The following has been posted on Simesite for a long time in the “Muggs” section. But for those of you who didn’t notice it, we reproduce it here on the occasion of Roger’s passing. Here is Rog’s account of how he got the Variety job, in his own words:
Joined VARIETY’s London office in 1961.
Retired from the paper December 1995.
In some trepidation, I stood in front of a massively imposing building on the corner of St. James’s Street and Piccadilly on a wet Thursday afternoon and seriously contemplated not keeping my appointment with Harold Myers (Myro).
Earlier in the week, Robert Ottaway (Otta), Editor of Picturegoer, a movie fan magazine (See Archive) for which I had worked for some 18 months, told me the best job in show biz journalism was up for grabs. And he had put my name forward.
Otta had given me my first chance to be a reporter and now he was watching over me. He believed VARIETY and I were made for each other, hence the recommendation to Myro, who was running the London bureau, and for whom Otta did freelance reviewing.
But VARIETY was big time in London show biz circles. And I definitely was iffy about Otta‘s assurances that I was ready to step up and be a scribe forthe “Bible of show biz”.
Myro held court on the top floor of the St. James’s Street building, with magnificent views over Piccadilly in one direction and in the other the rooftops of St. James’s Palace and London’s poshest gentlemen’s clubs which stretched the length of St. James’s Street .
There were three rooms in the former bookies’ office which Myro had moved into literally minutes after NBC International moved out. He had immediately claimed squatters’ rights, an ancient British law which allows squatters to stay in situ, provided they hadn’t broken in or used force to gain access. So long as he paid the rent, the landlords could do nothing about it.
Myro, a card-holding member of the Communist Party, union activist, barrack room lawyer and a phenomenal wheedler, had one near-fulltime freelance staffer, Dick Richards (Rich), a former Fleet-Street star, who handled pics and legit. But Myro needed someone to cover television and music and to help Dick when he, Myro, was away on lengthy ad sales trips.
As the boss, Myro knew all the important players, covered everything except music. And now here he was questioning me about whom I knew in the business, what I thought of developing situations in the television trade and asking very pointedly whether or not I was a member of the National Union of Journalists? On a scale of 1-to-10, I felt I had scored a 2.
Probably keen not to shortchange Otta, a friend and valued freelance contributor (and a rare animal who worked for love of the game rather than money and who had gone to bat for me), Myro agreed to give me a freelance assignment. He wanted to get some idea of my journalistic ability.
I got lucky. Myro asked me to cover a song festival in Brighton, a job he wanted no part of personally and a subject about which he knew zilch.
I joined the paper in July and stayed until 1968, writing a half-dozen stories a day, filing them every Thursday by airmail letter for publication in New York the following Wednesday. Usually VARIETY would arrive in London one day later – if we were lucky – and we would service a whole queue of people who turned up to get the bible hot off its inky press.
My salary had leapt from $22 to $27 a week with the move over from Television Today, the sheet where I had been working.
The magic part of this fairy tale came in late 1962 when the Beatles broke through and VARIETY’s music coverage from London rocketed. Famously, prior to the Beatles’ triumphs in the U.S., Abel wrote to Myro: “Tell Watkins to stop filing stuff about the Beatles. Doesn’t he know rock ‘n roll is dead?”
I quit VARIETY first in 1965, when offered the News Editorship of a prosperous local trade publication, Television Weekly, (Broadcast magazine today). It didn’t last long. I was back at VARIETY within a couple of months at a hiked salary – $1600 a year!
I quit again in 1968, after Myro retired for the first time, due to ill health. He’d had an operation-a-year for six consecutive years; so many bits of him had been removed he actually lost weight. Bob Hawkins (Hawk) was drafted in from Rome as his replacement.
It seemed a natural moment to break away and get into business for myself to assuage the pique I felt at not being given Myro‘s job in London.
Sport, particularly soccer, was under-commercialized in the U.K. in 1968. There was room for some new enterprise. So Derek Webster, an advertising type, and I founded a company, Sportsound, and signed up 30 leading soccer clubs.
Derek stayed on with Sportsound, which was a big success. For me, the entertainment beat was preferable to Ad Row. And once again it seemed a natural step to set up a sales promotion company – this time specializing in the music sector. But after a four year stint selling for MIDEM and MIP-TV, I found myself back in the VARIETY fold, this time with a different brief.
The rationale was to use contacts built up at MIDEM in the U.K., Germany and Scandinavia to develop new ad business for the St. James’s Street office. Now VARIETY had two sales people, the Hawk and me, and it worked out well and became even better when Myro, or what the surgeons had left of him, decided he wanted to join the sales crew, and took on – wildly successfully – some of the toughest assignments imaginable.
Hawk‘s move to 46th Street to sit on the podium opposite Syd left me in charge of European sales and for the next 10 years we prospered under Syd’s expansionist international policy and hands-off approach.
Curiously, as it turned out, I had just negotiated a changed job description with Syd in order to get more involved with business planning and, indeed, he had sent me around the U.S. offices to file a report on the future direction of Weekly and Daily, when he called me early one morning to say he’d sold the paper to Cahners.
“Stunned”, was not the word for it. It was a bolt from the blue. All I could say was ‘Wow!’
Syd’s big dilemma was that Cahners didn’t want him to be both Editor and Publisher. So he decided to offer me the Editorship for a short period while the Weekly made the transition from the family business to a unit of Cahners corporate culture.
The thinking was that since I understood the value of the foreign market I could hold it together while the paper underwent some dramatic changes – and a whole series of publishers.
I quit VARIETY for the last time in December 1995 – this time with a very posh do at the Savoy Hotel in London – in order to start three newsletters. One survives and, covering the DVD industry in Europe, has recently transmuted into a web site. The newsletter also spawned an annual, ad-supported industry directory.
Guess who’s doing the selling! Watt