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B2B with Kini: Fleet Street in the 60s by GVK Print E-mail

Kini, in an earlier post, says I forgot to mention the media oligarch, Dr Tarapada Basu, who brought out London’s India Weekly in the sixties. A great soul (despite what Kini says).Tarada, as he was fondly addressed among the local Bangla crowd, was undisputed doyen of London-based Indian journalists of his days.


Representing Hindustan Standard, Calcutta, Dr Basu was much bigger than the professional designation he held. He was un-transferable, unlike his colleagues in Hindustan Times, Indian Express and The Times of India, who came and moved on from London once in three years or so.

A generous host, Dr Basu knew how to take care of his Calcutta boss, Mr Ashok Sarkar (if I got his first name right) of Ananda Bazaar Group. Mr Sarkar, along with Mr Tushar Ghosh of Amritha Bazaar Patrika, amd Mr Narasimhan of The Hindu made unfailing annual London visits (or was it twice yearly?) to attend Commonwealth Press Union meetings. Dr Basu set up meetings for them with higher British bureaucracy. He also ensured that the India High Commission hosted a reception for the visiting media barons.

Dr Basu was generous enough to allow India Weekly minions, such as yours truly, to use his office space at Carmellite St. If Kini and I can claim to have worked off the famed Fleet Street, it was due to Dr. Basu’s generosity. Had it not been for his patronage India Weekly would have operated from a garage in Southall or Shepherds Bush. Dr Basu once sent me on a week-long tour of England, sponsored by the Commonwealth Press Office. We were taken to Birmingham, Manchester, and some other towns, put up at five-star hotels, driven around in Austin Princess. Everywhere we went they lined up meetings for us with the mayor, local industrialists and other VIPs.

The press tour was for a group of journalists from Commonwealth countries. We were six of us, representing newspapers from Canada, Australia, Pakistan and India. The invitation was for Hindustan Standard. Dr. Basu made me its ‘representative’ for the purpose of the press tour. Who wouldn’t have nice thoughts for such a man? On another occasion, the Indians Association in Manchester invited Dr Basu to be the chief guest at their Independence Day function. He deputed me. I was required to make a speech, and take questions from the audience. I guess I was able to mask my nervousness from the audience. If my hosts on the dais noticed, they were decent enough not to embarrass me or report it to Dr. Basu.

Kini makes a reference to Goger, the Fleet St. pub we used to frequent. Would like to draw his attention to a zine5 piece I did some time back – My Fleet Street Stint.

Cross-posted from My Take by GVK

My Fleet St. stint  ( from Zine5 )

Fleet Street is dead. As a columnist put it, the temples of journalism are now occupied by the minions of commerce. When Reuters, last of the major media organizations on Fleet Street, moved out of their premises in 2005 a memorial service was held at St. Bride's.

Major London dailies may have moved to the Docklands, Canary Wharf or wherever, but they remain Fleet Street newspapers. To those in the media Fleet Street is a synonym for British journalism. Reading about the church service I was reminded of its 'glory' days in the sixties when most of the newspapers in London operated from Fleet Street, by which one meant, not just the street, but its lanes and cobbled byways that formed the media village.

Fleet Street proper, in those days, housed just two dailies - The Daily Express, the Telegraph - and too many pubs, to serve "honest ale to lubricate and ease the scribblers' toil." The Daily Mail, the Mirror, the News of the World and the Evening Standard operated from lanes off Fleet street - Fetter Lane, Shoe Lane and Whitefriers Street. The Times was at the Blackfriers. The Sun had yet to rise and the Independent hadn't yet been conceived. Yet, they are all referred to as the Fleet Street papers.

Several British provincial newspapers and scores of foreign newspapers had located their London offices in Fleet Street. Which didn't make them the Fleet Street media. In Britain a journalist in those days was considered to have arrived only when he/she made it to the mainstream Fleet Street. The media remnants still left on Fleet Street are the Dundee-based newspaper publishers - who have been there for the last 100 years and have no plans to move - with 15 journalists and a picture editor (door No. 185) and Agence France Presse (AFP) at 72, Fleet Street.

