Posted: May 11th, 2011
He WAS Mr Mirror
Richard Stott, who died at the end of July, was almost as famous for his cutting wit and sharp repartee as he was for his brilliant editing. His speeches to departing staff were the most incisive anyone can remember; and even the recipients loved it, as they loved him for being a loyal and fearless editor.
But he was never one for the easy target. The great and the good (and bad) also caught the sharpest edge of his tongue. Once, Stott was called before the full Mirror Board to answer the charge of calling one of the directors a ****. He listened patiently to the evidence then replied “I didn’t call him a ****. I told him to stop acting like one.” Collapse of Star Chamber.
He once explained how he dealt successfully, and most irreverently, with Maxwell. “Being foreign he doesn’t understand piss-taking,” said Stotty, “so he pretends it’s a great joke.” Stotty made no secret of his belief that “I consider myself to be working for the Mirror, not Maxwell”.
At an out-of-town editorial conference he once sought to reward his troops on The People by ordering a bottle of port, and when he felt the wine waiter was patronising their paper by asking if Sir realised just how expensive was the chosen vintage, replied, “In that case, we’ll have two.”
Another time while dining with Maxwell and other Mirror luminaries, one of the editors stood, turned to Maxwell and gushed: “Bob, I think you are a genius.” Stotty then stood, raised his glass to the editor and said pointedly: “And you are a f****** creep.” Once, when Maxwell admitted, amazingly, that he had made a small mistake, Stott put the whole thing into perspective by telling him: “and you looked a right ****.”
Richard first edited The People for a year in 1984 before returning to edit the Mirror for four years. He then returned to The People for a year in the hopes of heading a management buy-out. When Maxwell reneged on that promise Richard returned to the Mirror until David Montgomery sacked him in 1992. When Stotty asked Montgomery why he had gone back on his promise not to sack any of the existing editors, Monty replied: “I was tap-dancing a bit.” Later, Stott wrote successful columns for the News of the World and Sunday Mirror.
He leaves wife, Penny, and children, Emily 35, Hannah 32 and Christopher 28.
Richard Stott’s Memorial Service: Address by Alastair Campbell
Richard Stott is the only person in my life of whom I can remember the first very words he said to me, and, sadly, the very last. The first, “are you the kid who hit Bob Edwards?” followed by an offer of shifts on the Mirror. And the last, this time delivered with the knowledge he didn’t have long to live, and so without the usual Stott gusto – “take care old man.”
In between he was responsible for many acts of kindness and friendship, many moments of great fun, and many years of superb tabloid journalism.
That first meeting was in the early 80s in the White Hart, otherwise known as the Stab in the Back, whose transformation into a Pizza parlour is a rare blot on the otherwise unblemished modernisation of Britain under Labour. When then Sunday Mirror editor Bob Edwards came to visit the Mirror trainees, I was a bit the worse for wear and said with a playful tap on his cheek that if he had believed Revel Barker’s “troops to quit Afghanistan” world exclusive that week, he would have put it on the front. By the time the rumour machine worked its way back to London, the story was that he had made a pass at Fiona and I had laid him out. Even on the more prosaic truthful version of events I was told my drunken joshing of a Fleet St legend meant I would never get inside the Mirror building. Another Fleet St legend in the form of R Stott came to my rescue.
I was in the Stab because Fiona was seeing Annie Robinson, then women’s editor, for an interview. As I waited for her, the door swung open and in stomped this loud, rotund character with red cheeks, a red scarf and a sidekick I later learned to be John Penrose. Being a trained observer Richard worked out the nervous solitary youth in the corner was I. He came over. “Are you the kid who hit Bob Edwards?” By the time I had spluttered what in my later life I would come to know as a non denial denial he had bought me a large Scotch and offered me six weeks of shifts. My first big break.
Two words spring to mind in assessing what it was like working for Richard. Professional. And fun. “Bit of fun old man.” It always was. He was of the old school of journalism, someone who lived by, rather than merely paid lip service to, the creed that facts are sacred and comment is free. He loved journalism because he loved life. To him both were a joyous roller coaster of interesting people, relationships and events. He loved life because he loved people. He fought for the good and loved to expose the bad. Especially Don Revie. God he loved doing that.
As for professional, amid the 24 hour blather that passes for modern political journalism, I am reminded of the time I wrote a rather sad Sunday for Monday trailing the Budget later in the week. “Have you seen the Budget?” he asked. No, I said. “Then why are you writing this crap?” Difficult to imagine a conversation like that in the “not wrong for long” era of rolling news and the internet.
He could be stern when he had to be but it didn’t last long. I once filed that Jill Morrell, girlfriend of Beirut hostage John McCarthy, was going to stand for Labour in a by election. It came from sources I believed to have certain knowledge. It was totally wrong. I felt sick and Richard knew it. He let me feel like that for a day or so then called me in and said. Hopefully you’ve learned a lesson. Now forget about it.
Then there was the story Bill Hagerty told at Richard’s funeral, when he felt district men Syd Young and Frank Palmer had too cushy a life in their patches and needed to be brought up to London to learn how it was done at the sharp end. So they spent a bit of time hanging around the newsroom, hours and hours in the Stab, lunch and dinner in fine restaurants, two weeks living it up in the Tower Hotel, at the end of which Richard called them in, poured them a large one and said “now – let that be a lesson to you.”
