harry diamond's memoir


can you get me into the papersI came out of the army in February 1948. I had turned 21 only a couple of months earlier. The picture of my mother and Sheila waiting on the platform as I came off the train at Glasgow's Central railway station is still vivid in my mind. Sheila hadn't seen me for more than a year and shyly hid behind my mother. We all hugged and kissed and went home to Gorbals. I also vividly recall the claustrophic feeling that engulfed me when I went up the dingy close to our first-floor flat with its odd bits of furniture still in the bath.

I had spent three years in wide open spaces, seen Notre Dame Cathedral overlooking the Seine and the Great Sphinx and the Pyramids and Cairo and although I was glad to see my family I was also overcome with gloom at the thought of living in a place like Gorbals. I suppose like many other men I could have left home again to seek my fame and fortune elsewhere but I wanted to be with my family after such a long time away from them. I also missed the cameraderie of the barrack room and the tent.

A week or so after my return I went back to my old job as a junior reporter on the Glasgow Herald. Not long afterwards a banker was found dead early one morning in the garden of his elegant home in Bearsden, a posh suburb of the city. Every paper in the country had the story except mine. Our crime reporter had fallen down on the job, an unforgiveable crime even on the unsensational Herald.

Tom Chalmers, the news editor, called me to his room, a tiny space with a roll-top desk at the end of a large, gloomy room which reporters shuffled in and out of at all hours of the day and night. Chalmers was something akin to the Almighty in the Outram group. That's the way he looked to me anyway from my vantage point as a lowly junior reporter.

Many stories circulated about how he had lost an eye but I never met anyone who could tell me exactly how it had happened. He wore a black patch like a pirate because, it was said, his glass eye exploded one day and nearly blinded someone he was talking to. Chalmers was the kind of man about whom stories like that were told.

"How would you like to be crime reporter?," he said.

The job required me to write three versions of every story, one for the Herald, another in a less formal way for our sister morning paper The Bulletin, and the third in a 'punchy' style for the group's evening paper the Evening Times. I was young and keen and touchingly grateful for the chance to show what I could do. It was also very good training. I can still write in a variety of styles, sometimes unintentionally, as you will possibly gather if you read the rest of this book.

Jimmy Paton, chief reporter of the Bulletin, vetted my stories before they went to the chief sub-editors of the two morning papers. It was Jimmy Paton, a good-humoured, fresh-faced man who came to Glasgow from Dundee in 1926, the year I was born, who taught me how to write a news story; that it should start in such a way that the reader will want to read on, and that it shouldn't ramble and be cluttered with unnecessary verbiage.

The title crime reporter was a bit grand for what I had to do. My job was to go round all the main police, fire and ambulance stations and hospitals in the city to try to pick up any kind of stories that were going. The hospital casualty departments were real war zones, especially the Victoria Infirmary, which was nearest to the notorious Gorbals. On Friday nights the infirmary was packed with the victims of drunken battles. There were men and women waiting patiently on benches with broken legs, arms, jaws, and strips of pillowslips, curtains, and shirts stemming the blood from head wounds.

All the other newspapers in the city also had reporters doing the same nightly rounds as myself and the competition between us was fierce. I soon learned not to ask a question I had heard in many Hollywood films, "Any statement for the press?" The answer one was most likely to get in the environment I worked was, "F... the press." One had to be direct in one's questions; and they had to be formed in a way that brought out the answer one wanted.

One night I went to see a robbery victim, a woman who operated an unlicensed money-lending business from her tenement home in the Bridgeton area of the city and who had been robbed earlier in the day. I knew she wasn't likely to be very forthcoming about how much the robbers had taken as she didn't want anyone but her clients to know about her business.

The door opened about two inches and one eye peeped suspiciously out. The conversation went like this.

"I'm a reporter missus. I hear you were robbed of a thousand pounds today."

"It wiz £75."

"It was three thugs, is that right?"

"It wiz only wan."

"A wee fellow."

He wiz a big fella."

I hear he punched you in the face."

"Naw, he jist pushed me into the hoose and demanded money."

"That was the fourth time you've been robbed in a couple of months."

