David Robson's memoir reflects on his life as an editor

Witty love letter to newspapers: David Robson’s memoir reflects on his life as an editor and journalist

  • David Robson writes of his happy memories working as a journalist for nationals
  • He was an editor and executive for forty years and had some great memories
  • The Owner’s Mother Loves my Stuff is a love letter to the trade of journalism  

THE OWNER’S MOTHER LOVES MY STUFF by David Robson (Wrentham Books £10, 256pp)

THE OWNER’S MOTHER LOVES MY STUFF

by David Robson (Wrentham Books £10, 256pp)

There’s no shortage of journalists’ memoirs, which may or may not be a good thing, but there sure is a shortage of books with such a brilliant title.

The source of this remark was Richard Desmond, the businessman and one-time owner of the Daily Express, when David Robson, an experienced member of the trade, wrote a weekly column for the paper. (Normally such remarks sound more menacing. When the owner says: ‘My wife had no idea what that piece was about,’ you know you’re in trouble).

Robson spent four decades as an editor and executive on national newspapers — the Sunday Times, The Independent, the Daily Mail, and the Express — and this rambunctious little memoir is a love letter to the trade of journalism, packed with rich anecdotes and sharp little portraits of the many brilliant colleagues (and some not so much) over the years.

He started in smoke-wreathed offices ringing with the clatter of typewriters: he ended in the carpeted air conditioned quiet of computerland. Newspapers had gone from being giant multi-million-selling products setting the agenda for the political, social, sporting, leisure and cultural life of the nation to being the still brilliant but financially much threatened products of today.

After all, where else would you get your news and features? There was no TikTok, no Google, no Twitter, no Facebook.

He started as editor of Honey, a very smart magazine for teenage girls. It was full of brilliant writers like the late Gordon Burn, author of many powerful biographies, and Mick Brown, later at the Daily Telegraph, and countless others.

They ran interviews with Jack Nicholson, features on Dr. Martens, and fashion from Florida. There is a notorious violent rape scene involving the actress Susan George in the film Straw Dogs in 1971. When the man bursts into her room, she is reading a copy of Honey. It was that influential.

At the Sunday Times he comes across the legendary columnist Bernard Levin — ‘remarkable man,’ someone says. ‘He does the work of two men for the pay of five.’ (Something that could be said of one or two titans of the trade these days, too).

The famously fit editor Harry Evans runs up the stairs to the fifth floor; Robson manages to keep pace. ‘Good, very good,’ says Evans. He knows great names like Jilly Cooper and Esther Rantzen. He hangs out with David Bailey photographing Cher: ‘Move your arse Mum,’ says Bailey. Cher loves it.

He writes brilliantly of the early days of the Independent, full of great writers and good ideas, but also happy to use the word ‘subsidiarity’ in its page one splash headline. He ends up at the Express writing a Saturday column, something he is rightly very proud of, before reluctantly having to leave because he is 65. A great mistake clearly.

This effervescent, charming vividly written book tells you all you need to know about the golden age of newspapers and magazines. But the world is different now. More’s the pity some might say.

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