About James Leavey

About James Leavey

James Leavey is a freelancejournalist, editor, tobacco historian, independent marketing & PR consultant,comedy scriptwriter, and occasional radio broadcaster who lives and works innorth London, England, with his wife, Gwenda, and their smoker-friendly cat,Toffee. 

 

The son of a Dublin-born mother, anda German U-Boat officer - who was captured by the British in World War II,Leavey was born in Beckenham, Kent, England, in December 1947, instead ofBerlin, Germany, where his father disappeared to and hasn’t been heard ofsince. 

 

He then had the misfortune (or luck,depending on your point of view) to grow up in Penge, a nondescript suburb ofSouth London.  Penge was once described by Bill Cassandra, the Daily Mirror’slate, lamented columnist, as “ideal for a joke factory”.

 

After a less than satisfyingschooling at St Anthony’s in Padua Road, Penge, most of which he avoided bygoing on the run to the nearest cinema or football field, Leavey’s first articlewas published in 1963 by Southern Africa, a weekly periodical based inFleet Street, former home to Britain’s national press, where he started workingas an office boy at the age of 15, rapidly becoming the youngest cub reporterworking in London’s ‘Street of Ink’.

 

He also subbed for the samepublisher, African World, Rhodesia & Nyasaland Today, and theRoyal Commonwealth Society’s, African Affairs magazine.

 

Due mostly to the fact that he had noformal qualifications, Leavey then got side-tracked from mainstream journalismfor 27 years, during which time he had over 50 jobs.

 

These included: theatre barman, usherand cloakroom attendant, lift-boy, coconut-ice and crystallised fondant maker ina sweet factory, office messenger, postal clerk, clothes sorter in a steamlaundry, hospital porter, and organising subscriptions to international arts andphotographic magazines on behalf of Britain’s art schools, universities andmuseums for London Art Bookshop/Alec Tiranti Ltd.

 

He was also a toy salesman, publicityassistant for Warner-Pathe Film Distributors in Wardour Street - home of theBritish film industry, copywriter for an advertising agency, junior clerk at theLondon College of Music - whose principal, at the time, was Andrew LloydWebber’s father, furniture delivery man for the Peter Jones store in King’sRoad, Chelsea, stockroom assistant, assistant company secretary, pub cleaner,and telex operator.

 

In the 1960s, Leavey was a productionassistant for WPN & Advertisers’ Review - since renamed, Campaign, International Models’ Yearbook, The Glasgow Herald (in George Outram &Co’s Fleet Street office), Outdoor Advertising, Point of Purchase Marketing,Stock Exchange Gazette, The Statist - a now defunct rival to TheEconomist, Scottish Field, TV Times, The Climber, The Skier, the PaisleyDaily Express, and The Observer.

 

He was also a book-keeper fora Mayfair wig company, sorted out the dead letters department of RoyalInsurance, made sandwiches for Maggie Smith in a South Kensington delicatessen,organised tours of the UK via chauffeur-driven Daimlers, washed glasses (andbroke most of them) for a Piccadilly Circus pub, spent two days as adouble-glazing demonstrator for Selfridges, and, not least, about nine monthsrefuelling and selling fine cigarette lighters (and the occasional emeraldnecklace) for Asprey, the Royal jewellers in New Bond Street, Mayfair.

 

1967-1970, Leavey trained as anactor, part-time, first at the City Literary Institute just off Drury Lane, andthen (after failing auditions for RADA and LAMDA) at Mountview Theatre School inNorth London. 

 

He was one of the 30 student actorswho toured the USA, coast-to-coast, for six weeks in 1970 with a repertory (someof it televised) which included Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Romeo andJuliet, Peter Weiss’s Marat/Sade, and Bertolt Brecht’s MotherCourage. During this tour, Leavey was invited to address 2,000 University ofCalifornia students on the art of comedy acting – not that he knows anythingabout the subject…

 

His last proper stage performance wasin Samuel Beckett’s one-man play, Krapp’s Last Tape - a role he discussedrecently with fellow Krapp-performers, Albert Finney and John Hurt. 

 

Leavey has since appeared, briefly,in the British low budget, hit Jewish comedy movie, Leon the Pig Farmer –not bad for a seriously lapsed Roman Catholic who only remembers Latin masses.

 

In 1999, he was a guest actor in thefirst, and probably the last, London performance of Molly by Mulligan – anew musical by his friend, the British cartoonist, Frank Dickens, creator of Bristow.

 

Over the last 33 years, Leavey hasworked as an occasional stagehand for the Royal Shakespeare Company - on, amongother noted plays, Peter Brook’s celebrated version of A Midsummer Nights’Dream – widely acknowledged as one of the finest Shakespearean productionsof the 20th century, Royal National Theatre, English National Operaand several West End plays (including Relatively Speaking, AlanAyckbourn’s first comedy play).

 

He also worked backstage on severalWest End musicals, including the original London productions of The Sound ofMusic, Fiddler on the Roof, Two Cities and Cabaret (for which he wasemployed to light Judi Dench's cigarettes, on matinees).

