Friday 17 November 2017

The TV rating wars we've all been waiting for - Gaelic Mafia vs Russian Mafia

From my Daily Record column

The new Alex Salmond show presents me with a viewing challenge. I’d love to watch it but I fear he airs at the same time as re-runs of the evergreen “Speaking Our Language” with Rhoda MacDonald on BBC Alba.

It’s the viewing battle I’ve dreamed of for years - the beautiful Gaelic Mafia takes on the ugly face of the Russian Mafia. I know who’ll win that one.

But Salmond is no loser, he knows what he is doing by taking the Putin rouble.

Hiring himself out to the Kremlin-backed propaganda station on the same week RT registered with the US Department of Justice as a “foreign agent” is not a point of irony, it is exactly the point.

Going Slavic instead of going slàinte is a logical extension of the battle Alexi, as we must now address him, has been fighting against the UK media since at least 2012, earlier even.

It was about then, during the London Olympics NHS celebrations, the Queen’s rainy but jubilant Jubilee -  all that damn Britishness being beamed into Scottish living rooms - that the SNP leader crystallised his contempt for the most valued British asset, the BBC.

Auntie Beeb is the glue that holds Britain together, the flickering tribal flame which even in this day of splintered audiences gathers us around the polished Strictly dancefloor.

It’s not perfect, but when it comes to news the BBC is impartial, politically independent and still the most trusted thing about Britain.

So, from the perspective of the new Soviet hero, it must be destroyed.

To be fair Salmond did try to dismantle it first, demanding a Scottish Broadcasting Service airing kaleyard kitsch for the glens in the hope viewers turn their back on the Thames and the bass drumbeat of Eastenders. Some hope.

Instead he must de-legitimise the BBC. He had a fair go at this during the referendum, egging on the lynch mob BBC “bias” mentality as a “joyous” celebration.  

He knows he will be attacked for coming under Kremlin “kontrol” but putting himself on a news chatshow pedestal holds a mirror to other broadcasters, undermining their credibility in his reflected ego.

Of course RT is an arm of the Russian state, but isn’t the BBC the same thing, ask his useful idiots?

Isn’t the Putin rouble the same currency as the Daily Mail shilling? 

Well, the Daily Mail editor is keen on shooting wildlife, I hear, but not as enthusiastic as agents of the Russian state when it comes to shooting journalists.

There is no equivalence, at all, although for a Pavlovian section of nationalist support the comparison will be legitimate.   

I read Salmond wrong after 2014, I thought his hand in glove role with his successor was as father of the nation, a selfie daddy to all Scots.

Instead his task is to keep the 45 at 45 degrees centigrade, ready to boil the moment centre-ground Sturgeon decides the opportunity presents itself again.

It’s demeaning work for a former first-rate politician, but in the long game he thinks this will help crumble the Jericho walls of what keeps us British.  

Episode one of the Alexi show aired relatively unscathed, interviewing the exiled Catalan independence leader, the nearest thing we have to a 21st century Prince Charlie.

There is a limited supply of separatists to have as guests, though as a running theme some will never tire of Salmond’s trumpet.

Monday 13 November 2017

Who will carve up the fishing Brexit bonus?

From my Daily Record column 10/11/17

To the Fishmonger’s Hall, for a briefing on the bright future of fishing under Brexit. 

The splendid building is home of The Worshipful Company of Fishmongers, one of the great Livery Companies of London.

The Livery Companies were a posh name for the trading cartels that historically carved up business within the City of London boundaries.

It's a suitable venue for fishermen’s leaders who are the most enthusiastic supporters of leaving the EU and the shackles of the Commons Fisheries Policy.

They see fishing as the Brexit poster boy, with only a few months of transition out of the CFP after the UK’s March 2019 departure.

That’s to be followed by talks around a “grown-up” table that December to decide who gets access to the British fishing grounds. 

They don’t doubt the UK government will deliver on this. Everyone is aware of the “political dynamics” as Bertie Armstrong of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation puts it diplomatically.

That’s shorthand for eight of your Tory MPs in Scotland were elected on the back of Brexit-voting fishing communities, Mrs May.

Any sniff of betrayal and you can kiss goodbye to a Tory majority and see the SNP racing back in the North East faster than a grey seal can swallow a half ton of haddock.

