Former Daily Express football writer Norman Giller has published his 100th book – what he describes as a “skip and dip” autobiography.
Giller, 75, a self-confessed workaholic has combined his work as an author with TV scriptwriting, including 14 years on This Is Your Life, and ten years as lead football writer on the Express.
His books include 20 with Jimmy Greaves, six Carry On novels, four with boxing legend Henry Cooper and collaborations with Eric Morecambe and Ricky Tomlinson.
Giller also worked as a boxing PR for the likes of Muhammad Ali and Frank Bruno, was interviewed by the notorious Kray twins for the job of their press agent and has produced hundreds of crossword puzzles and quizzes including this month, for the 31st consecutive year, the Jumbo Sports Crossword for The Times.
His latest book – Headlines Deadlines All My Life – tells his life story in a series of short snapshot anecdotes.
He told Press Gazette: “It means readers can skip the boring personal bits about my life.
“I have spent my life mixing with celebrities, and I have concentrated on name-dropping and then telling stories about far more interesting people than me.”
Here are some extracts from the book with a Fleet Street flavour:
FRUSTRATION IN B-B-BULGARIA
My closest friend on the Daily Herald was talented and witty Welsh writer Peter Corrigan, with whom I enjoyed memorable experiences and escapades. He had a classic half exclusive in the summer of 1965 when he got a tip-off that Wolves were appointing Les Allen as their new manager in the wake of the sensational sacking of Stan Cullis.
The first edition was due to go to press, and so Peter dashed into print before he could make the proper checks. It was no secret that veteran QPR striker Les Allen wanted to get into management.
Next day came confirmation that Allen was indeed being appointed the new master of Molineux… Ronnie Allen.
“Oh well,” said Peter through his chagrin, “I was half right.”
We move forward two years to the Arab-Israeli war of 1967 for the facts of my second cracking Corrigan anecdote, which I have since seen borrowed to dress up invented stories. This is the true, original version.
The England under-23 summer tour that year coincided with the Six-Day War, and at the height of hostilities the squad was briefly stranded in Bulgaria.
There were sixteen players, six doddery members of the FA blazered brigade, Manchester United trainer Wilf McGuinness, Tottenham manager Bill Nicholson and seven of Fleet Street’s finest football writers. I would say that; I was one of them. We were nicknamed The Insignificant Seven.
Peter is the central character in the story, a few years ahead of becoming the highly regarded sports editor of The Observer and certainly one of the matchless journalists of my generation. At that time he was reporting for the broadsheet Sun two years before it became the tabloid toy of Murdoch.
As the war reached its peak, it suddenly became impossible to make telephone or telex contact with our London offices. I was earning my daily bread with the Daily Express, and along with my colleagues I sat fretting and frustrated in the team’s hotel headquarters in Sofia as the edition deadlines for our copy approached and disappeared into the distance.
Ike Robinson, the octogenarian chief representative of the Football Association, had called an emergency meeting of the media and told us he was going to ask the British government to send an RAF plane to “rescue” the England team if the war escalated. It was a great story but we felt as frustrated as pianists trying to play with the piano lid locked.
In those non-STD days you had to order your telephone calls through the hotel switchboard, and we were informed that all lines were down. You have to remember the mood at the time. There was wild rumour of Russia getting involved and nuclear weapons being used as Israeli tanks and jet fighters destroyed the combined forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria.
We agreed among us that if anybody should be lucky enough to get through we would put over a shared story that could be distributed at the London end. After two days of total silence, it was Peter who suddenly got the desperately awaited call and found himself being put through to the Sun sports desk from the lobby of the hotel.
It was an appalling line and he was reduced to screaming “Peter Corrigan” into the mouthpiece in a bid to make himself heard at the other end.
The rest of us were gathered around, willing him to keep the precious line open. We couldn’t believe it when he suddenly threw down the receiver without having dictated a word.
On the other end of the line had been veteran sub-editor Larry Coates, who had a pronounced stutter.
Peter, tearing out what little hair he had left, looked at us wild-eyed and said: “I’ve just been told that P-P-Peter C-C-Corrigan is in B-B-Bulgaria, and then he put down the phone and cut me off.”
