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How Do the Tabloids Tick?

29/05/2015 18:11 BST | Updated 28/05/2016 10:59 BST

The recent phone-hacking scandal may have taken up headlines across UK tabloids, but it was simply replacing the stories unearthed by those illegal activities - stories that the public lapped up at the time. My personal experience highlighted the strange combination of cunning and frenzy that underpins the British press.

When Neville Thurlbeck turned up on my doorstep to shatter my world, I would never have imagined that ten years later I would agree to review his book Tabloid Secrets. But time moves on and I was fascinated to get an insight into what makes a tabloid tick. I also wanted to see if one of Fleet Street's most infamous door-steppers has any emotional connection with his victims.

In some weird Stockholm Syndrome way, I was keen to like him and understand he was just doing a job. But although I am told he is a nice guy, I have to say that the book never warmed me to its author.

Instead, I saw a professional going about his business with calculating efficiency. Thurlbeck recounts his famous hits with the same almost amoral glee we saw when the tabloids ran those stories for the first time. Rather like an 80s boy-band reunion we go from Rose West to Beckham, with Robin Cook and Jeffrey Archer as the salacious filling.

That said, what Tabloid Secrets does reveal is the enormous lengths those journalists and consultants went to in order to get their stories. Thurlbeck spent hours sat in cars, did thousands of miles on planes and passed days in the company of private detectives. The life was at times really boring, mixed with sudden bursts of adrenaline as the victims or evidence came together.

However, the big elephant in the room in Tabloid Secrets is the absence of any real detail on phone hacking. As he went to jail, the author was bound by law not to write about his crimes, but it is nearly impossible to read his book and grasp his thinking without understanding the depth and detail of how hacking took place.

Yet despite this enormous gap, there was a real insight into how the tabloids worked: the whole chapter on Mosley, with its detail on giving hidden cameras to prostitutes, or the lucky breaks with rumours about Chris Huhne's affair - which in turn unfolded into so much more.

But it's not all tit and bum. Thurlbeck describes being the first hack to come across six dead bodies in Belfast and the impact these images had on him. His most intense chapter highlights his work with MI5, as tabloid scoops occasionally rubbed shoulders with intelligence that needed to be protected for national security.

It was only really in the last chapter that I got a sense of Thurlbeck's human side that I was so eager to see - talking about his daughters standing by him when times got tough. Unsurprisingly, that was when I wondered if he thought at all about my girls when I was just another story to him?

One thing we will agree on is his last line of the book: "Time marches on. And so must I." Time is marching on for the tabloids as well, and it will be intriguing to see how much the public's appetite for sin and scandal continues to feed the beast.