Fishing is only 0.1 per cent of the UK’s economy but is an important symbol of taking back control, to borrow a phrase.

Fishing leaders anticipate a last-minute Brussels ambush in Brexit negotiations to demand continued access to UK waters for EU fleets as the price for a wider trade deal.

Fishermen are having none of that and the UK government is in delicate position, my shorthand for when fishermen have a hold of politicians by the, er, gills.

The guildmen serving breakfast assure us that by controlling UK waters there will be fish for all. 

What they mean is a bigger share of the fish stocks for the cartel of supermarket-sized trawlers that prowl UK seas.

The bizarre quota system of fishing has succeeded only in concentrating catching power in the hands of fewer and fewer powerful fishing interests and family businesses which deploy ever more efficient ships to hoover up the seas.  

For all their talk of reviving Britain’s coastal communities fishing organisations show no willingness to loosen the grip the big boys have on the quota. 
Any Scottish politician serious about preventing a Brexit “power grab” should stand ready to challenge big fishing interests.

If Brexit means Brexit there should be a UK-wide strategy to revive small and medium scale operations from the Telford harbours and towns long ago left behind by the super-trawlers.

It will mean taking some of the power, and some of the profit, away from the big boys in the guild hall.

Over to you Ian Duncan, Michael Gove, Fergus Ewing and any MP and MSP with a coastal constituency.   

Sùil Eile air Eòrpa aig còig air fhichead

Sùil Eile bhon an Daily Record

Chuir cuideigin nam chuimnhe gun robh an còigeamh sreath thar fhichead de dh’Eòrpa a’ tòiseachadh air an t-seachdain seo.

Deagh naidheachd dhan phrògram as bunasaiche a thàinig à leudachadh telebhisean na Gàidhlig.

Droch naidheachd dhuinne a bha an-sàs anns a’ chiad sreath.

Mar a bhiodh na cailleachan a’ cantainn mun telebhisean, cha robh an internet againn an uair sin.

Agus mealaibh uile ur naidheachd, sgioba 2.0 aig Eòrpa, a tha air duais Bafta a bhuannachadh an aghaidh phrògraman làidir anns a’ chànan eile.

Tha iarrtas ann a-nis gum bi tionndadh Beurla de dh’Eòrpa air a dhèanamh airson uair a thìde as ùr de phrògraman naidheachdan a tha gu bhith aig BBC Scotland an ath-bhliadhna.

‘S e buille bàis a bhiodh an sin dhan phrògram Gàidhlig. 

A’ chiad riaghailt airson craoladh na Gàidhlig, ‘s e bhith a’ cruthachadh sgeulachdan nach fhaic sibh anns a’ Bheurla.

Rudeigin cho luachmhor ri Eòrpa, bu chòir a ghlèidheadh.

Chan eil an t-airgead ann airson a bhith mar sgafallachd airson seirbheas Beurla, a bhios mar sgimilear a dh’itheas am biadh bhon a’ bhòrd.

English translation

Someone reminded me that the 25th series of Eorpa was starting this week.
Great news for the most original programme that came out of the expansion of Gaelic television.
Terrible news for those of us who were involved in the first series.
As the grannies used to say about the televisison, we didn’t have the internet then.
And congratulations to the Eorpa 2.0 team who won a Bafta prize against strong programmes in the other language.
There’s a demand now for an English version of Eorpa for a the new, hour-long news programme that BBC Scotland is launching next year.
That will be the death knell of the Gaelic programme.
The first rule of Gaelic broadcasting is to create stories that you do not see in English.
Something as valuable as Eorpa, it should be preserved.
The funding is not there to be a scaffold for an English service, which will be like a freeloader eating food from the table.

Sunday 5 November 2017

Cui bono, and what happens now to Brexit?

From my Daily Record column on Friday

Who benefits? Always the key question when a crime or a political crisis takes place.

Well, obviously Gavin Williamson is the winner of the “Pestminster” sexual harassment scandal.

In a moment of catastrophe the ambitious Tory chief whip, who has risen from nowhere in seven years, recommended himself for the more powerful job of UK Defence Secretary.

