view from the pews was an interesting one. In the ceiling of the little
chapel at Downs Crematorium in Brighton was a circular plaque that
contained the inscription “pax”, as in peace. But there, in his coffin
beneath the plaque, lay Fergus Cashin, the notorious Fleet Street
maverick who had spent so much of his life savouring bar-room brawls
and legal battles.
He was hooked on the adrenalin rush that comes with conflict. Ferg was no pax man.
died earlier this month at the age of 81 and since then, Daily Mail
veterans Keith Waterhouse and John Edwards have been reminiscing about
his heavy-drinking antics during his 30- year career on the nationals,
during which he was a sub, showbusiness columnist, theatre and film
critic and worked for the Daily Express, the Daily Sketch and The Sun.
Waterhouse called him “the original legend in his own lunchtime”.
had given up liquid lunches but not the liquid dinners when I worked
with him a decade after he had thrown his final punch in The Street.
first day in journalism was at the Woking News and Mail in the summer
of 1986 and at 11-ish the swing door was kicked open, and in walked
With his white hair, craggy face and broken nose, he reminded me of the actor Richard Harris (a former Cashin drinking partner).
Fergus was the paper’s chief sub and occupied a desk that faced a window.
was the only member of the 12- strong staff who had his back to the
newsroom, which suited him fine because during daylight hours he was
too grouchy for office chit-chat.
Initially, he refused to
acknowledge my presence, but that changed when he came to sub one of my
stories. As he turned the folios, I could hear him sighing and cursing.
It was as if he was examining a hefty tax bill. Then he held the pages
above his head and screamed at the window in front of him: “Who wrote
this crap?” It was a yell that halted the clickety-clack of the
When he had calmed down, he taught me lesson number one: “Before handing in your copy, read it, re-read it and read it again.”
That evening, he invited me for a jar at the office local, The Red House.
After that, journalism became fun.
Fergus became my local newspaper mentor – I called him The Master.
our table in the pub, he would recount his Fleet Street anecdotes,
seeing off the risk of a dry throat by downing pints of London Pride
and then doubles of Bushmills. He liked to talk about his old mate
Richard Burton and I remember him silencing the pub by announcing
loudly: “Liz Taylor quite fancied me but she showed me her tits once
and they were covered in pimples.”
Regulars would hover around
the table but they had to accept that sooner or later he would scowl
and tell them: “Fer koff, why don’t you?”
The Red House sessions were also valuable classes in journalism, however.
had a passion for the industry and together, through the pages of the
News and Mail, we set about waking up the sleepy-eyed inhabitants of
this dormitory town in Surrey. Ideas seemed great over drinks but by
the following morning, in the cold light of day, they seemed even
Page one was handled by the Establishment-loving editor,
Tony L’Estrange, while Ferg laid out and subbed page three, and that is
where I wanted my stories to appear. I would sneak my copy over to
Fergus. When the paper came out, the splash would be a boring story
along the lines of “Council says no to supermarket proposal”, but turn
the page and there would be cracking yarns: the Italian Mafia boss who
had moved into the borough; schoolteachers who were upto no good;
legally contentious stories about dodgy councillors.
Ferg tried to find ways of weaving a famous sexy woman into the story just so he could use an attractive picture.
above the story he’d do one of his massive “shock-horror” headlines. No
one was more shocked and horrified than L’Estrange, who didn’t see page
three until it was on the stone and too late to change.
regulars in the pub became good sources. Ferg believed everyone has a
story: “You just have to catch them at the right time.” Drinkers would
be grilled for information as they stepped into the pub. They would be
questioned again on their way out because, Ferg reasoned, “they’ve been
here so long, they must have heard something”. Often, they had. There
were a couple of his death-related ideas I didn’t follow up.
One was his theory that “the old biddies”
who work in charity shops pinch the mink coats that are handed in.
“Think about it, love,” he’d say. “When did you last see a mink coat in Oxfam?”
also wanted me to infiltrate a local crematorium and find out what
happens to the gold fillings after the bodies have been cremated. He
used to say: “Gold fillings don’t turn to ash. All that gold is being
pinched by the guys in charge of the fires, melted down and sold on to
In the little chapel in Brighton, Ferg’s send-off was a day of pax, not conflict.