Monday, December 17, 2007

For those of you who came in at the end of that...

Here's what I said an hour and twelve months ago:

Right. I'm off. For the first time since 2001, I've got the full Christmas break off, and I have no intention of even going near a computer until 2008.

Because I know so many of you check in here daily in sticky-fingered anticipation, I'll leave you with the pick of my stories for Private Eye over the last 12 months - yes, in other words, it's a lazily cobbled-together review of the year to fill space while there's no-one in the office - just like next week's papers, in fact.

Happy Merry.

December

And just when you thought it was all over, a new journalistic hero emerged. I have a feeling I shall be typing the words “Gordon Smart” rather a lot in the coming months. We kicked off in Eye 1199:

On his first day in charge of the Bizarre column, new “Prime Minister of showbiz” Gordon Smart detailed his “manifesto” (geddit?) to Sun readers.

“Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Johnny Foreigner of equally limited talent are welcome on Bizarre on condition that they are little wrigglers and appear almost naked,” he announced. “The caners league continues. All celebrities, nonebrities and musicians are actively encouraged to get tanked up and cause high jinks.” To prove the point, he led off with a picture of Girls Aloud singer Cheryl Cole embarking on some “liver punishment” in a nightclub, pointing out that “you can’t deny she has cracking bangers”.


In this spirit – and to prove the Sun’s point in its 12 November editorial that “Britain is in danger of becoming a binge-drinking paradise” – we present this picture of Gordon Smart showing off a pair of cracking bangers of his own. His little wriggler is not pictured.

November

I liked this one so much I wrote it up twice… first for Popbitch, and then for Eye 1197.

Anyone taking issue with the issue with the opinions of the Sun’s chief irritant Jon Gaunt is invited to write to him via the email address given at the top of his weekly column.

Those who have done so recently received the following automated mass reply: “Hi, Gaunty here. As you’ve written to me – either to comment on things I’ve talked about on the radio, or after being wound up after what I’ve said in The Sun, I thought you’d be interested to know that my autobiography, Undaunted, is out now… If you’re one of the few who haven’t rushed out to order it already, you’ll be glad to know I’m making it easier for you.”

After full details of how to obtain the book at half price and an exhortation to “add Gaunty.com to your favourites”, Gaunt signs off thus: “Remember if you’ve got kids, give them a kiss, give them a hug, and don’t forget to tell them that YOU love them.”

Music to the ears of convicted celebrity pop paedophile Jonathan King, who received this instruction after emailing Gaunt to complain about his coverage of gay issues. A delighted King replied immediately: “my own, or someone else’s?”

October

Those self-imposed bans – they never work, do they? From Eye 1195:

“This newspaper was among the first to urge a tougher code of conduct for television and the Press,” announced a lofty Daily Mail, still laying a stake to the moral high-ground after the death of Princess Diana, on 27 September 1997. “On the initiative of our proprietor, Lord Rothermere, we were the first to ban pictures taken by paparazzi. And last week we warned: ‘If television and the Press cannot put their own house in order, state regulation will become inevitable.’ A broad welcome there must be then for the proposals put forward by Lord Wakeham, Chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, to tighten up self-regulation. The public mood demands more respect for privacy, protection for children and curbs on the harassment of individuals.”

So which was the paper which had to pull a shot of Prince William and Kate Middleton taken by paprazzo Alessandro Copetti, from its front page at the last minute last Saturday after Clarence House reminded it that the “aggressive pursuit… by photographers on motorcycles, in vehicles and on foot” which the couple had experienced breached that very tightening-up of the PCC code? The Daily Mail.

No such qualms at the Sun, which splashed the pictures – purchased via pap-agency Matrix – across a double-page spread on 6 October. This was, of course, the same paper whose publisher announced in January that it had “imposed a ban on all News International publications printing paparazzi photos of Kate Middleton.”

September


Issue 1193, and time to analyse how that “new kind of politics” promised by our still-shiny and new Prime Minister is going.

Tony Blair, 1997

Enters Downing Street outlining priorities as education, the NHS, and to “be a government that seeks to restore trust in politics in this country… That is our objective for the people of Britain. Today, enough of talking – it is time now to do.”
Gordon Brown, 2007
Enters Downing Street outlining priorities as “change in our NHS, change in our schools, change to build trust in government… That is my promise to all the people of Britain, and now let the change begin.”

