By Graham Johnson
Editor, Byline Investigates
THE DAILY Mail is to part ways with veteran diarist Peter McKay after 23 years, Byline Investigates can report.
McKay, the pen behind the paper’s proudly acerbic “Ephraim Hardcastle” column, took the decision to leave himself.
He will serve his final days at the end of this month, and is expected to be gone by March 1.
McKay, who is in his mid-seventies, is the first big writer to leave the Daily Mail after Paul Dacre’s editorship came to an end in August last year, and new editor Geordie Greig took over.
An insider said: “McKay took the decision to leave. He’s had a long run at the paper. His departure is planned. He was under no pressure to leave.”
Insiders at the Northcliffe House HQ suggest McKay’s departure will be the first in a series under Greig’s modernising agenda for the Daily Mail.
The middle-market tabloid is known for developing the country’s loudest anti-liberal voice under former editor Paul Dacre.
Dacre – who held McKay as a close friend and ally – still remains a force within Lord Rothermere’s company, as Chairman of the Daily Mail’s publisher Associated Newspapers.
Technically, Dacre is still Editor-in-Chief, looming over The Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday and a stable of profitable smaller papers, including The Metro.
However, Dacre’s influence is said to be waning and he left the board of the paper’s holding company, The Daily Mail and General Trust, last year.
Byline Investigates has recently revealed that phone hacked data was passed onto the Mail on Sunday while Dacre was Editor-in-Chief, and contrary to what he told The Leveson Inquiry in 2012.
To date, Dacre has not corrected the testimony that he gave to the inquiry into press culture and ethics, and to similar probes in Parliament.
Insiders say McKay Peter McKay “is still good pals” with Dacre even though under Dacre his bylined column was reduced.
McKay carried on earning “old-school” Fleet Street wages for writing the Ephraim Hardcastle gossip diary.
McKay took the decision to exit voluntarily last month, after quietly announcing to colleagues that he was “ready to go” – something he had never said during his enduring high-flying tenure at the paper.
His smooth departure is in contrast to that of Tina Weaver, who was a fellow columnist at The Mail on Sunday sister paper.
Weaver was axed after Byline Investigates revealed that she was a prolific phone hacker during her previous job at The Sunday Mirror.
McKay is married to journalist, yoga writer and novelist Carla.
They have two children, James and Isobel, and live in rural Banbury, Oxfordshire.
The family have lived for a long time around the Warmington and Woodstock area, a retreat favoured by well-heeled London high-fliers.
Carla, a former Malvern Girls’ College pupil, got into yoga when she was 50, and is a film critic in the Saturday edition of The Daily Mail.
McKay has a previous wife called Helen.
In the 1990s and 2000s, McKay was a familiar face on London’s elite social scene, enjoying friendships with rich and powerful people.
He was a frequent guest at the parties thrown by The Spectator magazine, a favourite of right-wing writers, politicians, think tanks and intellectuals.
He was close to former Daily Mail film critic Alexander Walker, who died in 2003.
He was also friends with US businesswoman Tashi Lassalle, when she was recruitment consultant at top headhunter Heidrick & Struggles, and is now Director of Communications at The Church of England.
McKay was one of the first journalists to highlight the practice of fake news.
He told Reuters in 2008 that he had been aware of stunted-up pictures as a young reporter, and suggested that artifice and deception were part of journalism culture.
“Most news has been devised,” McKay said.
He explained that the structure of a story had been decided ahead of time and the journalist then sets out to assemble the elements that make the finished product possible.
“Newspapering is a business,” he said.
It’s “absolutely wrong,” he said, to think that newspapers have any sort of duty to society.
McKay added: “If the public are interested, it’s in the public’s interest.”