As Cassandra Was Saying…
Hardly anyone remembers his name now, but William Connor was once such a beloved figure and national treasure that he was knighted. He was a columnist for the Daily Mirror who wrote under a more familiar name: Cassandra. Known for concision and clarity, he wrote for the everyman. Famously his articles were cancelled during WWII, and after the conflict ended and his column was reinstated he began it with, ‘As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, it is a powerful hard thing to please all of the people all of the time…’
He took his name from the tragic character in Greek mythology who is given the gift of prophecy by Apollo but is cursed so that no one will ever believe her. He upset Churchill, George Orwell and many others, especially Liberace after outing him in the press and incredibly, losing the subsequent lawsuit. He was both liberal and conservative, plain speaking yet eloquent.
Here’s Cassandra on the closure of the Caledonian Road Market…
It was ‘twenty nine acres where once some of the finest huckstering in the world took place. The Cally had a pride of its owning that it could supply almost anything. A lens from an astronomical telescope, piston rings for a two-stroke engine, brown paper dipped in saltpetre for winter warmers, a roll of Bustle of Spring for a 1923 piano player, a stone of beef dripping, eight copies of Ruff’s Guide to the Turf, a bargain lot of empty creosote drums.’
And here he is chatting to Marilyn Monroe:
‘I asked her whether she knew any English people in Hollywood and she said yes, she was a friend and admirer of Edith Sitwell. I think this is one of the finest juxtapositions I’ve ever heard of.’
He posted despatches from all points of the globe, from Hawaii to Leningrad, Sark to the Holy Land. He watched in horror as the H-bomb fell on Christmas Island and was dismayed to find a drink called ‘Nigger Rum’ in 1960 in the bar of St Peter’s in Rome (yes, it has a bar, or at least had one in 1960). His best work is still published in a ‘Best Of…’ volume. In the mid-20th century America had a stellar list of these celebrity columnists. Cassandra was a curious mix; someone with whom the average family could identify even as he jetted around the world.
Oddly Connor wrote about having a fear of falling down steps. He died from a cracked skull after a fall at the age of 57, and was replaced on the Mirror staff by the equally wonderful Keith Waterhouse. I should probably have put him in the Book of Forgotten Authors.