Bill did a terrific tribute at the funeral and theirs was a strong friendship, rooted in work but also in their trips to Lords and the Oval with another of his closest friends and colleagues, John Jackson. The obituaries were nice, but I feel he would be annoyed that his prowess as a schoolboy boxer and cricketer was not properly acknowledged. He was, after all, selected to play for Clifton College at Lord’s. The trouble was that his dear old dad, who liked a few, proudly turned up and insisted on plying the teenage Richard with strong drink prior to play. As a result, Richard always insisted, he could see at least three different balls approaching, played the wrong one and was out for a duck. Of his trips to Test matches in later life, he always said being a spectator was preferable to playing because you could watch and drink at the same time.
My favourite definition of a friend is “someone who walks through the door when the fairweather people are putting their coats on to leave.” Richard did that for me several times when I was in frontline politics, but above all in 1986 when I had a psychotic breakdown. He had been furious with me for leaving the Mirror to join Eddy Shah’s Today. But when it all went wrong, and I ended up in hospital with my career seemingly over before it had really begun, he saw me, told me I was in no fit state to work but as soon as I was, I could have the first reporting job that became available. An act of kindness I will never forget. My second big break.
The third was to become a political reporter. Richard liked politics and liked many politicians. He may have exposed Ernie Marples’ various nefarious activities but did not despise him, as he did Revie for example. He always had a soft spot for Cecil Parkinson, though the Mirror led the way in the Sara Keays story. He shared my enthusiasm for supporting Neil Kinnock not just because he liked him and Glenys personally but also to balance up against the bile from elsewhere. When it became fashionable in the media not to like Derry Irvine and Peter Mandelson, Richard appeared to become more not less fond of them. He considered Derry a legal genius because of his advice in legal battles – victorious – with Reggie Maudling. He prided himself on having spotted Peter very early on and indeed gave him a column in The People which, as David Bradshaw once said, was the first column in history that was written by more people than read it. But again, Peter was someone who when things got tricky could always rely on Richard to be tough in his coverage, but true in his friendship.
My fourth Stott break came when I was no longer wanted under the Montgomery regime. He was by then at Murdoch’s Today and offered me a job again. As I record in my diaries, given how much he had given me, I felt terrible telling Richard I wanted to leave when TB asked me to work for him, but he understood there were some challenges that could not be ducked.
When it came to publishing extracts from my diaries, he was first choice as editor. We were well into it when he was diagnosed with cancer and he showed incredible courage in facing up to the illness and also never, no matter how ill, lost his enthusiasm for the project. He had two absolute obsessions towards the end. One, still to be here on the day of publication and he was – just. Second, to complete the task of writing what are called running feet, the few words at the bottom of each page indicating what the page is about. It meant doctors and nurses having to treat him surrounded by manuscripts. Towards the end, to save time he was texting me suggested changes. My favourite “page 361 – let’s make it ‘News from the focus groups – Shagger Cook a hero.'” And if you turn to page 361, there it is.
He said to his doctor that the book – both the process and his enthusiasm for the content (particularly some of the stuff I kept out, which only he read) – kept him going longer than he might otherwise have done. I really hope so. His hand will be felt in future volumes too and I know he would approve of my choice of editor for the full versions, namely Bill Hagerty. I think he would have enjoyed the book being raised in evidence at the Diana inquest over the road yesterday.
Towards the end he was so weak and frail I think he found it hard to be seen by anyone but family and medics. So I was privileged that because of our work together, I had those final meetings with him. I never once heard self pity. Not once did he fail to deliver on agreed schedules. And I’d say one of the best moments of my life was the day the book was physically printed and I took a copy to him at home. He was so proud of his role in it. He just sat up in bed, holding it and looking at it. I never thought I’d make it, he said. I can’t tell you how much this means.
When I took him the American edition a few weeks later, he had just days to go. Effectively, he had been sent home to die. And that was when he said “Love to Fiona. Take care old man.” I knew as I walked down the stairs it was the last time I would see him. Penny knew it too.
I want to close on Penny. Because you can judge a man by his work. And his multiple editorships, numerous reporting awards and quality commentating mean Richard passes that test with flying colours. You can judge a man by his character and again, his kindness, strength, decency and dependability see him pass that test too. But you can also judge a man by his family. He was incredibly proud of their children and rightly so. And he could not have had a more loving wife. Penny was extraordinary in those last stages of his life. Again I found it moving and a privilege to witness the love between them at such a dreadful time. It is very fitting that we are holding this celebration of his life in the church where they were married. Hers, Emily’s, Hannah’s, and Christoph’s is the greatest loss. The rest of us lost a great friend, boss or colleague. Journalism lost an enormous thumping heart, an honest fearless reporter and editor who believed life was for living to the full, who today would thank us for coming and want us to go out with fond memories of the past, great hopes for the future, and never forgetting “it’s all a bit of fun, old man.”
Report and picture from FRANK THORNE
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