Posted: August 23rd, 2015
Former People deputy news editor MAURICE KRAIS died on August 20. He was 86.
In the heyday of national newspapers, long before the clatter of ancient typewriters was replaced by the muted click of computer keys, the newsroom at The People contained all the colour and chaos of a three-ring circus.
There were high-wire acts, fearless reporters who trod a weekly tightrope to expose villainy, corruption, skulduggery and injustice. Jugglers of words vied for star billing on the front page. And a complement of clowns completed the cast, their high-spirited antics both in and out of the office becoming the stuff of Fleet Street folklore.
Walking tall above this Crazy Gang strode an unlikely ringmaster in the shape of Maurice Krais, the paper’s associate news editor. Cool, gentlemanly and softly spoken, he might have seemed out of place among such hurly burly. But beneath that measured exterior lurked a seasoned newspaperman who never lost his appetite for hard news and an exclusive story.
“I could not have wished for a better deputy than Maurice,” said former news editor David Farr. “He was always cool in a crisis and knew how to handle people, whether it was a veteran staff reporter or a young and excited local correspondent.”
Educated at Stationers’ Company’s School in Hornsey, north London, Maurice began his career on weekly papers in west London. After National Service in the RAF, during which he worked on the Berlin airlift while stationed in Germany, he returned to local papers and quickly rose to become the youngest ever editor of the Marylebone Mercury in central London.
Among his staff was a young reporter who went on to become globe-trotting People columnist Plain John Smith. Says John: “Maurice taught me a lot, he was the consummate professional and a stickler for accuracy. Being based in the heart of the West End, just off Oxford Street, we often found ourselves becoming involved with the rich and famous who lived on our patch. But Maurice insisted that we should never be intimidated by such celebrities. ‘Duke or dustman, they’re just people,’ he told us in his usual low-key manner.”
It was while he was editing the Mercury in the 1950s that Maurice began weekend shifts on The People. His early experiences there gave him a good grounding in the techniques of under-cover exposures which became the paper’s speciality under legendary news editor Laurie Manifold.
Peter Miller, former staff man at The People and the Sunday Mirror, was another young weekly newspaper reporter then working part-time at The People. He recalls: “Manifold paired us together and sent us to a West End club to expose the hookers disguised as hostesses.
“It required us to spend silly sums of money on something fizzy that was passed off as Champagne, and buy the girls cuddly toys and other trinkets from a hostess who came round with a tray of ludicrously priced junk. Then we had to make it evident that we really liked the girls and were hoping they might be interested in us. Amazingly, they were – at a price. So we agreed a price, and after spending even more money in the club we went back with them to a nearby flat. It was there we had to wait until we were certain that what we had gone for was really on offer – and then make an excuse and leave.
“At this point Maurice and I anguished over what excuse wouldn’t offend the girls. Yes, we were that naive. We really didn’t want to disappoint them. In the end we thought of something and kept apologising for losing our nerve. Not for a moment did it occur to us that the girls would be delighted at not having to work for their money.”
Such encounters became commonplace when Maurice got a staff job on The People. He graduated to working on the news desk where he helped mastermind many a story about bribe-taking footballers, corrupt officials, brothel-keeping madams, dodgy tradesmen, outrageous conmen and politicians caught with their trousers down.
Even in retirement he continued to freelance, providing national newspapers and magazines and foreign publications with an endless stream of stories. Just a few days before he died he tipped off one national newspaper about a story which they gratefully developed into a prominent page lead.
“That was typical of Maurice,” said Diane, his wife of 55 years who survives him with their sons Ashley, Mark and four grandchildren. “Newspapers were his passion. He could spot a story a mile away.”
Read a sumptuous look back at Fleet Street pubs in All Our Yesterdays
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