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14 May 2016 at 1:34 pm
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The first thing I did on giving up my job with the Foreign Office was to go to bed for three weeks — in a Nursing Home and on a strict diet. The second was to sign on again with The Daily Express as a reporter, the third to dip under Stalin's Iron Curtain. I wanted to see what life was like now in the capitals of my old parish in Central, Eastern and South-eastern Europe. As a result of Roosevelt's refusal to accept the advice of Churchill on the need to push into Central Europe ahead of the Russians and of Roosevelt's own blithe trust in Stalin — "I think that if I give him everything I possibly can and ask from him nothing in return," Roosevelt had said to Ambassador Bullit before the Teheran Conference, "noblesse oblige, he won't try to annex anything and will work for a world of democracy and peace." 1 — these countries had now exchanged the rule of the Nazis for the rule of the Communists. I had a shrewd suspicion of what might be going on. My experiences on the Red side during the Spanish Civil War 2 were not forgotten. But I was anxious to see for myself and report.
Before I left London however I had to make my number with the boss, I had not spoken to him since early in 1941 when I had given grave offence by obeying the Official Secrets Act and refusing to disclose to the then Minister of Aircraft Production what salary my secret department was paying me. Now Arthur Christiansen, the editor of The Express, had arranged to take me along to the old man's Park Lane flat in Brooks House in order that I might kiss hands on my reappointment as Chief European Reporter.
"Glad to have you back with us, Tom", said Lord Beaverbrook with the welcoming smile of a humorous old alligator. "You've been doing a little broadcasting, I hear." He made it sound as though I had been playing marbles. I dare say he saw a questioning look in my eyes. So he repeated the statement, this time without the smile. "You've been doing a little broadcasting!" he said with a cold hard stare. "Yes, sir," I said, and with that he knew, and I knew, that I was back where I belonged.
The others invited to meet his lordship that evening were all members of the top brass of the organisation: E. J. Robertson, the General Manager, his deputy Leslie Plummer, (soon to become a Socialist M.P. and Sir Leslie P.), Christiansen, and an unfortunate colleague called Herbert Gunn who was the editor of the Evening Standard at the time. Gunn apparently had fallen from grace, and the old man was making it plain to all of us. Plainest of all to the unhappy Herbert.
The most successful executives in the Beaverbrook stable were men who managed to anticipate Lord B's moods and wishes and conform to them while at the same time giving every appearance of doing so spontaneously from deep convictions of their own. Some of Lord Beaverbrook's editors and leader writers possessed this gift to an almost supernatural degree. Not so poor Herbert Gunn.
He did his best to read his employer's thoughts. But he was not very good at it on this particular evening. Beaverbrook was playing cat and mouse with him, leading him on to make a suggestion, then after first seeming to approve he would indicate by a turn of phrase that he did not really approve of it after all. Hastily Gunn retracted and proposed the opposite only to be prompted by Beaverbrook into contradicting himself again. No bullfighter could have been more subtle and elegant with his cape play — or more cruel. I glanced around me stealthily to see how the others were taking it. They just sat there in silence watching Gunn's torment with placidly inscrutable expressions.
To me the most astonishing thing was that this should be happening to Herbert Gunn, an able craftsman and a likeable fellow who had been with the Beaverbrook group since 1931 and had worked his way up to editorship of the Standard through all the subordinate stages. From being a sub-editor of the Standard he had become its news editor. Then he had been appointed editor of the Daily Express Manchester edition. Next he was brought back to London as assistant editor of the Daily Express. Promotion to editor of the Standard followed on that. Yet now after this long and distinguished career of loyal service he was being publicly humiliated before his peers.
What had he done? What had he left undone? I never found out. The next morning I left for Vienna, where I meant to establish my base for forays into Eastern and South-eastern Europe, determined for the future to avoid, if I possibly could, the kind of close contact with the master that might put me in a similar position to Gunn's. Alas, as things were to turn out, although I fled to the ends of the earth, in the end I too came up against his Lordship and incurred his disfavour. My demise after twenty-nine years with the Express was to be even more abrupt than Herbert Gunn's. 3
1 Quoted by William C. Bullitt in 'How We Won the War and Lost the Peace', Life Magazine, 30 August 1948.
3 The story told against him the Beaver liked best was about Sefton (Tom) Delmer. One day Tom turned up at the black glass palace in Fleet Street to find his typewriter missing. He mentioned to his secretary who was sitting hard by Terry Lancaster and asked where it was. She said it had been taken away, and that she was no longer his secretary. In fact he was no longer on the staff. Upset at this communiqué from a slip of a girl, Tom stormed into the office of Pickering (Managing Editor then if I remember rightly) and asked for explanation. Pickering mumbled something, then handed over a cheque, the 'golden handshake'. Nonplussed for a moment, Tom soon recovered his usual poise. 'Just like that, Pickering, after thirty years?' 'Just like that said Pickering. 'Well you can tell the Beaver that if I'd known the job was temporary, I'd never have taken it.' London Review of Books - Roy MacGregor-Hastie