Postcards
from Scotland

We asked a selection of SR
contributors for a memory
of an outstanding holiday in
Scotland – good or bad



Marian Pallister in Tobermory
George Chalmers in Ayr
Islay McLeod in Rockcliffe
Judith Jaafar in Carrick Castle
Barney MacFarlane on Arran



Bill Jamieson on Bute
Tessa Ransford in North Berwick
Michael Elcock on Harris
Ronnie Smith in Largs

Katie Grant on Mull
Thom Cross in Kirkcaldy
Morelle Smith in Glencoe
Bob Cant in Carnoustie

Robin Downie on Arran
Bruce Gardner in Glen Livet
Fiona MacDonald on Tiree
Walter Humes at home

Jill Stephenson at Loch Duich
Quintin Jardine in Elie
Iain Macmillan in Gleneagles
Douglas Marr on Skye
Andrew McFadyen in Kilmarnock

R D Kernohan on Arran
David Torrance on Iona
Catherine Czerkawska at Loch Ken
Chris Holligan in Elie

Rose Galt in Girvan
Alex Wood on Arran
Andrew Hook in Glasgow
Alasdair McKillop in St Andrews

Sheila Hetherington on Arran
Anthony Seaton on Ben Nevis
Paul Cockburn at Loch Ness
Jackie Kemp in a taxi
Angus Skinner on Skye

28.07.11
No. 431

The Cafe

The last two editorials in SR led me to punch the air shouting, 'Yes!' Here's a thought. Did Rebekah and her coterie wear their hacking jackets when they went riding with Dave?

Edgar Lloyd

I have a new verb. New tech and associated new wickedness requires a new vocab surely? So here it comes. To phone-hack will now become to 'phack'. Thus the 'phone hacking scandal' gives us  the 'phacking scandal'. And quite right too!

Thom Cross

SR Extra

I would go so far as to argue that if the Scots are to continue and thrive as a nation the means of their survival have to be cultural rather than economic. If you are to work as if you were living in the early days of a better nation, you need more than a cheese piece to keep you going.

Teacher Willie Hershaw contributes an impassioned defence of Scotland and the Scots language
Click here

 

The viewer was invited to watch West Yorkshire police rehearse and record John Humble, reading the words of the transcripts of the hoax tapes. The police officers didn't actually say 'Once more with feeling', but they would have been as well to do so.

Television journalist Norman Fenton on a shocking precursor to the use of the Sheridan tapes
Click here

Unlike many publications SR doesn't have an online comment facility – we prefer a more considered approach. The Cafe is our readers' forum. If you would like to contribute to it, please email islay@scottishreview.net

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Iona
Photograph by
Islay McLeod

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The special edition of
SR on 1 July, containing the results of the Who's Who in Scotland poll of great Scots, attracted 18,631 visitors


An Iona wedding
Photograph by Islay McLeod
Click here for full feature

 

 

Private Lives, Public Morality


With ratlike cunning

and a plausible manner,

I intruded into private grief


Kenneth Roy

 

Nicholas Tomalin (1931-73), a foreign correspondent who died in Israel covering the Yom Kippur war, is remembered not so much for his work as for a single saying. 'The only qualities essential for real success in journalism,' he wrote in the pre-Murdoch Sunday Times in 1969, 'are ratlike cunning, a plausible manner, and a little literary ability'.
     As the horrors of the month unfolded, it was amusing to recall Tomalin's low view of his own vocation – 'trade' as it is more commonly described by journalists themselves – and to apply his cynical perception to each new revelation.
     There is, however, a flaw in the saying: it is not quite right. I take issue with Tomalin's opinion that one of the essential qualities for journalistic success is a little literary ability. Many successful journalists have no literary abililty whatsoever. Some I have known could barely write. But this is no impediment to progress through our 'schools' of journalism which themselves need to be investigated and whose main purpose is to inculcate the corrupt values of the tabloid press. Whatever else is taught in these seedy institutions, the love and practical use of language is not high on the curriculum.
     There are pedants called 'subs' – sub-editors – whose grim daily task is to take the rawest of material and somehow knock it into serviceable shape. At the roughest end of journalism, the extremity finally laid bare in July 2011, the subs are the people with a little literary ability. Most of the reporters have a separate function. It is the collection of information, mainly through the massaging of contacts. By their tip-offs do they live or die – or, as we shall presently see, merely go to prison. The knack of stringing a few words together – an average of around 25 in a typical tabloid front page – is not essential for advancement.
     It is almost embarrassing to have to admit that, when I entered newspaper journalism at the age of 16, I imagined it would be a way of satisfying my urge to write. I was in heaven at the thought of it. Fortunately, it took no time at all to be disabused of this quaint notion.
     I was working for a local paper in Falkirk. The paper paid very little, but its reporters could make some useful extra cash by moonlighting as 'stringers' – casual correspondents – for the national tabloids, the Daily Record in our case. The Record tended to use stringers for such basic work as the collection of photographs from families of the victims of crime or accidents. 'The collect pic' this practice was called. There was no escape from it: an elementary skill in the dark art of the collect pic was considered part of any young journalist's induction. My own took place within months.

