With the New Year's festivities in London over, January 2, 1967 came to pass, and the winter job hunting offensive resumed. I would confine my more humble search within the outer London ring road, or North Circular Road, in the case of my first target, the Ilford Recorder, where I realised the district was familiar to me as home of Ilford film, a distant rival to Kodak.
I found the editor of the Ilford Recorder most welcoming, but regretful. He looked at my material with interest, as if to judge whether he would hire me if he could. But he could not, as he had recently hired a man, late of the Romford Recorder, which was five miles away in the wrong direction. So instead of returning west as planned, I was now heading north east farther away.
In Romford, I found much the same friendly reception, this time from the sports editor, who was an important fellow in the office. He too looked at my cuttings with interest and told me much the same story. Having lost their man to the Ilford Recorder, the Romford Recorder hired a man from the Colchester Express, which was a short-lived start-up. He suggested there could well be an opening there.
That was more than 40 miles in the wrong direction. But I went anyway, making it by nightfall, which in these latitudes in January was about 4:30 p.m. It was the same story, told more curtly by the impatient, nattily dressed editor who did not want to see my cuttings or hear anything else from me. He told me he had hired a man from the East Anglian Daily Times, so there might be an opening there.
I had vowed that I would go no farther than Colchester despite my delight at learning this was the home of Old King Cole. I even hoped I would not be offered a job after the series of tiresome bus journeys it took to get there.
But the East Anglian Daily Times was a daily, not a weekly. It would provide the much-lauded provincial daily experience that was recognised as something of a degree in major league British journalism, as the Mirror man told me. And it was less than 20 miles away, though again almost a straight line in the wrong direction and 85 miles from home.
As the Colchester Express made short work of me, I was on my way, this time by train, taking a taxi to the East Anglian in Lower Orwell Street, arriving about 7 o'clock. I did not like the formality of the main entrance of the handsome two-storey modern building. I walked around to the back, trying to find a less formal entrance and noticed a fleet of cute red Morris vans looking like rows of Dinky Toys, with East Anglian Daily Times emblazoned on one side and Evening Star on the other. I found the back door, ascended the stairs to the upper floor and found myself on a corridor with a door in the distance revealing two or three men holding pencils bent over paper. Closer to me was another open door which revealed nothing, but I heard the usual banter common among journalists. I looked in and saw two of them chatting and another at a distant desk working at a typewriter.
"You guys know who does the hiring of reporters around here?" I said.
"Mr Tonkinson, the news editor. But he's not here. Gone for the day," said the one facing me.
"But Mr Wilson has the last word," said the fellow who had his back turned to me.
"Who is Mr Wilson?" said I.
"He owns the place," said the first man. "But he's not here either."
"Yes, he is," said the man at the typewriter. "He's in his office, I saw him when I came in."
"Where's his office?" I said.
"Down the hall at the very end," said the man at the typewriter. "But don't tell him we told you."
"Don't tell anyone!"
I knocked on the door at the end of the darkened hall.
"Enter," came the reply.
Mr. Wilson was a heavyset man with a brown suit and an ample moustache. His was a large office, a long rectangular room that was mostly in the dark as its only light came from a desk lamp. It appeared that he had been drinking.
I instantly felt that being bold and cocky was not the best approach and resorted to my usual Canadian diffidence, announcing that I was from Montreal and looking for a job as a reporter. I presented my clippings. I also said I had canvassed Fleet Street and was told I would need experience on a provincial daily before I could be considered. He asked me what Fleet Street paper I preferred; I said the Daily Telegraph without thinking, largely because it looked more like a Canadian paper than anything else..
He took my two scrapbooks and immediately set to reading the stories, one after the other, many to the end, during the half-hour interview. He made a few positive remarks, saying he liked the brevity of my intros, which gave me reason to thank Bob Stall for creating the fetish we shared, cramming as much meaning in as few words as possible into the first paragraph.
Mr. Wilson asked me when I could start. I said as soon as he found it convenient, but I would have to move my gear from London. It being a Thursday, we agreed on Monday. I bid him goodbye and set out to the reporters’ room. Only one of them remained, eating a sandwich and sipping on a bottle of beer. I noticed other empty beer bottles on the blue topped desks arrayed in a double bank in the elongated room with a small private office at one end. I announced my news to the reporter, and he told me there was a train leaving for London within the hour. I could either walk or get a taxi from the Cattle Market, behind the newspaper's parking lot and over a street or two. ”Ask anyone."
