When you gonna wake up and strengthen the things that remain?

abused child

THE breakdown was a long time coming… 43 years to be precise. Yes, that really is a long time to keep a secret and many events along the way could have been my undoing much sooner. So I marvel that it took so long.

Two massive battles with cancer; the loss of most of my right lung and shoulder; the ruination of a much loved career by my own stupidity; the death of my best friend and later my father; divorces and more failed relationships than you care to shake a stick at; bankruptcy; the suicide of a family member; denial of access to two of my children for 10 years; the repossession of my home; discovering my wife was enjoying sex with another man; becoming a single parent at the age of 50 and an unprovoked assault that almost took my life anyway.

Set against that backdrop there is a star-spangled career in journalism with a raft of awards and recognition at the highest level, the chance to meet and talk with some stellar people, five wonderful kids, a host of amazing and loyal friends and finally, the woman who saved me, my darling wife Gill.

These are just snippits of my life so far and more than enough to form the framework of a somewhat gripping autobiography.

But casting a huge shadow over every move I have made, every tear, every relationship, every job and every sick joke was something much more sinister.

Wednesday 12 June 2013 was the day the elastic band finally broke and my life unravelled before my eyes, and those of my darling wife and precious son, who could only watch with me.

It all began in another time and another place…

I was, a young 14-year-old boy standing in darkness in open woodland, with my trousers around my ankles, being sexually abused by a 38-year-old man – a man trusted by my parents to care for me.

It was 1970.

He was the district commissioner for Scouts in my home town and over many months had encouraged me to attend camps, orienteering, patrol leader weekends and wide games to help me ‘get the most out of Scouting’.

I was a bright, gentle and slightly quirky kid who had enjoyed being in the Cubs and Scouts since the age of seven.

But not anymore.

The abuse had begun some months earlier, soon after my 14th birthday, at a so-called winter camping weekend at the Scout-owned woodland campsite – some three miles from my home, and five from the centre of town.

Over the course of 15 months, it had become regular, routine and progressively invasive.

I had been sworn to secrecy by my abuser. After all, I was the one he had caught ‘playing with’ himself and I would be totally humiliated if anyone found out.

I felt dirty and terrified and above all convinced I must be a ‘queer’ (gay) to allow this to happen. But the over-riding feeling was a need to escape this darkness, this nightmare.

I tried all manner of excuses not to attend Scouts and these frequent camps. When eventually my loving parents questioned my ongoing reluctance, I lied that I was being bullied. Their answer was simple: ‘stand up to the bullies’. Followed by: ‘If you leave the Scouts they will know they have beaten you’!

How I wish I had told them the truth. But I was sure my mother would not have believed me and accuse me of exaggerating. Equally, my father was a strong-minded man and I felt he would humiliate me further, if I told him, with jibes about me being a ‘poof’ or something. Sadly in adult hindsight he would probably have hugged me close and physically attacked my abuser had he known.

I don’t blame my parents, they were the most loving and caring I could have wished for. But times were different then and there were many things in life that were taboo.

Anyway, the abuse continued unabated as I turned 15 and as I turned more introspective and aloof to friends.

I was in my abuser’s control and I could not break free.

But I did eventually escape in the June of 1971.

My abuser had arranged a patrol leaders’ meeting at his house on the other side of town. It was a ‘must attend’ gathering.

I had met a lad called Brian from another troop and we had agreed to go together. Brian’s dad would take us there and my dad would pick us both up at 9pm.

We arrived at this spacious bungalow in a quiet middle-class cul-de-sac at about 7pm and were ushered inside by my abuser. Others were arriving and by the time we were all assembled, there were about 10 boys aged between 13 and 15 in the semi-lit dining room.

The meeting was a blur. My mind was already in the dark woods.  And in what seemed no time at all, parents were arriving to pick up their kids. Soon just Brian and I remained silently while the clock ticked.

My abuser said he would make a cup of tea for us both and asked if we would like a biscuit too. Brian said ‘Yes’ for both of us.

Then as he walked down the hallway to his kitchen, Brian whispered to me: “Scarper!”

Without hesitation we ran to the front door, fumbled at the latch and tore down the driveway to the cul-de-sac. No sign of my fecking dad! Where the hell was he?

We could hear my abuser call out our names from his front doorway, and we ran as fast and as far away as we could.

We didn’t stop until we reached a red phone box on the outskirts of the town centre, about a mile away. We then stared at each other. At that moment, I knew Brian was a victim too.