 

But identifying the picture was the least of it. There was now the problem
of how to wrest it from its place on the mantelpiece, how to persuade
the tear-stained parents to remove it from its frame and hand it to a complete stranger.


     One evening the Record dispatched me in a taxi to the tiny village of Allandale, between Falkirk and Kilsyth. I am not sure if Allandale exists any longer; it might well have been swallowed up by a motorway. It scarcely existed even then, except as an unprepossessing row of council houses. A young woman of Allandale – about 20 years old, perhaps, a little older than I was myself – had been killed in a road accident and the Record sent me off in search of the collect pic.
     I approached this assignment with disguised dread; to have confided my fears to the chief reporter of our paper, who acted as treasurer of the local stringers' fund, would have been so wimpish as to be potentially career-damaging. The taxi pulled up outside the house and I sat frozen to the seat for a few minutes. The couple inside had just lost their only daughter. How could I do such a thing as I was now expected to do? Many years later, I have still not answered this interesting question to my own satisfaction, but I finally got out of the taxi and knocked on the door of the grieving.
     What happened next surprised me. Instead of being told to go, I was welcomed into the house and asked if I would like a cup of tea. I discovered at that moment a useful fact known to all journalists: that the grieving are often too traumatised to be capable of normal social discrimination. Stumbling out a few words of sympathy as sincerely as I could manage, I glanced furtively around the room looking for the collect pic. Sure enough, there it was occupying pride of place on the mantelpiece: the framed photograph of a smiling young woman who had left the house a few hours earlier to go to work. Yes, that would do.
     But identifying the picture was the least of it. There was now the problem of how to wrest it from its place on the mantelpiece, how to persuade the tear-stained parents to remove it from its frame and hand it to a complete stranger. This too was surprisingly easily accomplished. I explained that the Daily Record wished to publish 'a wee tribute' – yes, that could have been the expression – and would they mind if I 'borrowed' the photograph for a few days. They agreed without hesitation, asking only that the precious photo should be returned as soon as possible.
     When I left the house, the mantelpiece of the living room was bare. The photograph of the dead girl had gone. Mission had been accomplished: I had come of age. With a mixture of ratlike cunning and a plausible manner, I had intruded successfully into private grief – and the sly nature of the intrusion had not even occurred to the grieving. They were too immersed in grief to notice. When I handed in the collect pic to the Daily Record's Falkirk office, I attached the address of the family for its return. Whether it ever was returned, I have no idea. I never saw the family again. I never heard from them again.
     The following morning, the Daily Record published its 'wee tribute' – a routine account of the accident accompanied by a grainy picture of the girl from Allandale. For most readers, the titillation would have lasted no more than a second or two before a casual flick to the next page.
     I ask myself how great a stride there is, ethically, between the collect pic and the interception of a dead girl's mobile phone messages. With the collect pic there was consent of a kind; with phone-hacking there was none. One activity was legal; the other was not. But the essential game is much the same: the satisfaction of popular prurience, the pandering to base human desire.
     So Nicholas Tomalin captured in a phrase the essential nature of journalism; I forgive him the sentimental illusion that it has much to do with literary ability.

Kenneth Roy is editor of the Scottish Review