TB
Appoints former personal adviser Peter Mandelson as cabinet office minister to be eyes and ears across government
GB
Appoints former personal adviser Ed Miliband as cabinet office minister to be eyes and ears across government

TB
Appoints SDP founder Roy Jenkins to chair commission on electoral reform
GB
Appoints SDP founder Shirley Williams as advisor on nuclear proliferation

TB
Gives David Simon, chairman of BP, peerage and makes him Minister of State in DTI
GB
Gives Digby Jones, former head of CBI, peerage and makes him Minister of State in DTI

TB
Appoints former Conservative front-benchers Chris Patten and Michael Heseltine as chair of RUC inquiry and Millennium Commissioner respectively
GB
Appoints former Conservative front-benchers Patrick Mercer and John Bercow as security adviser and children with learning difficulties respectively

TB
Holds hour-long meeting with Margaret Thatcher in Downing Street within three weeks of moving in
GB
Holds hour-long meeting with Margaret Thatcher in Downing Street within three months of moving in

TB
Dithers over whether to rule out referendum on Euro entry
GB
Dithers over whether to rule out referendum on European treaty

TB
Brown-noses Stuart Higgins, editor of Sun, in return for favourable coverage
GB
Brown-noses Paul Dacre, editor of Mail, in return for favourable coverage

TB
Lets it be known that he has been consulted by family at centre of enormous news story, death of Princess Diana
GB
Lets it be known that he has been consulted by family at centre of enormous news story, disappearance of Madeleine McCann

TB
Changes party conference procedures to end composite motions raised at last minute and put to vote with potential to embarrass leadership
GB
Changes party conference procedures to end emergency motions raised at last minute and put to vote with potential to embarrass leadership

August

The silly season arrives, the papers fill their pages with nonsense, and Street of Shame fills its columns with nonsense about the papers filing their pages with nonsense. From Eye 1191:

Outraged at being hoodwinked by the publicity for ITV’s Malcolm and Barbara documentary which erroneously suggested it featured the last moments of a man dying from Alzheimers, the Sun delivered a damning verdict in its editorial column. “The film-maker Paul Watson had the gall last week to attack ‘greedy’ producers of OTHER shows found to be fakes. But the hype around HIS programme is a big lie too… Heads have already rolled over this crisis of trust in British television. More may have to go now to rid the networks of an arrogance that results in the humble viewer being treated with contempt.”

So how did the Sun react to its own crisis of trust, when Kevin Keeble, whose photograph of a great white shark had been splashed all over the paper on 1 August beneath the headline “Just when you thought it was safe…”, admitted that he had actually taken the snap in South Africa, not off the coast of Cornwall as the paper claimed? In contrast to previous days, which had featured headlines like “tourists flock to see great white”, “I saw monster”, “Sun Fins out there” and “Jaws just 40ft from a beach”, the paper breathed not a single word on the matter.

July



NB: <----- She's going that way

You know, now that we’ve actually seen the programme – perhaps the most boring and deferential five hours of television ever – can you really blame Stephen Lambert for trying to jazz it up a bit? Oh, yes, that’s right, we can. From Eye 1190:

“The BBC is truthful, or it is nothing,” opined the Telegraph, reeling from the catalogue of faked phone-ins and editorial juggling acts ’fessed up to by the corporation’s director-general. “It is staggering that the programme’s makers believed they could get away with inventing a sequence involving the head of the British state. But they did. It gives a disturbing indication of what they are prepared to do when ordinary people are their victims.” Many Telegraph readers were also staggered by the paper’s front-page report on the execution of the former Iraqi head of state on 30 December last year, which got a number of details wrong, largely because, as hack Toby Harnden subsequently admitted, he was “writing about Saddam’s hanging before it happened” – indeed, a full nine hours before the timeline “3am” which the paper printed prominently next to his story. Harnden’s excuse? “It was one of those tricky journalistic challenges when no matter how much you hedge and speculate, the reality will always mischievously diverge from the finely-turned piece one filed.” And the Telegraph’s take on the BBC affair? “Surely it should be obvious to any employee of a nationally subsidised, world-class broadcasting organisation that deceiving the public in the manner of a tawdry, fly-by-night showman is not acceptable.”

June

A new prime minister – and a whole new set of ministers for the Eye to get its teeth into. From issue 1187:

The Sun declared itself its approval of “Gordon’s Young ‘Uns”, praising every member of the new Prime Minister’s “youthful cabinet”… except one.

“Why the hell has he picked a ferocious anti-American as Minister for the UN?” the paper’s editorial column demanded, homing in on an obscure junior minister, Mark Malloch-Brown. “Nobody here knows Lord Malloch-Brown. But the White House is acutely aware of his bitter personal attacks on Mr Bush and his tirades against the Gulf War. Malloch-Brown is entitled to his opinion. But he should not be a member of the British government. His appointment casts a shadow over Mr Brown’s new-broom Cabinet.”

While most other publications seemed to agree that the new Minister for Africa, Asia and the UN was a relatively blameless herbert, the Times was equally outraged. “This self-promoting former Deputy UN Secretary-General has made some crude public remarks about the US Administration along with the slightly unhinged assertion that the UN’s failure to act decisively on Darfur is partly the fault of the US and UK for invading Iraq,” its leader column huffed. “It will be interesting to see what is uncovered by investigations into the UN Development Programme under his tenure. Lord Malloch-Brown’s elevation is believed to be part of the Prime Ministers’s scheme to bring in ‘all the talents’. He should approach this venture with far more caution. It may sound noble in theory but it could easily result in crass tokenism in practice.”
Could this vitriol be in any way connected to Malloch-Brown’s very public complaint in June 2006 that the UN failed to receive fair coverage because “much of the public discourse that reaches the US heartland has been largely abandoned to its loudest detractors, such as Rush Limbaugh and Fox News,” which was determined to keep “the UN's role in effect a secret in Middle America”? Presumably not – for Rupert Murdoch, who just happens to be the proprietor of Fox News as well as the Times and the Sun, has on several occasions given assurances that he never interferes with the editorial lines of his newspapers.