"It wiz the second this year."

The woman then slammed the door with the words, "Ah'm telling you reporters nothin!"

My nightly ritual started with a phone call round the potential news sources when I came on duty at 7.30 p.m. There were two telephone boxes each about the size of a broom cupboard built into a wall of the reporters' room. Each cupboard had a shelf on which rested a 'candlestick' telephone with a tubular-shaped earpiece that clipped onto the side of a column with a mouthpiece at the top. Not the kind of thing you would talk to an astronaut with. The air, if that's the right word, was heavy with stale cigarettes and perspiration.

Immediately after the calls, which took up to an hour and yielded almost nothing, I did the rounds by car, came back for a meal if the volume of work allowed, rushed out again to do another round, and so on until about 2 a.m., which was the deadline for the morning papers unless something really big broke.

Many nights I was so strung up with excitement and the desire not to miss anything that I raced up to the office canteen, bolted down a pie and greasy chips, rushed out again and brought it all up on the pavement.

Because of my frequent nocturnal visits to police stations I became friendly with many police officers, but I also became known to many ladies of the night who had been hauled in for 'hawking their mutton,' as it was inelegantly described by the hardened coppers.

This had unfortunate consequences sometimes. One evening after leaving the Empire Theatre I was walking down a busy Renfield Street with a well brought up young Jewish girl of whom I was very fond when we passed one of the ladies at the St Vincent Street coffee stall which served as a kind of headquarters for prostitutes. She had a cleavage like an elephant's arse and a complexion to match.

"Helloooo rerr, Harry," she drawled drunkenly.

"Friend of yours?" said my well brought up young Jewish girl, ice dripping on the pavement. "

"You meet all kinds in my job," I said nonchalantly.

"Huh, huh," without much conviction.

A couple of weeks later we were walking down the same busy street when a police car, siren tearing the evening air apart, screeched to halt beside us and two policeman leapt out. "That's him. Get him." Each of them grabbed an arm and bundled me into their car, which raced off leaving a bewildered young lady on the pavement,

The car sped round a corner, stopped, and soon the young lady arrived at the corner drowning in tears. One of the coppers said, "Talk your way out of that one, son!"

They watched my fruitless efforts for a couple of minutes and then had to intervene to tell the girl it was just a joke by a couple of friends.

Joke or no joke it was too much for the girl's mother who forbade her from going out with me again. It was bad enough being hailed by prostitutes but being grabbed by policemen in front of everyone in the street was just too much. Besides, how could she boast to her bridge friends that her daughter was going with a junior reporter, not a lawyer or a doctor or an accountant.

The girl's mother wouldn't have been terribly impressed with another encounter I had. About 2 a.m., on a very dark, wet morning I was driving to police headquarters in Turnbull Street when I saw a tall, slim, well-dressed young woman with a hand to her head swaying at the edge of the pavement. The world's dumbest reporter immediately thought, "My goodness, a lady in distress. I must try to help her."

I drew up beside her but before I could get out to enquire what was the matter the young woman was in the passenger seat. "Take me up to St Vincent Street," she drawled drunkenly. Jeez, what have I done, I thought. Where the hell did my brains go?

"Look, I'm a reporter and I'm going to police headquarters. You'd better get out."

"Take me up to St Vincent Street," she drawled again. "I'll make it worth your while." A hand shot down to the front of my trousers. I pulled the hand away and told her again to get out but she wouldn't go so I started the car and raced for the police office. The hand came back and wriggled past the buttons. Trousers didn't have zips in those days. For several hundred yards I tried to steer the car through the darkness and fight her off while she juggled with my crown jewels.

I couldn't be too tough with her as she would undoubtedly have created a helluva row in the street and I could have been arrested, even if I did have friends in the police. That would have been just great, the Glasgow Herald's crime reporter in the pokey for fighting with a prostitute in the street in the middle of the night!

I raced into the police forecourt, jumped out of the car, almost leaving some of my vital organs behind, and ran into the office. Gasping for breath I told the lads what had happened and appealed for help.