Theresa May is such a weak Prime Minister that she could only accept his support. Older ambitious men in cabinet, appalled at his audacity, cannot contain their jealousy. That’s the men. 

Women may have won,  that's a qualified result because cleaning out the political stable, as Ruth Davidson put it, of dirty old men who feel entitled to take advantage of younger women does not end sexual harassment. 

When the spin out from the grotesque Harvey Weinstein allegations collided with the world of British politics a serious problem was in danger of being reduced to gossipy tittle-tattle about knee-touching.

It took the grave claims by Labour activist Bex Bailey of a covered-up rape to underscore what is at stake. We might be at a turning point in public life, but the fight for equality and against sexual harassment will be a constant battleground.

The opposition are surely winners, if they have the strength of will to seize the prize. 

Yes, the PM is weakened, but Brexit, the issue that defines our political destiny steams on, dented but not derailed - yet. 

The big news of Michael Fallon’s resignation overshadowed two important developments in the Brexit debate on Wednesday.

Firstly, the opposition managed to force a vote that ought to bind the government into revealing the impact assessment of Brexit on 58 sectors of the economy.

The statistics, if they are redacted they will be leaked, will spell out the devastating effect of this act of national self-sabotage. Some minds may be changed.

The same day the Electoral Commission announced it was opening an investigation into Aaron Banks, the millionaire funder of UKIP and the Leave.EU campaign. 

Russia clearly attempted to manipulate the results of the US and French presidential elections. Why on earth would it not seek to diminish one of the world’s leading nuclear powers and undermine the 
European trading bloc by interfering with the Brexit referendum?

Following the Leaver loot might lead all the way to Moscow, but whether Russian propagandists slewed the Brexit result is now almost academic.

There is a sense of resignation across the UK that Brexit will now happen, when the time is opportune to stop it. 

Theresa May’s government is beginning to resemble John Major’s, but that government limped on for five year stabbing itself into incompetence.

May’s is unravelling quicker, but  there is no sign of Labour derailing the Brexit process.

Keir Starmer shows signs of being able to do it, the SNP would willingly join in the act, Corbyn is the drag anchor. 

The Tories are in a bloody mess but that is no guarantee that Corbyn's Labour party can win.

But to recall Tony Blair, if they can’t take this lot apart in the next few years they shouldn’t be in the business of politics at all.

Catalonia makes me grateful for David Cameron

El Mundo editorial the morning after Catalan parliament declaration

There can’t be many good weeks to be David Cameron, the worst Prime Minister Britain had in modern times.

But last weekend, as I tried to unknot the constitutional mare’s nest of Catalonia, I actually felt grateful for his premiership.

The Catalan declaration of UDI has little effect on the Scottish independence debate, but imagine what would be happening now had Cameron not staged the 2014 referendum here.

Had Scotland not voted three years ago Nicola Sturgeon would be under crazy pressure from hard-core nationalists to follow through on the Catalan example.

They staged an illegal referendum, violently opposed by the Spanish state, and declared independence on the back of a 92 per cent yes vote on a 43 per cent turn out. Now their leaders are in court or residing in Belgium and the ugly mess is heading to a December election.

Some SNP MSPs are dancing in the streets at the Catalan crisis, though Sturgeon is canny enough to keep her distance.

I was in Mallorca last week, the Catalan island has a relationship with Barcelona akin to Shetland’s regard for Edinburgh.

They weren’t dancing there, and anyone celebrating the breakaway Catalan republic should be careful what they wish for.

Those making the most capital out of Catalan crisis are Europe’s far-right nationalists, people most SNP supporters would run a mile from. 

I remember years ago trying to make a programme about the legacy of the Spanish civil war and discovering, in my naivety, that an event celebrated as a great socialist struggle by Scots was regarded as a tragic, embarrassing taboo by Spaniards.

It was an early lesson in not assuming you can inhabit other people’s histories or political skin.  

As I have said before the only parallel that can be drawn between Scotland and Catalonia is that we had a legally agreed referendum and settled the issue. Not forever, perhaps, but for now, with a vote and and undisputed result.

Friday 22 September 2017

Referendum news in full...

Good morning, here is this week’s referendum news.

Vince Cable wants a second referendum, but not one like the first one.