May

And then a little girl went missing, which was a news story – and over the next seven months an awful lot of other things happened, which weren’t. From Eye 1185:

Perhaps buoyed by their triumph last December, when supermarket worker Tom Stephens was arrested on suspicion on the murder of five prostitutes in Ipswich last December after pouring his heart out to their paper (before being released three days later when someone entirely different was charged), senior management at the Sunday Mirror advised reporter Lori Campbell to go to both Portuguese and Leicestershire police with her suspicions about Robert Murat, a man who had been offering translation services to those involved with the investigation into the disappearance of British toddler Madeleine McCann in Praia da Luz. “He was acting very strangely. I found him to be creepy,” Campbell told police. “Given the unimaginable horrors which Madeleine's parents were enduring, it seemed the very least I should do.”

After questioning him, police declared there was not enough evidence to charge him with anything – but the British press begged to differ.


“‘Chillingly, Murat said: ‘I know how it feels to Madeleine's parents because I have a daughter aged three and a half,’”
- news report, Express, 15 May
“As a parent of a four-year-old little girl it breaks my heart to imagine the anguish that the parents must be going through”.
- “Letter of the Day”, Express, 15 May

“Murat was reluctant to be filmed.”
- Sun, 15 May, page 4 paragraph 11“He told his story and wandered around the scene in front of TV cameras.”
- Sun, 15 May, page 4 paragraph 14

“For the last few days Mr Murat has helped out the media. He has a very friendly relationship with police”
- Daily Mail, 15 May
“He had continually haunted the crime scene.”
- Daily Mail, 17 May

“Police swooped on Moscow-born Malinka, 22, after discovering emails from him on Murat's laptop computer.”
- Mirror, 17 May
“Mr Malinka confirmed that he worked for Mr Murat earlier this year to create a website for his estate agency. The Russian citizen is believed to have volunteered to help police.”
- Times, 17 May

THE HUNT FOR MADELAINE: RUSSIAN ‘PERVERT’ QUIZZED
-Headline on Mirror website, 17 May, morning
THE HUNT FOR MADELAINE: RUSSIAN QUIZZED
- Headline on Mirror website, 17 May, afternoon

“MADELEINE: THE EVIDENCE
Casa Liliana - Two-storey white-painted villa 150 yards from McCann apartment. Sniffer dogs go ‘mental’ on entering. Search of villa, roof, grounds, garage, a small shed beneath the pool where chemicals appeared to be stored, and the Murats’ green van and a Hyundai. Swimming pool drained, internal walls torn down, garden cesspit checked. Three video cassettes and communications equipment seized. Shredded paper found at Casa Liliana could not be reassembled. Results of tests for DNA and fibres found at the Murat villa awaited.”
- Mirror, 19 May
“Police investigating the disappearance of Madeleine McCann have found no ‘material proof’ from the villa of their prime suspect, the Briton Robert Murat. The results of DNA tests at the villa Mr Murat shares with his mother, 160 yards from the McCanns' apartment, are still awaited, but initial forensic analysis has turned up nothing and there is no evidence of a kidnap.”
- Independent, 19 May

April

Before there was Maddy, there was that other great non-story of 2007: the “murder” of Bob Woolmer. This from Eye 1182:

CLUEDO: CRICKET WORLD CUP SPECIAL EDITION

SUSPECTS

“Was cricket coach killed by a bookie?” – Evening Standard, 21 March

“Did match fixers want him dead?” – Daily Mail, 22 March

“‘Mafia executed cricket chief Bob’” – Mirror, 22 March

“Yardies fed Bob venom in his bath” – Daily Star, 23 March

“Woolmer strangled by a hitman” – Express, 23 March

“More than one killer was involved” – Times, 23 March

“Did a cricketer kill Woolmer?” – Sunday Express, 25 March

“Al-Qaeda link to Woolmer murder” – Sun, 29 March

WEAPONS

“He had suffered a suspected heart attack. There are no suspicious circumstances surrounding his death.” – Daily Mail, 19 March

“Did drink and drugs OD kill coach?” – Evening Standard, 19 March

“World Cup coach was strangled” – Daily Mail, 22 March

“Test ace Bob murdered with snake venom.” – Daily Star, 23 March

“Poisoned dish sent to room” – Sun, 23 March

“Was he REALLY strangled?” – Daily Mail, 31 March

“Cricket legend was killed by drug from ancient plant – cops believe it was sprinkled on his sleeping pills.” – Sunday Mirror, 1 April

“The Pakistan coach slipped in the shower after downing a bottle of whisky” – Express, 2 April

“Squashed carton of mango and carrot juice – did this contain poison?” – Sun, 3 April

March


A hefty bit of analysis from the Hackwatch slot, Eye 1180:

“It will have taken a full decade for the grim evidence left in the Pont de l'Alma tunnel, and the testimony of witnesses, to reach a coroner’s inquest,” declared the Times on March 3. “By any standards, this is lamentable.”