There was no one to ask as I wended my way in the empty lanes in the direction I was given. I then came to an open area, with what looked like two bus shelters without buses, many a closed shop, and a barely open pub called the Plough. On entering I discovered I had reached the Cattle Market and that the pub operated as an inn. I thought I would set up base camp there on my return and made arrangements for Sunday. When I asked for a cab, a man was summoned from the bar and took me to the railway station.
Back in London, my news was eclipsed by Alan's; he was now driving a car as a Prentice Hall textbook salesman. His job with the London Borough of Newham Outdoor Activities Center did not kick in till late February owing to a new arrangement with the incumbent office holder, who found it convenient to delay his departure. Alan was unsure whether his taste for textbook salesmanship ran much further than the white Ford Cortina they let him drive and the money the job promised but had yet to deliver. But with his new working arrangement at the activities centre, he would be able to give his notice if things looked good on the sales job and chuck it for the sailing job if they did not.
The good news for me was that Alan could drive me to Ipswich on Sunday and have me settled in at the Plough before he left to cut out a swath of territory for Prentice Hall textbooks. We had a parting pint in the bar, and I took to my bed after first warming up the room—or trying to—with a meter-less gas fire. No sooner had I got it ablaze than the landlord was pounding on my door telling me to turn it down and turn it off within a minute or two. It would not be the first time that the emphasis with hotel guests was on their discipline, not their comfort.
Nonetheless, under a goodly pile of blankets, I had a good sleep, got dressed quickly in the morning and went downstairs to say I would be staying another two nights. I was directed to a hearty agricultural breakfast of "bangers and mash"—three large sausages and a heap of mashed potatoes. I was reminded of what my hero the Duke of Wellington said in defence of subsidising the British breakfast: that no Englishman would fight a revolution on a full stomach. Stint they might on the gas fire, but not on the breakfast.
I easily found my way through the Cattle Market and the back lanes to the office parking lot. The last of the fleet of red Morris vans were reassembling for the day shift after a night's run to the extremities of the vast East Anglian circulation area, which encompassed all of Suffolk, a sliver of south Norfolk, and chunks of north Essex and east Cambridgeshire. I had yet to discover what a unique well-oiled machine I was about to join, the most efficient of any I have worked for outside Globe and the National Enquirer.
I went in through the same door I first entered some days before and into the reporters' room, sat down and waited. No harm on being early on my first day. The phone rang. With pen and paper in hand I answered it, feeling a little silly saying "hello," thinking there was something more official to say but not knowing what it was.
The man at the other end identified himself as Inspector Tarling of the East Suffolk Constabulary, calling to inform us that a body had been found near the village of Tattingstone. I asked him if homicide was suspected. To which he grunted in a rather irritated way, then, recognising my North American accent, realised I meant to ask about murder. "Yes, we suspect murder," he said.
I soon learned that while North Americans have homicide squads, Scotland Yard has a murder squad. Killing another person either legally or accidentally is a homicide, but if done deliberately and illegally, it is murder.
I had taken notes of the conversation carefully when a very young reporter, no more than 17, walked in, immediately followed by an overweight jowly fellow with a stern demeanor, about 50, wearing a maroon tie and a grey cardigan, who said: "You are our new man, the Canadian, McCormick? Am I right?" He spoke as if he did not care for an answer. I got the feeling we were not off to a good start.
"Excuse me, Sir,” I said as I pursued him to his office. “But the cops have called. An Inspector Tarling said there had been a murder near a village called Tattingstone."
"Send me a note, Old Son," he said in an offhand way, as if to dismiss me and it from his mind.
I gave him my crisp military "Very good, Sir," and returned to my desk. I was not at all surprised at his nonchalant attitude. After all, murders were hardly unusual at home, and certainly no one would afford them anything more than routine treatment if the victims or the suspects were of no account.
But Mr. Tonkinson, or "Old Tonky" as he was called, spun around and exclaimed: "What did you say?!"
I stood up and formally consulted my notes and repeated what I had said.
"Sam," he said to an older man who had just arrived, “You call around to your police contacts and find out what's going on, and you," he said to me, "go down to photo and get out there!" Ours was a two-storey building, so I went downstairs just as a girl bundled in a coat and kerchief came in through the back door.
"Where's the photo department?" I demanded.
