It’s six thirty and we’re finally in a pub.
To be fair, it’s the first real disappointment of our Fleet Street walk, devised and guided by Michael Williams, whose journalistic career began in the street in ‘71 as a junior reporter at the London office of the Liverpool Daily Post.
Michael’s entertaining and informative pre-walk notes very much gave the impression that the day would be a long, boozy affair revolving around famous watering landmarks of the glory days described as the “Mecca of journalism” by Francois Nel, the Uclan Director of Leaders Programme, who accompanies us on the tour.
Not so - things aren’t what they used to be. Gone are the days of “Lunchtime O’Booze” and lunches Michael confessed to “…consisting of three bottles of champagne, two bottles of Margaux, half a bottle of Graves (and a small amount of food)”.
|Portland Place - Home of the BBC|
“Hey, love the glasses,” Roxanna teases Michael. She tells us that from October this year, the entire BBC will be run from either Portland Place or Salford. Left to ponder this outside the Beeb, as Roxanna gives us chapter and verse on the BBC World Service, I find myself concluding that the glasses are a little too Hockneyesque for old Fleet Street.
Cleared for security, we’re ushered into the Persian newsroom where we go largely unnoticed amid a burble of subdued research and negotiation. A broadcast to the Middle East is taking place with the grandiose façade of Langham’s hotel as a backdrop.
Outside, Neil the floor manager describes his role choreographing live broadcasts. It reminds me of why I gave up teaching. “…trying to keep them in order in there is a bloody nightmare,” he says.
I’m at a loss to understand why the BBC broadcasts to Persia at all, where it’s considered a crime of treason to tune in. Reuters are only permitted a foothold in order to generate news wires on the condition that they don’t feed them to the BBC. Roxanna tells us that no one’s actually been arrested for transgressing but many have been brought in for questioning.
I ask Francois why we bother and he explains that the World Service was funded by the Foreign Office until recently but now it comes out of the BBC’s budget. I’m left to wonder whether this is education or subjugation, but according to the Iranian government’s own figures, over 25 million tune in, so it reaches a wider audience than the Simpsons or Family Guy. Understandably, it is not easy to validate viewing figures when admitting to owning a satellite dish, let alone confessing to watching BBC, may land you in jail.
The Arabic channel broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week and serves 22 countries in the Middle East. The impressive facilities include a green screen - the only other one in the UK is in Ireland but they haven’t worked out how to install it yet. Green side up, I’d say.
After an over-priced sandwich we’re off to the Daily Telegraph offices in Victoria. Copies of The Telegraph, founded in 1855, was first sold for sixpence but shortly after its launch the government of the day removed Stamp Duty – referred to as “a tax on knowledge”- on newspapers. By 1865, now priced at a penny, it had a circulation of 480,000.
Our guide is Fleet Street veteran George Mewhey-Buvlle who has worked for the Telegraph for 47 years. The paper has relocated twice, he tells us, first from Fleet Street to Canary Wharf, where the offices were too vertical – horizontal is best for a newspaper – then to its current home in Victoria.
“The Telegraph had moved in the past but hadn’t moved on”, says Mewhey-Buvlle, “but now you come in each Monday to find something different. The success of a newspaper,” he adds, “is defined by a good circulation, a good rate card and better commercial orientation than your competitors. Nowadays you have to be as multi-faceted as possible. Life is ‘swim upstream’. Dead ones float down with it’”. I had a feeling that George, who appears to be more Bill Deeds than Bill Swim-Upstream, is a little uneasy with modern management-speak. I ponder whether I would be a swimmer or a floater in these magnificent settings which include a gym, spacious rest and dining areas, but – reflecting the times – no bar that I can see.
Mark Skegworth edits the Saturday Telegraph and takes up the baton from George: “I think it’s a really good time in terms of general re-structuring of the industry,” he says, adding that the road to Fleet Street has veered away from the traditional proving ground of the regional newspaper. This still exists today but is less viable, with most young journalists lucky enough to get a start coming through the university pathway.
“To quote the old football manager’s clique,” he says, “There’s a blend of youth and experience”. Funny – but on the way out I only clock one bloke over the age of 40.
