19 MAY 1961, Page 34


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Well, it's a new thought, certainly. But what I remember respecting was the way the thing was worked so that when future generations look back through the files they will never know that their grandfathers, nodded, let alone winked, at blind justice. We were issued with long, com- plicated 'liquor licinces,' which entitled us to ene week's ration of drink. This was divided into twenty-sevenths: one Scotch counted three twenty-sevenths, one bottle of beer five twenty- sevenths. To get a drink you filled in an appli- cation form, handed it down a chain of two excise officers, an accountant and a barman, and had the number of twenty-sevenths drunk marked on your licence.

But what happens, we asked, when our twenty- ' seven twenty-sevenths are gone? Ah, nobody knew; perhaps we had better make sure it didn't happen. It happened to the Daily Mail man on the first evening (a mark of his hospitality rather than his thirst) and he simply threw away his used licence and went to bed. The rest of us hoarded carefully, so that mine lasted until lunch- time the next day. I had just two twenty-sevenths left on my licence and a round of two beers and a Scotch to buy. 1 handed in the licence, ready with a surprised story that I wasn't trying to cheat, just that I couldn't read the excise officer's scrawl. . . . It came back to me, with two beers and a Scotch, marked that of my week's ration I had drunk one and eleven twenty-sevenths. Lady, sometimes we got so full of respect that any more and we'd have burst.

One result of the Blake case has been the revelation—for people outside Fleet Street—that we have a new type of secret : the 'D Notice,' which is sent out to newspaper editors by a security committee. The D Notice doesn't say, 'Sorry, no comment,' or 'Don't know anything about this' (which I imagine is what most people thought those who were entrusted with national secrets were given to saying), the D Notice says: 'These are the facts—but don't tell anybody.' Now this may be very democratic and all that, but it still seems a flabby type of security. It makes our Defence Ministries sound like a bunch of old women who can't help telling somebody—with the risk that that somebody will tell just one somebody else (after all, even when a D Notice is sent private and personal to an editor, that editor has to tell his news editor why a subject can't be touched on, and the news editor has to tell the reporter who was touching on it why not, and possibly so on). In the Blake case itself the simple fact that there was a D Notice out confirmed the rumour that Blake had been a double agent—and on Past occasions I have been told on the phone by man who knew neither my name nor my voice, 'Sorry, old boy, but there's a D Notice out about that.' There are a number of dangers in the old• boy approach and not the least is that there are a hell of a lot of old boys.

On the other hand, the D Notice attitude c.tn make for some remarkable security in matters which no journalist could be reckoned to have a duty to conceal. More and more will a manu• facturer with a new article coming on the market or an association with an interesting topic coming up for discussion send out their c W0 form of D Notice, giving the full facts but lay bargoing their use until a release date (the day the article is first on sale or the date of the conference). Partly this is the laudable aim of giving a journalist time to swot up his back- ground facts; more, however, it is an attempt to secure the maximum publicity by preventing any newspaper getting a 'scoop' which will kill the story for other papers. It has the intent, and usually the effect, of subjecting the journalist to moral blackmail : depriving him of the chance to find out something for himself—which he quite often could—by telling it him in confidence.

If a journalist lets it, this can become absurd. I once asked a motoring correspondent about an innovation by Ford's that I had heard rumoured. He said it was true—'1 first heard of it two years ago, but I don't think Ford's would like me to mention it yet.' It can get perhaps even more absurd if you try to walk around it rather that sit down under it. I have caught myself ringing up an expert on a certain topic and asking, in effect, 'Anything new coming up in your line?'—hoping that he would tell me about something of which I already had the full, but embargoed, details. This would ease my conscience, but is in fact simple moral cowardice on my part. If a manufacturer or association realises that it is easier to get me to keep their secrets than keep them for them- selves, then good luck if they can get away with it-


A friend went to see the Wolf Mankowitz musical play about Dr. Crippen, Belle, a few days ago. At the end Mr. Mankowitz himself came on stage, as he had done on other evenings, to point out to the audience that since they had enjoyed the play (my friend confirmed that they seemed to have done) certain critics who had flayed it must therefore be wrong. 'I was looking around while he was speaking,' my friend reported, 'and I'm pretty sure that most of the audience hadn't heard before of the critics he was talking about; they weren't the sort to read critics. I got the impression that they thought they were being told that although they'd en- joyed the play they were wrong, because several distinguished people had said it was a bad one. Perhaps,' he added charitably, `Mankowitz couldn't see them properly across the footlights.' And perhaps preaching about doubt to the con- verted is another good thing to stay shut up on


Cyril Ray will resume 'Postcript' next week.