"There," she said, pointing to an open door at the end. I entered and saw a short blond man limbering up with camera gear and ready to go.
"You're the new man? The Canadian?" he said, just to be sure.
Soon we were off in his car five miles south to Tattingstone, a village of 500 that I barely saw as we whizzed through. The photographer shouted something incomprehensible to a person on his side of the car and then shot off along a road flanked by open fields. Soon, we found a collection of police vehicles. The photog got out and started snapping. There was a scattering of a dozen policemen, half in forage caps and half helmeted, searching sections of the ground for clues. A man, Fred Burggy, who looked like a farmer, was standing at one side away from them. I asked him if he was the one who found the body. He said yes. What did you do then? He said he drove his tractor as fast as he could to the village policeman. How fast was that? "Seventeen miles per hour," he said.
At this point, a policeman told me to go away and get back to the road. The press could watch from there but were not "to interfere with inquiries." This seemed to be very different from procedures at home, where we could talk to whomever we liked.
I noticed more press now. Sam Browne, the deputy chief reporter from our office, had arrived and said the photographer and I should go back with what we had for the first edition of the Evening Star, the stablemate of the morning East Anglian Daily Times (EADT).
When I got back I typed out what little I had: that the East Suffolk Constabulary were searching for clues and that the farm labourer who discovered the two suitcases in which the dismembered body was put drove his tractor to the village police station at its top speed of 17 miles per hour, a fact which delighted everyone and made me a minor hero over our first pub lunch. It also gave the story an Agatha Christie touch, making it a truly English cultural event, which this whole affair was rapidly becoming. Canadian murders, perhaps only Montreal murders, were more mechanical and logical, it seemed.
I had noticed others coming on the scene, Fleet Streeters from the Daily Mirror, the Daily Express, the Daily Telegraph. If I did not see it then, I certainly noticed later something that would become McCormick's Fourth Law of Journalism: that the more respectable the newspaper, the more disheveled the journalist. Conversely, the more disreputable the journal, the nattier the journalist must be. If one represents the Times of London or the Guardian one can appear in the dirtiest of fatigues and get away with it because the interview subject knows the material presented will at least be kept within the bounds of good taste and decorum. The journalist from a disreputable journal must draw attention away from his publication's passion for tits and bums with his own personal presentability.
We retired for lunch to the preferred pub, which was a more serious inn, the Coach and Horses. There I met a few of the staff, notably David Twiston Davies, who was to become a lifelong friend. Our families would become close over the next 60 years. He had a red nose and was the image of James Joyce's "stately, plump Buck Mulligan," as he bore himself with the same endearing pomposity.
"I understand you are Canadian," he said in an accent so upper-class that it seemed especially designed to annoy the Irish. Indeed, years later, when I was in Dublin with his brother Simon, whose accent was only a toned-down version of his brother's, a barman refused to serve him simply because he found his accent offensive.
"Yes," I said.
"So am I," he said. "Where are you from?"
"So am I. What part of Montreal?"
"So am I!" he said with great delight.
"What do you think of Bennett?" he asked, turning to serious enquiry, as if a fellow Westmounter would have an instant opinion on the matter.
The only Bennett I had heard of was WAC Bennett, premier of distant British Columbia, who headed the "funny money" Social Credit Party. But I also was aware that he was pretty much a standard Tory, even vowing to have nothing to do with "Socred" monetary theory, which admittedly was pretty nutty. The idea was just to print money and make everybody rich. Of course, everyone would have to stay doing what they had always done. Farmers would remain farmers and accountants had to stay accountants. If people shifted about willy-nilly, then Social Credit could not work, or so the theory went. The idea gained some traction in New Zealand, where a "Socred" party thrived for a time, though the only jurisdiction to put its theories into practice was the Province of Alberta. It printed money called Alberta Scrip, but it could not buy anything because few would take it at face value.
"No, no, not Wacky Bennett—RB," Twiston protested. "Had a tight grip on cabinet."
He told me about RB Bennett, the only Canadian PM to be elevated to the peerage, as a viscount. I soon learned that not only was Twiston knowledgeable about the history of Canadian parliamentary politics, he was the only reasonably educated man on the reporting staff.
Not that he was a Liberal, of course, but he admired Mackenzie King and cheerfully rattled on to the only person he had ever met who could share his passion in Canadian parliamentary doings. He ended with a flourish, as though saving this up for someone special.
