❚ I’LL BE ONE OF FOUR PEOPLE discussing the heyday of Fleet Street newspapers when I worked at the Evening Standard in the 1970s and 80s – on Monday 6:15-7:45pm in the Shoe Lane Library, behind the former Daily Express building on Fleet Street. Remember my trendy column titled On The Line? All free, so do join us.
The day titled Information is Close at Hand is organised by artist Eloise Hawser and it starts 12:30pm with a local walk informed by the working lives of newspaper distributors on Shoe Lane.
From 3:30-5pm there’s Hot Mettle, a hands-on session in the library using 1970s hot-metal printing objects and paraphernalia to create newspaper collages.
Shoe Lane is a back-street deeply connected to the industries producing printed news, the one-time home to the headquarters of the Daily Sketch, the Evening Standard, and the International Press centre. It was also a base for the various allied trades involved in printing and distribution.
❏ Shoe Lane Library is at 1 Little New Street, London, EC4A 3JR. Nearest stations Blackfriars, Chancery Lane and City Thameslink
Update – Shoe Lane Library talk, L-R: Vic Wilson (Standard distribution veteran), journalist David Johnson and event organiser Eloise Hawser, with the Standard newsroom onscreen
The British fashion triumvirate in their heyday: Suzy Menkes of the International Herald Tribune, Hilary Alexander of the Daily Telegraph and Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of US Vogue
❚ ONE OF BRITISH JOURNALISM’Sgreatest characters has died and you won’t hear a word spoken against her – apart from on the hilarious spoof tribute page produced for Hilary Alexander’s leaving party in 2011 after donkeys years as fashion director of the Daily Telegraph, when it enjoyed the highest daily sales among UK quality newspapers. During the 1980s-90s I worked regularly alongside Hilary and also dared go out on the town with her to witness her beaming smile and unique dress sense turn heads in all directions. As British fashion grew in credibility on the world stage, Hilary became one of a triumvirate of British fashion editors the international circuit took very seriously, the others being Suzy Menkes of the International Herald Tribune and Anna Wintour of US Vogue, who have been awarded two OBEs and a DBE by the Queen. Hilary was twice named British Fashion Journalist of the Year. Two enthusiastic obituaries remark that she pursued work like “a Stakhanovite” implying exceptional efficiency.
Early yesterday, Hilary’s 77th birthday, she died from a heart attack while in hospital. Our mutual colleague Penelope McDonald recalls the laughs they had enjoyed over the years – especially at the annual Fenwick Christmas shopping evenings to which Hils attracted leading designers. She devoted much time to inspiring and mentoring young fashionistas. In 2002, the artist Georg Meyer-Wiel remembers his graduation show in menswear at the RCA because he met big names such as Mary Quant and Issey Miyake in the company of Hils at the gala.
When I was editing the student edition of the Telegraph in 1988 Hils was keen to shoot a winter fashion feature with students in the coldest place in the UK. Amazingly, according to the Met Office, this proved not to be Scotland but the Tyneside estuary which receives freezing oceanic winds from the east. Consequently there we were in December fitting out some model students at Newcastle’s Uni and Poly with warm winter wear for our pages. In about 2002 my colourful Blitz Kid friend Judith Frankland recalls meeting Hils in Paris at a party for John Malkovich. She says: “I was dressed up as you can well imagine and she came straight over to me and said ‘I have to know who you are’ and smiled and told me to contact her if I was in London. Of course I didn’t have to ask who she was! It’s a good job she hadn’t seen me mere minutes later as my platform departed from the rest of my shoe, grrr!”
The umpteen faces of fashion queen Hilary Alexander: click to enlarge this Google set
Paul Hill, foreign desk manager at the Daily Telegraph, also recalls: “She used to organise the Christmas shows in Canada Square, taking over the canteen for the day and putting catwalks in and often filming them for DVD circulation to staff. I was in one (as one of five Elvis impersonators singing appallingly badly All Shook Up) and Hils was everywhere with what started as a full bottle of scotch, but by the end of the show was almost empty and she was a very happy and relaxed director! She would inveigle all sorts of seriously-minded staffers into these annual events, famously Lord Bill Deedes, to dress up – make-up and all – as Mick Jagger to mime along to Brown Sugar.”
