Goodbye to all that
By Jenni Frazer
March 6, 2013
Today is our last day in Furnival Street; our last day in the City. The JC is moving and as the paper does so, years worth of memories of life in this maddening, rackety building, come flooding back.
When I joined as a (very) junior reporter there was a hierarchy which almost defies belief today. It was hard to work out who was who, from the ancient man who, apparently as a messenger of 14, had actually brought the Balfour Declaration to the paper for publication, to the several defiantly foreign men who mangled the English language in their speech, but who produced beautiful copy.
There was an antique Dickensian whose clothes were so old they were dark green with age; he, it was rumoured, had once been Green Flag, a legendary travel editor. Our actual travel editor, when I arrived, was known far and wide as The Captain, a tribute to his near heroic appetite for cruises.
Those who manned our front desk were uniformly odd. There was one who had once been the deputy mayor of Hackney, whose conversation with the one-eyed Moshe Dayan has gone down in JC history: "'Ere, there's a bloke dahn 'ere with an eyepatch, says he knows the editor." There was a messenger (we had messengers in those days) known as Jockey Joe, a cheery Romany who relieved many of the staff of money for dodgy bets. Another messenger spoke fluent Korean, was an expert in origami, and wrote children's books. We also had a beloved handyman whose contribution to clearing our pipes was to pour hydrochloric acid down them - astonishing that the building did not fall about our ears after this stunt.
There have been romances, ancient and modern; there have been editors who liked to sleep, and those to whom the notion of sleep seemed crazy. Of one editor it was said that he took his head off when he got home and placed it on charge, overnight.
Once we had a room full of sub-editors with vacuum pipes above them; onion-skin thin copy paper was wrapped into one of the vacuum tubes, which then whooshed through the pipes to the composing room in the basement. Downstairs the comps practised the black art of the print, hammering the hot metal into place and laughing at the junior reporters. Long strips of copy hung about the place, fragrant with the smell of cow gum.
On the first floor we had a proofreading department, presided over by a gently-spoken non-Jewish countryman who had mastered every arcane Jewish expression and title. "No, my maid," he would tell me. "They don't have troops in the Jewish Lads' Brigade." Who knew? Over in classified, another philosemitic non-Jew ruled what went into adverts, taking especial care that young men advertising for a flatmate didn't disguise their wish for a female friend. On George's watch, that was not allowed.
Each of the editors had his (they were all men, except for the women's editor, who didn't count) own office, with a light outside the door. A red light meant no entry unless one wished for imminent death. For at least one editor it meant he was taking his afternoon shloff.
Up in the art room, a skylight permitted a direct view of Robert Maxwell, the newspaper tycoon, flying his helicopter to and from the neighbouring Daily Mirror building. And once we had a party on the roof, beach umbrellas and all, to welcome the King and Queen of Jordan.
Next door to our building is a long-established City pub. Sometimes we would proof pages there; at any rate, the editors usually knew where to find us. It is called The Castle, though we long wanted to re-name it The Egg and Onion.
At 172 years old, the JC has survived by adapting, and we will certainly do that in our new home. But Furnival Street, it is fair to say, will never be the same. We will all miss it.
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