The Press: The Pope of Fleet Street

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"I Told Him." Swaffer freely admitted that his verdicts were capricious: "I judge people by my liver." After damning a show which he had verbally praised, Swaffer apologized to the manager: "When I sit down to write my criticism, the devil takes possession of me." Actor-Author Noel Coward once refused him first-night tickets, said he couldn't act if Swaffer was in the theater. "You're a better actor than you are a writer," Swaffer told him. Snapped Coward: "So are you."

In 1931, Swaffer grew sick of the theater ("I knew all the tricks, I knew every plot"). Turned Socialist-minded by the Depression, he quit the Express to try his hand at politics in the Laborite Herald. But his new column, like the old, was mainly about Swaffer's likes & dislikes: the change was so slight that actors hardly realized he had "stopped" being a critic. The column's I-studded name-dropping led one magazine to run a contest on how Swaffer would start his column if Press Lords Beaverbrook and Rothermere were killed simultaneously in an accident. The winning lead:" 'Why is everybody so quiet tonight?' said the Aga Khan as we went into supper at the Savoy. I told him ..."

Swaffer became a militant crusader for everything from Socialism to spiritualism. He claimed credit for driving stripteasers off the London stage, attacked Hellzapoppin for its vulgarity, denounced other second rate" American importations, fought rodeos as cruel to animals.

As honorary president of the Spiritualists' National Union, he found séances more rewarding than Socialism, began holding his own "home circle," where he says he established contact with John Galsworthy, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., George V, and his first boss, Lord Northcliffe. (He gives me advice, but I tell him, Chief, I never obeyed you when you were alive, why should I obey you now?'") Once he invited G. B. Shaw to a séance. When Shaw replied: "I gave up table-rapping in my childhood," Swaffer wrote back: "I thought that now you are in your second childhood, you might want to give it another go."

In 1931 he took a fourth-floor walkup overlooking Trafalgar Square to "have a front seat on the revolution." But he felt cheated: "The revolution came but nobody noticed." He lives there now with his wife, Helen, who says she has to run the Hoover over him every morning" to clean off his cigarette ashes. Married for 49 years, the Swaffers are childless.

Says Mrs. Swaffer: "One Swaffer is quite enough."

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