Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Ink

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Ink

Article excerpt

It was most odd. Four decades after I'd walked into the Sun to start my first shift as a news sub editor, I was sitting in a small theatre in the heart of La La Labour-land (the Almeida in Corbyn's Islington) watching a play where I knew all the characters, as I both worked with them and worshipped them.

There was Rupert Murdoch. There was Sun editor Larry Lamb, his deputy Bernard Shrimsley, Page Three photographer Beverley Goodway, and even production supremo Ray Mills who, due to his northern background, was known as Biffo -- Big Ignorant Fucker From Oldham. How much would that acronym be worth at an employment tribunal today?

The ensemble had been put together by James Graham (who wrote the political hit This House) for his new offering Ink, which details how a combo of Rupert's restless energy and Lamb's creative talent saw the Sun go from a failing 650,000 circulation to 4,000,000, passing its bitter rival the Daily Mirror and destroying its claim to be the legitimate voice of the working classes.

The play is set in the 1970s, as was This House, and was immaculately researched by Graham, so much so that it often had the feel of a documentary. Although I was too far down the ladder to be privy to the conversations between Rupert and Larry, their dialogue had the ring of truth about it.

I could actually hear Rupert (Bertie Carvel) saying this line when talking to Larry (Richard Coyle): 'You're still trying to beat them by fighting on their terms. Let it go. Do you know when I hear "codes" and "traditions", I hear the rules as written by those who benefit from them to stop others treading on their turf.'

I'm sure he would have said that then and would say it again today. So might Corbyn. A worrying link.

I don't think that Graham captured the chip-on-both-shoulders aspect of Larry, a miner's son brought up in the Yorkshire pit village of Fitzwilliam (which also welcomed Geoffrey Boycott into the world). He was always resentful at not going to university.

Unbelievably, he was a trade union official before going into journalism but saw the light when falling under the gaze of Margaret Thatcher. He was knighted towards the end of his Sun tenure (always a mistake for a serving editor) and I suggested the headline: Sir Loin of Lamb. …

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