 

In 1969, Leavey was the AcademyCinema’s part-time doorman for the first Buster Keaton Festival inBritain.  The Academy, whose three cinemas in Oxford Street were all non-smokingby the time it closed in 1986, established an enviable worldwide reputation forpioneering and establishing the work of new film directors, including IngmarBergman, Akira Kurosawa, Francois Truffaut, Andrzej Wajda, Satyajit Ray andJean-Luc Godard.

 

From 1974-1975, Leavey was trained asan English teacher, part-time at Sidney Webb College, where he was alsovice-president of the Polytechnic of Central London  - now University ofWestminster - evening students’ union.  It was at that time Leavey wasencouraged by his English tutor, Mel Gooding, to write short stories, comedysketches, and poems – some of which were published in Slow Dancer magazine.

 

Meanwhile, during the day from1974-1975, Leavey worked as a clerical officer for the Post Office - which waseventually split into two businesses in 1984, when its major telecommunicationsdivision, now known as BT, was privatised.

 

In 1995, Leavey became the PostOffice’s First Aid Administration Officer for central London, responsible fortraining staff  (including those employed in the Post Office Tower – now the BTTower – which at that time was London’s tallest building, deep level tunnels,telephone exchanges, engineering works, garages and offices) to deal with, amongthings, casualties of the IRA’s mainland bombing campaign.

 

In January 1980, Leavey got back intojournalism, first as deputy editor of Post Office’s in-house computing magazine,Database, and eventually by suggesting and writing articles, art, theatreand especially film reviews for many other in-house publications, includingTelecom Today, Post Office Courier, Tone, The Hooter, News and Views and theaward-winning Telecom World. 

 

This all eventually culminated inLeavey’s creation and successful launch, as managing editor, of BT’s first majorcustomer magazine, Business Communications.  

 

In February 1984, Leavey became oneof the pioneers of the UK’s embryonic computer games industry when he startedtesting early computer games for a downloading division of BT called Gamestar.

 

He was then promptly invited to jointhe small team that set up BT’s highly successful computer games publishingcompany – Firebird Software – which became a major force in the earlydays of home computing.   Leavey also wrote the copy for Europe’s firstsatellite advertisement (transmitted by BT in Europe – it told the worldFirebird was coming and encouraged programmers to send him new games).

 

Firebirdinsisted on producing original, innovative computer games written in machinecode rather than the usual BASIC, displaying screenshots on the front of itspacks so that players could see what they were getting for their money, cut theretail price of games by 50 per cent, and, not least, injected a healthy dose ofserious, professional marketing into the early days of what was to become one ofthe most successful business sectors in the world.

 

Firebird’s finequality, good value for money games, whose titles included Booty, Elite, andDon’t Buy This, immediately topped the UK charts in every computer mode  (i.e.BBC Micro, Sinclair Spectrum, Amstrad, Commodore’s Vic 20, 64 and 128, etc), andthen went on to sell throughout Europe, Australasia and America.

 

As a result, Leavey got poached tobecome the first public relations manager for BT’s National Networks division. Among other things, he helped launch the toll-free (0800) and Premium Call (0898etc) numbers, originated one of the most successful direct mail-shots ever (22per cent personal response from the UK’s top 1000 companies) – after being thefirst person to fire the sales promotion division of Saatchi & Saatchi, won twovideo awards - for The BT Tower (of which he had become PR manager) andthe National Digital Network, and ran the first ever sales promotion onthe Venice-Simplon Orient-Express.

 

He was then invited to join a newlyformed division handling all of BT’s advertising and PR, and was the firstperson to co-ordinate two major British PR agencies (Shandwick and the QuentinBell Organisation) on one major account: BT’s £2 billion per annum networkmodernisation programme.

 

A year or so later, he was invited tobecome British Telecom International’s first customer events manager and,eventually deputy international sponsorship manager.  During this period hewrote BTI’s first international events strategy, and administered BT’sinvolvement in the 1989-1990 Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race.

 

Leavey then left BT in 1990 to becomea freelance writer and an independent marketing and PR consultant – his clientsinclude Crown Agents, BT Marine, The Quentin Bell PR Company, The BarryMartin Group, Shandwick PR, BT’s Telecom Technology Showcase, Britain’sNational Museum of Cartoon Art, The Tea Council, Thomas Cook, System 3 ArcadeSoftware, Andromeda Publishing, Peterson, Community Systems (part of NorthLondon Training and Entertprise Council) – for whom he ran several courses tore-motivate long-term unemployed professionals, and Harrods Ltd (on behalf ofJJ Fox (St James’s) Ltd).

