By Dan Wooding, Founder of the ASSIST News Service
LAKE FOREST, CA (ANS — October 19, 2015) -– When I was working in London’s then newspaper center, Fleet Street, with the Sunday People, and later the Sunday Mirror, I was flooded with critical messages from many of my so-called friends, who couldn’t understand why I had joined the wicked world of what then was called, “The Street of Shame.”
It was given that name by Private Eye, the UK satirical magazine, because of the many scandalous stories that came out of the area, and also because of the larger than life characters and larger than average drinks in “The Stab in the Back” pub, or “The Cock Tavern” or the “El Vino” wine bar.
Even when I pointed out that one Christian story that I wrote for one of these large circulation newspapers would reach more people in one day, than many pastors could do so in a life-time of preaching, that didn’t seem to change their critical minds.
It was quite depressing for me as I was constantly criticized by my Evangelical “friends” for working on such newspapers. They would tell me that they were praying me “out of Fleet Street” so I could do something more “worthwhile” with my life.
But then came a sliver of hope, when I heard that BBC producer, David Winter, entertainer, Cliff Richard, singer, Cindy Kent, and actor, Nigel Goodwin, had started the Arts Centre Group (ACG) in London, which was formed to bring together Christians who were working professionally in the field of the arts and entertainment.
It explained, “We exist to support, encourage, inspire and mentor each other as we seek to integrate our lives, faith and artistic endeavors.”
And so, about 45 years ago, I immediately joined up as a founder-member, and then began the Journalists Group, where, each month, a group of use battered reporters would share our tales of woe of similar attacks from people in the church.
It soon became a real sanctuary, and in many ways, helped me spiritually as I tried to navigate this journalistic world that was flowing with some of the strangest characters I’d ever met – both journalists and people we wrote about – and also deal with the fact that the story was everything and it didn’t seem to matter to our editors how we got the story.
For year after year, I desperately tried to hang onto my shaky Christian faith, and I discovered that many of my Fleet Street colleagues were much more sympathetic to my beliefs, than many in the Church at large.
One day, I was able to persuade the Sunday People let me do a story about the ACG which carried the predicable tabloid headline, “The Club Where the Stars Go to Pray.” I had managed to assemble well-known British comedy actor, Derek Nimmo, actress Thora Hird and, Cindy Kent, now the Rev. Cindy Kent, and was also able to work into the story their Christian beliefs. (I believe the circulation that day was 5 million copies.)
On another occasion, I was able to talk my Sunday People news editor into allowing me to interview Cliff Richard about his recent trip to Bangladesh with a British charity called Tear (The Evangelical Alliance Relief) Fund. It was during our conversation that “The Peter Pan of Pop” — as he was dubbed by my fellow tabloid hacks – that Cliff made the dramatic announcement that he had been so affected by the poverty that he had seen that he was planning to give up his singing career and become a missionary instead. The “splash” story was out Sunday People front-page lead and caused quite a story.
Later, many of his friends, particularly those at the ACG, told him that the he could do much more to help missions and aid work in the Third World, that he continued as a singer, and started The Cliff Richard Foundation, through which he gave away huge amounts of money to Christian causes.
Our Journalist Group also had some real fun when we joined with the Actors Group, during an ACG gathering at Battailes, Cliff’s Mock-Tudor home in Essex that the Daily Mirror once dubbed as “Cliff’s God Palace,” to stage a mock demonstration against Cliff Richard. At the time, is was being run by the Rev. Jack and Paulina Filby, and we worked out a plan to “protest” against Cliff (with his full permission) during his performance.
As Cliff began, we rushed the stage and fights broke out when some of the people there didn’t realize it was meant to be joke, and began fighting back. Eventually things calmed down, and I was able to explain what had been going on, and told the crowd that we had “staged” the attack, and then described how we, as journalists, would have covered such an event.
Eventually, after many years of battering, I left Fleet Street and eventually became an undercover reporter for the Persecuted Church, but surprisingly, my experiences in the tabloids proved invaluable in doing this kind of dangerous work. I learned how to make complicated stories easy to understand, write good headlines and persuade unwilling people to talk to me, something that is a “must” in secular journalism.
I had begun my career in journalism back in 1968, working for The Christian, which was Billy Graham’s UK newspaper, and one of my first-ever interviews was with Coretta Scott-King, the widow of slain civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther-King Jr., just before she spoke at his memorial service. Sadly, the paper closed after a year and I moved on, on the advice of David Winter, into the world of secular journalism.
Eventually, in 1982, I moved across the “Big Pond” and onto new challenges in Southern California, with my wife Norma, and our two sons, Andrew and Peter, who joined us in the big move and I became media director for Brother Andrew’s ministry, Open Doors USA, in a lovely place called Orange County. There I helped start the Open Doors News Service with Dr. Dale W. Kietzman, and travelled to some of the most dangerous spots on earth reporting on what was happening to there to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
On one trip to San Salvador, the capital city of El Salvador, during its long-running civil war, our hotel was car-bombed by a terrorist group and one side 0f the hotel had all its windows blown out. After the huge explosion, I rushed down the stairs to see what was going on and was approached by a young man who, once he knew I was a journalist, asked me if I’d like to interview him about why he and his colleagues had planted the bomb. I was with an Open Doors colleagues, who caught my eye, and urgently mouthed, “Run,” which I did.
After a few years in America, I began the ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net) which provides news for hundreds of media outlets around the world. I also have a weekly radio show across America called “Front Page Radio” and since has two started TV shows here as well, one of which is called “Inside Hollywood with Dan Wooding, in which I interview people working in Hollywood who are making a difference there for Christ. The other is “Windows on the World,” where I talk about the top stories that week on the ASSIST News Service.
I recently also completed by 45th book, “Mary: My Story from Bethlehem to Calvary,” which is a novel about the life of Jesus through the eyes of his beloved mother. (http://marythebook.com/). In my Fleet Street days, I was a ghost writer for the Sunday People with many of the stars such as British commedians, Eric Morecambe and Larry Grayson, Melody Bugner, the ex-wife of Hungary-born boxing champion, Joe Bugner, and actress, Diana Doors. I also wrote up a series for the Sunday People with the notorious Kray Twins about their life in prison, so that experience became most helpful to me writing the Mary book.
Some people still ask me why I have continued to be an ACG member, especially living so far away, and my answer is simple. ACG saved my spiritual life, and has provided me with much needed help and encouragement in my long career as a wordsmith.
I realize that many newer members may not realize what a wonderful gift ACG is to Christians working in the arts and media, and I would like them to also encourage their friends to join up — and be blessed like I was. Treasure the treasure that ACG is in a dark and violent world.
If you live in the UK and, like me, you feel the need to have Christian friends in the same area of media and the arts that you are in, why not check them out. Their website is: http://www.artscentregroup.org.uk/ , where you can find all about their fine work.
Photo captions. 1) Dan Wooding with Eric Morecambe, after interviewing him at his home. 2) Nigel Goodwin, one of the founders of ACG. 3) Cliff Richard in Brazil during one of trips overseas.4) Reunion of The Christian, held at ACG. 5) Dan Wooding with a friend, Dr. David Cho, during a reporting trip to North Korea. He is one of the few Christian journalists ever allowed into North Korea. 6) Dan Wooding with Pam Christian during their “Windows on the World,” TV show based in Southern California.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 74, is an award-winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for more than 52 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. Dan is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS). He is also the author of some 45 books and has a radio show and two television programs all based out of Orange County, California.
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