Friday, 25 June 2010


There's at least one in everyone's life, I guess ... the chap who, whenever and wherever you arrive, has just left.

In the newspaper office, on the story, in the pub, it always seemed to be Revel Barker I'd missed by a whisker.

Revel Barker -- I ask ya -- what a name! It took a while, but eventually, it dawned on me that Revel Barker didn't exist at all. He was as real as a house byline in the Daily Mirror. He was the journalistic equivalent of Joe Soap. And, for decades, I'd been the butt of a practical joke that chums all over the world were in on.

"Tell Marr he's just missed Revel Barker."

"C'mon, he won't fall for that one again."

"Yeah he will. Watch."

"Revel Barker just left Manchester for London, Neil. Pity you missed him."

"Well, as't go to t'bottom of ower stairs."

"Revel Barker just left London for Manchester, Neil. Pity you missed him."

"Dash it all!"

"Revel Barker was in the chair at the White Hart -- champagne all round. He's just gone home, though."


"Och, Revull Behrkerrr wuz jist in the newsroom. You were awa in the Copy Cat playin' dominoes on yer break wi' yer pals frae the model lodgin' hoose. He's jist caught the train back tae England. Maybe even London."

"Puch ma horne!"

Whenever I walked into a Barkerless bar, those already tippling didn't dash off to the gents en masse merely to stick me with the next round, as honourable journalists do ... they were in there, doubled over with laughter, hugging urinals for support, tears blinding them, that I'd fallen for the Revel Barker jape again.

I've still never met Revel Barker, of course. How could I when there is so obviously no such person? I've now seen several pictures allegedly of him, but they all appear to show different men -- sometimes pleasantly plump and jolly, sometimes lean, bearded and intense, sometimes office-pale, often with a suspiciously even tan. In some he is smiling, in others, he is standing  commandingly at the wheel of a yacht that was once owned by Adolph Hitler, or glimpsed only as a smudge on an old snap of some cricket team of Yorkshire journalists fresh from the Wayzgoose beer tent.

I left Mirror Group Newspapers in the early eighties, just before the notorious Robert Maxwell took the reins.

"Guess who's Captain Bob's Number One, Neil."

"Dinnae tell me ..."

"Aye, Revel Barker."

Then Maxwell took his famous fatal swim. What was to be found lying on his desk when news of his death broke?

"You'd hardly credit it, Marr ... it was Revel Barker's signed redundancy deal. The man's worth millions."

I escaped to France and for several years reveled in being unBarkered. But it wasn't to last.

When I turned from journalism to a more honest form of fiction and became a revered editor and courageous independent publisher, the Revel Barker prank started anew. This time, ass about tip.

"Guess who's also left the UK for the Mediterranean, Neil."

"Not Revel ..."

"Yup, Barker. He's on Gozo. I think he might own it, but he says it's only rented."

The old gag was taking a new twist. Revel Barker was now following me.

A few years after I launched the first website in 2000, I got a call from an old newspaper pal in Glasgow called Terry Houston. His Sweet Molly Maguire was the first novel we published.

"I see anithurr o' the auld gang has opened yin o' thae webshite thingies," he told me.

I knew what was coming.

"Revel Barker. Great, eh!"

"Aye. Great, Tezz."

Right enough, there it was -- billed as The Last Pub in the Street. Fleet Street that is. The site has become my regular Friday favourite over the years, crammed with hilarious, beautifully spun yarns of the days when Fleet Street was much more than a mere address in London EC4. Webmaster: Revel Barker. It's That Man Again!

BeWrite Books is plugging along nicely in the mid Noughties. Then, there's headline news at GentlemanRanters that an old colleague from newspaper days has decided to hop onto the independent publishing band wagon. I don't really need to tell you who, do I?

The noble Guardian newspaper announced the invention of 'hacklit' by ... yawn, yawn ... surely the Guardian should know better than to fall for the Revel Barker line. But then, even the mighty Times said: "The Gentlemen Ranters site is a brilliant compendium of reminiscences of the great days of Fleet Street," and impishly gave all the credit to you-know-who.

I sometimes get friendly emails from a man claiming to be Revel Barker on Gozo. He's even opened a PayPal account in that name so that I can buy books published by ... yup, Revel Barker Publishing.

Now, I'm big enough and ugly enough these days to know there is no such person as Revel Barker. All the nonsense you've just read is merely to recommend to you the website I just mentioned. (I contribute occasional stories and am edited by ... OK, you know.) And to even more highly recommend to you the catalogue of superb books (linked from the site) by and about journalists. I've read many and every one has been a cracker.

One I found particularly compelling recently was about Liberace's successful litigation against the Daily Mirror's Cassandra column for daring to suggest that the late, flamboyant, showman pianist  -- famous for sequins, candelabra and a little honky-tonk after hours -- might not have been quite the lady killer his dear old mum believed him to be. Crying All the Way to the Bank, it's called. No prizes for guessing that the author name on the cover is that of Revel Barker.

I don't feel too bad about having been the hapless victim of the Revel Barker joke these forty-some years. I read the books from the little publishing house of that name, and I'm enjoying the last laugh.

Take a look: and treat yourself to a virtual pint and a  real chuckle in the last pub in The Street ... courtesy of Revel Barker, natch.

Hoots toots the noo. Neil (Fax copy of current passport and birth certificate available on request)

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