But why exactly has it taken so long for a British coroner to consider the death of the Princess of Wales?

1997: It is decided that a UK inquest will not take place until the conclusion of the French investigation into the crash.

1999: French investigation concludes that Diana and Dodi died because their driver Henri Paul was drunk. Mohammed Fayed immediately appeals in the French courts against the decision not to prosecute the paparazzi.
He also applies to the British High Court for a judicial review of coroner John Burton’s decision not to allow him to be represented at Diana’s inquest, which will be held separately to Dodi’s. Inquest now predicted to start in late 2000.

2000: Having failed to gain representation at Diana’s inquest Fayed seeks judicial review of coroners’ decision to hold separate inquests, requesting joint or concurrent ones. Fails.

2001: Appeal against verdict of French investigation is defeated in French High Court. Fayed appeals again. British inquest now not expected for “two to five years”.

2002: Michael Burgess replaces John Burton as Coroner for Royal Household, announcing inquest could now be held “next year”. “Mr Burgess seems to be taking things forward, which is very much to be welcomed,” announces Fayed spokesman.

2003: Burgess announces joint inquest will be held after all. Fayed promptly demands public inquiry.
Burgess points out he is unable to open inquest because “some of these matters are still before the French courts.” Civil action by Fayed against photographers in France fails. He appeals. “Sources close to the Fayed family” tell Daily Express that “someone with a suspicious mind may say that someone is deliberately trying to delay the inquest.”
Burgess invites Fayed legal team to meeting to discuss possible timetable for inquest. Fayed tells Express “It was no accident and they do nothing. No inquest, no public inquiry. It is not acceptable.”

2004: Burgess opens inquest, requests that Metropolitan Police investigate deaths. “I do not criticise the exercise of whatever rights of appeal there may be, but it may prolong the proceedings in France and result in delays in the French material being made available in England,” he points out.
Fayed brings further action in French court of appeal over several aspects of the French investigation. Appeals twice in Scottish courts against decision not to hold public inquiry.

2005: Fayed petitions European Court of Human Rights over aspects of the French investigation.

2006: Fayed appeals in France’s Cour de Cassation over decision not to prosecute photographers. This further delays police inquiry, which is already more than a year overdue.
Fayed threatens legal action at High Court and ECHR over jury at inquest, which is required to be made up of officers from royal household. Michael Burgess resigns and is replaced by Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss.
Lord Stevens announces his report will be ready in December. Fayed threatens to seek judicial review to delay publication, insisting he should see it first.
Butler-Sloss announces preliminary hearings for inquest will be held in January. Fayed threatens to seek judicial review to prevent them being held in private. She agrees to open them to public.
“The British public faces an agonising wait of up to two years before the full inquest into the death of Princess Diana is heard,” announces Fayed’s favourite newspaper the Express. “But last night a source close to the inquiry said: ‘Two years is too long for something that has dragged on and on. We want answers now - and we want the truth.’”

2007: Preliminary hearings open in January. Having rejected Stevens’s 832-page report as a “cover-up”, Fayed threatens judicial inquiry unless he receives transcripts of all the interviews he conducted.
It is announced that the inquests will open in May and be held jointly, as requested by Fayed way back in 2000. “Lady Butler-Sloss's most recent decision clearly continues the Establishment policy of cover-up,” declares Fayed. “They treat them both as if they were part of the royal household, just to stop the truth emerging”.
She also announces that there will be no jury of royal officers after all. Fayed demands judicial review of this decision.

Having succeeded in persuading the High Court to force Lady Butler-Sloss to use a jury of the public at the inquest, Fayed’s legal team last week turned up to the second preliminary hearing and promptly demanded … a further six months delay. “I am trying to keep this inquest moving; I am finding it extraordinarily difficult to find anyone else who will move it with me,” observed Lady Butler-Sloss.

The inquest is now due to begin in October 2007. As Richard Keen QC, representing the family of Henri Paul, noted, the photographers who witnessed the crash may be more willing to give evidence given that in French law, criminal charges must be brought within ten years.

It will also mean there can be no culpability of the Fayed employees who put the couple in the charge of a drunk driver with no back-up vehicle. What an extraordinary coincidence!

February

Gun crime rocketed all over Britain in 2007. But not in this particular case. From Eye 1179:

“Just two hours to buy a deadly weapon,” thundered the Daily Mail on February 16 over the news that hack Christian Gysin had been offered “a classic 9mm Beretta-style automatic pistol” after a few phone calls. “Last night a weapons expert said the gun offered to the Daily Mail appeared to be a copy of the 1911A1 pistol which has been used by the U.S. Army for decades,” Gysin reported. “‘Many of these types of weapons can be made to fire live rounds,’ said David Dyson.”

