Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Snappy memories

I met a few long-time pals for a pub crawl in EC4 on Friday. We started out in the Harrow off Fleet Street and ended up in the Press Club somewhere down Memory Lane.

Of the group, I was the only one who'd gone 'indoors' to sub, fattened my arse in an editor's chair and joined the suits upstairs, which to traditional ragged-notebook hacks like these, must seriously have nudged me towards the tossersphere.

I was also the last to show; they hadn't exactly been on fruit juice, and proceeded to roll back 30-odd years and take the piss mercilessly.

Now, I'm sure we all put the intro in the last par when we were 19,
stayed for one more over lunchtime and came back to find the jury had delivered and gone but I had to put my hands up when Peter Rose (ex-NoW crime staffer) reminded everyone of the time I tried my hand as a paparazzo.

We were all young bucks on the Herts Headline News Agency, making a name for ourselves among the murders, poisonings and arsons that played out five days a week at St Albans Crown Court.

I'd been covering a rape. It was a trial due to end before the weekend and the Sundays were looking for a picture. Easy peasy. The accused was on bail and always left the building for lunch. All I had to do was snap him as he left.

On this particular day, I'd left a 35mm Practica with the copper on the front desk and run down the stairs at 12.59, a tactical minute before the judge would sniff the decanter and clear the room.

Until then, my photographic training had consisted of scuttling around village streets trying to snap colleagues as they dipped in an out of alleys. I couldn't tell an f-stop from a bus stop but I knew I had to keep the camera steady to shoot a target on the move.

The other thing about shooting thugs is that they rarely pose. Small-time hoods who think they're the Kray twins do. But most of them either take a poke at the lense or leg it.

So I had my chunky-monkey pal Ross Francis stand outside in wait. I then stood behind him, rested the telephoto on his shoulder and held down the shutter, hoping to nab a few frames before the Beast of Borehamwood sussed he was destined for a 25-double on page five and ran for cover.

There was a minor scuffle, and a few snarls, threats and obscenities later, the said perv was, as Mr Rose would have put it, bang to rights. Mr Francis took the camera back to the office, I went back into court and the film was developed. Clear as crystal, I was later told. A result. All we needed was a guilty verdict, a judge prepared to chuck away the key and it'd be money in the bank.

But it wasn’t to be. I rang the office later to plaudits. The pictures were as sharp as the boss's tongue and in the overnight post. I couldn't believe it, I reckoned I'd have been lucky to get one off before his mate in the white suit squared up and blocked my view.

His mate? White suit? You mean, that’s not him? F*** me, it's on its way to the Screws picture desk...

Luckily, Jim Last, the chief reporter had the nous to chase the GPO van from post box to post box all the way back to the sorting office where he begged for it back. They refused, quoting all sorts of rules, but finally agreed to tear it up instead.

And there it lay. On the floor. In shreds.

Just like my pap career.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Blind dates? Don't be daft, we're all watching . . .

My long-term relationship with the Telegraph ended with an amicable parting a year ago as I took my GSOH off in search of a new soulmate.

But anyone looking for a similarly meaningful attachment may well be mightily p****d off if they've used the paper's website to play cupid.

From memory, what greets users of their dating channel is a neat piece of functionality that allows even the most luddite lonely heart to post their details safe in the knowledge that they'll engaging with other Telegraph types.

What they actually risk is their picture being plastered over large parts of the site for all to see.

They're auto-generated and designed to pop up in the right-hand navigation on stories in sections with a leisurely tone. It's a clever device to drive up page visits but sadly typical of some of the more madcap ones I would, in a previous life, have strangled at birth.

They will undoubtedly increase awareness of an area of the site many core readers will not know about but it shows a worrying lack of insight. This type of service, in the wider context, is all about discretion. This is a world of cosy nicknames, box numbers, neutral venues and discreet introductions. Not one in which singletons stand on tables in crowded bars and shout "I'm free."

And certainly, I can't imagine anyone being too chuffed at posting a photo to an area I'd envisaged to be members only and found it appearing next to the headline Scary Monster.

I'm sure that, if the participants wanted their pictures flyposted on billboards or stuck to telephone boxes,they'd have saved their joining fee and done just that.

I'll give it 48 hours before the penny drops and someone chaperones them away from the public gaze.