Never throw up on the Chief of Staff’s trousers.
That’s the advice of veteran journalist and historian, Gavin Souter.
Souter joined the Sydney Morning Herald in 1947 after seeking a cadetship for more than a year. He began work in the old Herald HQ in Hunter Street ; an ornate Victorian building where “Rags” Henderson, the General Manager had his own executive lift, to carry him one floor to his wood and marble paneled offices.
Souter began his career at the Stock Exchange for the Herald, ” copying the prices down chalked up on the blackboard”
“We finished up at four o’clock and went to the Angel Islington [ a city pub ], just around the corner in Angel Place”. “A drink turned into three middies ,” he said. “It was very early in my drinking career and three middies was just too much for me”. Feeling rather jolly, the young reporters headed back to the office to hear the cadet lecture, delivered by an eminent United Press correspondent.
“As we walked back, I started feeling a bit queasy. When we got to the door, the lecture was already underway and almost all of the seats had been taken”
Souter found a seat in the front row next to the Chief of staff, Tony Whitlock. W.A. Whitlock had been a Major in the New Zealand Army during the war. A dapper, former foreign correspondent, Whitlock was known for his “boundless energy and eagerness in the coverage of news’.
Chiefs of Staff were feared by young reporters. They could make or break careers by the stories they assigned. A fire, a strike or a rally could guarantee a place on the front page. Out of favour sons and daughters could be left to languish recording ship arrivals.
Arriving late, Souter, tip toed across in front of the august speaker and sat down quietly next to his boss.
“Suddenly I spewed all over the Chief of Staff, or at least all over his trousers,” Souter said.
Souter got up and staggered out as quickly as he could to the toilet, where he was promptly sick again.
The next day Tony Whitlock was “surprisingly” understanding.
“Gentlemen at the Herald don’t do that sort of thing,” he said.
“Certainly not, Sir,” Souter replied.
Gavin Souter is author of a history of the Fairfax Press, a Company of Heralds, and a number other books. He retired as Assistant editor of the Sydney Morning Herald.
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