The Stab In The Back

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When I was earning very little reading manuscripts for Robert Hale in 1982, I got an evening job working at the pub opposite the old Daily Mirror building in Holborn Circus. The pub was called The White Hart, although it was known to everyone connected with the Mirror as The Stab In The Back. In those days, the newspaper was printed in the Mirror building and the pub had a self-regulating and mutually approved apartheid system: the printers drank in the saloon bar at the back, the journalists drank in the lounge bar at the front. There was a wide doorway connecting the two, but the two tribes kept to their own, tending only to merge when a particularly raucous song begun normally by one of the printers would be carried along by some of the hacks.

I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed such industrial levels of drinking since. During the evening, I would sweep around the shelves against the walls and pick up semi-finished G and T’s and half-full pint glasses. Journalists would leave their drinks somewhere and forget they’d ordered them so instead would just come up to the bar and order more. Every so often, in perfect order and never late, one or other of them would heave himself or herself off a bar stool and head back up to the office to write some copy. The leader writers in particular were masters of timing, leaving just a few minutes before the leader column needed to be put to press.

They were raucous and argumentative and terrifically horny. Often after the chaos of Last Orders, I would have to help amorous couples into the back of black cabs, pretending not to notice the musical chairs changes from the previous evening. The hacks tended to be more reactionary than the printers: once, I was spotted by one of the journalists while I was sitting in the back room during my tea break reading the newspaper. “He’s reading the bloody Guardian, the bloody Leftie!” he shouted, and I came out to howls of abuse.

One evening, one of the more famous columnists was particularly worse for wear, having come back from Buckingham Palace where he’d received an Honour for his reporting during the Falklands War. We had a regular in the lounge bar who was one of the few drinkers there not connected with the Mirror. He was known to be deaf and dumb and he normally sat sipping a pint on his own at the bar. The famous columnist spent a long time trying to explain patiently to him exactly what it was about his superlative reporting which had merited the Royal honour. Eventually he gave up, slurring something about “where’s the bloody respect I deserve?” As he staggered off to speak to someone else, the deaf and dumb man looked at me, smiled and winked.

The Daily Mirror building is now a Sainsburys with the London HQ of the chain occupying all the floors above it. The Stab is a Pizza Express. I’m not sure I even know where the Mirror is based any more.

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