Shaking, I rang my home phone number. Mum answered. But before I could say much, she berated me for being ‘so rude’ as to run away from the nice man’s house. She also chastised me for leaving her and my dad terrified for my safety. She told me to stay at the phone box and when dad returned home she would send him out again to pick us up.

He did and when I eventually got home to the safety of my bedroom, I broke down and cried into my pillow all night long.

That night was a watershed for so many reasons.

I had begun to face this demon, by knowing that in Brian I was not alone.

From that day I used every excuse I could find to avoid my abuser and never went back to Scouts or camping again. Even when my own troop leader called at our house to ask if I was okay, I managed to lie and stay safe.

My passion for football and hard school work helped mask the real reasons.

But the events of 1970-71 were just the beginning of the nightmare for me. My abuser’s smirking face and the smell of his stale sweat never leaves me.

I lived and grew through my mid-teens convinced I must be gay to have allowed a man to do the things my abuser did to me. I also lived in terror that either my parents, sisters, or worse still my school friends, would find out and I would become an object of ridicule.

Resultant behaviour patterns started to emerge: a need to control every aspect of my life and the social environment around me, outbursts of vocal anger, walking away from any situation which threatened my control, and as I turned 18, progressively heavy drinking.

The control aspect was – and still is – vital. For without it I feel vulnerable and frightened and unable to function normally. At home my behaviour sometimes borders on OCD.

Once away at university in the far flung environs of Yorkshire I also had a need to prove I was ‘normal’ or straight! Whereas a lot of young men ‘sow their oats’ at uni’, I sowed more than most. I am not proud in any measure, but I bedded as many girls who would say yes as I could, proving to myself I was ‘straight’!

I also needed female company, as a fear of being unsafe and alone was constantly with me. By the time I was 22-years-old I was engaged to a girl who promised to always care for me.

By the age of 24, we were wed. It was a sadly inappropriate marriage of two polar opposites and lasted just eight years. My outbursts of vocal temper, deep introspection and a need to control my own life, plus an affair, did not help!

But I survived my first divorce – and an 18 month battle with cancer – and tried to start over.

In 1990, aged 34, I moved to Scotland and found a geographical escape from my past. It involved burying myself in my job. Often working 16 hour days, prolonged success at work allowed me to control my life at last.

One year after moving north I met a young woman who told me of the sexual abuse she had suffered as a 14-year-old, adding that I was the first person she had confided in. I could not share my abuse with her… but this was an epiphany and I saw a possible way out.

A colleague at work was married to a police officer and I used him to help me lodge a formal complaint against my abuser via the Inspector at the local police station. He, in turn, passed on the complaint to the police force in the area of southern England where I had lived as a young teenager.

It was November 1991.

I waited in trepidation, wondering what might happen next and preparing to come clean with my parents if a court case was involved.

Two weeks passed before I was asked to attend the local police station to talk with the Inspector again. He invited me into an interview room at the back of the station, where he told me something I was not ready for… my abuser was dead!

I walked zombie-like back to my office, barely able to talk with anybody.

How could my abuser be dead! How could he not face justice for what he had done? How could I carry on?

The anger inside me was immense.

The next few months were hard as I tried to keep a lid on my emotions. But rages came, tears and gloom overwhelmed and eventually in the summer of 1992, I walked out and left that part of Scotland for good.

The next 20 years were much like the previous 20 with black moods, multiple broken relationships and a growing need to drink to forget.

Only success at work allowed me to be my real self.

By 2003 I recognised I was fast becoming an alcoholic. Alcoholics Anonymous was a refuge and it allowed me to share my past in confidence with complete strangers.

But life happens and the sudden need to care as a single parent for my youngest child reinforced the desire to take control of life and at last start to live it with purpose as a sober dad.

In January 2006 I moved to Wales to begin again, both at work and at home.

Work had a purpose as I edited a small but successful weekly newspaper. I had already edited other similar local papers years earlier and had twice taken them to win newspaper of the year awards. This time it was treading water, but enjoyable all the same and allowed stability for a full seven years.

Stories came and went and along the way and I worked with and befriended some wonderful people. I also wasted no opportunity to expose convicted child sex offenders whenever their cases came to light. Ironically the so-called ‘paedo files’ in North Wales seemed more expansive than anywhere else I had lived or worked. It was like unsolicited cathartic therapy.

