THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Kevin Cullen

They're brill on Fleet St.

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Kevin Cullen
June 26, 2008

Years ago, when we were living like millionaires in London because newspapers were still selling a lot of classified ads, my pal Bill Glauber had a terrific idea to do a story on journalists who cover the British royal family.

Glauber, then with the Baltimore Sun, approached James Whitaker, who had been on the royal beat for the Daily Mirror for 25 years.

Whitaker listened politely as Glauber explained what he wanted to do. Leaving Glauber speechless on any subject is rare, but Glauber was speechless after Whitaker said he would speak only if he was compensated handsomely for his cooperation.

As Whitaker put it, in one of the truest lines ever printed in a newspaper: "We're all whores."

I was thinking about this after seeing the scrum of British journalists who covered the trial of Neil Entwistle, an Englishman convicted in Woburn yesterday of killing his wife and baby daughter.

I know what I'm about to say will get me crossed off the invite list at the Poynter Institute and Columbia School of Journalism, but I don't care: I love British hacks. That's what British reporters call themselves.

And they should not be confused with American hacks, i.e., politicians and their coatholders. British hacks, specifically English ones, are to their craft what great bluesmen are to theirs: real, unadulterated artists.

British hacks have fun and don't take themselves too seriously. Consequently, British newspapers are fun to read. Of course, some of the stories, not to mention some of those who write them, are bought and paid for, and others are complete rubbish.

But once you get over those minor quibbles, reading a British newspaper is as refreshing as taking an outdoor shower in August on the Cape. One of my favorite British hacks, Boris Johnson, was recently elected mayor of London. Now, this has been a source of no little amusement to those of us, like Glauber and the great Tom Hundley of the Chicago Tribune, who spent time in the company of Boris, whether in Kensington or Kosovo, where after making deadline for the Daily Telegraph our Boris drank anything that wasn't labeled poison.

But Boris was a good reporter, and, seriously, how many American newspapermen could get elected mayor of one of the world's great cities?

The British tabloids get unfairly smeared as being little more than scandal sheets. But they break news, and their coverage of the Entwistle trial has been positively restrained due to something called sub judice, a British law aimed at preventing prejudicial trial coverage. Now that he has been convicted, Entwistle will be disemboweled by the tabs. God bless them, not him.

Years ago, Dave Lynch, a great reporter for USA Today, and I got expelled from Serbia. Slobodan Milosevic didn't like Lynch, which is probably why I did.

We found ourselves in a seedy bar in Podgorica, the gray capital of Montenegro, asking for a gangster named Momo. We paid Momo 700 deutsche marks for phony visas to get back into Serbia. Momo took our money, but sat in the bar for hours, handing over the visas only after the last plane for Belgrade took off. Personally, I don't go around telling gangsters how to conduct their business. But Lynch is less retiring and lit into Momo, accusing him of purposely making us miss the plane.

"I am sorry, my friend," Momo replied genially, putting his hand on Lynch's shoulder, and in doing so revealed what looked very much like a 9mm Beretta in a shoulder holster. "But a man from the BBC paid me 10,000 deutsche marks to keep you off that plane."

The man from the BBC thought we worked for a rival network.

Momo bought us a drink, which tasted like gasoline, and Dave Lynch and I and Momo lifted our glasses and toasted the BBC, the Queen of England, Bill Glauber, Slobodan Milosevic, Tom Hundley, and, by the end of the night, just about anything and everything.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com.

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