Mysteriously, the rest of the quote Dyson gave to the paper failed to appear. It concluded: “But not that one.”

His full opinion of the weapon in question, as outlined to the Eye? “It’s a toy. It couldn’t be more obvious. You just have to look at it. You don’t need to mess around with gangsters to get hold of one of those – you could just walk into a toy shop and buy one.”

January

We kick off with the story that never was – what would have been the scoop on the entire “TV fakery” scandal if Ian H had decided to put it in when I filed it for issue 1175 in the first week of January. One month later the Mail on Sunday got on to Cactus for the Richard and Judy “You Say We Pay” scam, the Times noticed the BBC weren’t playing fair either and all merry hell broke loose. The media story of the year, you might say.

Tch. Editors, eh?


Interactivity is the key word at the BBC – but no matter how many times presenters repeat those phone and text numbers, some shows are definitely more interactive than others.

Eamonn Holmes was the star guest on an edition of BBC1’s Saturday Kitchen last month, choosing his “heaven dish” (apple charlottes with thyme custard) and “hell dish” (poached pears with ginger ice cream) so that viewers could vote by text message which one they wanted to see host James Martin cook at the end of the programme. As usual, they were also invited to send in questions for guest chefs Atul Kochhar and Silvena Rowe with the promise, that, as the programme’s website puts it, “the best questions will be answered live on the programme, 10am-11.30am on BBC One.”

Curiously, Eamonn Holmes was also hosting his Radio Five Live show from 9 to 11 that morning – and he was inviting texts and phone calls from listeners on that, too. So how did the great man manage to be in two places at once?

“We very occasionally pre-record Saturday Kitchen,” admits a BBC spokesman. “What happens is we record both endings – the heaven recipe and the hell recipe – so it doesn’t detract from the viewers’ experience.”

But what about the questions you invite viewers to spend their money texting in? “Well, we get thousands and thousands of questions each week, and we only ever answer two or three of them on air. Not everyone actually wants their question answered on air.”

So do you answer all the rest of them off air, then?

“No,” says the spokesman. “There’s thousands of them.”

Is this a rip-off? What do you think? Call now!

The twelve (non-posting) days of Christmas

Right. I'm off. For the first time since 2001, I've got the full Christmas break off, and I have no intention of even going near a computer until 2008. Except for checking the Doctor Who advent calendar, obviously.

Because I know so many of you check in here daily in sticky-fingered anticipation, I'll leave you with the pick of my stories for Private Eye over the last 12 months - yes, in other words, it's a lazily cobbled-together review of the year to fill space while there's no-one in the office - just like next week's papers, in fact.

Happy Merry.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

your actual gossip


Quick! Switch off! It's him again!

A few years ago, when I used to do regular paper reviews for Sky News, I was in the studio on the night of the christmas party. It was in a marquee in the car park. I wasn't invited.

There were two slightly tearful girls in reindeer deely-boppers sitting outside the door of the graphics room, but otherwise the place was almost deserted - a skeleton staff of two, maybe three producers keeping the whole thing on the air. In the studio itself was one presenter, who shall remain nameless, doing a rare solo-presentation spot.

As usual, I got taken in to the studio during the ad break, and mic-ed up. "You're Cinderella tonight then?" I said to the man across the desk. "What happened, did you draw the short straw?"

He turned and fixed me with a slightly glazed eye. "Actually, we all went out at lunchtime," he said. "And to be honest, I'm still quite pissed, so you might have to busk this one on your own a bit."

And with that, we were back on the air. Thankfully, no terrorist incidents or other major news events occurred during the following ten minutes...

More 21st signs that Christmas is approaching

The Sun launches its annual attack on "politically correct Christmas Killjoys".

Remind me, what did James Murdoch, as of last week boss of the Sun, rename the Christmas party when he was in charge of BSkyB?

That's right, the "Winter Party".

Oh, and for the lovely James in the comments below (plug enough for you?), you'll be pleased to know I've just completed my first Daily Star "school bans christmas" deconstruction for next week's Eye...

Monday, December 10, 2007

21st century signs that Christmas is approaching

... the background music on the menu of your Sky+ box suddenly has sleigh bells on it.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

shameless

Just proofreading my book, and laughing at my own jokes absolutely shamelessly.

Think I know how it's going to end though.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Excuse me, Mr Dacre, I'm off for a quick 'And Finally

It's not just Peter McKay - the habit of cracking one out in front of the news appears to be spreading at the Daily Mail - see here.

For god's sake, will someone just buy these people some decent porn?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Express asks the big questions

Op-ed column today: "Why have muscles become a must?"

Er... I think it's something to do with enabling movement and ensuring we don't just lie in a puddle on the ground. Does this help?

That "cry for help" in full


Those pictures of Amy Winehouse in today's Sun are proper chilling, aren't they? Lucky there was a photographer from paparazzi agency Big Pictures outside her house at 5am to capture her "anguished stumbling in the street", or the "pals, already worried for her safety" would not know they needed to be "horrified".

