Moncrieff says Fleet Street was the centre of Britain but still ‘a village’
Independent editor Simon Kelner, Daily Mirror chief crime reporter Jeff Edwards and former Press Association political editor Chris Moncrieff are just three of the journalists taking a nostalgic look at the old days of Fleet Street in a new BBC Radio 4 series starting next week.
Speaking on Out of Print, presented by former Press Gazette editor Philippa Kennedy, Kelner says he misses “being in the centre of London, the centre of the legal world, the centre of the political world, the centre of Britain”.
Moncrieff bemoans the loss of the camaraderie. “Every journalist wishes he was still there, because as you walked up and down Fleet Street, there was always somebody you knew, you walked into a pub and you always met friends there. It was just a village.”
And Edwards waxes lyrical about the social life. “It was a great place to work in. It was vibrant; there was a fantastic social life. These days it’s a much more straight-laced – some would say po-faced – business.”
The three-part series, which begins next February at 11am, examines the origins of Fleet Street as a centre of the British newspaper world, from the days of Wynkyn de Worde, William Caxton’s assistant who brought printing to that particular part of London, to the present day.
Kennedy said: “I found out more about the history of Fleet Street researching this than I ever knew when I was working there on The Sun and the Daily Express. I was even down in the crypt of St Bride’s, where I saw a skull and some bones which I’m told are the remains of poor old Wynkyn.
“One of the strangest moments was standing in the lovely old art deco front hall of the Daily Express building and remembering all the people who used to work there.”
The first programme looks at early newspapers and how they were seen by the establishment as a threat to the social order. It also marks the birth of political spin in the 18th century. The second, on 11 February, describes how the Napoleonic and Crimean wars boosted circulation and how technological advances established the concept of up-to-the-minute news. Programme three on 18 February features Kelner, Moncrieff, Edwards and Roy Greenslade looking at Fleet Street in its heyday.
By Jon Slattery