone, and the likes of Ron Greenwood, Bill Nicholson, Tommy Docherty and Billy Wright would call him back if ever he left a message. He won their trust by never breaking confidences and would always keep them informed with the latest hot football gossip.

Vic’s empire was his office in the days when the News was based at Carmelite House, off Ludgate Circus. While he had his bank of telephones and giant contacts book, he was safe and in control. But once outside, he was often like a barracuda out of water. And as for going abroad, he hated it.

Very reluctantly, he joined the England team on their build-up tour leading to the 1970 World Cup finals in Mexico. The man with a nose for news at home was never comfortable on foreign fields.

He showed he had lost all news reporting sense when he boarded the plane with the England team at Bogota for the final lap to Mexico. The pilot was just bringing up the wheels when Vic shared a secret with the rest of the press party. “Here,” he said. “Three guesses as to who’s not on the plane …”

It was the day Bobby Moore had been arrested at the airport on a trumped-up jewel-theft charge.

Fifteen reporters were trying to decide whether to strangle Vic or hijack the plane and make the pilot head back to Colombia. The Daily Mail‘s enterprising Ron Crowther (a brilliant reporter beautifully nicknamed Ron Von Ruintrip because of his constant moaning) got the last seat on a plane from Mexico back to Bogota and was first to track down where Bobby was under house arrest.

Excited Mail editors gathered around the Telex machine for his exclusive story. This was the first copy they received: “Ron Crowther here in Bogota. What is the Spanish equivalent for shirt neck size fifteen and a half …?”

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