But what's this in a quote from her spokesperson? "Amy had been asleep and heard a noise. She went outside to investigate. She didn't realise the time."

You know, it almost sounds as if a photographer decided to kick over a dustbin outside the house of a vulnerable young woman living alone, just to be able to get a picture of her when she freaked out and came outside to see what was going on, doesn't it? And actually, doesn't that picture look rather like a frightened 24-year-old pleading with someone to go away and leave her alone?

I'm sure it wasn't like that though. I mean, it's not like the Sun would collude with something like that and then try and dress it up as a sympathetic intervention. No way.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Continuing our occasional series, "what's really going on in that byline photo?"


"What are we going to do today, Brain?"


"What we do every day Pinky. Try to take over the world."

... I don't like to mention the Kt., it looks bigheaded

It's not just Norman Baker who likes to show off the letters after his name.

I wouldn't have thought there was much that could make me think less of Sir Ian Blair at this point, but now we learn he signed his letter to Chris Huhne about the Labour donations investigation:

Ian Blair
QPM MA (Oxon)
Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis.


Show off your Queen's Police Medal, fair enough. But one of those Oxbridge MAs you get automatically a few years after finishing your BA degree? (I know. I got mine in 2001. It was a great reunion. We had a disco and everything.)

Actually, the really interesting one to see would be the letter from Chris Huhne to him. How did that one begin?

"Dear Sir Ian. Remember me? I'm one of the ones who's been publicly banging on about how you should resign for the last month. Well, anyway..."

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Are you ready for me, lassie?

This from the Eprhaim Hardcastle column in this morning's Daily Mail:

Now Evan Davies is moving to Radio 4's Today as joint number two with James Naughtie, isn't Newsnight's statuesque Stephanie Flanders an obvious choice to replace him as BBC Economics Correspondent? An unmarried mother who mocks Tory policies on single parents, she excites male viewers who are attracted to stern women. They recall wistfully a recent documentary in which she was filmed cycling from one location to the next. The big economics job might afford a wider range of opportunities to see Steffers at her best.

There's something refreshingly honest about this, isn't there? While other gossip columnists like to pretend they're out till all hours every night partying with the bright young things, Hardcastle editor Peter McKay is quite happy for the world to know that he stops in most nights for a pot noodle and a wank over Newsnight.




Here's his "just before a look at the front pages" face.

Monday, November 19, 2007

...boom



“We don’t believe viewers were materially misled,” claimed the BBC last week in its apology for adding sound effects of babies crying to silent footage of quintuplets in an Oxford hospital. “We received the film without sound and on reflection we should have kept it that way.”

This is, however, far from the only time that the corporation’s news department has “improved” upon reality for viewers. Footage of the first day of the Iraq war on March 20 2003, at the height of Donald Rumsfeld’s shock and awe campaign, was tidied up so that viewers of the Six O’Clock News could experience the sound of explosions at the same time as the blooming flames – despite the fact that the footage was filmed from several miles away, which results in sound and vision being out of sync. “The BBC doesn’t feel there is anything untoward in this practice as the actual sound is still being used in the reports,” concerned viewers were told.

Post by Adam Macqueen MA (Cantab)

The strange death of David Kelly, the Methuen-published conspiracy-fest which the constituents of Lewes funded their Lib-Dem MP to spend 17 months writing, concludes, with the help of an anonymous man in a pub in Exeter, that the weapons expert was murdered by "anti-Saddam Iraqis".

It is credited on its cover to one "Norman Baker MP".



Who is the only other member of parliament to have insisted on having his full title displayed on his dust-jacket?



Jim Hacker.

But then of course, the contents of his book were a fantasy.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Time for bed, boinged Geri



Have you ever seen a set of colder, deader eyes outside of a fishmongers?

Ding-dong, the wicked witch is... promoted

So we are no longer to be treated to the over-airbrushed phizzog of Victoria Newton on a daily basis, with news that she has been relieved of the editorship of Bizarre. Once again she's taking over Dominic Mohan's job. We all thought she couldn't be worse than him before; now she's got the opportunity to prove us wrong once again.

Here, once more - because it never gets old - is my rundown of her best scoops of 2006, the year she got the Showbiz Writer of the Year award.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The news, as brought to you by Mario Testino




Is this the most gratiutous excuse to run lots of pictures of bronzed totty in swimwear EVER?

And it's not even from the Daily Telegraph...

Monday, November 12, 2007

2: number of years late the Guardian are with this morning's front page

http://www.guardian.co.uk/terrorism/story/0,,2209542,00.html

I did this for the Number Crunching column in Private Eye when Blair first tried to force through the 90-day detention rule in November 2005.

And I didn't need a press release from Liberty, either. I did the working-out all by myself.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Yes...

... I have just worked out how to post videos in my blog.

Elsewhere in fantasyland

Two years ago, I went along to the filming of something very similar to Dance of the Goblins (below) to report for the Times. So when the Goblin lady waddled on to Dragon's Den (with a title like that, is it any wonder she thought she was in the right place?) and started her "a very famous actor who was in Pirates of the Carribbean" schtick, my partner and I turned to each other simultaneously and said "oh, god, it's Barry the Demon Hunter..."

