Wonderful memories from ex-trainee Jeff Swimmer

I was sent this fabulous email from Jeff. It made my day!:

“Hi Joe, I started at Reuters in 1988. I was in that fancy complex out near the Tower of London. Maiden Lane, or some such…? I can’t remember the name. It was in the Fall. There were 10 Brits and one person each from the other continents – a woman from Egypt, an Aussie, another from Hong Kong, one from Buenos Aires and I guess I represented North America.

Reuters got me a place right near your Dad’s place (Chelsea, correct?), where they also got a place for a good friend – Silvina Gonzalez Cigoj, from Buenos Aires. He had us over for dinner several times, cooked up plates full of dripping meat, which we loved, and showed us around some great Chelsea pubs. He was such a potent emotional connection to London for me in every way. His huge smile, massive laugh and copious appetite for all things life were magnetic to me, unimaginably exciting and inspiring.

During the trainings, he de-frocked all of us earnest but dead naive scrubs by bellowing out his Rules –

When writing about shipwrecks – “No bloody fucking ship ever went down to its bloody fucking ‘wet grave!'”

To a stupefied Yank (ok, me) who handed in an article with a lead he was delighted with: “Oh, aren’t you so bloody clever…get that grin off your face and sit down!”

On having a fellow hack yell at us about a plane crash in Lockerbie right as our holiday party in St. Bride’s pub was getting underway: “Oh….this something…had better be nothing…”

On first walking into an American bar and seeing a huge banner advertising “Happy Hour, All You Can Drink – 5 to 7″…..”Oh…you people are so naive….”

When I got back to the States from London in Spring of ’89 I was working on various desks in NYC and around the States and always missed George, but loved hearing George stories being passed around the various bureaux I worked in. I certainly shared lots of stories with a longtime fellow Reuters hack, Oliver Ludwig, who became one of my best friends and with whom I shared many a laugh in bars talking about your Dad. I may even have had the chance to introduce him to George at one point – I can’t remember. I hope I did.

The last thought I’ll share is that since leaving London in 89 I’ve gone back many times and even took my family to live there for 3 years (’99 – ’01). And every single time I’ve gone to London since he died in ’97, I’ve made a stop on my first day to 85 Fleet Street, and then to St. Bride’s next door, drank a beer, sat on those cold stone steps under the wall of names, and relished and cherished the amazing memories, fortitude and joy he gave me and so so many others.

Best Regards, Jeff Swimmer”

Missing posts?

This site was hacked by spammers in February and I had to delete thousands of fake entries. (Hacking a memorial site — jeez). I think I must have deleted some good stuff too, so if you miss something, please let me know!

“Dabs not slabs”

Peter Mosley

Background is essential but good writers take great care where they choose to place it. Too much background too high in the story is a switch-off for readers; however, a little explanation and context is usually needed quite quickly – is this event a ‘first’?, for instance, or maybe it is a tit-for-tat situation or a court case where a charge needs to be explained briefly. The trick is to weave such ‘instant’ background into the running narrative, rather than interrupt the flow by inserting a whole slab. “Dabs, not slabs,” as the late, great George Short, Reuters Training Editor, used to say. More next week about how to handle in-depth background.

Peter Mosely

Anecdote from Iain Pears

Like many Reuters trainees, journalism began with George Short. In my case, it pretty much ended with him as well, as he was one of the last people I saw before I left Reuters for the last time. Others have talked at length about his inimitable style of teaching how to write something readable; his belief in brevity, clarity and simplicity. His scorn for the by-line brigade, his frequent and lengthy excursions into philosophical musings – he had a lengthy metaphor for Reuters involving galleys, slaves and officers which taught me more about management than anthing else I’ve ever heard. He was, despite his efforts to conceal it, wise and very smart indeed. He was the embodiment of Old Journalism, doing his best to convert the new graduate types who would change his trade forever, make it more boring, less fun. He had some success.

The essence of his manner of teaching came when I was labouring away as a sub on features, and he appeared. Come and have a drink, he said. I pointed out it was just gone nine in the morning and I hadn’t had breakfast. Nah, time for a drink.

So we went, to one of the Fleet street dives always open, and George ordered me a double gin. So I drank it, we chatted, he ordered me another double gin. I became voluble, brilliant, a maginficient conversationalist. George listened. Anotehr double gin. Then he helped me up, guided me back to my desk, and gave me a pile of notes. Press conference from the last Opec meeting, he said. Find the story. Write 500 words. Have it done in half an hour.

I should have listened. One of his bon mots – which I had thought was a joke — was that if you can’t write when you are too drunk to stand up, you shouldn’t be a journalist. Apparently, he had meant it.

I think I passed. When I left Reuters, and started writing novels, I sent him a copy of one of them. The next time I saw him, he screwed up his face and said, “Needs a bit of subbing, that.” Still, he bought me a drink.

Revenge is sweet. He turns up in my next novel, Stone’s Fall, in a cameo role, propped up against a bar, dispensing information and wisdom freely and generously.

Iain Pears, December 2008

“Resist, and I will shoot”

While George was an officer working for the UN in the Congo in 1960, his platoon was guarding a radio station as Congo Premier Lumumba tried to enter to make a broadcast. George remembered the situation as being “quite confusing”, and not heroic at all. Lumumba raised his arms, thinking he was being arrested, and George remembered pulling them down again in an attempt to calm the situation. George was quite embarrassed at the media coverage that then resulted in the UK. The story made most of the daily papers. He said he did not remember saying “resist, and I will shoot”, for example, as quoted in this front page Daily Mirror story (click to zoom):


A message from Belsac

Edale, in the High Peak, is where the Delta Islands were concieved and brought to fruition by the genious of George. It was in the lounge of Jenny Rodwell, George’s ex wife but long term friend when debating how we might entertain ourselves. It is so long ago that I can not remember who else was there but I think there was Joe, George’s son. We were talking about war games, George invented one, and George began to bemone the short sighted economic stringencies of a multi-billion pound organisation which would not give him a budget to make training videos. Now it so happened that I was the Chair of Kinder Players, the Edale am-dram group and it was not long before George came up with the idea of using Kinder Players to make his video. “We’ll pay”, said George, “not very much ’cause the suits won’t let me have the funds but I could sqeeze a few hundred out of my budgets.

And so there we were. George arrived with Joe (the technical designer), a sort of script and a cameraman and president Belsac was launched on an unsuspecting journalistic world. Kinder players bought a brand new lighting system out of the procedes which has been put to very good effect particularly with the Edale pantomime (A Kind of Sound of Music this year (2007), February 21st to 24th. So if you want to meet the real President Belsac come to Edale in Late February. (go to www.edale-valley.co.uk for accomodation)).

President Belsac

(Sent in by Phil Oldroyd, who played the “playboy president”, Nero Belsac, in one of George’s training vidoes.)

Brill, trif, ex, fab…

“Good for the character.”

“Make it sing.”

“Just write what happened. WRITE WHAT HAPPENED!”

“Brill, triff, ex, fab, perf, marv, sup, wiz, hun.”

“Everyone needs a sub.”

“Chicken nothing.”

“Soldier on.”

“Mope not. Doss not. Flop not.” (I particularly remember this from when I was a teenager.)