Thursday, 28 May 2009
But one of my strangest assignments was from a showbiz contact who wanted a new face for one of his singers. She was an accomplished club act but her career was in the doldrums and she wanted to become the UK’s top Madonna look-alike and sound-alike.
There was just one drawback. While she could passably sing like Madonna she looked more like Maradona. At the time the necessary cosmetic surgery cost around £16,000 and she could only afford half.
I set to work writing to about 20 plastic surgeons outlining the case. I was offering substantial coverage in a national newspaper in return for a hefty reduction in their fees. Nine replied and it so happened that one lived close to the lady’s home 300 miles away from mine.
I duly contacted a friend who was deputy editor of The Sun and received from him a letter saying how the story had the potential to be a double page spread in the world’s biggest selling daily newspaper. I drove down, picked up the warbler and eventually found the clinician’s lavish home.
The crunch of the gravel drive under our feet went on for some time as we passed the Rolls Royce and the huge mobile home. The surgeon asked me to wait in the “drawing room” while he interviewed my “client”. Some 20 minutes later the two of them emerged and he pronounced the singer physically and mentally fit to undergo the operation. It involved pulling the skin off her face like removing a Marigold from your hand and cutting here and there. Thankfully I hadn’t had breakfast.
“Wonderful,” I said and pulled the Sun letter from my inside pocket with a flourish. The surgeon read it carefully and handed it back to me. “Interesting, but there’s just one problem,” he said. “A few years ago the Sun newspaper called me Dr Frankenstein.” I gulped. “Really, you sued, of course?” He gave a shrug. “Well yes, but let’s put it this way, their lawyers were cleverer than mine!”
When I got home I checked the cuttings. The surgeon was quoted as saying: "I especially don't like doing operations in December. I don't like patients ringing me up moaning that they are bleeding while I'm carving the Christmas turkey."
I eventually arranged for another surgeon to perform the operation. We agreed to let the scars heal and then arrange a photo-shoot. But while I was away on holiday the singer gave an impromptu interview to a rival newspaper which sunk the whole project and left me out of pocket. Freelances live on results. I felt like rearranging her face myself. Mind, I’ve never seen or heard of her again. It just hurts whenever I hear Madonna sing "I'm So Stupid".....
Wednesday, 27 May 2009
I’m not quite sure how and why the term monkey was coined. I vaguely recall former Daily Express photographer Peter Jackson who used to take a monkey doll to the political conferences of the major parties but I suspect the epithet was in use long before that. (Jacko, incidentally, died tragically when he fell from the bedroom window of a Maltese hotel room I was due to share with him. But I had to miss that Press trip).
Mirror snapper Andrew Stenning thinks the term comes from photographers following Prince Charles on foreign royal trips in the Seventies and Eighties. They had a habit of climbing up trees to get a better shot. Charles was annoyed about this and gave a packet of peanuts to some reporters with the comment "Here's some nuts for your monkey friends!"
While former Daily Star lensman Ciaran Donnelly swears it comes from Joe Gorrod of the Daily Mirror in Belfast during the troubles circa 1974. When Cyril Cain the photographer in Belfast was being asked about a story Joe opined if anyone wanted to know about it they "should talk to the organ grinder not the monkey".
Photographic lecturers or grumpy picture editors are accustomed to calling a particular image "a monkey shot" meaning a monkey with a camera could have taken it. Also, according to my old Fleet Street snapper pal Peter Wilcock, the term for continually looking at the LCD screen of a digital camera is called...' chimping'.
Anyway, monkeys are a legendary breed, a bit like goalkeepers really. Many of them are barking. But the world would be a sorrier place without them and their ability to do the unexpected has saved many a blunt (often from physical harm, see my earlier blog on Big Daddy: Question Time) while also delivering superb results of the painting-with-light variety.
My favourite monkey story involves a Liverpool-based photographer called Chris Neill, one of whose many skills is snapping footballers. Indeed, having read about his own alleged exploits (often inaccurately reported) in the autobiographies or biographies of Alex Ferguson, Phil Thompson, Robbie Fowler and Peter Crouch he is now thinking of writing a book on himself.
Chris, who works mainly for nationals, had been commissioned by the Manchester Evening News to take a picture of actor Bryan Mosley, who played Alf Roberts in
Having a drink in the piano bar, Chris spotted a figure in the distance whom he took for his former assistant head teacher at North Manchester High School for Boys, Alan Atherton (the dad of ex England cricket captain Mike by the way). Sidling over to him Chris said: “Hello, it’s Alan Atherton isn’t it?” To which the customer said: “No, my name is Dustin Hoffman.”
After apologising, Chris and the
Another sherbet later, the feature writer turned up and they proceeded to the lift to ascend to Bryan Mosley’s room. The lift door duly opened and out walked Hoffman, in tuxedo, saying: “Hi, Chris, and thanks for the directions.” Alas, Chris omitted to snap the look on the blunt’s face, which was, most certainly, a picture.
