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A Short Walk Down Fleet Street

Alan Watkins <em>Duckbacks, 311pp, £6.99</em>

ISBN 0715629107

The old stories, it is said, are the best ones. And most of the stories in this book are familiar to me: from Alan Watkins's own lips, from his newspaper columns and, indeed, from his previous books. Yet so engaging is his style, so acute his judgements, so idiosyncratic his views, that I am still entranced. "He had a face like a Stilton cheese," writes Watkins of a former NS literary journalist. Only Watkins could put it like that. Another journalist "gave the appearance of being some small denizen of wood, field or hedgerow". Me, actually. I was Watkins's editor for several years at the Independent on Sunday (where his political column still resides). We didn't, as this book records, get on well; our relations were soured by pedantry and expenses. Yet I have read him with pleasure for more than 40 years. In truth, this book is a very slight collection of ancient anecdotes, many of them about minor, long-forgotten journalists and politicians, and Brian Walden's judgement quoted on the cover - "the finest account of journalism I have ever read" - is quite preposterous. But Watkins lures you in with his wit and charm.