Monday, August 20

A great night out with Col Allan – what a pity Kevin can't remember much

Somebody should have warned Kevin Rudd about Col Allan.

Col, the boy from Dubbo who became editor-in-chief of Rupert Murdoch's Sydney Daily Telegraph and then went on to edit Rupert's New York Post, is both a hard-living and a brilliant journalist in a tradition which still lingers in the Sydney newspaper world.

So Kevin Rudd went to dinner with Col and ended up in a New York strip bar, too legless to remember anything later. Yeah, someone should have warned him.

As journalist Phillip Coorey recalled in The Sydney Morning Herald this morning, a night out with Col Allan always involved drinking your own body weight in alcohol.

Coorey also described Col as generous, going out of his way to show the younger journalist around the “upper and sometimes strange echelons of the city which were usually off-limits to those of us on the lower rungs”.

I also remember Col's generosity. He gave me a softer landing than I deserved when I stuffed up, failing to spot an error when I recast a wire story about News Corporation and credited Rupert with one more son than he actually had. I had some excuse, but I won't bore you with that.

Next day, there's an envelope on my desk – and in it, a fierce, blistering, uncompromising missive from Col, demanding a written explanation, immediately.

I was in trouble. Would I be fed to the ladies in Human Remains for their morning snack? Or, if the Murdochs felt merciful, spend the rest of my career sub-editing weather reports?

Instead of a written report – what could I say, really? – I walked into Col's office, sat in a chair and spread my arms. I'm in despair and I'll cop whatever you decide.

Col began reading a stern reprimand, but as he went on his tone softened and the warning became more like friendly advice. I guess he was able to report to Lachlan – if, indeed, one of Rupert's sons was taking an interest – that he'd handled the matter with severity.

Thanks Col. You may be a larrikin, but you're a gentleman larrikin.