Willie Rennie is appealing to the SNP to join the campaign for another referendum, but not the second referendum they want.

However, now that second referendum is off the agenda the SNP might back the idea.

But not while members are outraged about Catalonia being refused a referendum by Madrid, which is exactly what Theresa May did earlier this year when faced with demands for a second referendum.

The SNP didn’t make much noise about the Catalan referendum beforehand, because they needed Madrid’s silence during the campaign for a second referendum, which didn’t happen because of Theresa May, which was a relief because they didn’t want one.

Now the second referendum is shelved, for now at least, the SNP can be angry about the Catalan referendum, which might or might not happen.

On the other second referendum, not the one the SNP want, the jury is still out, but it is unlikely to happen.

When Nicola Sturgeon was asked if there will be a second referendum, she is reported to have said: “The honest answer to that is - I don’t know”.

Just time for some late news, Nicola Sturgeon has clarified that when she said “I don’t know”, she was talking about when a second referendum might be. She still wants one.

On the other referendum, the second referendum, the not the one she wants and not one like the first one, the First Minister said it is becoming “more and more difficult to resist”. So, that might be on, after all.

I hope that’s cleared things up. That is all the referendum news this week. 

Friday 1 September 2017

Five lessons from Dugdale's leadership

From my Daily Record column
To borrow a phrase, I come to bury Kez, not to praise her. Kezia Dugdale was a far better leader than the Scottish Labour party deserved in 2015 but she made mistakes, as we all do.
Here are some lessons the next leader whoever he, and it looks like it might be a man, should learn from her.
Five things Kez got wrong:
1. Flirted with independence.
Dugdale undermined herself and beleaguered Labour loyalists when she said she might consider voting for separation. Nicola Sturgeon stooped to conquer (and damaged herself) by throwing fresh doubt on Dugdale with the accusation she had privately backed a second referendum as a post-Brexit option.
2. Attacked the leader but failed to topple him.
When Dugdale joined calls for Corbyn to resign and backed Owen Smith, she was speaking for Scottish members. But hers was neither a full-blooded mutiny nor a resignation. It was a battle a more astute politician would have avoided and it overshadowed her tenure.
3. Struggled to turn Scotland into a three-cornered fight.
In a political duel it is difficult to be hard from the wings. Dugdale did not master the impossible art of being the third party leader. Admittedly few politicians can.
4. She lacked a killer instinct.
It comes from being a genuinely nice person in a ruthless game. In life it sometimes happens but in politics the nice guys don’t win.
5. Didn’t get the timing right 
Was there ever a good time to be Scottish Labour leader? She came to office too young with the party at their lowest ebb. She leaves too early, granting Corbyn the opportunity to seize the balance of power on Labour’s ruling body, the National Executive Council.
And five things the next Scottish Labour leader must get right
1. Surf the Corbyn wave but don’t kid yourself.
Corbyn’s speeches in Scotland were the debating equivalent of reading a Cal Mac ferry timetable out loud but the crowds loved him. That bewildering phenomenon might be a clue to him just being this summer’s flavour. Don’t count on Corbyn being this popular with the youth vote for long and he will be just shy of 73 at the next general election. Build your own brand.
2. Kill off Indyref 2.
The gas could be turned up on independence very quickly if Tory Brexiteers wreck the UK’s economic future. Let the Tories make the case for Unionism, Labour have to make the case for Britain. The socialist principles for being better together have been neglected for too long.
3. Set the agenda.
In the latter part of her leadership, Dugdale developed a bread and butter platform focusing on health, education and social justice. Built on those foundations, the national debate is listing back from the fixation with the constitution. Labour can lead the way.
4. Fight the real Tories.
Ruth Davidson and her crew are bad news for working class communities. The small state, tax-cutting Tories are not where instinctive Labour voters should be going with their votes.
5. Take a long walk, preferably from Eastwood to Easterhouse.
It’s only 13 miles and a pilgrimage from one of the richest communities in Scotland to one of the poorest would symbolise Labour who are for everyone in the country. It might be tempting to veer off the path to the left but the walk is only the beginning of a journey to Bute House. Don’t leave the middle path is still the best advice for anyone who really aspires to be Labour’s next First Minister.

Friday 18 August 2017

Dear Jeremy, welcome to Scotland...