"You must be joking," said the desk sergeant. "You have a good time and then want us to get rid of your lady friend. That'll be right." After a bit more pleading however a constable came out, dragged the woman out of the car, and told her to beat it before he locked her up. Even the world's dumbest reporter learned a valuable lesson that night.

Another night I was sitting in a deep armchair interviewing a very attractive young woman in a dressing gown about a stairway collapse when she came over and sat on the arm of my chair as I scribbled away in my wee notebook. At one point I turned to ask her something. The dressing gown had opened wide and my nose collided with her left breast. I jumped up as if I had been attacked by a scorpion and fled. When I told my colleagues about the incident their comments were pretty ribald. You could say they unanimously agreed that Mr Balfour had been right. I just didn't have the qualities of a real journalist.

For two years I raced round the city every night covering murders, accidents of every kind, fires, floods, gassings, bank robberies and jewel thefts. There was laughter, excitement, drama, and tragedy. Once I walked down a tenement stairway with tears running down my face. I had just talked to a couple whose daughter had been burned to death earlier that day, her fifth birthday, when her birthday dress had caught fire from an electric bar heater. It was bad enough having to interview the parents but I also had to ask them for a picture of their daughter.

Understandably they refused, but as I was walking downstairs the mother came after me and handed me a beautiful picture of the girl with the words, "You're only doing your job, son." I can still see in my mind the child's picture on the front page of The Bulletin. That was the stuff of which human interest stories were made, and still are I suppose. If anyone in that family is still alive I hope they forgive me for my intrusion in their grief.

On another occasion I interviewed a woman whose young son was drowned in the Forth and Clyde Canal. When I muttered a few words of condolence she said, "There's plenty more where he came from." I didn't write that comment into my story.

I quickly learned to take a professional view of what I was doing, which meant distancing myself from other people's tragedies like a doctor or an ambulance man or a lawyer. I could still feel sorry for them but not to the extent that I worried about their problems. I had to develop a protective barrier.

One night I went to see a member of the famous Bluebell troupe of dancers whose trousseau had been stolen from her car. When I announced my identity at her front door she said, "I'm sorry, I've sold my story to the Daily Express." I talked my way into the house anyway and found sitting in the lounge the Express reporter to whom she had sold her story, for five shillings, a young man named Magnus Magnusson. The three of us sat and talked and eventually I got my story, for nothing. Good thing, too. If I had tried to outbid Magnus I would have had to go to the international court at The Hague to get my money back from Tom Chalmers.

A fire in which 13 girls died stays in my memory for a number of reasons. Solomon Winetrobe, a 29-year-old ex-paratrooper, was manager of the stock records department of Grafton's fashion warehouse in Glasgow's busy Argyle Street when fire broke out one afternoon in the Spring of 1949. The flames quickly spread through the building. Winetrobe was on the fourth storey along with some girl workers. Their route downstairs was cut off by the flames.

Winetrobe climbed out of a window on to a narrow ledge, grasped a rain pipe with one hand and with the other helped four girls out to the ledge and on to the roof of an adjoining cinema where his assistant, George Platt, grabbed at the girls and pulled them to safety. All of them then went down a fire brigade ladder.

That night when myself and other reporters were fitting the many aspects of the story together I discovered that although we had received an account of Winetrobe's bravery from the Press Association, a news agency, we didn't have an interview with Winetrobe or Platt.

This is where I had the kind of break that comes to a reporter only very rarely. The moment I heard Winetrobe's name I knew where to find him because his younger brother Raymond had been in my class in primary school and was my closest friend.

I went to their tenement flat in Gorbals, not far from my own tenement home, and the boys' aunt opened the door. "Aunty Sophie, I have to speak to Solly," I pleaded. "I have to get an interview with him for my paper."

Aunty Sophie was unimpressed. "You can't. He's sleeping."

"Aunty Sophie, I can't go back without seeing Solly. My editor will throw me out. I might even be fired."

Aunty Sophie was still unimpressed. "He has been through a terrible ordeal. The doctor has given him some sedatives. I can't wake him up."

At that point Raymond, who had been out with me on assignments from time to time, came to my rescue and persuaded his aunt to let me in. It took us some time to wake Solly out of his heavily-sedated sleep but eventually he came to just enough to tell me in a whisper about his eventful day. My story of the fire and Solly's heroism took up the whole front page and most of page three.