My empathy with the victims was immense. But still I could not share what remained buried for so long.

Last year fate suddenly dealt me straight and I met my soul mate and now my darling wife. I shared everything with her and I found love and stability for the first time since I turned 14. Life was starting to have a meaning.

But just when life breathes fresh air something unexpected takes the breath away and leaves it stale.

Four months ago that something happened and sent my life into a complete tailspin. And to mix metaphors, the tailspin became a train crash.

While researching on-line for more information about a North Wales’ child sex abuse case we were carrying in the paper, I decided to look for any lasting details about my own abuser.

It didn’t take long and the moment will stay with me forever.

I discovered that my abuser was indeed dead. But he had died in 1996, aged 64… some five years AFTER the police told me he was already dead! I double and triple checked my facts.

I still cannot comprehend what happened.

Had the police in 1991 cocked up? Had they identified the wrong man? Or worse still was it a conspiracy to protect someone of importance in the local community? I guess I will never know, but I had been denied the justice and closure I had wanted all those years earlier.

The rages and tears came again as I struggled to take back control.

Work was corrosive and I felt undermined at every turn by junior bosses whose experience did not hold a candle to my own. I felt managed out of my job and was losing control of my own newspaper and my life.

On Wednesday 12 June 2013 I walked into my office to find that one of these junior charge hands had changed my front page – after I had gone to press – without any reference to me. I flipped and with it my whole life lay on its back kicking into a nothingness.

But now as I write this I am, for the very first time, receiving professional help to deal with my demon. And it is my abuser who is the demon, not some bungling police officer.

The demon will never go away, but I have a loving wife, a courageous and wonderful mother, a gorgeous youngest son and some amazing close friends, who all now know of my dark secret. And by sharing with them, I am slowly losing the need to control my life. It is liberating. I am recovering.

And it is for them that I need to live and share my inner self. The abuser has not won… I am fighting back.

This blog is the means to that end.

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Pardon Monsieur… am I hearing you right? #1

I MUST start by admitting that I know nothing about snooker and class it as a sport left on my personal coat stand, along with show jumping, all-in wrestling and synchronised swimming.Stephen Hendry

I must also add that I spent the first four years of my life in Hull and the next 14 in Sussex and North London. Upon leaving home at 18, I have lived and worked in South Yorkshire, Manchester, North Wales and now Shropshire.

So my natural speaking accent is somewhat neutral and I pride myself that I can often place someone to any area of the UK by their dialect.

But nothing prepared me for the 11 wonderful years I spent in Scotland where the regional accents and dialects vie for total uniqueness.

And lay ready to trap me many times.

In my first year in Argyll, I was bemused whenever I covered a district council meeting.

The chairman of the council was called Dick Walsh, yet the clerk kept referring to him as Jim!

It took me four meetings to discover that the clerk was actually saying “Chairm’n”, which to my un-tuned ears sounded clearly as Jim!

So I now take you forward a few years to 1995.

I was working as a reporter at The Herald newspaper in Glasgow – then a big selling broadsheet daily.

I have just come off the back of a week-long 10th anniversary investigation into the mysterious death of Scottish Nationalist Willie MacRae. I was in need of a couple of days of routine news writing.

Suddenly, the news editor Colin calls across to me: “Nic, we’d like you to cover the wedding of Stephen Hendry later today.”

“Okay,” I answer nervously.

I think deeply… I recognise the name, but who the fuck is Stephen Hendry?

Within 10 minutes, I have grabbed my reporter’s notebook, latched up with a staff photographer and together we share a car to the village church near Stirling, where the wedding is to take place.

We arrive in good time and join a small but growing band of journalists outside the church.

The as yet unknown Mr Hendry has provided the press pack with a stack of Coca Cola and brief but clear instructions to give the wedding party space and respect the happy occasion.

I have yet to admit to either my photographer or any fellow journalists that I haven’t the foggiest idea who Stephen Hendry is!

Cars start to pull up and an assortment of Scottish VIPs emerge and mingle with family and friends of the bride and groom as they enter the church.

Another car drives up and a smiling young man gets out.

I recognise his face and instantly realise this is Stephen Hendry. But I am still no clearer about why he is so famous.

The cameras start to flash and snap and the reporters around me scribble notes. A few questions and greetings are yelled and I hear the words: “The man’s a tart”!

Open mouthed, I jot down a few notes and wonder why he is being called such a term… maybe he’s a comedian!

