Like many Reuters trainees, journalism began with George Short. In my case, it pretty much ended with him as well, as he was one of the last people I saw before I left Reuters for the last time. Others have talked at length about his inimitable style of teaching how to write something readable; his belief in brevity, clarity and simplicity. His scorn for the by-line brigade, his frequent and lengthy excursions into philosophical musings – he had a lengthy metaphor for Reuters involving galleys, slaves and officers which taught me more about management than anthing else I’ve ever heard. He was, despite his efforts to conceal it, wise and very smart indeed. He was the embodiment of Old Journalism, doing his best to convert the new graduate types who would change his trade forever, make it more boring, less fun. He had some success.
The essence of his manner of teaching came when I was labouring away as a sub on features, and he appeared. Come and have a drink, he said. I pointed out it was just gone nine in the morning and I hadn’t had breakfast. Nah, time for a drink.
So we went, to one of the Fleet street dives always open, and George ordered me a double gin. So I drank it, we chatted, he ordered me another double gin. I became voluble, brilliant, a maginficient conversationalist. George listened. Anotehr double gin. Then he helped me up, guided me back to my desk, and gave me a pile of notes. Press conference from the last Opec meeting, he said. Find the story. Write 500 words. Have it done in half an hour.
I should have listened. One of his bon mots – which I had thought was a joke — was that if you can’t write when you are too drunk to stand up, you shouldn’t be a journalist. Apparently, he had meant it.
I think I passed. When I left Reuters, and started writing novels, I sent him a copy of one of them. The next time I saw him, he screwed up his face and said, “Needs a bit of subbing, that.” Still, he bought me a drink.
Revenge is sweet. He turns up in my next novel, Stone’s Fall, in a cameo role, propped up against a bar, dispensing information and wisdom freely and generously.
Iain Pears, December 2008