Menace with saccharin


A Fleet Street editor’s voice at the other end of the telephone is guaranteed to send a shiver down a young reporter’s spine.

And when Brian Hitchen rang you it was doubly unsettling for he was always charming but with a hint of menace.

His voice came over my press village phone while I was covering the Olympics in Seoul in 1988 to wonder casually why the Olympic Committee wanted to take my accreditation away after I’d had a ruck with an athlete who tried to gag the Daily Star’s inquiries into an unsavoury sexual tryst alleged by a rival newspaper. But that was not the time I remember best.

Now was it when in Tel Aviv covering the First Gulf War, Brian phoned me at the Hilton to ask why I had not gone into the sealed rooms as requested by the Israeli Defence Force, when Saddam’s Scuds came thudding in.

No it was much more prosaic than that: a call came through to my home in Essex: ‘Dick are you in tomorrow?’

‘Er, yes, Brian,’ I said nervously wondering what I had done to warrant his wrath this time. ‘OK. Ignore the newsdesk and come straight in to see me would you?’

‘Of course.’

Next day I worriedly hurried along the tin corridor of the Black Lubianka in Fleet Street to find Brian in his office with a copy of Yachting Monthly spread out before him.

‘Dick there’s a very good story here,’ he said tapping the page. I looked at a box advert for a Customs & Excise VAT sale in Plymouth of drug-seized yachts.

‘Go and see what it’s all about. Oh and while you’re down there have a look at this boat for me would you?’

I was on an errand to survey and purchase his Westerly Centaur, which he re-named Scoop.

The newsdesk never found out!