Here's what I wrote. A weeny-wickle edited-down version of it appeared in the Times on 9th January 2006.


The succubus is having a lovely day. “I couldn’t believe it when the director rang me,” she enthuses, “because I’m mad about vampires and all that mythology, so I said yes straight away.” (This may be worth remembering should you ever want to persuade an exotic dancer to perform for you for free). Anghel – “that’s my real name” – can usually be found twirling round a pole in Soho, but today she and a couple of colleagues are the latest paranormal foes to do battle with Barry the Demon Hunter.

Yes, you read that right. Barry is related to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but not in any way that might, say, cause disquiet to copyright lawyers. He was born not long after his Californian cousin saved the world for the final time two years ago, when photographer and fan Oliver McNeil used fifty quid, a video camera, two torches and some willing friends to transform Hastings town centre into an occult battleground. “The real break-through was when we met up with some live role-players”, sound-man Nicholas confides. “They do live-action Dungeons and Dragons stuff, and Olly said ‘we need some monk costumes.’ They pulled out a big trunk and said ‘Cistercian, Franciscan, or Dominican?’”

Today’s episode, number four, features a large cast recruited mostly through adverts in the local paper. “I only got cast last night,” admits Paul, picking himself up off the pub pool table where he has been deposited courtesy of a magical attack which will be added later courtesy of Oliver’s laptop. “It’s not the first acting I’ve done. I was a backshot in Dempsey and Makepeace.” Richard Alan, who plays Reverend Simon, is the series’ one professional. When not demon hunting, he does “children’s parties, panto, anything really”, and has just bagged a role in the new Rentaghost musical, where his supernatural experience will no doubt come in handy. Oliver himself takes the role of Barry, a “Knight Templar of the New First Order”, which means he gets to do all the cool sword fighting, and he also writes the scripts, which may have something to do with the fact that Barry is spending much of this episode being seduced by those demonic pole dancers. Sadly, the episode’s climax – in which the succubus (a female demon who feeds on the sexual energy of her male victims) is destroyed by means of a steamy lesbian kiss – has had to be rewritten. “I’m going to grab her by the throat instead”, the pretty 19-year-old who plays heroine Brook kindly but firmly tells the disappointed production team.

At last filming time arrives, and the pole dancers and live role-players – who have hitherto been keeping to opposite sides of the room, as if at a school disco – move into position. The rule here is that if you’re on set, you’re on screen, so after the judicious application of some terrifying zombie make-up by the leather trench-coated Jack (“I usually create wounds and bullet holes” – “Professionally?” – “No, just for my friends. I work at the cash and carry.”) I make my acting debut. Like Oliver and the rest of the crew, I’m expecting a call from Hollywood any day now.



You'll note my close-up at 09:56. Eeh, I was proud.

And for that reason, I'm out...

Remember the funny goth lady from Norwich on Dragon's Den this week who wanted a million pounds to make a film of her own screenplay of her own novel about goblins that had sold less than 2000 copies, and seemed to think this wasn't just as much of a fantasy?

She's put an animated trailer for it online.



It's frickin' aces...

Monday, November 05, 2007

Kramer v. Defamer

While not restraining from putting the boot into Heather Mills following her attack on the media last week – columnist Amanda Platell responded to accusations of press vindictiveness by calling her deranged and demanding she stop doing charity work because any causes associated with her are “completely contaminated” – the Daily Mail is keeping a weather eye on the McCartney divorce settlement and ensuring her husband also receives a fair division of opprobrium.

“Damning tape recordings. Fits of anger when she walked out for days and dark talk of violence,” a headline in Saturday’s paper solemnly intoned. “No, not Heather ... but Linda. So was Sir Paul's FIRST marriage really such a fairytale?”

Why should anyone think it was? Perhaps because they read a week-long series of articles which appeared after Linda McCartney’s death in April 1998, under the banner “All Our Loving: The Heart-Warming Story of Pop Music’s Most Remarkable Marriage”. Where did this tribute to “the happiest, strongest, most stimulating and faithful marriage” appear? The Daily Mail.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

shome mishtake?

I've just got back from an event where I found myself talking to my boss Ian Hislop and Andrew Neil. At the same time. Stood next to each other.

And all I could think of was that I wished they were both wearing baseball caps...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Could you repeat that?

JUST FANCY THAT!

"BBC TO SCREEN MORE REPEATS"
- Daily Mail, 18 October 2007

"BBC RESORT TO MORE REPEATS"
- Daily Mail, 4 July 2007

"£4 RISE IN BBC LICENSE FEE MEANS MORE REPEATS"
- Daily Mail, 19 January 2007

"BBC OWNS UP TO SHOWING 10% MORE REPEATS"
-Daily Mail, 14 July 2004

"BBC TO RUN EVEN MORE REPEATS"
-Daily Mail, 23 July 1992

One of a great many things I've got in this week's Private Eye...

Monday, October 22, 2007

I've redecorated.


