Before he set sail to India and then onward to England, where he rose to become one of the greatest investigative reporters of the 20th century at The Sunday Times, the late, great Phillip Knightley worked at a weekend tabloid newspaper in his home-country, Australia.
This, of course, was when there was still something called fun left in journalism, when the J-school and B-school pricks hadn’t taken the oxygen out of it.
# When even a vacuum cleaner salesman (like Phillip) could walk in and get a job.
# When you could guess who was at work by listening to the rhythmic movement of the typewriter carriage.
# When reporters kept cigarettes in the top drawer, rum and ‘Raja’s Special’ in the second, and condoms (and divorce papers) in the third.
In those joyous times, when you also didn’t have to place your thumb on some horrific Aadhaar-linked biometric machine to clock in your attendance, Phillip and friends whiled away the better part of the week in various drinking and gambling dens and then scampered around on “Press Day” to produce the paper.
One Friday, in 1954, Phillip’s boss called in sick.
The young man had to bring out the paper all by himself and—crisis!—there was no cover story.
The officiating chief reporter waited for something good to turn up. And when it didn’t, he did what all good reporters do: he pulled out a sheaf of paper, inserted the carbon, got his hands dirty, and clanked away what today’s language-challenged ROTFLMAO types might term as a “great read”.
“HOOK SEX PERVERT STRIKES AGAIN,” screamed the headline in the newspaper aptly called the Truth.
By PHILLIP K. KNIGHTLEY
It was the gripping story of an unnamed man called ‘The Hook’ who was stalking women on Sydney’s local trains.
‘The Hook’, the story said, had a piece of coat wire which stretched all the way from the palm of his wrist to the bottom of his coat. Using this the voyeur would lift up the skirts of women standing near him.
The operative paragraph read:
“The wire ran over his right shoulder and down his coat sleeve where it stopped in a hook just short of the cuff. The Hook, while pretending to read a newspaper, would sidle alongside an attractive and unsuspecting girl as they stood in a crowded train, drop his shoulder to extend the hook which he would then slip under the girl’s skirt and surreptitiously raise it to look at her stocking tops.”
It was a classic two-source story that would please today’s fact-checkers.
An *anonymous* officer was quoted as saying that suburban police had been inundated with complaints of the ‘The Hook’.
And an *anonymous* victim spoke of her resolution to avoid the trains until the pervert was caught.
A staff artist helpfully drew his impression of ‘The Hook’ at work.
When Phillip turned up at the office on Monday to show his face, he expected the worst: to be caught out by his bosses or by the cops, for his fiction.
Sure enough, the call came.
“Sergeant Williamson here. Did you write that stuff about the Hook?”
“Right. Well, I just want to thank you and let you know that we got the bastard this morning.”
“Yeah. Arrested him at Punchbowl station. Caught him in the act. You might want to write about it.”
Conclusion: either the police were making up the arrest as he had. Or, some copycat had been inspired by the Truth and had been caught out.
64 years later, it might please Phillip Knightley in the great news room upstairs to know that sex-starved Malayalees are using a digital hook.