From my Daily Record column

Dear Jeremy,

Welcome to Stornoway where you start your tour of Scottish marginal seats next week.

Regretfully, I can’t accompany you to the Western Isles, though having just returned from the place I call home I can report your arrival is eagerly anticipated.

However, a word of caution. When you fly in next Wednesday don’t fall for the illusion of being on the periphery of British politics. The Isle of Lewis is at the very nexus of western politics.

Let me remind you how the dreaded DUP, which props up your nemesis in office, owe much of their philosophical roots to these islands.

When the late Rev Ian Paisley was setting up his fundamentalist Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster it was to the churches of Lewis he came for ideas. The DUP is no more than the political wing of the Paisleyite church. 

Then remember, as we do daily, how Donald Trump’s mother hails from the village of Tong, just across the bay from the airport you’ll set down at. Do you begin to see how the Hebrides could be at the root of some of an Islington MP’s waking nightmares?

So, tread carefully, though not with any fear because you can learn as much from the islanders as they can from you.

That sense of a community pulling together, which you saw in your own constituency after the dreadful June terror attack on Finsbury Park mosque, is, in the Western Isles, pretty much as constant as the wind.

Tapping into that energy of belonging, of caring and sharing so evident in these small communities is as important and elusive an element in changing lives across the UK as capturing the wind is for renewable energy.

Oh, a word on renewables. The Tories in their manifesto pledged a special islands renewables tariff crucial to a big interconnecter cable project to feed wind power to the mainland.   

You’ll have to go one further and explain how the project would be paid for by the £250 billion National Transformation Fund Labour promised in that excellent election manifesto.

The manifesto made a difference, as you undoubtedly did in Scotland. The island seat, Na h-Eileanan an Iar, is now within 1,000 votes of going Labour as are many of the other marginals you’ll visit.

To win them you have to persuade SNP voters to switch, just as you must convince Tory voters in parts of England to back Labour. 

It’s no small task, but the issues that really matter to people - low wages, a proper health service, a future for their kids - are the same across the UK. There’s nothing there that division - in Labour, in Britain or from Europe - would solve.

Despite a good result you lost the general election to a disastrous Tory campaign. Talking to the faithful is not going to get Labour over the line. You’ll have to reach out.      

Persuasion, of course, takes leadership. On the question of the age you are going to have to show some.
For a generation the EU transformed Scotland’s islands with funding to match the challenges of living on the edge.

You have to provide a solid alternative to the Tory cabinet’s “cunning plans” of Brexit policymaking by Blackadder script.

You’re going to have to make a call on Brexit, places like Lewis need you to make it the right one.

So, far from being on the edge these islands are central your mission to transform Britain and to your own personal journey.

The Lewis beaches are as good a place as any to reflect on this. Persuade the islands that Labour is a better way, and you are on the road to power.

Change things here Jeremy, and you will have changed the world. 

Yours, comrade Crichton.
PS - Don’t wait until you get there to buy a Harris Tweed jacket. Arrive in one, and take your sunglasses. Like politics, the islands can be cold one minute and hot the next. Siuthad a bhalaich, show ‘em you’ve got the island style.

A walk down Fleet Street

Hot on the heels of my guide to Lewis and Harris, a colleague has reminded me of a journey down Fleet Street we undertook several years ago. It just about stands the test of time, is a handy aide for journalism lecturers, and anyone else interested in a potted history of the Street of Shame.

Sunday Herald - 3rd July 2005
When a service was held to mark the departure of the last major news organisation to leave Fleet Street last month, the industry overlooked the fact that 40 Scottish journalists still remain there with Scottish publisher DC Thomsons. By Torcuil Crichton

THERE was a piquant irony in having the media baron Rupert Murdoch, the man who taught Fleet Street a lesson, reading one from the lectern of St Bride’s Church. But as Murdoch read the last rites for Fleet Street earlier this month the assembled media worshippers, if they had strained to listen, might have heard a tapping sound coming from the coffin.

That would have been the Sunday Post journalist James Millar and his colleagues knocking gently to remind the rest of the press world that journalism has not expired yet in the heart of London.

