Press & media

Whittam Smith, Andreas (2 of 4).  Oral History of the British Press

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  • Recording date

    2007-02-07, 2007-03-05, 2007-03-22

  • Interviewees

    Whittam Smith, Andreas, 1937- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Brodie, Louise (speaker, female)

  • Abstract

    Part 2: AWS could detect rogues by looking for the warning signs, for instance an employer paying too much, buying silence. When he started with the Church Commissioners he asked if the share certificates were all registered in their name, and also what scope for fraud there was. None, he was told, but later a fraud was uncovered. [3:49] AWS liked writing and tried to imitate writers he admired. John Murray was one of them. He went off to work for John Lewis, but their sons are friends today. Now journalists get a lot of information over the phone. When you are young, flattery from senior people is dangerous. In financial journalism you have to see it for what it is. AWS never leaves people in the same job for too long, where you can make friends and be unduly influenced. The greatest rogues are likeable. [08:41] AWS was lucky to go into financial journalism just when it was expanding, it was the rise of unit trusts for instance. He moved to the Sunday Times, and at the age of 29 became deputy city editor of the Daily Telegraph. His second piece of luck was meeting Valerie in 1963, and they were married in 1964 and got onto the housing ladder before the boom. She worked for an antique dealer in porcelain. Her father had also died when she was in her teens and her mother had married again. AWS and Valerie lived in a rented flat in Chelsea to begin with, then moved to Islington where they bought a new house for Đ5000. Their elder son, Ben is now 41. They moved to an old house in Hampstead and Mark was born in 1968. After a poor start in a state school, the boys went to the Hall, then on to Westminster, with AWS working harder to pay the bills. [16:41] It was a contrasting education from his own. Story of walking past Westminster school the other day and meeting the headmaster. They would all go to the west coast of Scotland for holidays, a remote place where they hiked and scrambled up the hills. Valerie also took on work. They kept in close touch with AWS's mother too. [22:53] The Financial Times was very interesting. Experts worked there, Sam Brittan, Nigel Lawson, Chris Tugendhat. Gordon Newton was the editor. Story of his bad man management. AWS was there for only a year before moving to The Times to do their city coverage in 1964. It was considered that he was leaving the flagship. No names were attributed to articles but you could work out the hierarchy. Examples. [29:51] He never had a comment from his editor, Ansell Egerton, but the overall boss Sir William Haley paid him a compliment. Incident in the composing room when he touched some type and all work came to a stop due to union demarcation rules. [33:04] Fleet Street was an anomaly, factories in the middle of London. There was a lot of drinking, and the pubs were tribal, you met colleagues. There were also fights between unexpected people. New technology started in Florida, moved through New York and Washington but London was the last to bring the old ways to an end. Getting the paper printed was all that management was interested in. And the labour laws were not there. Papers are more perishable than anything else. Minutes count and to be 30 minutes late with something is possible a sackable offence. [39:30] Journalists must be accurate, as they will always be found out. Example of AWS putting Corby in the wrong county. Another common one is putting too many noughts on a figure. Both the FT and Times had rows of experts working for them. Leader writing is an art form, and Peter Wilby is a master at this [46:03] AWS enjoys editing which is not everyone's first choice. You must identify good stories, cover them, get into the skins of readers. His mantra is to "respect the reader and trust the writer". He poached Peter Jenkins for the Independent saying that he could shorten his articles to the right length for him, and that he could give him congenial colleagues, he would be part of the bloodstream of the paper, which journalists must be to succeed. The. editor is likely to be in sympathy with the owner politically, so problems are sorted out. Rupert Murdoch's gift is to create monopolies and he changed from being Australian to American to do this.

  • Description

    Life story interview with journalist Andreas Whittam Smith

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