Reverse Ferret - A Fleet Street Classic by W.M.Boot

Reverse Ferret - A Fleet Street Classic by W.M.Boot

Reverse Ferret is a book about Fleet Street. And the suspicious, somewhat sexually explicit death - was it murder? - of the editor of the mythical "Sunday Chronicle".

Not just any book about London's famous (former) national newspaper HQ but one of the best - racy, intelligent, witty, slick, and so tightly crafted that it almost needs oxygen in order to breathe. What a shame that most readers aged - shall we say under 40 - might understand the naughty bits but won't really understand the best bits (although these are sometimes one and the same). Nor will they really register the news events or even the TV programmes of the age - the Falklands War, for example. Or Dirty Den. Or even the Page 3 girl "Luscious Lovely Linda Lusardi".

Fleet Street and its reporters' modus operandi (long alcoholic lunches, typewriters, and the chance to actually get out of the office and meet real people instead of so often relying these days on sandwiches at your desk, email press releases and interviews) is no more.

Reverse ferret is a phrase "used predominantly within the British media to describe a sudden reversal in an organisation's editorial line on a certain issue - and generally, this will involve no acknowledgement of the previous position". The term apparently originates from Kelvin MacKenzie's time at The "soaraway" Sun - sometimes known as the "current bun". And if ever the swashbuckling nature of Fleet Street of the 1980s could ever be captured in a single character it was MacKenzie!

W.M. Boot is not, of course, the author's real name. (And is not related to William Boot, the fictional journalist in the 1938 Evelyn Waugh comic novel Scoop). But I know who he or she is - a chum who gave me my first ever taste of Fleet Street in the '70s. Thanks Boot. I won't put the boot in my naming you since some of the characters in Reverse Ferret are known to both of us and might be unhappy with their portrayal! Suffice it to say that Boot was an executive on several national newspapers - the Daily and Sunday Mirror, The European, Today, the late lamented Independent and the Times. Among others. And I know of one "other" in particular, but I won't give the game away.

What does amaze me is the obviously superior classical education that Boot was able to conceal from us when working on some of our saucier stories. Where DID Boot learn that vast academic knowledge? Not in Fleet Street that's for sure!

Boot certainly bears no resemblance to Miles Platting, a character in the book "whose career as a showbiz writer had spiralled into drunken oblivion after his wife had left him for a young reporter she met at a Chronicle office party.

"He missed deadlines, failed to turn up at interviews, and when he did, invariably had a row with the star. As Tarquin put it: 'The Man The Stars Talk To became The Hack The Stars Do Their Best To Run A Mile From'.

One of the funniest characters in Reverse Ferret is a slimy and corrupt policeman, Inspector Dennis Droyle who "had the disconcerting habit of adding an aitch at the most unpredictable moments in what was presumably an attempt to shun the 'ello 'ello stereotype of the TV copper, but any attempt at gravity was vitiated by his voice, a high-pitched, adenoidal whine".

Example: "Hi must say - I rather thought you National newspaper journalists would be living in a more hopulent suite of offices than this."

But Boot writes: "Hopulent they were not. The features staff were packed together as tightly as a traffic jam on the new M25. There were seven of them in theory, sharing a hugger mugger of desks, bedecked with dirty mugs that nurtured vivid biospecimens , pots of glue and chewed Biros, hemmed in by overflowing waste bins (and), stacks of newspapers."

Sooner or later, of course, on-screen technology would seep like a virus into all newspaper offices including the "Chronic". There was a "charge against change" from the staff who "wanted to stay working as they always had, tapping at their typewriters, using paper, ballpoints, scissors and glue. They relished the familiarity of the office, with its smell of damp page proofs, the background clatter of the Linotype machines, the rumble of the presses. If it was good enough for Caxton, it was good enough for them."

Sadly (perhaps) it was not to be. But with hindsight, Fleet Street was always good fun. Thanks, Boot, for reminding us. And that "heditor" who died? Was it murder? You'll have to read the book to henlighten yourselves!

Arnie Wilson

Reverse Ferret by W.M.Boot is published by New Generation Publishing and available from Amazon at £14.99 (£8.99 in paperback).


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