Monday, 28 February 2011

Fashion, fun – and Felicity

If the 'glass ceiling' held women back from progressing their careers in a time when there were few women at the top of their professions, Felicity Green smashed through it. From early beginnings as a shorthand typist, Felicity rose to become Associate Editor of the Daily Mirror – and the first woman on the board of a national newspaper in the 1950s.

Introduced as someone to inspire 'respect and fear' to a Media Society audience by Geraldine Sharpe-Newton in the aptly stylish surroundings of the Groucho Club, Felicity now mentors protégés of her own at Central Saint Martin's. In 2005 she was named one of the top 40 British journalists of all time.

And, although working on a big Fleet Street title has always required a certain discipline and hard-headed nature, Green is nothing other than charming, funny and fascinating to listen to.

Although never having had formal journalism training herself, Felicity's enviable 140 words a minute shorthand skill earned her first big break at Women and Beauty magazine. In the days when an enthusiastic letter could earn an aspirant journalist a job, Felicity wrote to the editor, saying “this was the most amazing magazine I'd ever come across”. And, ever since, Felicity has attributed her successful career to “good mentors”.

“I was taught to be a fashion editor by editor in chief Phyllis Digby-Morton, and although I started off making the tea and walking an unwilling dog, I was to only promise one thing - pull your stomach in!”

“After the boss told me she was leaving for The States she gave me a note addressed to the chairperson of Crawford’s, the famous advertising agency. It simply said: ‘This is Felicity - give her a job.’ And so she did. Felicity was to follow Digby-Morton and embark upon her own adventures in the States, and after a stint of doing PR for Dannimac raincoats – in which she even improved the product itself by calling in royal designer Hardy Amies – it was Fleet Street which was to be her best-known calling.

“I became associate editor on Women’s Sunday Mirror, the first modern newspaper for women, and after a year I was moved to the Sunday Pictorial, which shortly became the Sunday Mirror.”

Fashion journalism was in many ways a safe and accepting environment, but Felicity relished the challenge of being a young woman in a world dominated by older males as she took her next step.

“I met Hugh Cudlipp, the infamous editor and Mirror Group chairman and said 'I want to be Associate Editor on the Daily Mirror'”. And that's what she duly became.

In the 1950s, the Daily Mirror had a circulation of five million copies a day, and a readership three times that number.

“It was a very, very exciting time in the world of tabloid journalism and The Mirror was influential world-wide. And it was a time of a lot of pride and fun.”

“But I was given a very valuable piece of advice. 'Look out for the rocks,’ my first editor warned me – ‘you’re going to have a lot of men older than you who find themselves working for a younger women and they’re not going to find it easy; so if you have to give a man a bollocking, make sure he leaves the room with his balls intact!”

Felicity's next big move was to that of the Mirror Group's director of in charge of press, publicity and events as well as the company's television campaigns – so becoming the first female board member of any Fleet Street newspaper.

“I was creating promotions that readers could enjoy. One of those was a ball at the Royal Albert Hall for charladies – headlining little-known acts such as the Beatles and Cilla Black”.

“Hugh Cudlipp never understood me, but trusted me” says Felicity. But even he did not appreciate the big names that Felicity had lined up for the Albert Hall gig – dubbing the Beatles as “f*****g louts!”.

Felicity left the Mirror after 21 years, and was even courted by one Rupert Murdoch – who had recently taken over Cudlipp's creation, The Sun. As the recent film Made in Dagenham

“I was on £14,000 at that time, and when I found out that a new director got double what I did, I decided I was too young for this”.

But Felicity's career went on to encompass the Daily Telegraph under Max Hastings' editorship, as well as Marks and Spencers' customer magazine, at which she even met Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister. All in all, Felicity gave a snapshot of an incredibly exciting and fulfilling career.

There are few evenings like this that have been worthy of an encore. Felicity's goldmine of anecdotes and inspirational stories captured, entertained and enthralled her audience. And if there is one story worth telling both for future journalists and those more experienced who have followed Felicity's career, that would be a book worth buying.

An edited version of this piece can be found on the Media Society website.
tells us, equal pay was a struggle of that period. Felicity, as self-confessed feminist and active socialist, recalled:

Saturday, 19 February 2011

To AV, or to AV not?

I'm not sure how many times the Prime Minister has been stopped in a busy shopping street by one of those ever-so-nice market research people to explain his views on the sort of washing powder he prefers, or his preferred brand of mayonnaise. I suspect it hasn't happened very often. But most people will have experienced such an encounter at one time or another, being asked to rank their preferences with a 1,2, 3 and 4 and so on. This 'complicated' task is mathematically very similar to voting for contestants on the X-Factor, or the Eurovision Song Contest.

Choosing a brand of mayonnaise, a preferred washing powder or Simon Cowell's next signing are just three of the sorts of tasks the British public are expected to grapple with on a daily basis. It's also a bit like selecting an MP under a new-fangled voting system – the Alternative Vote (AV). But does David Cameron place such faith in the intelligence of his fellow citizens?

