As someone with experience on the front line of social diary gossip writing, my hat’s off to John McEntee, who, as Jilly Cooper writes on the cover of his gloriously outrageous memoir, ‘is one of the funniest men in the world.’
With all the rapier wit he’s used for the past thirty years writing some of the most celebrated diaries and gossip columns in British newspapers, McEntee, an Irish Catholic from a rural Irish backwater, cuts a swathe through the pompous, the deluded and the overbearing.
Always dapper, incorrigibly well mannered in the face of boorish yobbery on a grand scale, John scythes a path through the English establishment, the wigged and frocked upper class twits in control of Britain’s media empires, with a notebook in one hand and a tasty tipple in the other.
The great and the good occupy these pages, indeed, they gather and queue, like supplicants at the court of a medieval despot, they crowd the halls and corridors, seeking, desperately, a fleeting grasp on the reins of power, while McEntee, the interloping jester, scoffs and scorns and ridicules their pretensions. If Indiscretion wasn’t his middle name, it should’ve been.
John began his career in the Anglo-Celt in Cavan, where his father was deputy editor. He moved from there to the Irish Press, my own alma mater, so to speak. In 1975 he moved to the London office and from there, began supplementing his meagre Press group stipend by selling gossip items to the tabloid diarists.
He made many enemies but far more friends and among these he counted Sir Terry Wogan, Keith Waterhouse, Richard Harris, Jilly Cooper and Anne Robinson, to name just a very few.
To say this book is funny is such a gross understatement, it cannot explain the aching pain I’ve experienced reading it or the suspicion, at times, I should desist while I go out and procure a pair of adult incontinence pants.
Mischief, some people call it and perhaps they’re right. It was certainly not malicious. At times, John reveals the decency and humanity that underscores his dealings with the world, as he sits, for example with the tearful wife of British comedian, Tommy Cooper, shielding her through an afternoon of wrenching grief, from a stream of well meaning well wishers and then shielding the widow’s grief from tabloid exposure by telling his editor he hadn’t seen her.
I’m Not One to Gossip, But…,in another age and not so long ago, either, would be cited as essential reading for any newsroom rookie or copy boy, even it was as a warning to them that there but for the grace of some diligent work and a watchful editor, go they. Now, it is the chronicle of a time and style of journalism that is gone, forever.