Later that year Winetrobe and Platt were awarded the George Medal, the highest civilian bravery award. In February 1994 I went to Solomon Winetrobe's funeral. Much of the material for the obituaries which appeared in The Herald and other newspapers were taken from my story of 45 years earlier.

Another fire in November 1968, long after I had left the sound and fury of daily newspaper production, had a profound effect on my father. Among the people killed in an upholstery warehouse in James Watt Street was Harry Ure, one of my father's closest friends who had come to Britain as a refugee about the same time as he. Twentytwo people died that night in the worst fire disaster in Glasgow since the second world war.

As night and crime reporter I very often had to phone my stories from dark telephone boxes because there wasn't time to go back to the office to write them. My fingers were often burned by matches as I wrestled with the telephone and my notebook. Most of my travels about the city were done in the office car but once when it was not available I became the only reporter of a major newspaper group to be sent to a murder scene on a tramcar. The Herald group believed in carefully husbanding its financial resources.

Friendly policemen phoned me at home when I was off duty to tip me off about a good story. One Sunday morning I received a cryptic message to go to a bank in Bridge Street. During the night some bandits went into an office above the bank, drilled a hole in the floor, put an umbrella through the hole and used it to catch debris as they widened the hole enough to wriggle through. Years later a very successful film about a bank raid was made. The method was exactly as I described it in my story.

The night job I had been doing was regarded as an apprenticeship and eventually, after I had served my time so to speak, I was transferred to the staff of The Bulletin. My job doing the rounds at night went to a clerk from a city centre unemployment office who quickly became popular with the city's police and banditry because they knew he could be relied on rarely to reveal what either of them were doing.

One afternoon when I reported for duty Tom Chalmers handed me a brief teleprinter message from the Press Association. It said "Attorney General announced in House or Commons no criminal proceedings against people who took Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey."

It was the signal for every major every newspaper in the land to publish the stories they had been compiling for just such a day.

"See if you can find these people and get their stories," said Chalmers.

"O.K., where are they?"

"You're the reporter, you find them."

It had taken months for an army of police on both sides of the border, and an even bigger army of reporters, to find the four students who created a sensation on Chistmas 1950 by taking the Stone of Destiny, on which the ancient kinds of Scotland were crowned, from Westminster Abbey.

By the time the Attorney General, Sir Hartley Shawcross, made his statement in the Commons on April 1, 1951 the Scottish-based newspapers, and most of the London-based nationals, already had the students' story. But not the Glasgow Herald. The Herald didn't believe in devoting large resources to any story, let alone one which was tainted with Scottish nationalism, which the Herald hierarchy considered to be the province of the crank and the politically insignificant.

Sir Hartley's reason for taking no action against the students was that he did not think it was in the public interest that he should direct criminal proceedings to be taken....."I have no desire to provide these individuals with the opportunity either of being regarded by their followers as martyrs if convicted or as heroes if they are not convicted."

It has to be said that quite to tell Special Branch who was at the meetings and what they said.

Sir Victor Warren, Tory Lord Provost of Glasgow (they were called Progressives in those days) and an implacable foe of the Scottish Nationalists, had the front of his house daubed with the words, in very large letters, LONDON'S OFFICE BOY, SCOTLAND'S QUISLING, and in even larger letters underneath the word TRAITOR. A picture of this piece of vandalism appeared in the paper with a sinister-looking figure in a dark hat, long coat and gloves peering at it closely - Harry Diamond.

Warren had been elected Lord Provost on May 6, 1949 by one vote. Although Labour had a majority of members in the council they took the huff at an opposition member being elected Lord Provost and gave up control of the city after a rule of 15 years.

In the middle of all this I remember two stories I had to write one day to the amusement of my colleagues. One was about a live monkey and a book-keeping machine which were among items handed in to Glasgow Police lost propery department and the other was about a man who was taken to hospital with a fractured skull after a cistern fell on his head when he pulled the lavatory chain. This was not the kind of thing that brought down governments or got presidents impeached but it was fun. Apropos nothing, the entire day's radio programmes occupied four single column inches in those days. Television was yet to come.

