EARLY in May, while I was still convalescing at home from a dose of double pneumonia, I received a letter of unqualified praise from Deanna Delamotta, the head of features at the Manchester Evening News.
Did it cheer me up? It brought tears to my eyes–the sort a man might feel when, as a sadistic coda to a thorough put-down, sardonic fingers squeeze the most sensitive part of his anatomy.
‘Dear Andrew, Deanna began, ‘I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for being a columnist for the Manchester Evening News. Over the eight years I’ve worked with you I’ve always found your column to be cleverly-written, informative and an eagerly awaited weekly read.
‘I’ve only known you for eight years but know your association with the paper goes back much longer than that, both as a staffer and a freelancer. However, I can only speak for myself in saying we’ve enjoyed working with you immensely and hope to stay in touch.’
Deanna had probably already sent this affecting guff through the post when, on the night before, she gave me one month’s notice over the phone.
I had dialed her, at her request, without the slightest premonition of the blow. She began the conversation cordially enough, asking with apparent concern, if I was now well.
I said I was; well enough, anyway, to resume my column (I’d been forced to suspend the service for two weeks by strong nurses holding me down in a respiratory ward.).
At the mention of the column, which I’d been writing with brief and rare holiday breaks for 26 years, Deanna’s tone changed. ‘No, no, no,’she said, with peppery impatience.
‘HE doesn’t want columns in the back feature pages any more. HE wants readers’ letters, and material like that.’
The ‘he’ is Rob Irvine, the paper’s editor-in-chief, installed by Trinity Mirror only a few months ago.
I work usually from home: I have never met Rob. Nor spoken with him. He had certainly not telephoned or written to me to indicate dissatisfaction with my long-standing contributions. So had he left it to Deanna to deliver the bad news? It is barely credible that Deanna fired me on her own steam.
Why would she want to get rid of a column she ‘always found found cleverly-written, informative and an eagerly awaited weekly read”?
No, the buck for depriving the discerning Deanna and her intelligent readers of my MEN column stops with new editor Rob.
Very likely he ordered its eradication in conformity with the budgetary policy of his dumb-’em-down Trinitarian chieftains. I do not dispute an editor’s entitlement to reject contract work he does not want nor is allowed to pay for.
But it’s his job to put the boot in, not a junior executive’s. Even in these straitened times an editor has access to secretaries who will correct the bad syntax of his dismissal letters. This is not a matter of sentiment but of good manners.
For the record, I joined the MEN as a staff reporter in 1965. I survived six editors and a stray bomb or two in Northern Ireland.
I began the Friday column , to chide governments and lampoon all right-on culture fads, in 1986, and continued to write it for 14 years after I had voluntarily left the newsroom to freelance. It won several prizes and nominations, including the title of columnist of the year.
In between I interviewed all the main politicos and their rival charlatans in showbiz and got on good contact terms with the Dalai Lama who showed me the arm spot on which sinfully he had squashed a mosquito.
I asked Deanna, when she axed the column, if I could write more mosquito-type stuff for her instead. She said no. The new boss wouldn’t pay for anything. So I’m excommunicated from my old paper, not just sacked from it. Less literally breathtaking than double pneumonia, perhaps–but not that I can as yet notice.
Andrew Grimes is fully recovered from his ailment and is available for commissions at firstname.lastname@example.org