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Dining with Baron Beaverbrook

One of my favourite blogs is the photographer Debbie Smyth’s Travel With Intent. She recently posted a great photograph of the Daily Express building on Fleet Street, which brought to mind an anecdote that my Dad told me.

It would have been in the early 1970s and his uncle worked at the Express. My Dad worked for a printing company in nearby Clerkenwell and was in the habit of dropping in at the Express every now and again to see his uncle just around Lunchtime, as the canteen in the building was of a higher standard than where he worked. He did admit later in the telling of the tale that on several occasions he dropped by for Lunch even when his uncle wasn’t in the building.

Sir Max Aitkin

He told me of one visit on which I accompanied him. I do remember going into the Art Deco foyer, but not any details other than that. Apparently as we entered the lift another man got in with us and wished us a genial “Good afternoon”. Apparently this was none other than Sir Max Aitkin, Baron Beaverbrook, Chairman of Beaverbrook newspapers. My Dad was obviously a little uncomfortable seeing he was an interloper in the Barons building and managed to mumble a reciprocal salutation. “One of the longest lift journeys ever” he described it as, with much shuffling of feet and trying not to make eye contact.

It appears that I was to be given a tour of the printing floor by my great uncle to see the enormous printing presses, but first there was time for some lunch so we headed off towards the canteen. As we neared the entrance he was stopped by a colleague with some sort of question which would take time to answer, so he told us to go on ahead and he’d catch us up. Just before we got to the doors they swung open and Sir Max came out, pausing to hold the door open for us to enter. He nodded to me and said “Hello again” and to my Dad said. “I see we’re catching them early” gesturing at me. My Dad managed a laugh and with a hurried “yes sir” rapidly propelled me into the canteen. Needless to say it was some time before my Dad went in search of any more free lunches.

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