With the departure of Reuters news agency from its imposing home at 85 Fleet Street to that battery farm of journalism, Canary Wharf, the Street of Shame has been declared dead. Murdoch began the exodus of the national titles when he moved the Sun and the News of the World to Wapping in 1986 in the midst of an acrimonious and bloody industrial dispute that broke the power of the print unions. His empire and the rest of the national newspapers may be dearly departed, but they have definitely not gone to a better place.

DC Thomsons don’t make a big deal of it, but the Dundee publishers has been a presence on Fleet Street for more than 100 years. AFP, the French news agency, also maintains a staff on the Street of Shame but as far as Her Majesty’s Press is concerned, Millar, a clean-cut and healthy twentysomething, is the last representative of the British print media left standing at the bar.

Millar, still dawdling in his twenties, is probably one of the last recruits to the trade of journalism in Fleet Street. He rejoined the Sunday Post in its London offices a few years ago after a short sojourn into the world of magazines. He’s hardly the archetype wine-soaked hack in a trenchcoat.

Nursing a small glass of wine he’s dismissive of the hoo-hah that the London press made of the Reuters closure. “I don’t think we would have minded so much except that we weren’t invited to the service, “ he says.

Fleet Street has echoed to the sound of thundering presses, editors’ curses and clinking glasses since the first of Caxton’s printing presses across the city boundary.

In it’s heydey - considered to be any time after lunch and before the first editions rolled between 1920 to 1980 - every newspaper in the land was represented on Fleet Street.

According to Michael Frayn, the Guardian journalist who bottled the spirit of the street in his classic Sixties novel, Towards The End Of Morning, there is nothing left there now except “the dull, busy thoroughfare that connects the City and the West End”.

Millar may be one of the last journalists in Fleet Street, but the Sunday Post has no intention of turning out the lights just yet.

TOWARDS the end of the morning Jim McKillop, the Herald’s former London editor, leads a walk down the Ludgate Hill, in the direction of Fleet Street. We are in search of ghosts and if anyone can raise the spirit of the Street it’s McKillop, a journalist of the old school who has just laid down his notebook after 38 years with our sister newspaper, the Herald.

Before we cross the river Fleet, now covered by Farringdon Road, McKillop takes an almost habitual turn up towards the Old Bailey. The beauty of Fleet Street was its proximity to the courts, the City, the Parliament and the West End. Politics, scandal, crime and celebrity were a mere taxi ride away. The world revolved around Fleet Street, a global by-word for the fourth estate. And, like the song about Glasgow on a Saturday night, the world often whirled round and round Fleet Street.

“It wasn’t printers’ ink that flowed through Fleet Street, it was alcohol, “ says McKillop striding through the morning heat under the dapper shade of a straw panama hat, the current edition of Private Eye rolled up in his hand.

To prove the point we stop directly across from the Old Bailey, outside the site of the Magpie and Stump, the resident boozer for the court reporters. “Court reporting was different in these days, “ explains McKillop. “If there was a long, boring legal argument going on we’d all retire to the Stump and one of the policemen or court officials would give us a signal if things were livening up again or if the jury was due back.”

McKillop’s London career covered the late Seventies and Eighties, decades punctuated by reporting IRA atrocities in the capital, including the mortar attack on Downing Street and the bombing of Canary Wharf.

As a reporter he’s seen a lot of the inside of the Old Bailey, once taking the witness stand himself for one of the most notorious cases of recent years. The last time McKillop led me on a walk it was around the streets of Soham after the disappearance of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.

A reporter to his boots, McKillop had already re-traced the missing girls’ steps but wanted to do it one more time. Maybe something didn’t add up. Then, as now, he provided a dramatic narrative as he walked the rambling route.

“They went towards the sports centre . . . this is where they were seen on CCTV camera . . . then they crossed in front of the school . . . and they met the janitor who was washing his dog outside his house. Then they disappeared . . . I spoke to the janitor last night, strange chap . . .”

I ended up with a ready-made reconstruction of that fateful last journey and Jim, having covered every big trial at the Old Bailey since the Jeremy Thorpe affair, ended up in the witness box giving evidence at the trial of Ian Huntley.