"I am not a Liberal, of course, but I shall say one thing about Mackenzie King. He may have been advised by his mother, and she may have been dead—but she never told him to put a foot wrong." This was followed by an uproarious laugh at his own joke, which I joined in as heartily as I could.
The rest of the staff talked to the Fleet Streeters, who were all staying at the Coach and Horses—largely to keep an eye on each other—and who joined us at the bar until after 2 o'clock closing time. DORA, the Defence of the Realm Act, closed pubs from 2 to 6 and was considered a bloody nuisance by the young and foolish, but a useful "enforced rest" by the older and wiser. It was a wartime measure to ensure munitions workers returned from lunch fit enough to continue work.
As it turned out, Twiston and I had the afternoon off. He showed me about the town, or that part of it that EADT reporters had anything to do with—basically Ipswich Magistrates Court and Orwell Magistrates Court, the library, the art gallery, the White Horse Hotel, where we were not to enter as it was Mr Wilson's haunt. We took in a movie, where I learned of one of the perks of EADT life. All we had to say at the theatre is that we were from EADT and they would wave us through. This applied to all three cinemas in town.
There was another pub we could enter but seldom did. That one was frequented by the men of the USAF 81st Tactical Fighter Wing, who were the sole occupants of RAF Station Hintlesham these days. I eventually ventured into their pub, completely redesigned to cater to American tastes to the point it did not look like a British pub at all. Except for seeing the odd liveried American car in USAF colours, looking massive, and massively out of place on Ipswich's narrow streets, we had little or nothing to do with them.
Twiston's family history was a typical war bride story in reverse. Rather like Alan's mother, Twiston's mother was a war bride too. But unlike Alan's mother, who came from England and went to Canada, Twiston's mother came from Canada and went to England. His father was one of those dashing ferry command pilots, whom my mother and her contemporaries swarmed over in the war years when they partied in Montreal before taking off for the UK, pioneering those first all-weather transatlantic flights. (American and Canadian aircraft were flown to England or Northern Ireland from Montreal’s Dorval Airport.)
Twiston spent a few years in Canada before his father returned to the family egg and poultry farm in Somerset. He then entered Downside Catholic School in Somerset, where he acquired the accent and style to the manor born, but always kept up his interest in Canada and his Canadian citizenship.
We were soon back for "night markings," that is, night assignments. I was given the 7 o'clock police press conference, which concerned developments in the murder inquiry and were held morning, noon and night for six months. I had heard during the day that the 5th Regional Crime Squad from Norwich had shouldered the East Suffolk Constabulary aside, which was the source of local resentment. Of course, even without that interference, there was much resentment seething in the East Suffolk Constabulary, because it was to merge with the Ipswich Borough Police amid much talk of "rationalization," more plainly understood in later years as "downsizing."
So I was given the "scoop" that Scotland Yard and its murder squad had shouldered aside the Norwich lads and had taken over the investigation from London. Of course, half of Fleet Street was there, so it was hardly my scoop as the entire country would know about it before my readers in distant Cambridgeshire would hear of this bureaucratic triumph from me. But it gave me something obvious to write about as there wasn't much more to emerge from the press conference, other than seeing Inspector Tom Tarling, who had phoned me that morning to announce the discovery of the body. He reminded me of the television actor who played Georges Simenon's Inspector Maigret, one of my favourite shows in Canada.
The press conferences went on and on, day after day, month after month with nothing new to say long after the Fleet Streeters had gone. We ended up making the last paragraph of our stories of the previous press conference the first paragraph of the next story to provide the subs who wrote the headlines something not obviously repetitive to say.
About four months in, when I was one of three reporters at the press conference, scaled down from thirty when the Fleet Streeters were there, I became a micro-hero at the office for momentarily breaking the deadly repetitive pattern that had emerged from the dreary meetings. The police spokesman mentioned that the victim was "slow." I asked whether that meant "mentally retarded" and was rewarded with a qualified Yes, which I turned into an unqualified Yes in the EADT next day and the bright and breezy Evening Star tabloid amplified with a much larger headline.