I have worked in Fleet Street, not on a Fleet Street paper. The only Indian I knew who made it there, to The Times news desk, was Subash Chopra. Subash who started his journalistic career with the Indian Express in New Delhi, hitch-hiked his way to London in the sixties, served in small weeklies and newspapers in provincial England before he could make it to Fleet Street.

My claim to familiarity with Fleet Street rests on a six-month stint with the London-based India Weekly. Located at an attic off Fleet Street India Weekly was brought out by a group of London-based journalists representing Indian newspapers. Prime mover of India Weekly was Dr Tarapada Basu of The Hindustan Standard, Calcutta, and a long time president of the Indian Journalists Association in London. He accommodated India Weekly, with a paid staff of two, at the attic of his third-floor office at Carmelite Street. We had for a neighbour The Daily Sketch, a Fleet Street tabloid.

Our closest watering hole was at the ground floor of Reuters building. The regulars included not only tipplers from Reuters but also of the Sketch and the Daily Express. The Daily Mirror staff patronized 'The Printer's Devil,' while that of the Telegraph walked right across the street to 'The King and Keys'. There was this Fleet Street pub that everyone referred to as the 'Aunty's'. There was El Vino's where women were not served at the bar.

The thing about the Fleet Street pubs was that everyone who dropped in knew most others frequenting the place and all of them were on first-name terms with the pub's landlord. So homely did many feel, particularly after a few too many, that they needed to be prodded back to work. It was said that one of the pubs in the area even had a division bell, rung to summon wayward journalists back to their newsroom.

Tarapada Basu, 'Dada' to his colleagues, was ably assisted in managing India Weekly by Mr. Ashok Gupta, of Ananda Bazar Patrika, Mr. Iqbal Singh of Patriot, Mr Sishantu Das of Indian Express and Mr. Gaurisaria, a business executive, who I suspect, helped out whenever there was cash crunch. India Weekly was not a profitable venture. Nor was it making losses.

Dr. Shelwanker of The Hindu, whose office was a few minutes away, was a distant figure but always available at the other end of the phone when his advice was sought. Mr. P. N. Haksar, our deputy high commissioner, was media-friendly and helpful to the needy. The London correspondent of a Chandigarh-based daily, well respected but, probably, not so well paid, operated from a cubicle at the Indian High Commission, because his principals didn't bother to send him money for renting and the upkeep of an office.

Quite a few journalists representing Indian papers were poorly paid, by British standards. Newspaper managements pleaded constraints because of foreign exchange regulations. Some of our journalists had to settle for a pittance, and that too paid in rupees deposited in their bank accounts back home.

My position in India Weekly remained unspecified. So did my job description. I interviewed a visiting film star at Park Lane Hilton one day and collected the newsweekly bundle from Paddington station the next day. India Weekly was printed in Liverpool, where I needed to go occasionally to proof-read articles sent to press late. But then Dr. Basu was a generous man. He sent in my name for inclusion in a delegation of Commonwealth journalists on a familiarisation tour of Britain. We were put up at five-star hotels, driven around in black Austin Princess, and cocktailed by city chambers of commerce.

On one occasion the Manchester Indians Association had invited Dr. Basu to be the chief guest at their Independence Day meeting. He sent me there to stand in for him. Which meant making a speech and doing a Q & A afterwards. I muddled through the evening, but Dr. Basu wasn't worried about my having let him down. As it turned out, he was all smiles after a phone call from the hosts. The feedback from Manchester was good.

I got no appointment letter from India Weekly. Didn't feel the need for one. Was paid through office vouchers, an amount not much higher than the government dole I could have got, if I had registered myself as unemployed. What I did at the Fleet Street may be termed sweat labour. But I endured it cheerfully. Besides, the stint at India Weekly got me a break at magazine journalism. I got noticed by a Nigerian publisher who offered me editorship of his fortnightly, Afro-Asian Echo. That the Nigerian honeymoon was short-lived is quite another story

E-mail:Kini at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
GVK - This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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