Sean Hoare

The late Sean Hoare: the News of the World whistleblower

January 2, 1989: I was at my desk on my first day as a junior reporter with the Watford Observer confronted by a stationary green-screen cursor. To my left was a brief to write a golden wedding report involving the last in a line of three sisters who had all, now, celebrated 50 years of happy marriage. It would be my first story ever published in the 125-year-old weekly and that milestone, and the resultant humiliation/glory, was at the forefront of my mind. Fear had dictated inactivity and the inevitable writer’s block. To the right of me sat a Roman-nosed character in corduroys, loafers and a jumper draped over his shoulders. He wasn’t wearing socks. Sean Hoare never wore socks, even in January.

He slid across on his roller chair – the Watford Observer’s office was lino-floored then – looked at the story, wrote a brief introduction for me, and then I completed the rest within the allotted 15-minute deadline. The report appeared on page one. Not a word had been changed.

Six months later, I arrived at the office of the St Albans Observer – the sister and snotty cousin of the Watford title.

I had learned of a story concerning Nick Berry, the actor well known for his portrayal of Eastenders’ Lothario Simon Wicks. Berry had been sent off during a charity football match after he had pushed over an adversary and then kicked him in the head. It was a good story featuring celebrity and violence – the lifeblood of tabloid newspapers.

Within an hour I received a call from Sean at the Watford office. “Mate, are you going to sell this story?” I replied that I wasn’t because I didn’t know how. “Tim, if you don’t sell it, I will. Tell you what, I’ll put in a call.”

Ten minutes later the phone rang again. It was Piers Morgan, a freelancer from The Sun newspaper. Morgan asked me a couple of questions about the story, asked for my address and politely thanked me for my help.

Sean was back on the phone. “Did Piers call?” I responded that he had. “Tim, if ever you get a sniff of a story like this, let me know. I’ll see you alright.” Then he hung up.

The next day the page five lead on The Sun featured a story about an Eastenders actor who had been sent off in the final throes of a heated charity football match. Two weeks later a cheque for £300 arrived in the post.

Sean Hoare was a charming, memorable rogue and a lovable one. If nothing else, he started the ball rolling for me and I subsequently enjoyed a career in newspaper journalism. For that I am extremely grateful.

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The er… oh goodness

"Oh no, not the facts."

As a white man I’m not sure I want to get into this because it’ll start accusations of jealousy etc, but having read a rather bizarre magazine article about this particular subject recently, I started Googling and came across (yes, very funny) a couple of studies that undermine the claim that well, men from ethnic backgrounds have larger, y’know, equipment, than white blokes.
It’s probably true but a few studies have suggested that white males actually have the largest penises with an average erect length of 6.4″ while black males averaged 6.2″. Hispanic men averaged 6.0″ and East Asian men, 5.6”.
‘It is generally said that the penis of the Negro is very large,’ wrote German anthropologist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach in 1795. ‘And this assertion is so far borne out by the remarkable genitory apparatus of an Ethiopian which I have in my anatomical collection.’
Now, we can safely say here that Blumenbach is weird.
Louis Jacolliet, a 19th century French writer who spent three decades investigating penis size (like you do), said: ‘In no branch of the human race are the male organs more developed than in the African Negro.’
Wish I’d never started this, but hey, let’s press on.
A study by Kinsey recorded that the average white male has a penis measuring 6.2 inches and a circumference of 3.7 inches. A black male averages 6.3″ and 3.8″. While flaccid black men’s penises measured on average 4.3″, white men were bang on the 4-inch mark, which underscores, quite well I think, commonly held wisdom.
Another study concluded that the average erect penis length in China is between 4.4″ and 4.7″. Japanese sources state the average length of an erect Japanese penis is 5.35″.
Sometimes you see stuff, it goes in your head and it won’t go away. I’m sorry to stoop so low, but sometimes you just gotta put that stuff out there.
Oh, for goodness’ sake put the ruler away.

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News of the World?

Rebekah Brooks - pants currently ablaze

With the demise of the News of the World currently dominating the internet, radio and television, it seems appropriate, at this juncture, to throw my hat in the ring and proffer some sort of opinion, particularly in view of the fact that this blog site/website, call it what you will, is called Lies Lies Lies, and there’s a lot of those going around at the moment.

Journalism is a shady business at the best of times. I’ve been doing it for 22 years and, in my time, I have worked, briefly, for national tabloid newspapers. Somebody asked me about that period of my life the other day, enquiring whether my writings then had any relation to fact. It was a serious question but probably the wrong one. The problem here is not an argument about the facts, it’s about how the facts were obtained.

