Sergeant," the colonel informed me with exasperation one May morning in 1952, "Third Air Force is not happy about those stories in the national newspapers. I mean the stories about my airmen picking up girls in the streets of Kingston and Teddington and Hampton Wick." Then, in a mutter more to himself than to me, "You'd think that with all that's going on in the world, these Limey newspapers would have something better to write about."
The harassed commander of the U.S.A.F. base in Bushey Park was expressing an annoyance that all of us U.S. airmen in England were feeling at the time, YANKS, GO HOME! was daubed on walls up and down the country. And many other things suggested to us that our presence as paying guests of the Crown was no longer appreciated. We in public information spent most of our working hours trying without much success to get our Air Force a better shake in the British newspapers.
"Our problem, sir," I tried to explain, "stems from the fact that the British weekly newspapers pay reporters badly."
"Eh?" said Lieut. Colonel Samuel Marsh, frowning.
"You see, sir," I went on, "local reporters resell their stories to Fleet Street, and any nasty story about American troops is good for linage, especially where there's a sex angle. That wartime joke about our being 'overpaid, oversexed and over here' may be wearing pretty thin, but...."
"How," the colonel broke in, "do you keep papers from printing what you don't want them to?"
"Well, sir," I went on, "newsprint is rationed, and that puts a limit on the amount the papers can print about us. Probably the best way to kill a bad story is to offer a good one in its place."
"Anything good been happening around here?" he asked doubtfully.
"Sir," I said, "our softball team plays exhibitions at various local gatherings. But doesn't it seem to you, sir, that instead of showing these people our national pastime, we ought to be trying to learn theirs?"
Colonel Marsh was losing patience. "What," he asked, "has all this to do with my airmen and these local girls?"