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5 November

Have you heard the one about Cap'n Bob, bob, bob?

November 5, 2009
2 min read

Tony Blair’s former press secretary, Alistair Campbell, heard those words from the Guardian’s Michael White on 5 November 1991 – and promptly punched him in the face.

Campbell was the not-so-humble political editor on the Daily Mirror at the time and it had just been reported that his paper’s proprietor, Cap’n Bob Maxwell, had drowned after mysteriously plunging off the back of his yacht. Maxwell was a crook, whose various crimes were subsequently proven to include looting the Mirror pension fund. Michael White reacted to the news of his death with what he described as ‘unbridled glee’, walking from newspaper office to newspaper office in the Palace of Westminster telling everyone he came across that ‘It shows there is a god!’

Campbell’s loyalty to his employer was as great then as it was to be towards Tony Blair later. The next day, in a paper stuffed with pages of Maxwell tributes, he wrote:

‘He was a big man with a big heart, helping sick employees in need and backing charities.’

Ten years later, Michael White revisited out the incident at length in the Guardian. ‘It is a little-reported fact that I hit him back …’ he wrote. ‘After half a dozen blows we were pulled apart by assorted peacemakers, greater in number as the years have passed, a bit like the IRA men who later claimed to have been in the Dublin post office during the Easter Rising.’

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