Like the opponents of decimalisation in the late sixties and early seventies, the No to AV campaign, led by Cameron himself, has decreed that AV is complicated and could be costly to explain and run. The evidence would, however, suggest that the electorate are rather more comfortable with changing the way we do elections than the vested interests of the Conservative party – and the more tribalist elements of the Labour party - might like to think. One poll in the last week showed the Yes campaign was 10 points in the lead, although this has not quite been matched by other polls.

Recognising its weaker position, the No campaign has scrambled to rely on an incoherent ragbag of arguments, which can hardly be said to be responding to a general public disenchantment with politics and politicians. It is also trying desperately to ignore the statistical evidence – that every government since 1945 has been elected with less than 50% of the vote. Even with its landslide victory in 1997, Labour only secured 43.2% of the vote. And in some seats at the last election, seven out of every 10 voters wanted other candidates.

The No campaign tells us that hung parliaments are more
likely with AV, as if this is in itself an undesirable outcome. Playing on the supposed British preference for strong, single party majority, they've completely forgotten the democratically questionable results thrown up by hung parliaments of the 1920s, 1970s and in 2010 – all under First Past the Post. Each resulted in a single party being unable to effectively govern alone.

Yet the No campaign, as personified by local organiser and 2010 Tory candidate Chris Philp at a talk given to City University students in January, Philp criticised Clegg for 'making deals in dark rooms' – despite the essential presence of the third party in supporting Cameron's government. He then made an extraordinary personal attack on Clegg in his role as 'kingmaker'. But it's clearly news to Philps that the Conservatives can no longer rely on the support of a healthy chunk of the electorate to form a majority government. Those who oppose AV in the Labour camp are similarly misguided. And, where I slightly depart from the Yes campaign's official line, I believe coalitions will remain just as likely, if not more likely in the future as a result of the slow ebbing away of support for the major parties, including the Lib Dems. Negotiating a programme for government with other parties will become a part of the course to Downing Street.

We've easily established there's nothing difficult about AV. The hard work is left to returning officers and people who count the votes – and they're paid to do that. It will mean that election results come in much later in the day. That's a price worth paying for a move to fairer representation. What's more, the Yes campaign knows that there is still a clamour for change, despite general public disenchantment with the Lib Dems. And although introducing AV didn't feature in any of the manifestos in 2010, neither was 'business as usual' acceptable to the electorate in the cold light of day after the MPs expenses' scandal.

As Serge Lourie, AV proponent and a long-serving Richmond councillor also said at City, it's time for 'grown-up politics'. Lourie conceded that no electoral system was perfect, but the 2010 General Election was a rejection of the old politics, and the absurdities of tactical voting and MPs with 'jobs for life'. For me, if the Liberal Democrat side of the Coalition is worth anything, it's worth a push for change.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

A slight smell of justice

I’ve experienced a welcome change of scenery this week by participating in something I’ve always wanted to do - being called to do jury service. My ‘number’ had come up just after Christmas –perfect timing for me as a trainee journalist. And so, on Monday morning I duly presented myself at a central London Crown Court expecting to get stuck into some nice juicy cases.

For obvious reasons I can’t go into too much detail about what went on in the courtroom itself. Last term’s module on media law with the irrepressible John Battle of ITN gave me a reasonably good overview of what I can and can’t say about a court case, so I’m not going to be tempted to break any laws this early in my career. If you’re interested in what the juror’s experience generally entails, the HMCS website is actually pretty good at preparing you for what to expect. But it doesn’t prepare you for what appears to be a remarkably inefficient system of selecting jurors, once you’ve turned up. I suppose there must be some sort of logic to their system, but I didn’t sit on a single case on Monday, presumably because there were just too many people available. Maybe this is a good thing, as judges are not the sort of people you keep waiting because there aren’t enough jurors (as we found out – read on). I ended up spending a full day back at work before being called back.

Yet it’s still a tight ship. The administration of justice is well organised, with a formidable jury officer, whose matriarchal yet terrifying demeanour strikes the right balance between making sure people are welcomed and keeping the place running to time as far as possible.

Back in court today, I had hoped there would be a little more excitement. I was eventually called just before lunch to sit on a case which, although relatively minor, had made it all the way to Crown Court – costing the taxpayer over £4,000 according to an irritated judge. One person who might have had something to say about that was none other than Harriet Harman, who turned heads when she arrived in the jurors’ assembly area earlier. It made me realise what an egalitarian duty jury service is - even the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party can’t get out of it. I suspect she probably enjoyed a visit back to her roots (she’s a former solicitor after all), and she appeared to be busying herself with constituency business during the downtime.

For what it’s worth, today’s trial was resolved remarkably quickly, after a few hiccups. A point of law and faulty audio-visuals held up the trial for two hours. Then, after lunch, an overpowering smell of what seemed to be paraffin began to give everyone a headache, so we rose again. The usher had warned us that the antiquated building suffered from a lack of fresh air which might send us to sleep, but I wasn’t quite expecting this. It turned out to be an infiltration of fumes into the air-conditioning system, caused by nearby builders putting new asphalt onto a roof. And to top it all, a late juror prompted stern words from the judge.

