At first sight, this fond memory of a recently departed colleague and friend is one strictly for those who not only shared his trade of journalism but knew him. In fact, Julian Young's tribute to John Wade, known to most of us as Gaffer, stands as a rather special obituary that may well appeal to Salut! readers who never worked for a newspaper, didn't come from Mansfield and would not have recognised a single line of Gaffer's evocative 'Slagheaps of my Youth', which he would recite - to a reception that included morsels of thrown bread as well as admiration - at gatherings of old hands at The Daily Telegraph, splendid lunches that John tirelessly organised. Over to Jules, who now lives in Paris but worked with this rather special man, whose funeral takes place in London on Wednesday ...
I am sad to report that John “Gaffer” Wade, a stalwart sub-editor at The Daily Telegraph and a legend in his own (and others’) lunchtimes, died aged 79 on Sunday 9th April.
I first met Gaffer when I turned up to work as a sub-editor at the Telegraph in 1979. I was young (no pun intended), a mere 25-year-old lad, and Gaffer was the copy-taster. Gaffer’s job was to hand out the stories from Page 3 leads to one-par fillers. From Day One he took me under his wing and instructed me in the weird and wonderful ways of editing for what was once an august and much admired newspaper.
But more importantly, Gaffer led me astray among the pubs and watering holes of Fleet Street, and for that I thank him.
Fleet Street was awash with alcohol in those days. Almost everyone partook of the grape or the grain or the hop throughout a day’s or night’s work.
I have always loved pubs and pub life and here I was suddenly in this great big playground of boozing.
There were so many pubs to choose from in easy walking distance from The Daily Telegraph: King and Keys (it was next door and known as the Telegraph pub), Punch Tavern, Dive Bar, Old Bell, Printer’s Pie, Tipperary, White Hart (the Daily Mail pub, aka “The Stab in the Back” but usually referred to as The Stab), El Vino’s, Popinjay (the Daily Express pub), Hoop and Grapes, White Swan (known as “The Mucky Duck”), Ye Olde Cock Tavern and many more.
And then there was Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, one of the oldest and most fascinating pubs in London.
I was first introduced to the delights of the Cheese when Gaffer tapped me on the shoulder on my first or second night and beckoned me to follow him. It was about 6 p.m. and there was usually a lull at this time on the desk.
I had no idea what Gaffer had in mind as we tramped through unknown (to me then) corridors. Gaffer pushed open a door and, wow, we were in the printing works. The huge printing presses were idle as the first edition didn’t get underway until about 10 p.m. The room was empty save a handful of printers tinkering around with the machinery.
Gaffer threaded his way between the leviathan presses and I followed in his wake. Another door, this time leading to the outside world. Down an alleyway and, voilà, the Cheshire Cheese.
The Cheese is a rambling, narrow, low-ceilinged tavern with a profusion of bars on several floors. In the winter, log fires kept us snug and warm and there was also the smell of fresh sawdust strewn on the floor.
We went to the tiny top bar of the Cheese where Ray, the barman, lovingly poured us two pints of golden nectar. The ale was officially known as Marston’s Pedigree bitter, a beautiful, silky potion.
Gaffer nicknamed this amber liquid Major Marston. Only those in the know would know where I was going as I exited the newsroom saying “I’m off to see The Major,” or “The Major demands my presence!”
That first time Gaffer, who had retained his regional accent from Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, despite years living in London, said to me:
“Get that down thee, lad. Best drop in the Street!”
He was right. It was love at first sip for me.
Gaffer was a drinking man’s drinker and was highly critical of beer that didn’t pass muster: It would be deemed “gnat’s piss.”
He was also a stickler for pub etiquette. On entering a pub, he’d immediately demand of a huddle of Telegraph hacks “Who’s in the chair?” He believed a man should “stand his corner” (buy his round). He’d often come back to the newsroom and inform me there was one “in the pipe,” meaning he’d pre-paid for a beer at the bar and I had just to ask Ray.
Gaffer, a consummate journalist, had a slew of peculiar phrases that he used regularly.
If he thought a story should have been given more prominence he’d tell the Night Editor that he thought it was “seriously underplayed.”
In argument he might retort “That’s as fooking may be” or “ I don’t give a tuppenny stuff” or label someone a “gormless wanker” or “shagnasty.”
An easy assignment was “an absolute doddle” and if a story was to change he’d bellow across the newsroom “Hold fire!”
The word “mardy” is not widely known outside of the region where he came from. It’s a fascinating word and is difficult to describe properly. Mardy is derogatory and could mean someone is a crybaby or a whinger.
To be a “mardy arse,” in Gafferese, could be applied to someone not standing his corner or someone whining about his workload.
But the piece de resistance in Gaffer-speak, in my book, was the phrase “to be on yer granny’s yacht.” He usually applied it to someone who had an easy job or had nothing to do and was therefore sitting pretty.
"I see you're on yer granny's yacht, yer mardy arse!" he would bellow at some idolent sub-editor. But he never said it with any malice in his tone of voice. I grew to be very fond of Gaffer.
So, thank you Gaffer for introducing me to my first pint of Marston’s Pedigree, and the many we supped together in the years I was at the Telegraph (1979-1992).
And if there is a heaven then you’ll no doubt be propping up a bar surrounded by angels listening to your every word of wisdom while sinking a pint of Marston’s Pedigree although probably saying, “aye, it’s a nice drop but not quite as good as the Cheese. Did I ever tell you . . .”
John “Gaffer” Wade, RIP.
Pictured from left to right: Daily Telegraph sub-editors John "Gaffer" Wade, Julian Young, Nick Walker, Simon Fowler, Bill Styles, Laen Oldham and the late Roger Evans enjoying lunch and foaming pints of Marston's Pedigree bitter in Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.