Geoffrey Mather


One for the road

Having as little as one alcoholic drink a day could shorten your life, according to a major new study.

These studies appear regularly and I read them with such horror that the only answer is a drink.

Drink is a capricious companion - a threat, a saviour, a necessity in some cases. You have to understand it, be the master of it, not the victim overwhelmed by it. That's the unwritten rule. How else are you supposed to get up in a morning and be able to face news of maniacs threatening nuclear war?

If you could collectively look at the entire population from a very high position, and note what it is doing in the evening, you would, I do not doubt, find that the troubled masses are the ones watching news bulletins. Elsewhere, you would find smaller numbers laughing, joking, having fun over a pint.

Given choice, then, which are you wanting to be - an obsessive absorber of dire threats about drink, or missiles, or lack of exercise, or lack of sleep: all the things pounding away at our consciences 24 hours a day - or are you going to have a laugh in a welcoming bar where the music is low or missing altogether and jokes get funnier according to what time it is.

I knew an editor, a class 1 drinker, who went to Dublin to fire a reporter. He arrived back rather late to admit, to his embarrassment, that it didn't work out that way in the pub: he gave the reporter a rise.

Drink, then, taken within personal limits, mitigates problems, produces solutions, mellows the perspective.

In my working days, a drink was a necessity in a fast-moving challenging editorial environment.

I do regret, in retrospect, that it has probably shortened my life - considerably, if I am to take this major new study seriously.

I shall recall that thought next week when I have a drink on my birthday. I'm 93 then.

(Try the Queen at 90 -- below left.)


Up the river stern first with the Queen

Like submarines, newspaper sub-editors were rarely seen but always noted for being the silent assassins. Different people would describe them variously - destroyers of artistry, murderers, verbal maniacs. You see what a tangled image it can be?

Right, definitions. What was a sub-editor? I say "was" because I think "subs" are in deep decline in the printed world. The "sub"was the man who stayed in the office and served the middle ground between a reporter's words and the final version sent to the printer. The inbetween. The headline writer. The destroyer of extraneous words. Sub-editors sat in rows.

I was once a sub-editor and my chief sub-editor of the time reminded us that the Archbishop of York is the Primate of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the Primate of All England. You see? That's the kind of thing. These subtle distinctions are the pride of sub-editors everywhere. They remember what others forget. Oh, and MCC. Never The MCC. Just in passing... Right?

I used to write silly headlines under my chief sub-editor. I kept them stored away waiting for events to match. A communist expelled for evil doings? Red sails in the sunset. (It was a popular tune of the time.)

My chief used to wince at such things. I pocketed prizes given monthly for them. We are talking here of the 1940's. I met him on the stairs after one of my wincing headlines. He halted to catch his breath (asthma) and having caught it remarked, "Isn't it time they called you up?" That was a term of praise, his kind.

When I became a drama critic, local of course, I found it wrong to criticise individual performers. After all, they bought the newspaper to see how they had performed. But I could criticise the writer of the play and I did. And I could write, "From a play in three acts this became a tragedy of two over-long intervals." My old news editor used to say, "Arts Club tonight, Mr Mather. And no poetry."

Another chief sub-editor was more taciturn, dedicated, never said much. He stunned us by dying on a bus. A chief sub editor dying at all was one thing not to be countenanced; but on a bus! He was the one supervising a lady sub-editor who, on a wedding report, put the headline: "Bride wears Dutch cap." The chief did not thank her for that, and the lady concerned had some trouble in deciding what was wrong with it.

Nor did we have much comfort when a slab of type went wrong and the story read: "The Queen, after naming the ship, floated stern first up the river."

Oh! what a lot we were supposed to know! As "subs" we were despatched to "The stone." Doesn't happen now, of course. All computer screens. The Stone is where the metal pages were approved and sent to the printing presses. The sub-editor on The Stone sorted out odd errors. I sorted one out by correcting a headline, or at least attempting to.

The headline had in it the word "Cinderella." I delayed the page because the metal type showed "Cindrella." I was aware of heavy breathing over my right shoulder from the rear. The works manager. "Why isn't this page away?" he said. "Because there is a mis-spelling of Cinderella." The headline was huge and running the width of the page. "Send this page to the printers" he called to the composing room chief. And to me, he said, "Cindrella is correct. That is how it is spelled."

Ignorance, I thought at the time, is most certainly bliss.

And so to the Daily Express's Christensen (whose directives to reporters and sub-editors can be viewed by clicking the link below).

An awesome man and one of the most successful of his kind. Four million-odd circulation. But pedantic? Yes. A sub-editor at heart. As features editor of the Express in Manchester I once used Garamond type; used it because - although it was not normally used in the Express - it matched exactly (to me) the kind of light and frothy story beneath it.

Christiansen loathed it. The editor in Manchester, Tim Hewat at the time (later of Granada and What the Papers Say), told me that Christiansen was on the phone for the third time raving against Garamond. In desperation, I said: "Tell him who did it. It was me. You didn't even know I was doing it." And Hewat replied, "Never complain, never explain." We left it at that.

Wartime was a time of learning for sub-editors and it produced the best standards of all time. I have seen three sub-editors at once examining a story - to cut it further, or to get a better heading. Newsprint shortage was the reason. Every word had to fight for its place. You got stories like this:

104 degrees (headline)
... was recorded in Newcastle yesterday (that's it: story in full!).