 

Meanwhile, Leavey’s articles (he hascovered virtually everything from news, sport, business, travel, and lifestyleto art, film, theatre and restaurant reviews) have since been published by agrowing list of publications including Daily Express, Sunday Express, DailyMirror, Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Independent, The European, Punch (hewrote the ‘Sharing an ashtray’ column for 15 months until the magazine folded inJune 2002), Radio Times, Time Out, Drive On, European Businessman, Wine &Spirits International, Classic Cigar, Heathrow International Traveller, HiltonGuest, Literary Review, London’s Evening Standard, Hyatt International,ES magazine, Harrods Magazine, Claridges Book of the Century, Thomas Cook’sTravel Brief and Communique, the DTI’s Briefing on Britain (for the USA) and Taitoshi News (for Japan), Off Licence News, Boz,BBC Holidays, Midweek, and the Belfast Telegraph.

 

Currently, he is a regularcontributor to WorldTobacco (as cigarscolumnist), Classic Travel,Boom (sent to 50,000 UKmillionaires) and theHurlingham Polo Association Book of the Season.  He is also an occasional contributorto Whisky, Wine, SquareMeal,Daily Express, Daily Mirror, Belfast Telegraph, and theLondon Evening Standard.

 

Leavey has broadcast on many radioand TV programmes around the world, including Sky One, Middle East BusinessTelevision, Financial Times TV, BBC 24 Hours, American National Radio, America’s Lighten Up! (presented by Mr Cigar – JL was a regular contributor,during 1999 and 2000 -  to this hour-long programme broadcast livecoast-to-coast across America every Saturday to 26 million homes via the CableRadio Network), CNN, Dominican Republic National TV, Cuban National Radio, BBCRadio 5, BBC Radio Scotland, South African National Radio, BBC World Service,BBC Radio London, GLR, Liberty Radio, ITN News, Isle of Wight Radio, CarltonTV’s London Tonight, and a programme in LWT’s forthcoming Sin City series (due to be broadcast in November 2002).

 

He has also contributed to BBC Radio4’s Breakaway, Going Places and Farming Today, (and been featuredtwice on BBC Radio 4’s Pick of the Week), Channel Four’s Collector’sLot, BBC2’s Arena (arts programme, on cigars), BBC Radio 2Fag Ends (an hour-long documentary on the history of smoking), Channel 4’s Banzai, and BBC1’s The Jack Dee Happy Hour, among others. 

 

Back in 1991, Leavey was thereluctant press officer of the world’s last Soviet Trade & IndustryExhibition (it opened in London on the day the USSR announced it would ceaseto exist and the immense coverage he organised helped raise enough funds to sendthe exhibitors, who had arrived in Britain with little real money, to pay fortheir Aeroflot plane’s fuel and return home). He also researched and wrote theDepartment of Trade and Industry’s Invest in Britain Bureau’s annualreports for 1993-4 and 1994-5 (distributed via British Embassies and traderepresentatives round the world – attracting millions of pounds of inwardinvestment into the UK), and contributed to the successful launch of Peterson’s smokers’ magazine, in Dublin.

 

In 1995, he was launch editor of Taylors’ Corporate Northern Ireland – the first major independent businessguide to the province – successfully launched at the Irish Investment Conferencein Washington DC that summer, and Belfast.  As a result (one of many), Leaveywas invited to be presiding judge of the Institute of Public Relations/BTNorthern Ireland Press and Broadcast Awards, in Belfast, in March 2000, March2001, March 2002 – to date! Fellow judges include John Simpson, Eddie Mair,Bruno Brookes and many other noted British journalists.

 

In recent years, Leavey has becomebetter known as one of Britain’s most politically incorrect writers – as editorof The FOREST Guide to Smoking in London (which included contributions bythe late Auberon Waugh and Jeffrey Bernard) and The FOREST Smokers'Guide to Scotland – the latter successfully launched at the 1998 EdinburghFestival. 

 

The world’s first travel guides forsmokers, they have ignited serious debate by the world’s media, including Time magazine, International Herald Tribune, USA Today, GQ, Playboy, TheGuardian, Marie Claire, Independent on Sunday, The Scotsman, Die Welt, Pravda and The Sunday Times, among many others. 

 

He also wrote The HarrodsPocket Guide to Fine Cigars, now available from the cigar department of theworld’s most famous store, in Knightsbridge, contributed to the current (2002)edition of The Pipesmoker’s Handbook (published by the UK’s Pipesmokers’Council) and is featured (twice) in James Walton’s The Faber Book of Smoking,as well as contributing to the The Complete Cigar Book by Anwer Bati.

 

One of the last people to work withthe late Dennis Main Wilson – the renowned, iconoclastic BBC producer of suchcomedy classics as The Goon Show, Marty (Feldman), Hancock’s Half Hour and Till Death Us Do Part (the American version is better known as Allin the Family), Leavey is currently working on a new sitcom with hisco-writer, Beverley Legge.

 

Finally, James Leavey weaned himselfoff his four packs of cigarettes a day habit of his early 20s with theoccasional cigar.  Today he especially enjoys Havanas, which he tends tochain-smoke when he’s got them, and the occasional pipeful of tobacco,preferably with his favourite malt whisky.

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