As we sat for the third time, the defendant changed his plea to guilty, incurring the wrath of the judge and no doubt the court staff, who knew that had he done so at an earlier stage, taxpayers’ money would not have been spent needlessly and the case could have been heard in a magistrates’ court. If the clapped out building and defunct equipment were anything to go by, they need every last penny.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

A moment of madness

The excellent Enemies of Reason blog carries an 'application' to join the Daily Mail trainee reporter scheme, which closes shortly.

Most other journalism students I know detest the Hate Mail and its view of the world. But few people acknowledge that the Mail has one of the best training schemes for journalists in the English language. And that's not to be sniffed out in a declining newspaper industry - although the Mail is well ahead of its rivals selling in circulating over three million copies a day.

I'll admit it now. For a few, unhinged and not-altogether-of-this-planet moments I considered applying to the scheme, as a natural progression to the first-class journalism training I'm currently undertaking at City University, which concludes in mid-September.

But, hold on:

Jan Moir?

'Mad' Melanie Phillips and her gay maths?

Richard Littlejohn?

A tyrannical editor?

A scattergun firing selective and preachy moral judgements about anyone who isn't white, middle class, heterosexual and Christian? In what kind of parallel universe would I ever feel comfortable having my words printed alongside these people, and these values?

Steven Baxter at Enemies of Reason says it much better than me

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Cutting to the chase

Where on earth are anti-cuts campaigns leading to?

The left of British politics seems to be stuck between the old, bureaucratic model of rigid union-based organising, and the 'flashmob' style of campaigning which organisations such as UK Uncut and False Economy are encouraging.
UK Uncut have swooped on unsuspecting Saturday shoppers with the likes of tax-dodging Vodafone and Topshop in their sights, building a movement through Twitter and Facebook. The TUC, on the other hand, promises a big demonstration on 26 March ‘All Together for Public Services’ – organising through all its constituent member unions in the workplace. Both marshal support from very different ranks.

Neither campaigns are based on anything insincere, or are fundamentally incompatible with each other. The people who attend the demonstrations, sign the petition or even just ‘retweet’ a powerful statement mean what they do, I’m sure. But I wonder how long ‘just being angry’ about the state of the world, and expressing a generally anti-politics view in reaction to the cuts will achieve.

So what are we campaigning for? Is it a new world order, or just the reinstatement of Joan the lollipop lady? Are we against the flogging off of our forests, and the savaging of our libraries as well as the cuts in rural bus services? And if we are against all these things, what binds this movement together?

If you’ll bear with me, I’m going to indulge in the romance of my Trotskyite days as a student anti-war campaigner and part-time revolutionary socialist.

To me, the different approaches that have been adopted in reaction to the cuts mean that in many ways, I struggle to find a parallel with the enormous anti-war movement which developed after the September 11 attacks on the US. It all meant there was a considerably limited use of the internet as an organising and campaigning tool compared with 2011.

The hierarchical structure of the
Stop the War Coalition encouraged a united opposition to a single issue, and it was good at organising. The build-up consisted of rallies in every major town and city, even then encouraging school-age students to protest, and a flotilla of coaches culminating in a million-strong march in London on 15 February 2003. In 2003, there was no social media, and Facebook was just fictional dollar signs in Mark Zuckerberg’s head. Communications technology, in every sense, has exploded since then and it’s not inconceivable that we could witness such a huge scale protest now, if not bigger. But although this movement achieved success in mobilising opposition in quite a substantial way, it did not ultimately achieve its goal – of preventing war in Iraq. The movement which built up towards that demo drifted away, graduated from university, and found new political enemies. Fundamentally, the politics of the anti-war movement was always too fragmented, and too fragile to become anything substantial in the long-term.

Maybe the anti-war movement set an example which has yet to be beaten in terms of sheer support and the steady, long-term building of a core base of support.

Yet the current wave of protests – and they are just that at the moment – means that there is nothing on the scale of the anti-war movement, let alone something on the scale of the Chartists or the suffragists.

In response to latest surge of protests, some on the Labour supporting-blogosphere, including
Owen Jones, Aaron Peters and the TUC's Nigel Stanley have begun to comment both in support of and against the two campaigning models. They also argue for a mixture of the two approaches.

But to me, the answers to these conflicts are clear:
  1. Don’t 'expect' leadership – become the leaders!
  2. If you need a democratic structure to do that, with an elected ‘committee’ – make it happen.
  3. Define what you're for, not necessarily what you're against and be absolutely concise about it.
  4. Have a clear set of goals in order to get you there, and a coherent view about how we want things to be.
  5. Be unambiguous about your politics, even if you’re not aligned to a particular party.
Without any of the above in place, the means is irrelevant. Neither the traditional model nor the flashmob method will endure, because neither can achieve anything on their own.

If there is no consensus on the right approach, I’m wondering if it's as simple as lots of localised anti-cuts campaigns around the country - in which Labour candidates in marginal seats fight the 2015 election in order to ensure Labour becomes the next government. It might be the best hope of the progressive left that the deficit can be tackled in a fairer way. After all, anger may win the emotional argument, but it only gets you part of the way.

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