Age stalwart and longtime Good Food Guide editor Claude Forell is one of the Melbourne Press Club’s longest running members. Forell joined the club in its early days, served as its president between 1980-1981, and in 2003, was awarded a lifetime achievement award.
Forell’s first experience in journalism was at Melbourne University, where he edited Farrago, the university’s student newspaper. While writing for Farrago he acquired the nickname ‘Scoop’ after reporting on a story involving a discarded cigarette butt, a box of sawdust and a teapot. His byline for that particular piece read ‘Scoop Forell’, and the name stuck amongst a number of his university colleagues.
Forell says he edited Farrago “on and off for about two years”. During that time he became The Age’s university reporter and covered meetings, guest speakers and the occasional student prank, sometimes getting up to four stories a week in the newspaper.
He accepted a cadetship at The Age in December 1952. The nickname Scoop, however, did not make the transition from Farrago.
“Nobody at The Age called me ‘Scoop’. I wouldn’t have dared call myself that as a novice cadet,” Forell says.
But Forell did get a number of scoops in his early days at The Age. He worked as a shipping reporter, an area that generated a great number of stories at a time when most people came to Australia by ship. He interviewed celebrity arrivals and covered waterfront disputes, drug smuggling and immigration.
“Every ship had a story in those days,” Forell recalls.
He was appointed Western Roundsman in 1955. After covering the beat, he went to Canberra as deputy political correspondent before returning to Melbourne in 1961 when he became state political reporter. In 1964, he started writing editorials for The Age. In the same year he published a book on the Australian Parliamentary system titled ‘How We Are Governed’.
In 1966, at the height of the swinging sixties and the beginnings of the Irish troubles, he became the newspaper’s London correspondent. While in London, he went to Paris to cover the Vietnam Peace Conference, but found himself in the midst of student riots. Forell vividly remembers the scene: “I was right in the middle of it with foreign correspondents and got teargassed. I couldn’t see properly for six weeks after that. I might not have been in a war zone but that was the closest I got as a foreign correspondent.”
Forell returned to Melbourne in 1970 as a leader writer under the legendary editor Graham Perkin. “Perkin was a great innovator. He introduced investigative journalism and columns, changed the look of the paper and increased the number of foreign correspondents,” Forell recalls.
An innovation of Perkin’s was to make Forell one of the The Age’s first columnists.
“He wanted someone left-leaning and someone slightly leaning to the right. He chose me as leaning to the right, but I confused everybody by being all over the place,” chuckles Forell. Former war correspondent Geoffrey Hutton was selected as the newspaper’s left-wing columnist and future Age editor Creighton Burns started a third column.
Forell’s weekly column was called ‘Comment’ and he had the freedom to write about whatever interested him, sometimes using it to argue against editorials that he had anonymously penned as a leader writer. Forell maintained his column for over 20 years, making it one of the longest running columns in the paper by any individual.
It was a formidable workload but Forell added more to his plate. He became a food critic, contributing restaurant reviews to The Age’s Epicure section. When it was suggested that The Age publish its own compendium of Melbourne restaurant reviews, Forell took on the project and ‘The Age Good Food Guide’ was born. He was editor or co-editor of over 20 of the annual guides, 15 of which he co-edited with fellow food critic Rita Erlich.
“At one stage I was leader writer, a columnist and editing the weekly Epicure section. Plus I was doing ‘The Age Good Food Guide’. Looking back, I don’t know how I managed it all. I think I was working seven days a week and spending my holidays travelling around the countryside reviewing country restaurants,” Forell says.
Forell has lost count of how many restaurants he visited in that time. His own favourite eatery is Café Di Stasio in St Kilda, although he hastens to add that this is by no means a definitive verdict: “The best restaurant is the place where you feel at home, where you get the food you like to eat, where you are looked after, where you are welcomed, where they know your likes and dislikes.”
And what about the food at Melbourne Press Club lunches? “It’s certainly better than it was in my time as president,” Forell remembers. “We do pretty well at Crown and the Windsor is always very good.”
Forell retired from The Age in 1993 but continued to edit ‘The Age Good Food Guide’ and contribute restaurant reviews to the Epicure section and editorials to The Sunday Age for a number of years. He now divides his time between his home in Elwood and little blueberry farm at Glenlyon near Daylesford.