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November 3, 2008

Was Ann Leslie’s ‘bullying, sexist’ news editor just a ‘pussycat’?

This is an abbreviated version of a story from the Axegrinder column that appeared in the October issue of Press Gazette magazine. For the full version of November’s column, subscribe now by going to the home page.

Claims by veteran Daily Mail correspondent Ann Leslie that she was bullied by a sexist news editor in her early days as a newspaper reporter have been branded ‘rubbish’by a contemporary.

In her autobiography, Killing My Own Snakes (Macmillan), Leslie says that what she learnt from her time on the Daily Express in Manchester ‘was how to see off assorted sexist, bullying men – like news editors”.

Her news editor was ‘irascible Scot’Tom Campbell. ‘I was everything he hated: young, a woman, privately educated, a university graduate and, worst of all, someone from the despised South of England. Nothing in my earlier life had equipped me for working with such a man.”

When Leslie was promoted and sent down to the London office, ‘Campbell became apoplectic. True, he’d wanted to get rid of me from day one – but he didn’t want me to leave in bloody triumph. The only words he addressed to me were, ‘Mark my words, lassie, the editor has made a big mistake!'”

After reading extracts from Leslie’s book in the Daily Mail, author and retired journalist Ian Skidmore told Axegrinder: ‘Rubbish. Tom Campbell was tough on everyone but they knew it was all on the surface.

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‘I worked with Tom as a reporter and am still in touch with his contemporaries on the Daily Express. They are united in saying that Ann was a damn good reporter and was appreciated as such by Tom and the editor of the day, John MacDonald.

‘Tom looked and acted very fierce, but he was a pussycat. He gave Ann a hard time but no harder than he gave the other reporters who worked for him.

‘Her features editor was a man called Geoff Mather, a man of immense culture and kindness. I know he gave her great encouragement, as did her colleague Derek Taylor. She got a column soon after she joined and was transferred to London shortly afterwards. That didn’t happen to a lot of the ‘favoured’ male reporters.

‘A little gratitude for those who helped her climb the Fleet Street ladder would not come amiss.”

Skidmore adds that, if Leslie thought she had it bad at the Express, she should have worked on the Mirror. ‘I was night news editor when Maurice Wigglesworth was news editor. His name for one of our ladies was ‘Pissyknickers’, and he treated her accordingly.

 ‘I have worked with women reporters – I even married one, Celia Lucas, of the Mail, who worked under Ken Donlan, about as hard a man as you could meet. I never heard one of them complain about the attitude of men. Indeed it would be a brave man who took them on.”

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