But then my moment arrives.

Behind the groom’s car, another is decanting its occupants and outsteps football mega star and Celtic legend Kenny Dalglish.

I make a short move in his direction and blurt out some inane question such as: “Good weather today, Mr Dalglish?”

He smiles and utters a reply: “Yes, perfect,” and follows the groom’s party into the church.

I kick myself at not asking more obvious questions, such as “Are you interested in managing Celtic?” or “How do you know Mr Hendry?”

But the moment is lost.

A few minutes pass and the bridal car arrives and outsteps the beautiful bride. She turns and smiles at our press gallery and disappears into the church.

As the service begins, a grey-suited usher hands us all smart orders of service and a press release.

I read through the sheets carefully and everything becomes clear… world snooker champion Stephen Hendry is marrying his childhood sweetheart Mandy Tart!

Woosh…..

Brief Encounter #3

Mel SmithMel Smith

MY encounter with the portly and incredibly funny Mel Smith was brief and eternally memorable.

For those who don’t know me, one of my lifelong passions – indeed an obsession – is the music of a certain Robert Allen Zimmerman, known to the world as Bob Dylan.

I have followed Mr Dylan to gigs across the UK and Europe, and as age catches up with me and my hearing fades I truly believe the voice of the legend just gets better and better.

Anyway I digress.

It is February 1990 and I have tickets for three successive nights of a six night Bob Dylan residency at the Hammersmith Apollo in London.

On the first night at the Apollo I manage to brush shoulders with former England fast bowler Bob Willis and the late and great Dylanologist John Bauldie in the theatre bar. I also manage to get my car locked in a multi-storey car park and have to pay the attendant £10 to free it for me.

So when the second night arrives – and to save any repetition of the car park fiasco of the previous evening – I decide to beat the rush and leave during Bob’s second encore. On this evening that song is a delightful solo of Dark is a Dungeon.

I catch just the first two verses on the alleyway to the stairs before leaving quietly and quickly.

I arrive at the swing doors of the Apollo in an empty foyer and am set to leave into the cold winter night. I fumble in my leather jacket pocket for my car keys when suddenly I am almost knocked over by a bustling and puffing man also making a fast exit from the gig.

I look up to see the smiling and slightly red face of Mr Smith.

“Oops, sorry mate,” he says as he pushes through the doors.

He turns briefly and adds: “Sorry I am in a rush”, before disappearing into the night.

I guess there were two concert goers that night who missed the full beauty of Bob’s Dark is a Dungeon… Mel and me!

Saving Grace

stand up to cancer

“By this time I thought I would be sleeping in a pine box for all eternity, My faith keeps me alive and I know I’m only living By the saving grace that’s over me.”

(Bob Dylan 1980).

“Tell me how it feels?”

It was my mother’s voice; there was no mistaking that. I struggled to say something but a dryness in my throat allowed only a smile.

She clenched my left hand.

Beyond her the ward clock reported 9.30. I drifted back to sleep.

Sometime later I again opened my eyes.

Mother’s own eyes brightened and, as if from her mouth, I heard my father ask: “How is it son?”

I was surprised. I managed to reply: “Fine, but I can’t move.” The ward clock betrayed 10.10.

“Is that all it is?” I asked looking up at the wall, knowing that I had been led to the operating table at 8.30am.

“It’s 10pm,” my father replied.

I gagged for some reason… why had I been out for more than 13 hours?

Over the next three days my parents, surgeons and nursing staff gradually outlined to me the most telling day of my life: a day when surgeons worked tirelessly to remove two thirds of my right lung and repair a damaged aortic artery.

It was an operation plagued with difficulty and twice they thought they had lost me. But working straight through, they never gave up and used finely honed skills to take away the cancer and repair my body.

It was the final stage of a rebirth of life and spirit.

Some eight months earlier, I had been diagnosed with a malignant histio-cytoma of the right shoulder.

The diagnosis followed a year of failing health, tiredness and a strange and growing lump on my shoulder blade that would not go away.

Eventually, after claims of a sebaceous cyst and a muscular haematoma, I was told the truth.

“I dinna ken what it is,” said the plastic surgeon, betraying his Glaswegian roots. “But it looks malignant and we had better have a closer look.”

It was like being knocked down by a bus: cancer only happened to other people. It was a disease, which was difficult to talk about and even more difficult to contemplate.

Now I struggled to take in what I had been told.

