The Daily Mail has dismissed as “moonshine” a new book about the paper which claims to lift the lid on what one insider said was a “hideous, joyless place to work”.
Mail Men, by Adrian Addison, tells the “unauthorised” story of the Daily Mail from its launch in 1896 through its transformation under David English to the paper which is recognisable today and the last quarter of a century under editor-in-chief Paul Dacre.
It recounts how Dacre built the Mail’s circulation up to a record level of 2.5m in 2003 with a forthright management style which is said to have left some journalists in tears at times.
It also notes his triumphs, such as the 1997 front page in which he risked prosecution and even personal harm by branding the killers of Stephen Lawrence “MURDERERS” long after the police failed to charge them with any crime.
The book paints a vivid picture of Dacre’s reign as an apparently tyrannical and foul-mouthed manager.
Former Daily Mail news editor Tim Miles went on the record to the author and recalled Dacre’s time on the newsdesk in the 1980s: “We all took a tremendous amount of sh*t in those days.
“Dacre would call us a ‘load of c**ts’ or a ‘shower of c**ts’. It was always ‘c**t this’ and ‘c**t that’. He did like the word ‘c**t.”
Former Daily Mail features journalist Jane Kelly said: “As soon as he got made Mail editor he changed so much. I’ve never known anyone change so much actually.
“I’d heard he’d been a terrible tyrant when he was on the news desk but I hadn’t seen that myself and now he was just a tyrant to everybody. All the time.”
Former reporter Tony Burton spoke of his fury at the practice of sending two reporters out to compete for the same story – which he said was a hang-over from the days of David English: “It pissed me off big time, stupid f***ing games.”
But Miles also said Dacre has “a good heart” and “cared very much if people had family problems.”
He is said to do most of his editing on paper, work 12 to 14-hour days and rarely use a computer (preferring to read and edit printed pages).
Press Gazette asked the Daily Mail what it made of the claims in the book and a spokesman said: “Every paper in Fleet Street has its trail of resentful former hacks, emptying saloon bars around the world with their yarns of ‘great operators’ and bastard bosses.
“Mr Addison must be congratulated on tracking down so many of them, and even persuading a few to speak on the record. It’s a shame their tales are as much moonshine as their expenses once were.”
Addison in turn told Press Gazette that Miles had sent him the following quote when the book was published: “Anyone reading Mail Men will be left in no doubt how much research went into the book.
“Addison captures the tough newsroom atmosphere of the 1980s very well indeed and the forces that shaped Paul Dacre.”
And Addison himself said: “I’ve never tasted moonshine. Nor, unfortunately, have I brewed moonshine in the cellar of some mythical bar populated solely by disgruntled (past and present) Daily Mail hacks obsessing over their days at Northcliffe House. Though, I do confess, it does sound like my kind of place.
“Most of the people I spoke to for Mail Men were very calm, pleasant and bright men and women who often told their stories behind a big and slightly baffled grin, amused as they were by Paul Dacre – especially Paul Dacre the man before he became Paul Dacre The Editor.
“They don’t see this cartoon monster like some who revile the Daily Mail: some simply struggle to see where The Editor – after a quarter of a century in the top chair – ends and the man, the human being within, begins.
“And a lot of these people spent many many years in his presence. They respect his achievements and Sir Alex Ferguson-like longevity but it now seems, to some of them (not all), that there is no longer any difference between the man and The Editor and he is morphing into some kind of Lord Protector of the Press.
“Yet some still can’t help but remember the shy and stiff – and, it has to be said, not particularly outstanding (they say) – young hack of the 1970s whose dad was a star writer on the Sunday Express.
“The tall and clumsy young chap who wore a pin stripe suit even on a hot day while a New York correspondent for the Daily Express.
“Only I know the names of the regulars at my illicit Mail Moonshine Bar and I’m certain Associated’s Editor-in-Chief would be mortified to see hacks he thought he knew very very well indeed standing at the bar and bringing the house down with a yarn or two; at his expense.
“I’m a wily old hack now myself – only the stories I know I can prove made it into the book.
“There are a lot of these people, believe me; gathering material for Mail Men was far far easier than I ever expected it’d be when the idea was first commissioned.
“These people simply believe that the same journalistic scepticism applies indoors at Northcliffe House just as much as it does out on the road.
“For my part as bartender, I have nothing against Paul Dacre personally nor the Daily Mail, and I never have.
“It’s a huge compliment, surely, that his newspaper is worth a couple of years of my time, and that a publisher thinks there might be a mass market for such a tale – beyond just the media world.
“It’d be difficult to sell such a book about the Express, the Mirror, The Times or The Telegraph these days.
“My personal view is very simple: if you don’t like the Daily Mail, don’t buy it – don’t read it. My mother is a loyal Mail reader and has been since May 1971 (the year and month, incidentally, of my birth and the month David English took full command and turned it tabloid, saving it from becoming just a withered appendage of the far mightier Daily Express of the day).
“So, I grew up with Sir David’s Daily Mail in the house. And I became a hack myself partly because of Keith Waterhouse – he’s still the only columnist I have ever read for pleasure.
“I have always been more attracted to writers and reporters than to editors (unlike Dacre, I never wanted to be an editor – the very thought of spending 14-hours a day in an office to me is akin to a prison sentence).
“Also, in a time of existential struggle for my trade, Associated Newspapers still employ some of the best and most dedicated hacks in the business who work ultimately for a proprietor who just lets them get on with their jobs without interference and is reaching for a digital future that may actually work and bring in the dollars needed to sustain their jobs.
“Plenty of these human beings are friends of mine … and regulars down at my Mail Moonshine Bar. Yeah, the Mail is a tough place to work – so what?
“I know the top Mail Man doesn’t really ‘do’ interviews (though he did invite the New Yorker into Mail HQ not so long ago) but that shyness is a Paul Dacre thing, not an editor thing (David English fronted adverts that were played on cinema screens when he was Foreign Editor of the Daily Express and legendary Daily Express editor Arthur Christiansen went a step further and actually starred in a couple of films).
“All I can do is repeat an invite to Paul Dacre that has been open for a couple of years now: pop in for a glass of moonshine and a chat. I would love some fresh quotes for the paperback.”