In today’s Vogue obituary Anna Wintour says: “Hilary was irrepressible in everything she did. She lived life to the fullest and her reporting on fashion was just as committed. I threw a party for her in Paris when she retired – except she never retired! Hilary could never quite leave an industry that she loved so much.”
In the Telegraph obituary Lisa Armstrong writes: “To sit next to Hilary at the shows was to be treated to an experience that was a unique blend of massage and wrestling match. Bobbing to the music – whatever it was – she was always the first to bounce out of her seat as the models were still filing off the catwalks, the ears of Uncle Bulgaria’s hat flopping away as she stormed the catwalk to get backstage before everyone else. She would do anything to get a story.”
Our set of photos here from a Google search for Hils sums up her eternal exuberance (“I will not stop flying. I will not stop smoking.”). Her home life in Dulwich was surprisingly private. Born in New Zealand, Hils was educated in Hong Kong and, having ended an unfortunate early marriage, she leaves no partner. Her funeral could be a starry event, though my own 2011 tribute in the link below is probably unbeatable!
➢ “A discerning eye for detail and relentless pursuit of a story made her name” – The Times obituary…“ She was on first-name terms with many designers but never forgot the readers for whom she was writing. “It’s hard for the average person to decide what to wear,” she said. “Our role is to take the threads that come through from the catwalk shows and say ‘This is the way to wear things’.” She saw fashion as more than mere style and was instrumental in making it newsworthy. “It’s not frivolous – any industry that employs half a million people and generates billions a year is a serious news subject. ”
Fashion royalty: Hilary Alexander was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire by the Queen in 2013… Hils sports a black silk dress with a jazzy poppy print to coordinate with the OBE ribbon
THE BRITISH FASHION COUNCIL’S
VIDEO TRIBUTE TO OUR HILS
First published in the London Evening Standard, March 4, 1966
❚ MAUREEN CLEAVE [left] died this week aged 87. She was a long-time colleague and friend who was refreshing to know and a perfectionist at work. She was the author of this landmark piece of journalism in 1966 in which Beatle John Lennon said ironically: “We’re more popular than Jesus now.” Bang in the middle of the Swinging 60s, at the height of Beatlemania, the most successful pop group in history became possibly the most hated. In America’s Bible Belt, outrage sent fans out to burn The Beatles’ records and radio stations round the world banned their music. The Fab Four never played live concerts again.
Maureen had written the first significant critique of the band in the London Evening Standard in February 1963, headlined “Why The Beatles create all that frenzy”. What she identified was the band’s unique stage presence while acknowledging the Liverpudlian scallywags as fresh young jokers in the Max Miller cheeky-chappie mould. This kick-started her career as probably the most clear-sighted interviewer of her generation and her survey in 1966, “How does a Beatle live?” still makes a riveting read as John Lennon guides her through his 22-room home deep in the Surrey banker-cum-oligarch belt…
Maureen Cleave elaborates on 1965’s interview with Bob Dylan (above), filmed by D A Pennebaker for his documentary Don’t Look Back. The discussion below is extracted from The Bridge, Number 6, Spring 2000 (courtesy of @bob_notes). Click on image to enlarge…
…AND AGAIN IN 2011
Blogger Stephen McCarthy explored this filmed interview with Bob Dylan in the light of his conversion to Christianity in 1978. We see Maureen Cleave ask Dylan: “Do you ever read the Bible?” because she hears echoes of its ideas in so many Dylan songs. Yet Dylan seemed uneager to follow that line of questioning.
McCarthy writes: “Remember now, this was prior to the recording of songs like Highway 61 Revisited which begins with the lines, “Oh God said to Abraham, ‘Kill me a son’. Abe says, ‘Man, you must be puttin’ me on’” … Granted there were allusions to The Bible in earlier songs, such as Gates of Eden etc, but in my opinion, it was fairly perceptive of Maureen Cleave to have discerned the religious thread that could be found woven into many of Dylan’s earliest songs. And it also begs the question, did she somehow instinctively suspect that times they were a-changin’ for Bob Dylan in some sort of spiritual sense?”
Harry Evans “on the stone”: pictured by Sally Soames in the days of hot metal production at The Sunday Times
❚ SIR HAROLD EVANS, who has died aged 92 and known to all as Harry, was not only a legendary crusader for investigative journalism but, along with Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post, one of the two greatest newspaper editors of modern times. Crucially he embodied the editor as a lightning rod through which a savvy team can channel their expertise.