A simple biopsy of the lump, as we all learned to call it, confirmed the surgeon’s suspicions. I was quickly booked into a local hospital for immediate and radical surgery.

Whether in shock, or just out of single-mindedness, the diagnosis passed me by.

I responded by reading every piece of medical literature I could find. Somehow I had to cope and knowledge is a weapon.

My sister-in-law was a cancer research specialist at Leeds University Hospital and furnished me with reams of reports about this rare and seemingly deadly cancer.

As I prepared for the surgery, I asked questions of doctors, cracked jokes with my parents and worried for my ability to cope. I saw fear in the eyes of those I loved and suddenly felt alone.

Eventually I cracked… and phoned the Samaritans.

It was probably the most important call I have ever made. I hurriedly explained to the female voice at the other end of the phone that I was not suicidal, but terrified of dying. I detected an intake of breath at the other end of the line. There was a rustling sound as she rummaged through her files and with an uplift in her voice she gave me the number of the organiser of a local cancer support group.

I tucked the number away.

A few evenings later, when the depression hit me again I picked up the phone. Diana was her name. At 38, she was a few years older than me and had recently been given remission from breast cancer. Diana was ebullient, encouraging and above all told me that whether I lived or died was up to me.

“You must visualise this thing that has invaded your body and fight it,” she said.

“Only you can beat it… with perhaps a little help from the surgeons and God.”

That was the key.

Diana and I were to begin an enduring friendship. I was able to reciprocate her help, I hope, when her cancer came back to taunt her three years later. I began to learn the value of friendship.

But what about God?

I had always believed in the saving grace of a higher spirit, but my church-going days had lapsed many years earlier and to be frank I was an atheist.

Somehow I had to find my own strength and faith to deal with this cancer.

The next morning, calmed by a warm early autumn sunshine I walked to my nearest church. After all, if there was a God, this was where he was supposed to dwell.

Gothic, cold and empty, the church provided space to think and pray to whatever was out there.

I made a few more visits to the empty church over the next couple of days before I was taken back into hospital for the surgery.

The operation to remove the cancer and replace my shoulder and back with re-constructive surgery was awkward, at times bloody painful and most of all seemingly endless.

Many days and nights of lying cramped on my left side as the skin grafts and flaps healed. Days and nights to think and determine whether I would recover.

I didn’t fear death… but I did fear pain.

I lay there warmed by the gospel lyrics of my musical hero, Bob Dylan. I still find it difficult to call it God, but a gentle spirit always seemed to be there and never again did I become frightened of this cancer or its likely consequences.

Three months of radiotherapy followed at Cardiff’s Velindre Hospital. Three months of finding more about myself and more about my fellow human beings.

Housed in a small hostel within the hospital grounds, up to 50 patients of all ages and with all forms of cancer worked within and without to tackle their own disease.

There was Coral-Ann, who denied her own malignancy. “It’s just a small tumour and is what you say: benign,” she lied. There was Maureen, colostomy bag in hand, who sipped morphine as she told tales of her childhood in Rhymney.

There was my roommate David, whose pituitary cancer had given him a grossly large head, hands and feet and made him appear like a freak at his job in the local tax inspectors’ office.

“Well boyo, this thing won’t beat me,” he cracked. And it didn’t.

And then there was Andrea.

At 21, she was the sweetest and most beautiful girl I had ever met and we quickly became inseparable soul mates.

Racked in pain, with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a bone cancer, she knew her chances of survival were slim.

“But I’m going to fight it,” she urged, willing me to do the same. “I haven’t yet got my degree, I haven’t learned to drive… and I’m still a virgin.

“I want to live a bit before I die.” She did.

But that did not dull the agony when three years later David and I stood together and shared tears at her funeral.

There is no reasoning in this.

My memories of Andrea remain. Her smile and her laughter as she beat me in a physiotherapy game of football, where she was only allowed to use her right leg and I only my arm. At the end of the game we collapsed side by side on the gym floor guffawing at how silly all this was.

And then there was the rainy December day when she returned from a Christmas shopping trip in Cardiff City centre laden down with presents and a £300 hole in her Visa card.

Her pleasure was manifest and her laugh stays with me.

A year before her death I visited Andrea again in a hospital in Birmingham, where she had undergone a hip replacement operation in a last attempt by surgeons to remove the seat of her cancer.

I sat and clenched her right hand and looked into her sparkling eyes.

