‘A unique opportunity to purchase the home of a famous weekly magazine.’ Thus might an estate agent market No. 56 Doughty Street, London WC1, now up for sale after more than 30 years as the offices of The Spectator. But an estate agent cannot know how des a res is this early-19th-century house in Bloomsbury. It should be sold not so much for its fabric — handsome as it is, if slightly worn — as for its recent history, for the rich variety of people who have passed through its doors and the voices which may come out of the now possibly rotting woodwork.
When I was a young reporter on the London Evening Standard nearly 40 years ago I spent a lot of time in the press room at Scotland Yard, not learning very much. By some mysterious process of osmosis between detectives and the leading crime correspondents, details of that dramatic armed robbery in Croydon would be all over the front pages while the Yard’s official spokesmen were still confined to talking lamely about ‘an incident on Purley Way which required police attendance’.
Sitting in one of the green rooms at Yorkshire Television on a Saturday afternoon in Leeds, it’s difficult to reconcile the man I’m watching on the monitor with the David Frost of legend. He’s recording four back-to-back episodes of Through the Keyhole to be broadcast on BBC2 later this year and he’s finding it difficult to muster much interest in his current guest, a former soap star called Lee Otway.