Fighter pilot, Royal Navy 1945, Hydrographer Iraq 1947-52 India 1952-53, Canadian Hydrographic Arctic explorer 1953-1960, Writer-producer Canadian National Film Board 1961-72, Freelance journalist, audio-visual producer 1972-2009, National Press Club of Canada 1961 - 2006

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Prince Charles and The National Press Club of Canada

HRH Prince Charles visits the club

Sometime back in the relaxed 1960s I remember HRH Prince Charles, visiting the press club in Ottawa.

All we club executives were lined up waiting for the elevator door to open and Charles to step out. ‘The Major’, Mick Spooner, our manager was standing next to me. When he got to Mick, Charles said to him: ‘Oh, so you’re ‘Spooner of Africa’. Mother often mentions you’, and then unhurriedly he chatted away at some length.

Charles only spent about four seconds with me, mumbled something under his breath and moved on. Probably heard that I’d again sent my Defence Medal back to Buckingham Palace in protest of something. I should have been wearing my Fleet Air Arm tie, the one identical to the tie of the Royal Artillery but with pale blue lightning flashes instead of the RA’s vivid crimson. The same FAA tie as the one which I very often see on TV when worn by Prince Charles, as well as by Prince Andrew, and old Prince Philip himself. And I suppose, nowadays, also the younger princes, William and Harry. They all wear it these days and sport their naval wings on their left naval uniform sleeves, just as did nice old King George VI.

Later I asked Mick what young Prince Charles’ ‘Spooner of Africa’ remark was all about and he said something concerning how years earlier he had been the sar’nt-major in charge somewhere in Africa when the young Queen visited the regiment and he looked after her in some special fashion.

Mick is long gone to that big parade ground up in the sky. I believe his real name was John. It was said he earned his nickname when he became the army’s hangman over in Ireland during the troubles, circa 1917. Quite a guy old Mick. Pusser, a very military, commanding, presence, but a good drinking crony. Rather renowned as a boxer in his early army days. His wife was from the Channel Islands, and his son was a senior RCMP intelligence officer, I believe. Mick was a Kentish man and served in the Buffs — a regiment renowned for their courage in times of threat on the battlefield when responding to their famed battlefield call of, “Steady the Buffs!”.

Back in the good old days in the club. Mick and Hilary Brigstoke, then the London Times Canadian correspondent and an ex-army officer, hit it off well at the bar, as did several of we other ex-wartime service people.

In those years Mick had a little cubby-hole of an office tucked away in a corner of the dining room. At that time I was putting out Dateline Canada, the clubs annual magazine, so I had to yak with Mick quite a lot. Often when I wanted to see him I’d knock on the door, push in on it, and it would stick open just a couple of inches. Mick would call out: ‘Hold on a minute I’ll close the filing-cabinet draws’. Then the office door could be opened and I could get in. Mick’s office was indeed very small. He kept all the club’s business in ledgers written in the most beautiful compact handwriting I have ever seen. We had six hundred members plus then, in an extremely lively and well-appointed club. But, single-handed, with no computers, copy machines or secretarial assistants in fancy expanded offices, Mick had the club running as smooth as a military tattoo. Later, with more modern managers and several (unionized) staff added to no purpose, despite having far fewer members, and fettered by newly-hatched sissy social norms slithering in with the turn of the century, the National Press Club of Canada went predictably belly-up.

The NPC, sadly and totally, had gone kaputzi.


  1. Nice piece John, but you've got it wrong about the National Press Club. It's still very much alive and kicking. Last month it gave away $18,000 in scholarships to journalism students from across Canada. Each year it gives $500 to the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom. It hosts a variety of Newsmakers’ luncheons for discussions on issues of importance to society. It has had jazz nights featuring Peter Fleming and Glenn Robb. It has an annual gala where student scholarships are presented. And it is planning a golf tournament on Sept 22. Also in the planning stage is a tribute dinner to the Hill Times on its 20th anniversary. Its website is currently being redesigned and will be launched in September, but in the meantime you can visit

    The National Press Club has no staff, only volunteers, money in the bank and a very welcoming home at the Sheraton Ottawa Hotel on Albert St. Gord McIntosh is president and he oversees a 10 person Board of Directors.

  2. Ok. Tim, point taken. I'll amend it to say ...The NPC, sadly and totally, 'as we knew it...', had gone kaputzi.
    More on this coming.
    Cheers, JO