I giggled. “Hey, you’ve got freckles and hair,” I exclaimed.

“Yes,” she answered, “I have been off chemotherapy for three months now to build up my strength for the op.”

I had only known Andrea as a tall, underweight, pale-faced girl under an horrendous NHS wig, which at times made her look like an extra in the Addams Family.

But now, holding her hand, this was how I was going to remember her.

I had found God in my fellow human beings and in the karma of knowing that far from myself being the key in this battle, the door was unlocked from without.

When the cancer returned to my right lung some months later I knew I had the strength to face it down.

My life was saved by the dedication and skill of the surgeons. But my spirit had already been saved.

At the time I was told I had less than a one in 10 chance of surviving beyond a year. But I was also told: “Doctors are seldom right when they predict the end.”

Now 26 years later, to the very month of the diagnosis and first operation,  the cancer is gone for good and I know my life is still in its springtime.

And Andrea never leaves me.

Brief Encounter #2

SallyGeesonSally Geeson

IT seems so long ago now, but there again it might as well have been yesterday.

I was just turned 17 and working my Saturday job at Boots the Chemist in my local town of Worthing. It was like any other Saturday. The store was, as usual, busy and I was getting quite used to occasionally serving half famous actors lodging in the town while performing at our local rep theatre.

But, I was not expecting the next customer.

It was my heartthrob and object of most of my teenage fantasies: actress Sally Geeson from the popular TV sitcom Bless this House. Ms Geeson played Sid James’ teenage daughter, also called Sally, in the hit series.

I stood there dumbstruck and quietly uttered; “Can I help you?”

Her big eyes seduced me from across the counter as she asked for some item of ladies’ toiletries. I think I probably dribbled, broke into a cold sweat or stuttered… or most likely did all three, before directing her down the counter aisle to the appropriate female assistant.

I stood open mouthed gazing after her.

This was my Brief Encounter.

I later found out that Ms Geeson is just six years older than me and went on to marry TV quiz presenter William G Stewart.

Lucky William!

 

The Shadowy One Who Fires the Gun

Daily Mail

THERE are only a few things in life I really hate, and one of them is the Daily Mail.

It is a poisonous rag which cloaks itself in the clothes of middle class decency while demeaning everything which is good.

And, as a journalist, I find its pretense at factual reporting frightening. Its so-called news reeks of innuendo and loaded propaganda.

And its agenda is unwavering: preserve Conservative Britain from the rabid threat of Marxism, the Labour Party, trade unions and working people.

So the savaging of Daily Mail deputy editor Jon Steafel by Alistair Campbell on BBC 2’s Newsnight over the paper’s scurrilous article about Ed Miliband’s late father Ralph, was an unexpected delight.

Particularly pleasing was the bright light Mr Campbell shone on the paper’s shadowy editor Paul Dacre.

My own dealings with the Mail as a journalist were rather more obscure.

I would like to take you back to 1997.

I was at the pinnacle of my career working as the Chief Investigative Reporter for the Scotsman.

A whole world away from the Daily Mail.

In three years, I had broken a series of major exclusive investigations. Among the highlights were the dumping of millions of tons of munitions in the Irish Sea, the deadly legacy of the Dounreay experimental nuclear plant in Northern Scotland and a probable link between pesticides and BSE.

I had also been honoured with two back-to-back awards as Scottish Journalist of the Year and was in line for a third.

I loved my job and the collegiate atmosphere I worked in. I honestly believed I would spend the rest of my working life at North Bridge, with no aspirations other than to continue in my role.

But all that changed when in December 1996, our newspaper was surprisingly bought out by property billionaires, the Barclay Brothers.

With the new owners came a new Editor in Chief, the infamous Andrew Neil.

There was a corporate intake of breath as we all wondered for the future.

That intake turned into something approaching choking when our much loved editor, Jim Seaton, was placed on ‘gardening leave’ awaiting early retirement and a new editor Martin Clarke was announced.

We all winced… Clarke had trained under Paul Dacre and he was well known as a Rottweiler in the newsroom.

Clarke’s editorial demeanour attracted a range of tributes from former colleagues: “vile”, “offensive”, “appalling”, “obsessive”, “childlike” and “foul-mouthed” being among the less flattering.

Like Dacre, whose briefings were called “the vagina monologues” for their reliance on one particular expletive, Clarke went one better.

