“Nothing sets a person up more”, writes Claud Cockburn in his immensely readable autobiography, “than having something turn out just the way it’s supposed to be.” He recounts that the first time he travelled on the Orient Express, he was accosted by a woman who was later arrested as a spy; when he interviewed Al Capone, there was a sub-machine gun poking through the transom of the door behind him; the first government minister he met told a horrible lie almost immediately …
Some things don’t change. Lying ministers, for example. And added to Cockburn’s list of things turning out just as they should is his first view of the The Times office in London:
In the Foreign Editorial Room a sub-editor was translating a passage of Plato’s Phaedo into Chinese, for a bet. Another sub-editor had declared it could not be done without losing a certain nuance of the original. He was dictating the Greek passage aloud from memory.
This was The Times where earlier Scott Moncrieff worked for a period. Cockburn recalls being told that
the business of The Times was often held up for as much as a half-hour at a time while everyone present joined expertly in a discussion of the precise English word or phrase which would best convey the meaning and flavour of a passage in the Recherche du Temps Perdu.
And of course I’m sure this is still just how it is in Rupert Murdoch’s newsroom.