I have personal reasons to be grateful to him after seeking a job interview when badly needing a change of direction in 1978. At his office at The Sunday Times in Gray’s Inn Road Harry was armed with a checklist of newspaper know-how on his clipboard which I seemed to be ticking copiously as an all-rounder used to multi-tasking on a variety of projects in print. (Most people in this business tended to do one thing only: Columnist, or Reporter, or Commissioning editor, or Designer etc.) So eventually he asked: “What exactly is it that you do?” – “A bit of everything,” said I. – “Ah,” he replied, “you do what I do.” – “Do I?” (deeply flattered). – “Yes, you’ve got the impresario skills – able to execute every stage from bright idea through to printed page.” Well that put a spring in my step and from there on, my career flew!
Visual flair was an ingredient as important to Harry as the words themselves – wisdom he spelt out in five definitive manuals published in the 1970s under the series title of Editing and Design. Here he shared with the rest of Fleet Street how his dramatic impresario skills were key to defining the rigour and astuteness which quality journalism demanded in each of its presentational crafts: Newsman’s English, Newspaper Text, News Headlines, Pictures on a Page, and Newspaper Design.
Easily the best account of journalism’s cut-and-thrust is his 1983 book Good Times Bad Times which nails the pitiless manners and mores of British newspaper execs and the proprietors they serve. Written in anger after his falling-out with Rupert Murdoch, it also reads like a racy thriller.
➢ Choose “View full site” – then in the blue bar atop your mobile page, click the three horizontal lines linking to many blue themed pages with background articles.
MORE INTERESTING THAN MOST PEOPLE’S FANTASIES — THE SWINGING EIGHTIES 1978-1984
They didn’t call themselves New Romantics, or the Blitz Kids – but other people did.
“I’d find people at the Blitz who were possible only in my imagination. But they were real” — Stephen Jones, hatmaker, 1983. (Illustration courtesy Iain R Webb, 1983)
“The truth about those Blitz club people was more interesting than most people’s fantasies” — Steve Dagger, pop group manager, 1983
“See David Johnson’s fabulously detailed website Shapers of the 80s to which I am hugely indebted” – Political historian Dominic Sandbrook, in his book Who Dares Wins, 2019
“The (velvet) goldmine that is Shapers of the 80s” – Verdict of Chris O’Leary, respected author and blogger who analyses Bowie song by song at Pushing Ahead of the Dame
“The rather brilliant Shapers of the 80s website” – Dylan Jones in his Sweet Dreams paperback, 2021
A UNIQUE HISTORY
➢ WELCOME to the Swinging 80s ➢ THE BLOG POSTS on this front page report topical updates ➢ ROLL OVER THE MENU at page top to go deeper into the past ➢ FOR NEWS & MONTH BY MONTH SEARCH scroll down this sidebar
❏ Header artwork by Kat Starchild shows Blitz Kids Darla Jane Gilroy, Elise Brazier, Judi Frankland and Steve Strange, with David Bowie at centre in his 1980 video for Ashes to Ashes
VINCENT ON AIR 2022
✱ Deejay legend Robbie Vincent returned to JazzFM on Sundays 1-3pm in 2021… Catch Robbie’s JazzFM August Bank Holiday 2020 session thanks to AhhhhhSoul with four hours of “nothing but essential rhythms of soul, jazz and funk”.
SEARCH our 800 posts or ZOOM DOWN TO THE ARCHIVE INDEX
UNTOLD BLITZ STORIES
✱ If you thought there was no more to know about the birth of Blitz culture in 1980 then get your hands on a sensational book by an obsessive music fan called David Barrat. It is gripping, original and epic – a spooky tale of coincidence and parallel lives as mind-tingling as a Sherlock Holmes yarn. Titled both New Romantics Who Never Were and The Untold Story of Spandau Ballet! Sample this initial taster here at Shapers of the 80s
CHEWING THE FAT
✱ Jawing at Soho Radio on the 80s clubland revolution (from 32 mins) and on art (@55 mins) is probably the most influential shaper of the 80s, former Wag-club director Chris Sullivan (pictured) with editor of this website David Johnson
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