Mid-afternoon and we’re off to the Blue Fin Building, home of IPC, in Southwark Street. On the winter streets of the capital’s commercial heart, it’s “… the violet hour, when the eyes and back turn upward from the desk, and when the human engine waits like a taxi throbbing, waiting”.
|The Blue Fin Building - home of IPC Magazines|
Five o’clock and there’s still not the faintest sniff of an alcoholic drink, but iced juice and a coffee are welcome. Lauren talks us through her journey to Southwark Street and gives advice on work placements: “I worked my ass off in the interview…people can always tell when you’ve put a lot into it,” she says. “As a student, you have a perception of what it would be like to work in an office. The thing that surprised me was that the teams aren’t as big as you thought they’d be.”
The Blue Fin Building is home to 67 titles, divided into three wings. Connect, specialises in women and home publications. Inspire deals with men’s magazines and entertainment, and South Bank is the division that produces the high-end glossies, such as Marie Claire and Homes and Gardens.
“And on your placement,” says Lauren, summing up, “Show that you’re willing to put the effort in and not moan.”
Brett Lewis is a print designer by trade but is currently the Group Creative Director for IPC. The arrival of the App – and there I was thinking that an app is something you pointed at a plane to see where it’s going, or that told you when the next bus is due – has changed everything.
Brett shows us his one-shot David Bowie (The Ultimate Musical Guide) app. This is a smorgasbord of video, musical clips, text, and multi-layered rich content on a digital hybrid platform with everything that you could possibly want embedded.
But I’m still a bit confused as to what exactly an app is and why my life is incomplete without one, until Brett tells us precisely why IPC are stoned in love with the things: “While print sold 8,000 in four weeks, the digital version sold 4,000 in three months and is continuing to sell at 1,000 per month”. This means a longer shelf life – except, of course, shelves don’t exist any more.
It’s a whole new world. The trouble about not being young any more is that just as soon as you’ve got a broad understanding of how something works, along comes something else and you have to start all over again. Back in the ‘80s, I loved Spandau Ballet. I thought that it would never be possible for anyone to make better music. And then along came Oasis and my New Romanticism went west.
Next we’re off on a tour of the shop floor. Everything is open plan and only a ceiling marker board seperates Nuts from Woman’s Weekly. I have no difficulty in locating Horse & Hound, where I’m hoping to be whipped into shape in March. A bale of hay marks the threshold of their territory but there’s no clear delineation where theirs ends and Eventing’s begins – no stable door to bolt nor puissance wall to jump. There’s no one here for me to introduce myself to, as Thursday’s edition goes to print today and they’re all locked into final editorial tweaking.
I find Rugby World, who I write a weekly on-line column for, but there’s no one here either – maybe they’re all in the sin bin.
And that concludes our visit to the Blue Fin but with it comes the realisation that we haven’t actually reached Fleet Street yet.
It’s just a short walk away; because of building work we forego the quickest route across the Millennium Bridge, but cross further upstream and make our way to the Tipperary and a welcome pint of Guinness. It doesn’t touch the sides.
Reflecting on an excellent day over a second pint of the black stuff, as Francois patiently explains how Twitter works, I’m reminded of an incident on our way to Southwark Street. Finding myself in a tube carriage with Francois, I ask about the political situation in his homeland, South Africa. Such is his enthusiasm for describing the denouements of the post-apartheid political balance that we almost miss our station. We would have, in fact, had I not put my 15 stone frame to good use and busted out of the closing carriage door, much to the annoyance of London Transport officialdom, from whom we received a severe tannoyed admonishment. Oddly enough, my fellow students found this most amusing.
Our group disperses and so I cross the road to the Old Cheshire Cheese, which serves a decent pint of bitter for £2.40 and a roast beef dinner for under a tenner. Back in the day, Sun journalists were reputed to have thrown darts at the landlady’s poodle. Slightly less worthy of mention is the fact that, amongst other literary heavyweights, Charles Dickens and Samuel Johnson drank here.
There are no poodles, literary greats nor even a Sun journalist here today.
The “Mecca of Journalism” has long since dispersed, “and their friends, the loitering heirs of City directors departed, have left no addresses”.