“He would start by saying, ‘You’re all a fucking disgrace and one of you is going to be fucking sacked this week,” and the terrible thing was, one of us usually was,” said Alexandra Blair, The Times educational correspondent, who worked for him for a year and a half at The Scotsman.

Another reporter who worked under Clarke said: “He once said to me: ‘You’ve got to go and shout at the bastards or they won’t respect you.'”

My stay under Clarke’s editorship was brief… just six months.

I moved on after being told to follow his own loaded agenda, which included one weird instruction to prove that wild deer being pursued by hounds are “no more stressed than a cow in a slaughterhouse”!

The final straw came in a bleak week, which began by Clarke blanking me at a press awards lunch after I had been highly commended as reporter of the year and finished by him standing over me at 10pm on a fourth rewrite of a story, berating my journalism as “fucking bollocks”.

I introduce a clipping of a piece written by Rob Brown in June 1997.

“Senior writers and sub-editors now find themselves being showered with expletives by their new editor Martin Clarke, whose lexicon of abuse is fairly extensive.

“Several executives have resigned in disgust. They included the picture editor Paul Dodds, who quit after being ordered to get better pictures from his “f***in’ monkeys”.

“Also out is associate editor Lesley Riddoch, who suddenly found her articles being repeatedly spiked.

“One of the journalists who has quit in disgust said: “I have worked for some brutal editors in my time, but Martin Clarke behaves like a feudal squire and treats his staff like serfs. Change was certainly needed at The Scotsman, but not this. He is running amok, creating a totally demoralised and demotivated staff.”

“But, put it to Clarke that he is pursuing a monstrous form of macho management and he professes his innocence with almost schoolboyish sense of hurt.

“Clarke, 32, says the complaints are emanating from only a couple of “malcontents”. Some people, he says, are driven by “personal pique because they never got a job they wanted”. Nic Outterside, head of the paper’s investigative unit, left last week. Clarke says the unit was disbanded because it was “a crock of shit”.

“Others, according to Clarke, have become “malcontents” simply because they cannot stand the new pace in the newsroom.

“I demand a greater level of working than perhaps some people are used to here and I can be robust at times, like all editors,” he says.

“Clarke confirms that he drew up a five-and-a-half page document a few weeks after he took charge recommending that a number of senior Scotsman staffers should be removed from their posts. This “operation review” leaked from the editor’s office into the newsroom, where it was seen as a sinister hit list. Clarke admits to some regrets about that.

“Of course it was bloody unfortunate, but you don’t expect to work in a place where such illegal activities take place. It was stolen from my computer. I’ve worked in some pretty rough newspapers, but nowhere where people are that underhand.”

At the time of writing this blog, Clarke and Steafel are both tipped to succeed Paul Dacre as the next editor of the Daily Mail.

The art of being underhand is surely what the Mail is all about.

Brief Encounter #1

Leo Sayer

THIS was my first encounter with anyone recognised as widely famous.

I was brought up in the Sussex coastal towns of Shoreham by Sea and Hove. They were years of endless summers and wide-eyed innocence.

At the time of meeting the as-yet undiscovered talent of Leo Sayer I was in sixth form in nearby Lancing and occasionally (and illegally) attended music nights at the Swiss Cottage public house in Shoreham. Often on stage for a few songs was the talented Mr Sayer – long curly hair above a T shirt and blue denim jeans and except for his unique voice unrecognisable from the Leo everyone later came to know.

The following summer I worked the vacation before going up to university at our local general infirmary: Southlands Hospital. It was hard graft but an enjoyable student job, full of lasting memories.

No memory is sharper than in the week I started, when walking past me in a corridor outside Ward E and pushing a patient in a wheelchair was Mr Sayer!

On returning to the ward, and full of curiosity, I immediately asked after him. After all, what was a pub singer doing working in my local hospital?

“Oh that will be Gerry,” the staff nurse Cherry volunteered with a dismissive shrug.

“He sings a bit and I hear he is quite good,” she added.

“I know,” I replied, “I’ve heard him!”

Back home, my mum, who was a nurse at the same hospital, confirmed that Gerry had worked alongside her as a porter for quite some time.

A few months later Leo (real name Gerard) Sayer premiered two of his songs on my favourite TV show The Old Grey Whistle Test and soon after enjoyed a huge chart hit with the single The Show Must Go On.

I and many other teenagers from our local town bought his first album Silverbird. The rest as they say is history… but I can genuinely say I knew someone BEFORE they were famous!