Sunday, 24 May 2009
What's that big circle for in the middle of a football pitch?
Bobby Ball...is he part of a comedy duo?
The BBC radio programme Start the Week...is it on a Monday?
The Olympics, they're every five years aren't they?
I'm writing about that famous cricketer W.G.Wells
When Nat Lofthouse was dubbed the Lion of Vienna who were England playing?
This actor Michael Douglas...is he local?
What's a Mexican wave?
What's the word for one of those stories that we keep all to ourselves and no one else has got?
John Lennon...didn't he write most of the Beatles' songs?
Dunlop, they makes tyres don't they?
Screaming Lord Sutch, what was his real surname?
Have you heard of a television company called CNN?
And my personal favourite...
The Sooty Museum...is that someting to do with Indian burial rituals?
Wednesday, 20 May 2009
What’s the toughest question you have ever had to ask? No, apart from “can you kindly settle that outstanding invoice?” I’d appreciate your examples. The three questions I would really love to ask are (a) “God, is there life after death?” (b)
Tuesday, 19 May 2009
Monday, 18 May 2009
The scandal over MPs' expenses rather puts to shame the so-called Spanish practices and creative accountancy of journalists over the years. I can't recall any colleagues claiming for maintenance of a moat or the purchase of a chandelier. But I can't be sure. Few hacks, especially those on national newspapers, have not been taken conspiratorially to one side over the years by a more experienced hand and shown the craft of fooling the beancounters upstairs. The late, former Daily Express man Trevor (Kennard) Reynolds had an ingenious ploy. He banked on the news editor, who signed the expenses forms, being too busy, so would put a reasonable claim in the box at the bottom although the actual figures above would often amount to almost twice as much. A diligent calculator-jabber would correct the error and authorise the higher amount to be paid. The perennial joke in the accounts department was of Trevor’s poor numeracy skills. But, of course, it was TKR who always had the last laugh. For a joke another Expressman once put in a claim for something like “hire of spaceship £1m”. Without checking, the busy news editor duly signed the chitty and the next thing to happen was an angry summons from the pub at lunchtime to attend a meeting with the chief accountant. Top sportswriter Peter Batt is said to have interviewed a racing trainer over the phone for a substantial article and duly put the receipt for a meal he’d had with his wife and two young kids on expenses. When quizzed as to why there were two “children’s portions” on the restaurant receipt a straight-faced Peter said: “They were jockeys”. One hack, in a district office, claimed for an imaginary pair of gumboots he said was essential to cover a story. Later he was told to bring in the actual boots because someone else might need them. He raced to the nearest army surplus shop, paid for a real pair, smeared them with mud and offered them to the news room. Later an accountant wrote: ‘Next time you go out on a job, maybe you could move a little faster if you undid the string at the top.’ I'm obliged to the website www.gentlemenranters.com for that story. One reporter sent to interview a talking dog charged £10 for a bone. When grilled by an incredulous news editor who said: “It must have been a big bone” the hack thumped the desk in anger and roared: “It was f***ing big dog.” Former Daily Star journalist Gordon Wilkinson went on a job to
Put it on expenses
We will show you how
Do not tear the a**e out
But the last word must go to photographer George Birch, sent to snap a cat peering through a mouse hole. He had to secure the cat’s hind legs with a tie purchased from a local ironmonger’s so it didn’t actually devour the rodent before George’s shutter had clicked. His expenses claim later famously read: “Money for old rope”.
Thursday, 14 May 2009
Wednesday, 13 May 2009
Tuesday, 12 May 2009
Monday, 11 May 2009
Sunday, 10 May 2009
My pal Gavin Hill is a genius. After more than a year of negotiations he is about to embark on filming a series of eight one hour fly-on-the-wall television documentary programmes under the working title Thai Cops. The shows follow the work of the police in exotic and sometimes seedy locations in Thailand, focusing a lot on the British recruits who have been specially hired to deal with the high numbers of foreign tourists. Many visitors, of course, end up worse for drink and in trouble with the law like the England fan in the picture taken from the "teaser tape" Gavin used to gain the commission. Gavin, who has come a long way since he read the news on Radio Piccadilly, has obtained amazing access from the authorities and will be visiting, among many places, the notorious "Bangkok Hilton" jail. What you might call his "Get Into Jail Free Card". Apparently several journalists have been killed on similar trips by inmates serving sentences of 60 or 70 years who rap their chains around your neck and choke the life out of you before you've even got your Press card out. Gavin is no stranger to danger, having dodged bullets in Afghanistan and in Iraq and been kidnapped by a tribe of cannibals on an island off Papua New Guinea, all high after munching on some hallucinogenic root vegetable. He also risked life and limb filming the outrageous antics of young people in the UK for a show called Generation Xcess here.