McKillop didn’t come to journalism from a media studies course. He started as a copy boy on the Evening Times in Glasgow, aged 16, and finished his career, 45 years later in the Herald’s current offices on Cannon Street. His departure marked the real passing of the Fleet Street era, one of the legendary stories, larger than life characters, even larger expense accounts and booze-soaked afternoons.

“They did drink but some of the best columns ever written were by people who were well on, “ says McKillop. “One of the most famous journalists was Vincent Mulcrone of the Daily Mail. In 1966, on the day that England won the World Cup, he wrote a column for the Daily mail with an intro that began: ‘If Germany today beat us at our national sport we at least have the satisfaction of knowing that we have beat them twice at theirs. . .’. Remember, this was only 21 years after the war.”

The Mail’s pub was the Harrow, just across the road from the gargantuan print halls of Carmelite House just off Fleet Street. There’s a room there, a back snug, dedicated to Mulcrone. “He would begin his day by going into the Harrow, “ says Jim. “Waiting for him would be a fernibranker - a kind of cure-all - a glass of water and a half a bottle of champagne.

Yet he was one of the best.”

We walk on along the Holborn Viaduct, over what was once the stinking river Fleet, an open sewer that ran from Hampstead Heath to the Thames. The river is now piped under Farringdon Street and we’re looking for the liquid source of a different type. So we turn our back on the home of the Guardian and the Morning Star, whose staff drank up that way in the Hoop and Grapes, now called its old name once again. We turn into Fetter Lane, in the hope of sniffing out one of Fleet Street’s most notorious watering holes.

On the corner of Holborn Circus the old Daily Mirror building has been replaced with the steel and glass of Sainsbury’s headquarters. That should have been a warning. Down the side lane that leads to Fleet Street, the Stab in the Back is gone too. “Oh dear, this is very sad, “ says Jim, looking at the Pizza Express that has taken over the site. “I haven’t been here in years but this is the Stab. It was called that for obvious reasons - if you weren’t here you would get stabbed in the back and everyone got their comeuppance in there at one time or another.”

It was here that Keith Waterhouse, then columnist then of the Mirror, picked up the pet chihuahua belonging to the landlord’s wife and ordered two slices of bread for a dog sandwich. It was that kind of place.

When the Fleet Street journalists did go venture beyond the city limits to the provinces (the metrocentric navel gaze is nothing new to the national media) the whole thing resembled a travelling circus of mad hatters and fire eaters with monkeys and photographers in tow.

The ringmasters now are the television cameras, several of which were camped outside the Old Bailey this morning. The power to break news, that genuinely exclusive journalistic sensation, has been largely purloined by the hamster wheel of 24-hour television. The days of racing to file copy from phoneboxes - and then unscrewing the mouthpiece so that rivals were rendered mute - have been long overtaken by new technologies.

We bypass Dr Johnson’s house and come down on to the middle of Fleet Street.”This is it,” says Mckillop, brightening again, coining another quote.

“The first time I came down here from Glasgow as a trainee I really thought I’d made it. This was the beating heart of the newspaper industry but newspapers don’t have a heart any more.”

Fleet Street stretches from Temple Bar to Ludgate Circus and was for two centuries home to dozens of national newspapers and the London offices of most provincial titles. By the end of WWII most had moved to the alleys and streets around, but the title became the byword for the journalist community and a whole section of British national life.

Across the road is one of the Street of Shame’s venerable institutions, El Vino’s, immortalised in the Private Eye itself and still doing a roaring trade in strong port, fine wine and, having tasted it, some good coffee. It was a misogynistic institution and an exclusive gentleman’s drinking club until the walls of Jerico fell.

“Only people on really high expenses drank in there and they didn’t allow women in, “ says McKillop. “The law eventually caught up with them and on that day I went down with Anne Donaldson, who was then the London editor of the Herald. So she was one of the first women to drink in El Vino’s. Just to test them I took my tie off and I was nearly thrown out - but she was able to go in.”

Male-dominated as it was, some very able female journalists were able to elbow their way to the top of Fleet Street. We recall Jean Rook, for her journalism and because taxi drivers claimed she always inserted the number one in front of the total on any receipt they handed her.

Anne Leslie is another Fleet Street legend and bold international writer whom we remember, mainly for once trying to chat me up in the back of a Land Rover in Ghana, but that’s another story.

