Rob McGibbon on Andrew Palmer

My favourite memory of my first editor is easy: it’s the day he sacked me.

Andrew Palmer. The Wimbledon News. Wednesday, 5 November 1986.

I
was 21 and a reporter for just over a year. I proudly wore a tweed
jacket from the cool new fashion chain, Next, and worked 12-hour days
on a story production line for £6,000 a year.

I loved it.

Palmer
was a decent boss, if a bit reserved. I topped up my rock’n’roll wage
by selling stories to Tom Petrie, legendary news editor of The Sun .

Tom
gave me a shift one Sunday and then offered a mid-week slot from
6pm-1am. I couldn’t refuse and reluctantly spun a yarn to Palmer to
clock off early.

The Sun sent me to door-step Boy George’s Gothic home in Hampstead.

George
was the subject of the next day’s splash but had refused to respond. It
was either beginner’s luck or George was suckered by my boyish
pleadings on his entry phone. He appeared at the door, spliff in hand,
and gave me an exclusive interview.

Shaking uncontrollably, I filed what became a beefed-up splash.

I
was so buzzed the next day that I typed out a long letter recording the
events to my girlfriend, who was working abroad, and slipped into
Palmer’s office to photocopy it for posterity. In my haste, I left the
first page, which amounted to one of the most endearingly romantic
resignation letters of all time, in the machine. When Palmer read it,
he called a disciplinary hearing.

I was allowed one witness. I
looked around the office at a bunch of hacks who clearly had no future
in journalism; Belinda Goldsmith (Reuters, New York); Penny Marshall
(ITN); Paul Myers (The Guardian); a 17-year-old called Lorraine
Butler who blushed if you looked at her (now Candy, editor of Elle);
and a pseudo-posh bloke called Piers Pughe-Morgan (freelance).

He was obsessed with the hot new movie Top Gun and tried to twiddle his pen round his fingers like Ice Man.

That made me Maverick. I drafted him in as my wing man.

Palmer
outlined the charges and said I was fired. My fledgling local newspaper
career had crashed and burned. I declined the condemned man’s last
words. But Pughe-Morgan intervened more like Perry Mason on acid than
Ice Man and began the most hilariously flattering defence. For a
second, even I believed I should be saved.

The next day I began
working at The Sun pretty much full-time under a somewhat more fiery
editor – Kelvin MacKenzie. My nerve-jangling Fleet Street career had
begun prematurely and for that I will always be grateful to Andrew
Palmer.

Rob McGibbon is a freelance journalist

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