It is preposterous to conclude that Rebekah Brooks (formerly Wade) and Andy Coulson were unaware of how information was obtained when they were publishing stories about the Milly Dowler tragedy, the Soham outrage, 7/7 victims and soldiers who lost their lives in Afghanistan. If Brooks thinks the argument, ‘I didn’t know’ can be in any way believable then I’m Bagpuss.

I remember doing a day’s sub-editing shift at the Sun newspaper on a day when Brooks (then Wade), was the editor. She arrived in the office at around 4pm, flouncing in like she was auditioning for Pride and Prejudice, and then announced that she had spent four hours in prison after police had been called to her home. It had been reported that she had attacked her then-partner Ross Kemp and had subsequently been questioned, at length, by police over the alleged assault.

As she arrived in the newsroom, following her so-called ordeal in the cop shop, she shouted, with what seemed like a sizeable amount of hubris, that, ‘I’ve been locked up!’ At this point, a section of the newsroom started applauding her. Then a very wise journalist, who had been silent during this celebration, turned to me and said: ‘Wonder if they would be applauding if it had been a man assaulting a woman?’ It kind of put the whole thing in context as I stared at a screen a row in front of me. It featured the-then home secretary David Blunkett who had been caught having an affair with the nanny of his children. More importantly he had pulled a few strings to get her working visa fast-tracked and had been forced to resign as a result. The Sun’s proposed headline that day, with the picture of Blunkett and his guide dog, read: ‘Walkies!’ It seemed crass and hyprocrital in view of the earlier office-based brouhaha generated by Wade.

That was then and this is now and the main story surrounds the same person. This morning, on my way to work I tuned in to Radio 5 Live to familiarise myself with the latest developments surrounding this saga. In the course of the broadcast Robert Peston, the BBC’s business editor, went off-topic and described a strange feeling he was having about what has happened to us, y’know, us. Our Society. He said that this phone hacking story pointed to a wider problem and this was when the enlightenment bells started to ring in my head.

Three years ago the banks collapsed because, essentially, they were lending money to people who couldn’t afford to pay back. That would be us. Britain had got greedy. Its inhabitants had started filling their homes with stuff they couldn’t afford and, as the media age mushroomed, they demanded salacious entertainment as they sat proudly in carefully considered grand designs. The need for a scoop became even greater. People needed to know new stuff so papers like the News of the World, desperate to meet the public’s need, started hunting for even juicier stories.

As a result we found out that MPs were crooked, celebrities played away from home and footballers were thick. But that’s old news and we wanted more. Then we got it, from information harvested from phone hackers…

Around 2.7 million people buy the News of the World every Sunday, but oddly everyone’s now outraged. Surely there’s got to be some hypocrisy? Then again, is all this that surprising? We love to point the finger, just don’t like it when that finger curls around at us. 

I listened to Ed Miliband – a big finger-pointer – this morning. His beard-growth-inducing diatribe went on for bloody ages and its content nearly caused me to vomit quite violently in my glovebox. Miliband, as much as I want to like him, possessed an ingloriously sanctimonious tone. He should have been in a pulpit. Of course he’s puffing out his chest at the moment because he understands the political capital he can gain from this, and with David Cameron making the monumentally moronic decision to recruit Coulson, the Labour leader holds all the aces. Cameron will be the loser, even if Miliband makes the mistake of milking this too much.

But I can’t help thinking that the people pointing the finger the most are to blame for all this too. I didn’t read the News of the World, not on any ethical grounds but because it was consistently boring. When I listen to claptrap from a ‘disgusted’ woman from Reading’ on Radio 5 Live, I just get the feeling that she is probably lapping up all the celebrity gossip in publications like Closer, Reveal and all the nonsensical products that fill the magazine racks in the UK’s newsagents on a weekly basis. Yep, it may not be News of the World in all its charmless hostility, but this kind of voyeuristic journalism wrapped up in a glossy cover is pretty much the same no matter how you package it. In some respects I’d rather read the News of the World – at least it’s honest about its dishonesty.

Which brings me to the paper itself. Shutting it down was a cynical, but necessary move and, as the story develops, I don’t think News International will produce a paper called the Sun on Sunday because it’s just too close. People will see straight through that and I can’t believe that Rupert Murdoch will do anything that stupid. He won’t want to get anywhere near that murky water again because he’ll have enough trouble trying to defend The Sun newspaper when the inevitable revelations about it, and phone hacking, come to the surface. I suspect that News International will probably go for something a little more sober like the iPaper just to underscore News International’s claim: ‘We really have changed… an’ that.’

