Thursday, January 15, 2009

The newspaper that paid Christopher Lloyd not to write anything

The Garden Monkey posted an item yesterday about the Guardian's gardening blog which is recycling old articles from the archive, such as columns written by Vita Sackville West for The Observer, and some written by Christopher Lloyd, who wrote for the Guardian for 17 years until his death in 2006.
This reminded me that prior to writing for the Guardian, Christopher Lloyd was also a contributor to the Observer. Or rather, he wasn't...
In 1988, I joined the Observer (one of the more serious British Sunday newspapers, American readers) as deputy editor of the colour supplement. It had been going through a bit of a strange era with lots of changes of editors and contributors and so on. As deputy, my job was to look after things like budgets and production.
We had a whizzkid deputy managing director at the time who was very keen on saving money, and was always nagging me to make economies (sack a few journalists, that sort of thing).
One day he came to me with a list of contributors who, he said, were paid each month but never seemed to contribute. I was able to tell him that all but one were the real names of people who compiled crosswords and bridge columns and puzzles etc under pseudonyms. The only one I could not account for was a C Lloyd.
I cudgelled my brains for a couple of days and then dimly remembered that Christopher Lloyd had written for the Observer at one point. Good grief, could it possibly be him?
I asked the sub-editors and they said, yes, Christopher Lloyd did indeed write a column until it was chucked out by Dennis Hackett (a former editor of Nova magazine and Today newspaper). This had been about a year previously.
I rang Christopher Lloyd and put it to him (as they say in court) that he was on the Observer's pay roll. Yes, indeed, he said.
But you never write anything, I said.
No, he said.
But we pay you, I said.
If you're stupid enough to pay me for not writing anything, he said, I'm certainly not going to make a fuss about it.
Would you like to write for us, I said. Since we are paying you.
I'd be delighted, he said.
And so the Christopher Lloyd column was reinstated in the Observer. For about five minutes. I was incredibly excited about it, but no one else seemed to share my enthusiasm. About a year later, he went to the Guardian. Who can blame him? We had one of the best gardening writers in history and no one gave a toss.