Col Allan and me – When the boy from Dubbo first hit the Big Apple

Long before he ruled NY, Col Allan stood atop the city on a visit with Mumbrella's Simon Canning and his mum Heather News Corp’s longest serving – and possibly most controversial – editor, Col Allan has announced his retirement from the New York Post.

The former editor of Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph will step down after more than four decades with the organisation.

Mumbrella’s Simon Canning witnessed Allan’s introduction to the Big Apple firsthand…
It seems we’re set to see the end of one of the most colourful newspaper editors ever to set foot in a newsroom.

I was there when Col Allan first arrived in New York in the late 1970s, a Dubbo boy with a fondness for beer and women. And, thanks to my age, I may be one of the few who remembers much of it.

Long before the young newshound had developed a reputation for urinating in his office sink, or escorting future prime minsters to strip joints, Col was the quintessential innocent abroad.

Indeed, being branded the greatest tabloid editor who ever walked the earth, as some have done in recent days, was probably the last thing on his mind at the time.

New York in the 1970s and early 80s was a haven for an Australian media mafia working abroad under the sponsorship of Rupert Murdoch.

Murdoch’s assault on American supermarkets with launch of The Star, then his audacious move on New York with the snaring of the Post, managed to brand Murdoch in the minds of Americans.

And it was done with an army of hard drinking, hard living Aussie expats.

Col arrived from Sydney to fill out News International’s bureau at 730 Third Avenue (also home of The Star where I began my career), tasked with delivering the story of America back to Aussie readers who knew much less about the nation back then.

From a journo’s perspective, Col clearly proved himself more than adept – but New York for Aussie hacks was about more than just filing the stories.

One of the roles my father John Canning, then managing editor of The Star and later managing editor of the New York Post, took on was was tour guide for fresh-faced Aussies arriving for the first time.

Col was one of them as we bedded him in with the standard Canning family tour of New York.

Sites such as the Empire State Building – the picture at the top of this article is myself, my mum Heather and Col at the top of that building –  and the Circle Line were included. However, much of the introduction to New York involved indoor drinking venues.

One of the most popular was Eamonn Doran’s, a midtown bar on 53rd and Second Avenue that was a popular retreat for Aussies such as Col and my dad on weekends.

Australian legends such as the famed Steve Dunleavy, then Fairfax journo Frank Crook, and the excellent Aussie News Ltd correspondent Sally Macmillan were regularly among the tight-knit crew.

Run by a loquacious Irishman, Eamonn, who opened the bar to avoid being deported as an illegal alien, Col and others spent long hours draining pints of Guinness and Bass.

Whether in Sydney or New York, there was a strong connection among journos in the 70s. Respected sub editor David Campbell being farewelled in Sydney by John canning and a young John Hartigan

Whether in Sydney or New York, there was a strong comraderie among journos in the 70s. Respected sub editor David Campbell being farewelled in Sydney by John Canning and a young John Hartigan

Weekends rarely ended on a sober note.

And it was this embracing of the expat journo experience that occasionally led young Col astray.

Late one evening I was dispatched downstairs by my dad with a raincoat and fistful of dollars to extract Col from a cab after some items of his clothing had somehow gone astray.

One story often told by my old man of Col’s early days in the Big Apple, involved a romantic encounter which began in a bar and ended on a surprising note when the lady revealed herself to be something other than was advertised.

Col was a regular at our dinner table, most notably the Canning Boxing Day celebrations on Roosevelt Island – a holiday not recognised by the yanks.

col allan telegraph front pageThese regularly descended into a mass of bodies strewn across the apartment singing – at the Old Man’s behest – World War One songs.

As raucous as it was it appeared to a teenager that nothing but fun was being had. And, frankly, from my perspective, Col was a good bloke more than tolerating my teenage interjections.

On his return home in 1983 he rose quickly up the ranks to become editor-in-chief of the Daily Telegraph.

More recently, he’ll also be remembered for his local impact as a consultant to the Daily Tele during the 2013 election, where his hand could be seen behind several strident and inflammatory front pages.

By some measure Allan’s return to New York in 2001 to assume the leadership of Murdoch’s American beachhead the Post simply saw him take up where he had left off.

Allan's retirement did not go unmarked by his rivals

Allan’s retirement did not go unmarked by his rivals

Is Col the greatest tabloid editor ever?

Well, he certainly managed to get up the nose of his rivals (as demonstrated by the NY Daily News’ headline on news of his retirement) and hold sway over the great and the good of what is arguably the real global capital.

Of course The Sun’s colourful former boss Kelvin Mackenzie might beg to disagree.

But regardless, it was a hoot to witness first hand Col’s introduction to the city he would one day rise to rule. We won’t see his like again.

  • Simon Canning is Mumbrella’s marketing and advertising editor

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