So, like drugs in sport, MPs on the make and bent coppers, there’ll always be rogue journalists and tabloid newspapers involved in some sort of skullduggery. Expect this story to re-emerge in five years’ time when there’ll be a similar outrage. You can change the regulations, you can have a Press Complaints Commission that actually has some balls, but it’ll always be the same because you should never trust what you read in the papers. It’s all lies, lies lies…

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Embarrassing ‘fat’ bodies

The Embarrassing 'Fat' Bodies team. They love the chubbers

Lately, on my return home to my flat in Crouch End I find that my rather sizeable flatscreen television is stuck on some sort of loop that subjects me to programmes about fat people, and Channel 4’s Embarrassing Fat Bodies in particular. Really, I should turn over and watch Question Time and learn stuff about the country I live in and the key issues that it faces but I really can’t be bothered with all that.
Common sense tells me that these fat ‘features’ should be fairly short. The advice, I feel, should be concise, y’know like: “Eat less, take regular exercise”, but Channel 4 manages to drag this out for an hour at a time with curiosity-led examinations that usually result in the revelation of people’s genitals.
There are plenty of chubbers blaming poor genetics for obesity. They’ll say their fatness is the result of a faultlined DNA that makes them look like a Space Hopper. I doubt this. I have to go to the gym, run about a bit and stay off the kebabs to retain my racing snake-like form. If I wanted to ape the physicality of Jabba the Hut I would embrace lethargy, sit at home, play computer games and eat pizza.
Still the Channel 4 fatties don’t understand this. One chap, suffering a medical condition, of which I know not what, had what one of the doctors described as an ‘apron’ hanging down in front of him. The apron, essentially, was a supersized sack of fat the size of a sandbag, gracefully grazing the floor. Gravity had done its job well, and although it was just millimetres off the tarmac, the resultant ground-effect didn’t mean that this character was able to corner very well. Indeed, a short straightline walk to the kitchen was about all he could manage.
To pee, the unfortunate patient merely had to stand and relax his groin and let the urine out. An undertray to catch the contents was all that was needed. It was like a Little Britain sketch the only catch being is that this was real. Underneath the man’s apron, apparently, were genitals. The male doctor lifted up the fat-sack like he was trying to put a duvet cover on and there, sure enough, was the man’s button mushroom. ‘Yep, I can see it,” said the doc with two kilos of fat on his head. ‘There it is!”, resisting the temptation to point.
To cure this man’s condition surgeons cut off the apron. There was a long pre-op conversation, which I also found surprising since I think the words, ‘Yep, we’ll chop it off”, would have had the benefit of brevity. I watched the procedure to understand the complexity but there wasn’t much. They knocked the chap out, chopped off a total of six stones of fat and then threw it in a bin.
There are many ways to lose weight. Some try walking, but that never works, and others have suggested to me that Tai Chi might do the trick. Predictably, I’m sceptical.
To do Tai Chi properly you have to wear pyjamas and slippers and generally look like an arse. According to the experts Tai Chi will sort you out if you are unfit. Could this really be exercise? Well not really since it’s just moving about slowly and let’s face it, doing anything slowly isn’t going to get rid of that beer belly of yours.
For the ill-informed Tai Chi is designed to exercise the mind and body. It comes from China and its purpose is to marry martial arts and mental concentration. The claim is it’ll improve strength, flexibility, balance and coordination and help you to lose weight. Tai Chi-ists say it also improves your heart function, decreases blood pressure and it’ll make you less stressed out.
Of course, that’s shite. It doesn’t do any of that.
If, in the course of your life, you get fired, you could lose your home and then as the stress heightens your wife will want to leave you. Your situation will affect your self-esteem and as a result you’ll lose the ability to perform sexually and you’ll go bald. It’ll be a downward spiral punctuated by the fact that you have no earning power and, as much as I appreciate the theory, I can’t see that cradling an imaginary ball for 20 minutes is going solve the problem.
Let’s nail this down. If you want to get just fat eat lots of stuff, sit around all day and, if you like, do some Tai Chi. If you don’t, however, you’ll have to cut out the pies/kebabs and run about. Nothing has changed as far as the laws of nature are concerned and if you want to head that unsightly apron off at the pass do your level best to avoid exchanges that begin with the word… ‘chillisaucesaladboss?’

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