Posted: December 1st, 2020
BOB IRELAND, giant character, legendary Mirror sub and king of the one-par headlines, died today (Dec 1, 2020), aged 82. Bob also co-founded the groundbreaking Pressgang agency.
His partner Margot Nowinska said: “It is with broken heart that I have to tell you that Bob passed away this morning. He fell ill on Monday morning and all the doctors could do was make him comfortable. He has had five turbulent years with his health and although he had a lot wrong with him this was unexpected. We had managed to keep well under the pandemic cloud and were looking forward to a more hopeful future.”
Remembering Bob Ireland – by Steve Hill: After leaving the Mirror, Bob Ireland and I spent seven happy years working together at our own company, Pressgang Publishing, until the recession of the early 1990s. At that point, many of our client companies decided to axe their staff publications to save money. I opted for a change of direction while Bob decided to soldier on alone, taking the entire risk on his shoulders.
He was the nicest and the best of men and I loved him dearly. As an Oxford Classics scholar (I believe he took a First), he had an erudition and a quality of memory I have never encountered elsewhere. Throw a few words at him from a poem, play or novel by one of the great English writers and he would pick up the quote and continue to recite it endlessly. He could do the same in Latin and ancient Greek. He had a depth of knowledge about our English language, as well as her literature, that outran mine as a hare outruns a tortoise, and it dwarfed that of the corporate communications pygmies from whom we were condemned to take instruction.
I remember a day we were doing the marks from an “editorial executive” on the staff newspaper of a major UK bank we had as a client. We had cut one of her many unnecessary commas and she wanted it reinstated. “It doesn’t really need it. It’s a noun in apposition,” said Bob, with great tact. The editorial executive harrumphed: “Well, I suppose it has to be in some position or other – but I still think it needs a comma.” Bob obligingly reinserted the solecism and said nothing. Later, he turned to me and shrugged, commenting wryly: “Some of our customers are bankers …”
He was very supportive of me during my time as MD. A complainant told him: “Steve’s trouble is that he wants to run the company from the nearest pub.” Bob responded: “But surely that’s the most sensible pub to run it from?”
Many of my memories of Bob involve the pubs and restaurants in Soho and Fitzrovia where we spent a lot of time together making “marketing plans”, and where we lavished attention on our clients and potential clients. I remember we took one good prospect for lunch at a French restaurant near our office in Charlotte Street. We had not met before and she turned out to be an extremely plump and heavily expectant woman in a low-cut pregnancy smock. I sat directly opposite her with Bob on my right.
As we chatted, I suddenly caught sight of a large, black cockroach cautiously setting out from the shelter of this woman’s chestnut hair to explore the white expanse of her ample bosom.
Should I reach across the table and attempt to brush the offending insect away from her breast? Or would my bizarre behaviour alone be enough to bring on labour? What comment could I possibly make to alert her without alarming her? I just froze.
Bob had seen the cockroach at the same instant I had, and his quick-witted reaction was to begin talking loudly, 19 to the dozen, while gazing fixedly at her. He wanted to hold her eyes on him so she would not look down to check out this curious tickling sensation.
The cockroach scuttled up and down and round and round for what seemed like an eternity until finally it slipped below the neckline of her dress into her cleavage and disappeared from human ken. For the rest of the meal, I sat with my heart in my mouth, dreading the moment it might reappear, and on tenterhooks that the poor woman would suddenly feel the insect’s movement and let out a scream of horror.
My partner remained calm and composed, and took over the conversation completely until our prospective client had finished her meal and left. Then we paid the bill and headed to a nearby pub for a much-needed livener. Bob sighed. “Well I don’t know if we’ll ever get any work out of this lunch or not, but it will certainly be the toughest pitch I’ve ever done.” We never heard from this prospective client again, and somehow I never managed to summon up the nerve to phone her.
Jonathan Cundy: “Bob was much loved and a great character with a wonderful sense of humour. He was an expert at the ‘263’, the Mirror’s name for a single-paragraph story with a witty headline. Bob subbed one about sheep in the Lake District falling ill because of a problem with the grass, to which he gave the headline ‘Graze allergy’.
“He used to tell the tale of going for a job with Marks and Spencer in his pre-Mirror days. The interviewer asked him his motivation for applying. When Bob replied that he needed a job to earn some money, the interviewer was astonished at his candour. ‘People usually say they have had a lifelong dream of joining Marks and Spencer and no other firm can possibly do.’
“One or two of Bob’s witticisms might trouble today’s thought police. He remarked once: ‘Foreigners stopped being funny when they started wearing lounge suits’.”
Alan Livermore: “Very sad news. Lovely man. Bob worked for British Airways News and was paid in credits at the BA Flight Training School at Booker airfield, near High Wycombe. When I showed an interest, Bob invited me for a flight over the area, which included my childhood stamping ground of nearby Amersham.
We took off, with Bob and me in the front seats and his two very young children, behind us. Within ten minutes, the kids were fast asleep. I presume they had done this trip so often that it was boring. Not for me though…
“As we flew over Amersham, I spotted my old school, Dr Challoner’s Grammar, where I had a mixed five years academically under a very authoritarian headmaster, who caned me at least once. I joked it would be fun to dive-bomb the school, and within seconds Bob sent the plane into a nosedive… striking terror into me. As we bore down on the headmaster’s house, finally Bob pulled the nose up and we were away. Phew! Sadly the tyrannical head had long retired.
Bob even let me have a go at the controls and I asked him: ‘How do we know there are no other planes in our airspace?’
His reply: ‘You have to keep your eyes peeled!’ Aaagh! Was that it? Fond memories, Bob.
David Banks: “One of the great Mirror subs, Bob kept in his desk a notebook filled with 263 one-liners waiting to headline appropriate stories which, he assured me, he was confident would one day arrive.
“One year in the late ’60s he rented a cottage on a French farm for his young family. After a long drive through France they arrived at the farmhouse in time to see ambulancemen evacuating the unconscious farmer.
“Bob’s schoolboy French was just about good enough to discover, between the wailing woman’s screams and heart-rending sobs, that her husband’s lower arm had been sliced off by a piece of farm machinery. But NOT good enough to say anything more comforting or meaningful than: ‘Mon Dieu, quelle domage!’
“He sighed when he told me the tale years later: ‘What a pity…’”
Pat Welland: “Farewell to a master sub, pilot, dapper media entrepreneur and gentleman speed enthusiast. The only man to bring to the attention of the chief sub that he was overdue for a break by setting fire to copy paper stuffed in an empty tea mug which he then placed on his head. Bob’s headline on a 263 concerning a whale, gender unknown: ‘Maybe Dick’.”
Paul Ridley: “Speaking of breaks… During a period when breaks wr becoming more and more adventurous – and necessarily longer – didn’t Bob go to Birmingham and back on his bike, returning with a beer mat from a Brummie boozer as evidence? I hope he did.”
John Sellers: “Was it Bob who perfected the art of opening a ring pull using his feet and a ruler, while keeping his hands in a full view?”
Peter Michel: “It was indeed Bob who invented the ring-pull trick to open a can while unobserved. But just for the record he used his scissors, not a ruler, to achieve it. He would (a) push the scissors through the ring-pull; (b) place the can under the desk, steadying it with one foot; (c) use the other foot to lever it open with the scissors. The resultant ‘pffffst’ would of course be heard by one and all, including the back bench. But Bob, hands on head, was the picture of innocence. One of Bob’s witticisms came to mind the other day. It was his definition of a superstar: ‘An entertainer you’ve actually heard of’. Happy man. Happy days.”
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