Thu, 20 June, 2024

Don Short

Posted: May 11th, 2023

By ROY GREENSLADE  (Images: Mirrorpix) Foonote by Plain John Smith

DON SHORT, who has died at the age of 90, was the doyen of show business reporters in the 1960s and 70s. He befriended The Beatles, is credited with coining the term Beatlemania, and scooped the world by revealing the band’s split.

As if that wasn’t enough, during his 14 years at the Daily Mirror, he acted as a bodyguard to Mick Jagger during his marriage to Bianca, broke the story of the death of Jagger’s Rolling Stone friend, Brian Jones, and shared an alcohol-fuelled lunch with Cliff Richard. Oh yes, he did.

He also beat everyone else to report the first marriage of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton; went on a drinking spree with Oliver Reed; and was entertained to lunch by David Bowie and his wife, Angie, both of whom were wearing dresses.

Don was quite simply an outstanding reporter who understood that starry friendships should never get in the way of the story. For example, he revealed, to Epstein’s fury, that John Lennon had been married (to Cynthia Powell) since 1962.

His revelation in April 1970 that the Beatles were breaking up was, by some margin, his greatest exclusive. I was a sub-editor on The Sun at the time when the first edition of the Mirror landed with its page one splash, “Paul is quitting the Beatles”. (In later editions, improved to “Paul quits the Beatles”). Don’s copy rightly pointed out that McCartney’s decision “must mean the end of Britain’s most famous pop group”. But The Sun’s news desk was unable to verify the story and was wondering what to do when the deputy editor (and former Mirror executive), Bernard Shrimsley, arrived on the floor.

After reading two pars of the Mirror’s article, he said with complete certainty: “If Don Short says it’s true then it is.” As soon became clear, Don was indeed right and Shrimsley’s praise was well deserved. Don later lamented that the story of the break-up meant “my ticket to ride had expired”.

At the outset of the Beatles’ career, after Don had witnessed the hysteria which greeted their stage performances, he referred to the frenzied scenes of what he called “electric energy” as “Beatlemania”. As we know, the term stuck. The fab four liked him so much, as did their manager, Brian Epstein, that he was given privileged access to the band. He toured with them, dined with them, and sometimes stood in the wings as they played.

Once, when Ringo Starr was unwell, he sat in as drummer at a rehearsal. Afterwards, McCartney joked that he should stick to the day job. But the picture of him with McCartney, Lennon and George Harrison provided him with a wonderful image for his popular Mirror column, “Saturday Scene”.

Paul, John and George with Mirror reporter Don Short, sitting in for Ringo, who was at University College Hospital, London, to have his tonsils removed, Tuesday 8th December 1964.

So close was he with the Beatles that he entertained them at his home. One evening, McCartney and Harrison, with his then wife Pattie Boyd, were having dinner at Don’s home when his six-year-old daughter appeared in the dining room, explaining that she couldn’t sleep. McCartney took her upstairs, settled her into bed and sang her a lullaby. A few days later, the girl’s headmistress phoned Don’s wife, Wendy, to say her daughter had been telling silly tales in the playground. When assured that the girl had been telling the truth, the headmistress asked if Don could persuade McCartney to open the school fête. That was just one of the many reminiscences in his entertaining memoir, The Beatles and Beyond, which was published in 2019.

Until he left the Mirror in 1974, Don lived a blessed journalistic existence, travelling the world, eating at the smartest restaurants and staying in the best hotels.

Born in London in 1932, Donald Clive Short grew up in Staines, Middlesex. His father, Herbert, was a cabinet maker who owned a furniture shop. His mother, Lilian, was a cashier.

He began his career as a junior reporter at the Staines and Egham News in 1947. Stints followed on the Richmond and Twickenham Times and the Gloucestershire Echo – broken by two years of National Service in the RAF – before he entered Fleet Street as a reporter with the Daily Sketch. Two years later, in 1960, he joined the Mirror, rising to chief showbusiness correspondent.

Some time after leaving the Mirror, in 1978, he set up his own literary and syndication agency, Solo. When I was associate editor of The Sun, I often found myself negotiating with him, and he proved to be a courteous and honest straight dealer with the added advantage of telling amusing anecdotes.  As well as selling other journalists’ work, he ghosted several celebrity autobiographies, including those by Peter Sellers, Britt Ekland, Fred Perry, Val Doonican, cricketer Mike Gatting, snooker star Jimmy White, and the flamboyant socialite Lady (Norah) Docker.

Don, who died on 3 May [2023], is survived by Wendy Foster, whom he married in 1955, and their three children: Amanda, Ashley and Louise.

John Smith writes: I sat alongside Don Short in the Mirror newsroom back in its 1960’s heydays. You couldn’t have asked for a better colleague. Big hearted and genial, his feet stayed modestly on the ground despite his role as the paper’s star showbiz writer whose stream of exclusives were the envy of Fleet Street.

Unlike so many specialist reporters he never threw a screaming fit if he found you working on a story that even slightly impinged on his show business territory. Instead he would feed you contacts and phone numbers that helped you perfect the piece, and never once insisted that his invaluable help entitled him to share the byline. He never forgot that, like most of us, he had started out as a humble teenage reporter on weekly papers.

Back from some star-studded trip to Hollywood or an exotic film location, he would sit behind his typewriter chortling: “I can’t believe they pay me for doing this.” Then, slapping me on the back as I finished my story from Bow Street magistrate’s court, he would deliver a breezy farewell, explaining: “Sorry, can’t stop. I’m off to Las Vegas.”

Don might have spent much of his time mingling with superstars. But, for me, he shone as brightly as any of them. 

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