I seem to remember saying something like f-f-f-fancy that. Or words to that effect.
THE MACADAM ROAD
I visited 33 countries – all expenses paid – while reporting football for the Express, going through the Iron Curtain passport control so many times that I was on nodding terms with Checkpoint Charlie. To witness the Berlin Wall going up during the Cold War was like seeing a monument being built to human madness.
When I arrived in Fleet Street it was not only the Street of Ink but also the Street of Drink, operating on a sea of alcohol. Goodness knows how we used to get editions out on time, but we did and – okay, I’m biased – they provided a far better and more informative read than many of today’s papers spewing out trivial froth handed down by agents and press officers.
The Street is much changed today, of course, not least because of the exodus of most of the newspaper offices. Even some of the pubs have disappeared, which does not make a sort of pub trawl through my memory any easier.
Those were the pre-breathalyser days when iconic sports columnists like Peter “The Man They Can’t Gag” Wilson (Daily Mirror), Des Hackett (Daily Express) and the “Man at The Times” Geoffrey Green would think nothing of polishing off a bottle of wine a day before moving on to the strong stuff. At the Telegraph Don Saunders was nicknamed “Saunders of the Liver”, and Laurie Pignon and Roy Peskett at the Mail could drink most people under the subs’ table.
It was Peskett who made one of the briefest and most hilarious toasts in the history of after-dinner speaking. Responding to a toast at a liberally lubricated function following an England football international behind the Iron Curtain, he famously slurred, “On behalf of the British press …” before folding over into his soup de jour and having to be escorted from the table, toast left in the air as an aphorism for future generations of reporters.
I could shift a pint or three, but did not even try to match the old school boozers. There was a warning about the perils of the bottle in my childhood memories of my often drunken Dad, and also right in front of my eyes at the Express.
John Macadam, a poet and art critic when he was not reporting football from the press box, was chief sports columnist for the Express in the 1950s. By the time I joined the staff he was about to be poured into retirement, so intoxicated that he hardly knew his own name.
If you want to know what a genius of a writer the wee, handlebar mustachioed Scot was, try to get your hands on his autobiography, The Macadam Road. It is a masterpiece of writing and observation.
As an impressionable young Saturday football reporter on the Daily Herald, I regularly found myself on the same B-class match list as John, and used to help him as he staggered on and off trains.
In his sober moments, the classically educated Macadam, who lived on a Chelsea-moored houseboat with his Bohemian friends, was well worth listening to and gave me advice I have never forgotten: “Report not only what you think you see and hear, laddie, but also what your heart tells you because sometimes the evidence of your eyes and ears can prove deceiving.”
Towards the end of his reporting career the wonderful Macadam was left crying in his beer by a sub-editor not fit to lace his drinks. John was reporting a lifeless and goalless drawn match involving Millwall at The Den. A lover of all things Shakespeare, this was the intro he dictated to the copytaker: “This match down at The Den last night was much ado about nothing nothing.”
A Philistine of a sub changed it to: “This match down at The Den last night was much ado about nil nil.”
It was enough to drive the master to drink.
1966 AND ALL THAT
My son (and best friend) Michael was born on 29 May 1966, and managed not to allow his Mum and Dad a single full night’s sleep for the next three months. This time frame took in the little matter of England winning the World Cup, which was the biggest event of my sportswriting career.
I was as close to the England camp as it was possible to be, spending every morning at their headquarters at the Hendon Hall Hotel and watching all of their training sessions.
On the Monday after the boring opening goalless match against Uruguay at Wembley on Saturday 11 July I joined the players on a guided tour of the Pinewood studios, that had been arranged as a diversion from the pressures of the World Cup.
Sean Connery, who was shooting his latest James Bond film, showed us around, along with Yul Brynner and Norman Wisdom, who were both also making films at the sprawling studios. At the end of the tour, Alf Ramsey stepped forward to make a short thank-you speech. “I would like to thank,” he said, in that distinctive, clipped posh-Cockney accent of his, “everybody at Pinewood Studios and in particular Mr Seen Connery.”
I was standing with the mickey-taking masters Bobby Moore and Jimmy Greaves, and Mooro – out of sight and hearing of Alf – said: “That’s the funniest thing I’ve ever shawn or heard.”