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Twenty-five years as a hack for CPL

Freelance journalist Andrew Mourant has written for CPL since soon after the agency was founded. Here, he recalls how he first got involved – and compares CPL favourably with some of the other organisations he has worked for over the years

"Who asked you to get involved?” The voice at the other end of the phone sounded hostile. Its tone was the sort you might reserve for a cold-caller trying to sell double glazing.  

But being persistent or pestilential – depending on your point of view – has kept me in wine and cheese for decades. It was pretty much all I had to offer CPL co-founder Mark Rosselli when we first spoke, a long time ago.

I was fleeing the Bristol Evening Post, then under new management and being turned to trash, and he was home news editor of the Independent newspaper. One hot summer day, we swiftly despatched a bottle of white Rioja at a wine bar in London’s City Road while he imparted random tips to a hopeful freelancer.  

Over the next few years, Rosselli bobbed up and down, then finally out of Fleet Street, as I paddled around assorted freelance creeks. We lost touch until a fellow freelancer mentioned he and former Observer production editor Jonathan Wilson had founded their own agency and were producing First Voice, a magazine for the Federation of Small Businesses.

Neither of us would have anticipated CPL’s remarkable growth; or perhaps that I’d still be around 25 years later

Did I have news for them?  Yes indeed. A man in Somerset had invented a board game called Farmyard Antics – the drama of Mr Fox breaking into the hen coop, feathers flying – which had become an unexpected success. The very thing for First Voice’s Doing the Business slot, a quirky source of light relief in a sometimes arid publication. Soon I was furnishing Rosselli with more tales of idiosyncratic entrepreneurs, most of which he cheerfully lapped up.

Neither of us would have anticipated CPL’s remarkable growth; or perhaps that I’d still be around 25 years later. During the years CPL held the First Voice contract, I was dispatched at various times to Brussels and Westminster – where a dictaphone malfunction in the office of then Leader of the Opposition Michael Howard, and a joyless 20 minutes interviewing First Secretary of State and infamous Labour spin doctor Peter Mandelson linger in the memory.

As CPL grew, so did its range of titles. I became involved with several – some fleetingly, others for longer including, currently, FIDI Focus. There has, however, been one constant: Messrs Rosselli and Wilson may have jumped ship back in the late 1990s to escape The Observer, but there’s little evidence of they, or their successors, ever having imported its sometimes macho management style into CPL. All the editors I’ve dealt with at CPL have been good-humoured and capable.   

CPL has been a haven away from the turbulence of other worlds: for example, being sued by an angry Irishman over a story in the Times Educational Supplement; or ranters demanding to speak to Private Eye editor Ian Hislop as I doused flames with petrol on his behalf. 

But even in the amenable world of contract publishing – now more likely to be referred to at CPL as content marketing – nothing is achieved without persistence. Putting together features for a global magazine like FIDI Focus means I need to chase up people in the removals industry around the world once, twice and sometimes thrice, at what can be odd hours.

These individuals’ level of co-operation is amazing given the demands made upon them by the day job of grappling with tortuous logistics. If it were me, I’d slam down the phone and mutter epithets to the effect of ‘go away and bother someone else…’  Yet often the hard slog turns out to be satisfying for all concerned.  

With that in mind, I look forward to remaining a nuisance for some time yet. But not, I fancy, for another 25 years.

Read the story behind the early years of CPL.  

 

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