Not long before, I was cast as anti-hero by breaking another British police taboo. I was in the Cattle Market after lunch when I saw a couple of detectives coming out of a butcher's shop before going into a greengrocer's next door. I went in to talk to the butcher about what the police were asking. They wanted to know if he had seen a white car, particularly a Cortina, the night before the body was discovered. I then went into the greengrocers and asked about the car, but the grocer became angry, asked me why I wanted to know and told me he would tell the police that I was asking. When I got back to the office, not ten minutes later, a reporter on the stairs told me I was in the shit. And Tonky raged at me that the police had called to complain that "your Canadian reporter" was acting improperly and this was the last warning, as my earlier offence had been noted.
But the rage soon passed as they all, reporters included, wanted to find out what I found out. I told them about the white Cortina - quite forgetting, if I was ever aware, that I had been driven to Ipswich by Alan the night of the murder in a white Cortina. I was later to learn from a subeditor who had a flat in my building that I was a murder suspect until the police discovered who the victim was. They didn't know for the longest time until they published a picture of the youth's severed head, making it look like the top of a turtleneck sweater. I remember Tonky and the chief sub wondering about the ethics of running a picture of a dead man. This fact was not mentioned, only that it was a picture that "had come into the possession of police." It paid off, though. The parents came forward and we knew who the lad was, not 14 as we had thought, but 16.
But that was about the only progress I knew of to this day. I must turn to Wikipedia to discover in 2019 what denouement there was, to wit:
"Bernard Michael Oliver (1950 – January 1967) was a young British warehouse worker from Muswell Hill, North London. He disappeared on 6 January 1967, and his remains were found ten days later in the village of Tattingstone. His body had been cut into eight pieces and left in two suitcases. The case received widespread media attention, partly because police, unable to identify the body, took the unusual step of releasing a photograph of the victim’s head to the media. The murder remains unsolved. On Friday, 6 January 1967, Oliver did not return home after spending the evening with friends, and was reported missing by his father the following morning. Several days later, on 16 January, farm worker Fred Burggy discovered his remains in two suitcases left behind a hedge in a field near the village of Tattingstone, Suffolk. Tests showed that Oliver had been sexually assaulted and strangled before his body was expertly dismembered. In 2004, documents released under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 revealed that the prime suspects in the murder were two medical doctors, Martin Reddington, who died in 1995 and John Byles who died in 1975."
I began to suss out the shape of the newspaper group that had employed me. The two principal holdings were the East Anglian Daily Times, which won considerable national notoriety for being in favour of the independence of Ian Smith's white Rhodesian government—UDI, or unilateral declaration of independence. It culminated in what the newspapers called the "Tiger talks," which had a Churchillian ring because they were held aboard HMS Tiger in the Mediterranean near Gibraltar, conveying a sense of meeting Rhodesia halfway.
The EADT was deeply concerned with agriculture, and the newspaper had unrivalled expertise in this area. Its four-person, well-educated agricultural staff was the journalistic gentry, quite welcome in the White Horse Hotel, unlike the rest of us subs and reporters. Chiefly, the EADT with its solemn up and down columns was one of the most, if not the most, respected agricultural newspapers in Britain. Certainly, East Anglia was the richest farmland in the country. So when it came to supporting Rhodesia, the issue was less ideological than economic. As far as the East Anglian was concerned, Rhodesia's economy was based entirely on agriculture and that was of paramount importance. Thus, as Rhodesian whites were involved in the only serious agriculture in the country, it would be sheer madness to consign the management of the country's economic engine to angry know-nothings who sought not to possess but to dispossess.
The EADT differed sharply from the swashbuckling Evening Star, which I think was the sharpest paper I have known, given what it sought to achieve and how well it achieved it. I would prefer the Irish Times in years to come, but that only reflected my personal taste. In making wider judgments it is necessary to base them on what a paper sets out to achieve and how well it achieves it.
I was also about to learn that the EADT circulated in the country while the Evening Star circulated in town. Most of the reporters knew and instinctively lived by McCormick's First Law of Journalism, that is, what is least read least offends. Thus, we identified ourselves as from the EADT when in town and from the Evening Star when sent to the country. There was a central pool of reporters serving all papers in the group, but separate subs' tables that created individual publications. "As long as you are not from that awful Evening Star/East Anglian," the occasional interview subject might say before he would talk to us.
Beyond the EADT and the Evening Star, there was another entity called the Suffolk Mercury Series, led by a countywide weekly called the Suffolk Mercury. More important was the work of the district men, reporters we seldom saw, but who were nominal editors of village weeklies, which were actually put together from their stories and ours in papers like the Stowmarket Mercury and the Felixstowe Times.