Back on the street the Sunday Post offices are on our right, shoe-horned into a narrow space in beautiful brown tiled bricks. DC Thompson’s titles will never leave Fleet Street, their names are wrapped in delicate mosaic around each floor of the building - the Dundee Courier, Peoples Journal, Weekly News and Sunday Post - all inscribed in a leitmotif around the elegant corner building.

The former Herald offices, in contrast, are unrecognisable and without McKillop to hand it would be missed. Purpose-built with columns of Portland Stone, the seven-story building at 56-57 Fleet Street, occupied the site of what was once the Green Dragon tavern, appropriately the haunt of generations of scribes.

Being so close to St Paul’s, Fleet Street was in the frontline in the Battle of Britain and in October 1940 the sandbagged Herald offices had a near-miss. But Fleet St took the war, like every other cataclysmic event, in its stride. When Cassandra, the Daily Mirror columnist, returned from the Second World War he began his column: “As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted...”

The saltire and the lion rampart are carved into the upper stories of the Herald building which now flies the flag of the Nigerian High Commission. In Jim’s day the Herald had 12 reporters in London as well as collection of sub-editors.

The Herald in Fleet Street used to drink off Fleet Street in the Clachan, a pub which no longer bears that name. The paper left the street in 1973 to Spitalfields, a move which coincided with Sir Hugh Fraser’s ownership of the company when the proprietor was donating generously to Ladbroke’s casinos each night.

Across the road we examine the most iconic of Fleet Street buildings, the Art Deco masterpiece in black glass that was the home of Express Newspapers. The Herald’s old Albion Street office in Glasgow was a copy of the Black Lubyanka and, before it closed, the smell of ink still rising from the hot presses in the morning, the rolls of newsprint arriving and the delivery vans speeding over the cobbles in the evening, provided a whiff of what Fleet Street must have been. The Express building still looks sleek and alluring, but McKillop reassures me it was a slum inside. The exterior is just a facade, part of the myth of journalism that makes up Fleet Street.

We go off-track down Bouverie Street, where the News of the World plied its trade. Down there is another of those endless alleys that connects to parallel streets. Somewhere round here, on Whitefriars Street, there was an old inn where that irascible Scot, James Boswell, later Dr Johnson’s biographer, managed to bed the actress Louisa Lewis after laying siege to her for the whole month of January 1763. Boswell’s London Journal in which all this, and much more is documented, puts lie to the myth that celebrity bonk-and-tells were a tabloid invention.

One of these passageways has been fantastically tiled with the entire history of Fleet Street from Caxton to the long goodbye. It makes for a diverting read on our way to Carmelite House, the old Mail building and the Harrow, a fine traditional pub with small, tiered drinking rooms that eventually lead to an upstairs restaurant.

It’s a delight to wander through and serves refreshing shandies away from the heat of the day.

After that we go to church, St Bride’s, the journalist’s church which has the inscriptions of some of the people McKillop worked with on the backs of the pews. We linger for a few moments at the Iraq War memorial in the east corner and then solemnly retire to the Old Bell, the traditional meeting point before and after funeral services in St Bride’s. The last time McKillop was here was for Arnold Kemp’s memorial service, the kindest of men and editor of the Herald during my stint at the paper.

In the churchyard he points out the City Golf Club, an entrance in a lane where journalists who’d never swung a four iron in their lives carried on drinking after the pubs closed for the afternoon. There were numerous private clubs with distinguished sounding names that provided after-hours drinking and a telephone number where errant journalists could be found.

Back across the road we have a quick shuffle around Peterborough Court, the former home of the Telegraph which lends its name still to the newspaper’s diary. It’s well after lunch by the time we finish our circular walk which takes us back to the eastern end of the street looking up at the polished clean facade of St Paul’s cathedral. There’s a plaque on the corner in the memory of Edgar Wallace, a reporter and founder of the company of newspaper owners. He was a famous writer, but he began as a reporter, a profession McKillop feels should still entail going outside the office to meet people who had experiences of what had happened. If that means going to the pub, then all the better, I say.

“It is the most honourable profession of all, “ he muses, reading the inscription on the Wallace plaque. “Look, it says here that he gave his heart to Fleet Street, “ chuckles McKillop. “Well, some gave their livers too.”