This is something that I wrote for Press Gazette a few years ago. I’ve updated it slightly to reflect the trade’s current state, but some of those named will be more familiar to older readers. Youngsters should look up their works.
‘Twas the night before Christmas,
When all through the house
You could hear a sub snoring after two bottles of Grouse;
The expenses were filed by the chimney with care,
In hopes that a beancounter soon would be there;
The reporters were nestled all snug in their beds,
As proper jobs in television danced in their heads,
Reduced to mere ‘skimmers’ in a medium grade craft.
Staying in newspapers now would be daft.
When down on the stone there arose such a clatter,
It was a pissed-off printer with a yard of over-matter.
Away to the back bench I flew like a flash,
Scattering blacks and a tin of fag ash.
The moon on the car park lit an intimate soiree,
Of a snapper and his Thai bride, dogging away;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But myself, 10 years older, plus belly of beer.
For one night only, and just in a dream,
I was a Fantasy Editor and had got my own team.
Like doubles at closing time my journalists came,
And I whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
‘Now, English! now, Evans! now, Waterhouse, Keith!
With full heads of hair and a new set of teeth,
On, Wooldridge! on, Coren! on, Vincent Mulchrone!
We’ve a paper to fill and I’m as dry as a bone!
To the newsroom we go! There are readers to thrall!
Now type away! type away! type away all!”
The Underwoods rattled like guns in Kabul,
Until even the horoscope column was full.
The prose was the sweetest you’d find in the land,
(By the way, that Piers Morgan still owes me two grand).
And then, in a twinkling, and a pile of page proofs,
The hacks all pissed off for a gin and vermouth.
The deadline awaited; presses ready to pound,
And then Santa Cardigan arrived with a bound.
He was dressed all in grey, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A flagon of port wine he’d flung on his back,
And he looked like he was five minutes from his next heart attack.
His eyes, how they twinkled! His dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, due to four pints of sherry!
But his foul potty mouth was drawn up in a sneer,
As he effed and he blinded about the absence of beer;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he swore, like a bowlful of jelly.
But we had a big problem, because hired hacks are sloppy,
Namely no plan or layout, just galleys of copy.
You see, writers can write golden prose to their credit,
But it takes a man in a grey cardigan to actually edit.
When the talent is lacking and the senses are blurred,
You all turn to us hoping we’ll polish that turd.
So into the basket the Cardigan dived,
Tweaking and checking; no literal survived,
Facts were established and grammar corrected,
Bad puns booted out, hyperbole rejected;
And his blue pencil flew as he juggled the phones, shouting:
“My cat’s got more talent than Liz-fucking-Jones.”
The layouts piled up as he went straight to his work,
And filled all the columns; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
Broke copious wind as up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle,
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
“Your intro is crap and that headline is shite.”
The Grey Cardigan has been in newspapers since the days of hot metal and expense accounts. After a lengthy career as chief sub on several regional newspapers, plus a multitude of shifts on the nationals, he was appointed editor of the Evening Beast in 2009 before being ignominiously 'rationalised' last year. He is currently collecting gas in jam jars in case the Russians cut us off. @thegreycardigan