In the years that followed I covered disasters on land, sea and air, and wrote about royalty, prime ministers, princes of industry and rogues, some of whom were indistinguishable from one another. I interviewed film and stage stars like Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Abbott and Costello, Danny Kaye, Johnny Ray, Guy Mitchell, playboys, playgirls, sportsmen, millionaires, paupers, crooks, cranks with talking dogs, and people who claimed to be the reincarnation of everyone from Henry the Eighth to Count Dracula.

Reporting a royal visit I wrote that the Queen wore a hat and coat and when I couldn't explain them in detail our women's editor exclaimed contemptuously, "You stupid boy." Years later when I was chief sub-editor I had to tell her to change a horse-riding story which started, "Miss Charlotte Drink-Waters was mounted last night by Colonel Featherstonehaugh-McGinty...." The names have been changed to protect the guilty. I had a helluva job trying to tell her why she should change the introduction but I didn't tell her she was a stupid woman. She was just pure minded, a characteristic not common in newspapers.

At a wedding reception once with my mother a friend of hers looked me up and down with a critical eye and asked "Voddus he do?"

"He's a reporter," said my mother.

"A porter?" said her uncomprehending friend. "Vot kind of job is dat for a Jewish boy?"

In the early 1950s I met my first hard-boiled American colleagues when a wee man the newspapers described as an "odd job man" from Maryland woke up one morning to discover he had become Sir Adrian Ivor Dunbar when a distant relative died in Wigtownshire. Sir Adrian hurried to Scotland to claim his baronetcy followed by a posse of journalists. My news editor sent me there, too, to chronicle Sir Adrian's adventures.

Among the Americans was Bob Musel of the Asssociated Press of America, a short, burly man inseparable from his black, wide-brimmed hat and black raincoat. Bob could have stepped straight out of a Hollywood gangster film. Despite his sinister appearance he was a talented, good-humoured man and his daily despatches on the comings and goings of Sir Adrian testified to his gifted imagination. I learned a lot from him! Bob was also a song-writer. One of them was Pappa Piccolino, which had quite a lot of success on both sides of the Atlantic.

I have met many American journalists since then and have even been interviewed by a few of them, and almost without exception they have been men and woman of exceptional ability and great fun to work with. Some of them have become personal friends like R. W. (Johnny) Apple of the New York Times, Stanley Meisler of the Los Angeles Times, Bob Erburu, chairman and chief executive of the Times Mirror group, and Israel Shenker, author and former European correspondent of Time magazine who now lives in Scotland.

In 1985 Johnny Apple wrote to tell me he had been appointed chief correspondent in Washington of the New York Times and added, "Wherever again will I be associated with a success story like Glasgow and the Burrell?"

In 1988 I met an American couple Harvey and Myrna Frommer, a husband and wife writing team, who came to Glasgow to write about the Jewish community of Scotland. I was with them only a few hours showing them something of the city but we formed an enduring friendship. In August 1995 I went to New York at their invitation and stayed with them in their home on Long Island for a couple of weeks. They were generous with their time and lavish with their hospitality and I spent one of the best holidays of my life with them.

None of the stories I covered as a reporter reshaped the world in any way but I enjoyed it all, especially when I saw my name on a story. That made me a celebrity in the particular level of society in which I lived and moved.

For a few months my name and a caricature of me appeared every day as the paper's gossip columnist. Diamond's Diary my page was called. The cartoon was drawn by a very clever cartoonist named John Jensen and showed me with a rather prominent nose. The caricature also appeared on posters outside newsagents' shops throughout the country. One day my mother came back from her daily errands furious with indignation because, she said, I was plastered all over the country looking like a big-nosed, chinless idiot.

She wanted me to sue the paper for defamation of character! I told her, "Don't you mean definition of character, mum?" but this went over her head. I tried to explain that the paper was making her son famous but she was unimpressed.

I wasn't a great success as a gossip columnist as I was no William Hickey and had no desire to spend my nights in restaurants, receptions and night clubs and looking through keyholes.