Friday 15 July 2022

Mike Lowe RIP: Some of his greatest Grey Cardigan hits and one last blast at the grey-suits

As my tribute to Mike Lowe, I thought I would publish a few of my favourite quotes from his Grey Cardigan column I've featured on my blog over the years.  It's also a chance to give the bean-counters he loathed so much one last kicking.

Grey on local newspapers

"Look at the history of our newspapers and you will find that many of them were founded by local men and funded by local businesses - printers, campaigners, shopkeepers and solicitors. These men did not seek to make a vast fortune from their great adventure...Why can't the big groups sell off their failing titles to people who would actually love and nurture them?"

Grey on cuts in the regional press

"I met a regional daily newspaper manager the other day who seemed mystified at his title’s appalling ABC performance – down to the point at which weekly publication surely beckons.
“I don’t understand it Grey,” he said. “We’re coming out of the slump now, revenue should be picking up, but the sale is killing us. Advertisers are spending again, but they’re spending elsewhere. What’s going on?” I looked at him, thought once, thought twice, and then said nothing. If he can’t see that sacking half your journalists, dropping editions, closing your district offices, abandoning same-day printing, reducing the print run and slashing the marketing budget might possibly have some impact on your sales figures, then I’m not going to explain it to him."

Grey on centralised subbing

"Sadly, we have grown accustomed in recent years to seeing arrogant and uncaring newspaper managements shifting subbing jobs from individual newspapers to centralised production hubs. These faceless fuckwits take no account of the ruined careers and wrecked marriages left behind; their sole concern is the bottom line and the size of their next bonus."

Grey on bloggers

"Since the arrival of blogs everyone is a fucking journalist, and the sheer number of knobheads out there who are happy to churn out their boring, bland opinions just for the supposed glory of seeing their name in lights means that the notion of actually paying for well-written, thought-provoking words is now almost redundant. Why does this matter? Well it means that true creativity is stifled as writers and photographers give up the daily battle to put food on the table and the level of national debate continues to be dumbed down. Mark my words, it won’t be long before someone called @billyblogger24 is writing the leader column in The Times."

Grey reveals his departure from the Daily Beast:

"I’ve been replaced by a child in a suit. I leave with a framed front page, a valedictory drink at The Shivering Whippet, a small pay-off and my head held high. Now I’m in the dangerous waters of the unemployed or, as my previously departed colleagues called it, pursuing a new career as an editorial and PR consultant."

Grey on why the 'grey men in grey suits' forced out Northcliffe's outspoken editors 

"They couldn't handle the boardroom battles, the cult of 'Editorial is King' and the notion that people would fight to the death for what was right for their newspapers, their readers and their staff. So off they had to go."

Grey on the bean-counters

"This is a creative business, dependant for success on imagination, inspiration and risk-taking. Accountancy, with the best will in the world, isn’t. The grey suited bean-counters aren’t a stereotypical myth; they’re the Dementors of the business world, soul-sucking fiends capable of draining away your happiness...Our current crop of bosses might be best buddies of the corporate shareholders (not to mention their own bank managers), but over the past 10 years the dead hand of fiscal prudence certainly hasn’t done our newspapers any favours. We’ve lost thousands of jobs, millions of pounds in revenue and the ‘service’ we provide to our remaining readers is a pitiful shadow of what it used to be and still should be.
Shame on you, the lot of you."

So who was the Grey Cardigan?

Jon Slattery writes: I worked with Mike at the Lincs Echo with a sub who inspired Grey Cardigan. This is a blog post I wrote about the "real Cardigan".  

When I worked at Press Gazette the most common question I was asked was "who is the Grey Cardigan?" What people wanted to know was who wrote the column. I could never tell them that but I do know who the real Grey Cardigan is. I worked with the man who inspired the column, which gives the world view of a down table regional sub-editor, when I was a junior reporter on an evening paper in the Midlands.

He did indeed wear a grey cardigan along with a collar and tie and was the deputy chief sub. The reporters thought he was so miserable that when idling away a quiet afternoon by casting the paper's staff as they would to be portrayed in a Hollywood movie we decided he should be played by Peter Cushing. The actor was well known for his appearance in Hammer horror films where he portrayed Baron Frankenstein among other sinister characters.

Our subs, however, always insisted he was one of the wittiest men alive. All I could see was that his idea of fun was torturing the news editor. He got his opportunity to do this on a Saturday when he was acting chief sub.

When the news editor produced his standby page one splash, for example "Terror Dogs Stalk Estate" (ie. someone had phoned up earlier in the week about a couple of stray mutts), the original grey cardigan would spike it. Instead he would lead on some PA story that took his fancy, like a call for foreigners to be banned from using the NHS which was being made at a conference in Blackpool, miles outside our circulation area.

Oh, and his name was Bernard.

  • Press Gazette's tribute to Mike and an extract from a Grey Cardigan column can be read here