The Grey Cardigan 24.02.06

AS THE redundancies at the Evening Beast kick in, the newsroom begins to resemble an airport departure lounge. It’s got so bad that leaving present collections have now been abandoned and every third person who approaches you is carrying a farewell card for you to sign.

The office pub is cashing in, and who can blame it? In a few weeks time there’ll be no-one left to drink in there, and those who do remain won’t dare to leave their desks in case they become the next on the list of doom.

Leaving dos mean speeches, although pity the poor department head who has to compose a valedictory to the people he has himself selected for compulsory redundancy: "Fred has always been a diligent and thorough worker." Well why did you sack him then, you bastard?

We all know the answer — he’s a monumental pain in the arse who would rather nit-pick over the grammatical niceties of a business page nib than actually get a story onto a page.

But speeches work both ways, which brings us to a bloke called Henry. A mild-mannered downtable sports sub, Henry had hardly put his head above the parapet for the past 30 years. He’d always been "a diligent and thorough worker", he was the only man in the office who understood pigeon racing, and he studiously avoided the punch-ups that occasionally erupted on the sports desk. No trouble, was Henry.

Well not until his leaving speech, anyway. Forgoing the pleasures of the boozer, Henry simply accepted his garden centre voucher with good grace, stepped up onto a desk and then launched into a coruscating, informed and well-reasoned analysis of everything that was wrong with the regional newspaper industry.

No-one was spared, from flip-flopping editors, to gutless MDs, to the wide-boy crooks from circulation, the headless chickens of the group board and the unthinking, unblinking robotic consultants who had decided his fate.

And then he left, arm in arm with one of the newsdesk secretaries (a lady who has, by repute, seen more bedroom ceilings than Paddy Burt — The Daily Telegraph’s hotel reviewer) with whom he’d been conducting a torrid 10-year secret affair entirely missed by the rest of us.

And meanwhile the Boy Wonder and The Brute stood openmouthed as one of the worms well and truly turned. Nice one, Henry.

"GAY FOOTBALLERS: First photo revealed" screamed the News of the World on Sunday morning. Utter bollocks, of course. The first photo turned out to be a heavily pixellated image of two blurs in blue shirts.

The identity of Player A and the DJ was still a mystery. Meanwhile Player B was doing something unsavoury to Player D.

But wait, what’s this? Before the day was out, mischief-makers on two internet websites had tracked down the original picture and revealed all. And only then did the degree of Photoshoppery indulged in by the NoW become clear. The two men, both black, had been considerably lightened and the killer clue, an £80,000 watch on the wrist of the Premiership footballer, had disappeared altogether.

It makes you wonder why they’re pratting about with this. Either get on and name them (and risk the wrath of England fans in the run-up to the World Cup), or go back to proper scoops instead of regurgitating pointless tittle tattle that reads like alphabet soup.

Incidentally, a colleague of mine was moaning over his morning tea that the footballers of yesteryear would never have behaved in such a fashion. I’m not surprised. Can you remember the size of mobile phones 20 years ago?

FOLLOWING MY disparaging comments about theguardian diary last week, a Mr Jon Henley writes to point out the fact that he is now the new, permanent author of the column. Jon, we genuinely wish you well.

You can contact me, should you be minded, at thegreycardigan@gmail.com

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