Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Larger than Life Journalist

At first I thought my friend Dave Banks was spoofing me. But as I looked closer at the URL he sent, it was not a copy of my own blog‘s, but rather the URL for one that he had just started,

Don’t worry. It’s not some X-rated Web site. It’s just Dave’s ramblings about life in the northern hinterlands of England, hard by the Scottish border.

I could fill up more bytes than my computer has in memory with stories about Dave, but some background is in order to appreciate the totality of this larger than life English journalist. Dave is indeed larger than most people I know. He’s 6’6”, give or take an inch or two, and, depending on the efficacy of his diet, about 280 pounds. He always tells me his weight in stones, but as best I can figure it, it’s about 280 pounds.

Gilda and I met Dave and his diminutive wife Gemma (maybe 5’3”, 115 pounds) when our son was about 12 months old. Their daughter Natasha, (Tash or Tasha as she usually is called), was about six weeks younger. Though our back yards abutted, we were oblivious to each other until a neighbor, reasoning that two journalists might have something in common, introduced us at her daughter’s third birthday party. The party was a real bore, but the friendship she originated has lasted for 30 years across three continents.

Dave was one of Rupert Murdoch’s imports, brought to the States to spunk up the New York Post with tabloid tastes that now seem ordinary but back in 1979-80 were viewed as racy and sensational. Sitting in his living room drinking wine that first day after the party was over, I remember Gilda bemoaning the vulgarity of the Post headlines. I commented that the one I liked best for its temerity and rakishness was, “Ted Campaigns Near Mary Jo’s Grave.” Still, I cautioned Gilda that we shouldn’t criticize the Post until we found out in more detail what Dave did for the paper. Without missing a beat Dave informed us that though he did not write my favorite headline, it was his job to compose, or approve, the headlines for the first six pages of each day’s paper! Ooooops!

What followed was a three decades-long discussion of the merits of popular vs. elitist journalism and a friendship, a love, between two couples that has survived the Banks’ meanderings back to England, several years in Australia, a return to London, another stay in White Plains to help run the Daily News, a final return to London for a multi-media career in print, radio and cable television, and now semi-retirement in the little hamlet of Crookham, not far from where Dave grew up.

My mind is racing with stories about Dave’s exploits, both practical jokes and tabloid journalism exclusives. Dave’s claim to fame, or infamy, includes running pictures of a pregnant Princess Diana at the beach, for which his British paper had to apologize and did so by running the offending pictures again, and his authorizing the placement of a camera that captured photos of Princess Diana working out inside a London gym, a deed that led other news outlets to stake out his home with round-the-clock cameras. Gemma was not a happy camper after that turn of the camera lens.

Perhaps in future posts I’ll recount more of his escapades. In the interim, I commend his blog about semi-retired life in Crookham, Northumberland, England, to you. And since he posts only once per week, sometimes even less often, you won’t be overwhelmed. You’ll have plenty time to keep reading my musings.