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Correspondent’s week

William Kay

Diana’s marriage may have been famously crowded, with three people in it, but my lunch with Edward Bonham Carter was fairly busy, with four of us round the table. Apart from Edward and me, and Edward’s minder Alicia Wyllie, there was Edward the hippo.

Edward (the Bonham Carter one) and I have had a gentlemanly dispute for the past year or so about who was first to describe the present state of the stockmarket as a hippo, wallowing around and not going very far.

There is no argument, really. I was first, in a column I wrote in September 2003, but that had not stopped Jupiter’s chief executive attaching his name to the hippo idea at every available opportunity since.

Nevertheless, when I was made money editor of the Sunday Times, Edward was kind enough to mark the occasion by sending me a little rubber hippo called, appropriately, Edward. So I thought it was only right that Edward the hippo joined Edward Bonham Carter, Alicia and me for lunch.

The conversation went something like this.

Edward Bonham Carter: “Well, Bill, what do you think the market is going to do?”

Me: “I haven’t the slightest idea.”

Alicia: “Don’t you think we should ask Edward the hippo?”

Edward the hippo: “I will have a large one, easy on the tonic.”

It was off to the Groucho Club the next day to meet one of its founder members, Hunter Davies, chronicler of Tottenham Hotspur and the Beatles and now a Sunday Times columnist. We fell to talking about the Beatles and he played coy about which one he liked best. I think it was Jimmy Greaves but he was not letting on.

Since I began at the Sunday Times in January, several people have jokingly asked me “How’s life at Fortress Wapping?”, invoking the label that the News International offices were given when they moved there in 1986 amid some of the worst industrial strife the newspaper industry has seen. In those times, staff had to be bussed in from remote pick-up points and bus windows were covered in chicken wire to protect them from flying bricks.

Now that all the national newspapers have left Fleet Street, the office and factory sides of publishing have been almost entirely separated, leaving News International as the only London newspaper group where journalists and other office workers have to dodge container lorries on their way to and from their desks. Even at Wapping, those days are numbered as the printing plant is due to move to its own location within a few years.

That will leave journalists at The Times, Sunday Times, The Sun and News of the World in splendid isolation. While most national newspaper groups are liable to rub shoulders with anyone from Canary Wharf’s bankers to Kensington’s retailers, Murdoch journalists are in the middle of a residential area which divides them from the leisure complex surrounding St Katharine’s Docks and, not far beyond, the tourist traps of Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.

But the journos’ spending power has not attracted new restaurants and wine bars to Wapping in the way that the Mail group did when it moved west. If it weren’t for Sir Terence Conran’s Pont de la Tour across the river, many PRs would be at a loss to know where to suggest going for lunch with Wapping hacks. That is why Edward and Alicia took me and Edward the hippo to the Great Eastern Hotel by Liverpool Street Station.

The Sunday Times’ Money section’s week moves relentlessly from a Monday with plenty of socialising and only the first stirrings of work to a Friday when PR calls and emails are drowned in an ocean of proofs as the final deadline approaches.

I was lucky to inherit an experienced team when I took over from Naomi Caine, so there is never any shortage of ideas to take to the editor’s conference on a Tuesday. Most of the story gathering and writing happens between then and Thursday night. In a good week, only the front page will remain to be filled on the Friday although it is never that straightforward.

That means that lunches are out of the question on Thursdays and Fridays. But Thursday evenings can be OK for the occasional drink-up, like the veteran journalist-turned-PR Brian Reynolds celebrating his 50 years in the City.

From solicitor’s office teaboy to scourge of the Daily Express, he made the transition to the dark arts with barely a pause for breath and still wields a nifty pair of chopsticks when the occasion demands.

Brian has never been very good with hippos but he does share Hunter’s devotion to Spurs. Come on, lads. However, you know they will never win another thing unless a Russian billionaire buys them, like a certain other London club I could mention.

William Kay is money editor of the Sunday Times”Don’t you think it is a bit strange that as well as bringing his hippo to lunch, Bill Kay admits to keeping it on his bedside table?” – Jupiter’s Alicia Wyllie.Talking of the same quiz, we have an incident of Blackberry abuse. Not content with trumpeting Prudential’s success in one of the rounds, in which it allegedly got 10 out of 10, by shouting: “Losers!” across the room, Anthony Frost actually used a Blackberry to email the MM editor so he and the team could be greeted in the morning by the words: “Losers, losers.”

Sportingly, MM refrained from emailing back in the morning, assuming Pru’s valiant PR team were preoccupied by the small matter of a change of chief executive.And more PR madness. We hear that three Lansons executives are to dress up as Bananarama (left) at next month’s karaoke evening – a certain Lisa Folwell, a PR who bizarrely refers to herself simply as Millsy and Laura Brain, previously of Bradford and Bingley fame.

We have no indication about the setlist as yet (It Ain’t What You Do, It’s The Way That You Do It, perhaps?) nor which Lansons person will be playing which Bananarama member, that is, the talented one, the pretty one and the other one.

Nor is there any news on whether any trade journalists intend to turn up as former Bananarama partners, the Fun Boy Three. Maybe one of the more niche titles will take up that challenge.


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