I was pleased with one of mine - Three line paragraph on a man abroad sentenced to 160 years in prison. Headline: Goodbye.

Nowadays? I read stuff in local publications that make me wince. The slogan for a good story used to be: Strong start, strong middle, strong end. I have sometimes read four paragraphs before getting to the point.

Ah well. Nothing in this world lasts for ever. Now to Chris:



Jack (Lord) Ashley

Sir John Barbirolli

Sir Osbert Sitwell

The Queen at 90

Bryson: the words that smile

The boy in Aleppo

The Queen's Speech that never was

Lord Bragg

Donald Campbell

Sir Neville Cardus and John Arlott

Ronald Carter, blacksmith

Violet Carson (Ena Sharples)

"The magic of Shakespeare swept me off my feet. Then I'm back to 'Ee, by gum' in the Street. It trapped me. It made me, if you like: it has gone all over the world. But it has destroyed me, because nobody sees me or anything about me."

Dame Catherine Cookson,

Earls, Dukes and Godly Men

Dame Gracie Fields & me

Ronald Fraser

Dame Thora Hird

Lionel Jeffries

(Railway Children)

Russell Harty

L S Lowry (above)




"You're not getting your ball back," she used to shout. "You'll kill somebody, you lot."

The crucible (climbing)




Grannie Morshead

Pubs and landlords

Wing and a prayer


Genius Family

Lancashire pride

Is democracy dead?

The best of whimsical fiction

North-South divide

The pleasures and agonies of Spring,

George Best at 20


Summer of 2006


Buddhism + life (Manjushri, Lake District) Life and Living 1 Life and Living 2 Life and Living 3

Rant: rumbles and grumbles. Lancashire affairs. Snippets: Bits and pieces.

copyright: Geoffrey Mather 2017

  • Retrospective

  • (collected in one spot)
  • On growing old
  • So there they were - Hollywood dominating the world with its Clark Gables, Jean Harlows, Spencer Tracys, Garbos and Bogarts, tears in its eyes, inventive, vulnerable, blessed by climate, limos and money but tormented, insecure and edgy as fledglings in nests.
  • Bennett's art is to take the apparently trivial - his mother's views of "her betters" and so on - and make them meaningful in much larger ways. Miss Shepherd tested all his beliefs and inhibitions one by one. The two of them existed together, but in worlds apart, like aliens. And yet, I suspect, it was the sameness that reached furthest into the writer's psyche. His long essay on Miss Shepherd is superb. Even on the second reading, I was laughing out loud, to the disgust of the dog,, and in the next sentence feeling for Bennett's own agony. So you have this magic formula, where the relationship between two people over 20 years can match the life experiences of us all. 

  • .

    "I am all for the unusual on Page One. I do not read stories of the type headed ' Bandits gag, tie up woman' very much nowadays because people are always gagging and tying up women. Such incidents are as common as gas-oven suicides." 

    Arthur Christiansen

    became editor of the Daily Express in October, 1933, a position he held for 24 years until 1957. During his editorship sales peaked at two million in 1935, over three million in 1944 and four million in 1949. Each day he wrote a bulletin. It was compulsory reading for members of editorial staff. Here are many of those bulletins.

    The Beaverbrook Saga

    The newspaper crisis


    + Molloy of the Mirror + Clive James + Churchill + Big-ego words + Vanishing language + Noam Chomsky's words + Great words of great events

  • In spite of his own eccentricities, he wanted the world to behave as he expected it to. Big companies, shops, waiters and hotel managers were his normal fodder. He terrorised them. When he snagged a coat on something protruding in Woolworth's, he said to the manager, "This is an expensive coat." "I can see it is," said the manager. "I noticed it when you came in." "Right," said Brian Duff, "I expect you to pay for it. And I don't want it invisibly mended because you can see it."
  • Ian Skidmore

    Sir James Scott Douglas (gossip columnist)

    When an editor complained of his booking into an expensive London hotel - the Dorchester as I recall - at the firm's expense, James merely said, "Where else can one entertain one's proprietor?" and the matter was hurriedly concluded, since no-one was prepared to phone (the late) Sir Max Aitken, who bossed the place at the time.

    I asked Jim (I always called him Jim, to be perverse, though it was obvious that he was entitled to James) to find out something one day - on the phone, I emphasised - and he said, "Oh yes, I shall ring" - go on, guess - "...Uncle Essex." It made me wish I had an Uncle Oswaldtwistle

    James had a habit of living extravagantly and encountering hard times, which is how he came to be a journalist. Both conditions were once almost fundamental to the job.

    Pub Talk with Peter Thomas

    Accrington Observer Observed

    Peter Stringfellow

    Edna the Traveller

    The pearl hunter

    Blaster Bates

    RSM Lord

    Concert Secretary

    Champion eater

    Witch woman

    Railway Children

    Mathers of Salem

    Crown and Kettled

    Railway Children

    Billiards halls


    Holy fizz


    TV to do



    St George's Day

    Selwyn Lloyd

    Lt Gen Sir Oliver Leese

    Theodore Major

    Sir John Moores

    Albert Modley

    Beatrix Potter

    Frank Randle

    Bill Shankly

    Les Dawson,

    Fred Dibnah,

    Dudley Doolittle (comic),

    Lady Anne Clifford

    Maureen Lipman

    The Immortal Griffin


    Soccer language