D'you like it?

Sun Woman, you are spoiling us

Do you know, I thought the Sun's I'm a Tranny Llama Famer was a shoo-in as headline of the day. And then I scrolled down the page and found Two Vaginas Drove Pal To Death.

Long time no see



Would you look at that! It's a newspaper front page! With, like, news stories on it and everything! Not just a picture of a dolphin looking sad or a map or just some big writing saying "everything's STILL REALLY BAD in Iraq like we KEEP ON TELLING YOU and WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO REALISE that it's ACTUALLY YOUR FAULT".

Could this sudden change of style have anything to do with last week's revelation that Simon Kelner is quite happy to recycle government propaganda word for word as long as it gives him the excuse to put a pretty flag on his front page?

Or does it just mean that since he doesn't work sundays, it's only his deputies who actually have any scruples and a sense of shame?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Bird bottles it

So, as I predicted back in March, my old boss John Bird has decided not to run for Mayor of London after all. He's decided to launch his "political movement" instead. Would that be related to the "street party" he's been threatening to set up for the last five years?

It's sad really. He's like that bloke in the pub who's always good for a tale, always got a big idea, always on the verge of a breakthrough, just about to change the world... and yet is always in that same pub the next time you go back there.

Still, at least one of his grand schemes once came to fruition, didn't it, even if it was 16 years ago? Oh no, hang on, The Big Issue was someone else's idea, wasn't it?

Unrivalled coverage

Look! My book! By me! With my name on and EVERYTHING!



My publishers have put the date back to May 2008 now, so you've only the six months to camp outside your local Waterstones, home-made fan-sign and thermos in sweaty paws, giving gap-toothed grins and thumbs-up gestures to local news reporters. Dress warmly.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A tribute to the BBC. On so many levels.

In honour of John Sweeney being apparently the only attendee at the BBC's "talent seminar" to have admitted that actually some people probably did deserve to be got rid of, lets trot out one of the youtube's finest moments, for those of you who haven't already seen it.

Man U star in shock sexy familial-greeting shocker



It looks like Heat, it sounds like Heat... and yet, because the new Iconz magazine is aimed at the Asian market, it has the most adorably demure cover lines ever:

"EXCLUSIVE - BIPASHA REVEALS ALL: 'CRISTIANO RONALDO INTRODUCED ME TO HIS MOTHER'"

(and is it just me, or is the "sexy new look" Shah Rukh Khan going for actually Iggy Pop after a hard day at t'pit head?)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Scoop Macqueen strikes again

From this week's Popbitch mailout...

"Following our revelation that Christopher Lee
voices the audio guide to the Heritage Shipwreck
Museum in Hastings... thanks to the hundreds of you that wrote in"

Recognition at last...

Monday, October 08, 2007

Chap in flap over pap snap shock shocker

Leaving aside for the moment the fact that the only two papers that printed the paparazzi shots of prince william and kate middleton are the two whose publishers specifically banned paparazzi photos of her from their pages...


... doesn't she look absolutely bloody devastated by the invasion of her privacy?

photographer: Alessandro Copetti, sold via Matrix agency (but not to me)

Monday, October 01, 2007

Off the Bristol scale

A combination of a Sky+ box and a morbid fear stretchy-faced celebrity beauty editor Nadine Baggot means I don't often watch the adverts. But at some point over the weekend "I Could Be Happy" wafted out across my sitting room, and since every manifestation of Altered Images is to be savoured, I found myself watching an advert for soluble fibre with dozens of cheerful women swimming around in what was presumably meant to represent a giant lower intestine.

Now the last time I nearly fell off the sofa in surprise was when I first saw that deeply peculiar Sex and the City-style advert, in which four nicely-dressed ladies start blithely discussing the hardness of their stools in the middle of lunch. And then there's that Activia one where several apparently genuine women seem inexplicably happy to share the details of their intestinal gases - complete with impressions - with the entire world.

This is a new thing, isn't it? When I were a lad it was all woooooooahBodyform and "I get a lot of letters about thrush" round here. So at what point did the advertising industry unilaterally decide that, on top of all the other anxieties they've foisted upon them, the women of Britain can't even manage to poo properly?

Friday, September 28, 2007

No Marks

The fact that Howard Marks was on that programme with me this morning has reminded me of the finest ever refusal of an interview offer I've heard from an editor, courtesy of my old Big Ish boss, Matthew Collin - look, he's got his own blog here .

"Howard Marks? What about? 'How I smuggled a bunch of drugs' AGAIN? No. Not till he comes up with something new. Tell him to smuggle something else. Endangered species. Come back to me with 'Howard Marks: how I got through customs with fifteen parrots up my arse', and I'll think about it."

If you can't say nothing nice...



In the effort to get my review of Radio One at 40 down to 835 words for this week's Eye, I did the usual trick of stripping out the positive stuff (but if you look carefully, there are some words of praise for Chris Moyles and Tim Westwood in there. I know, I susprised myself.)

So here is a para that fell by the wayside, but I think bears saying:

And what of the things Radio One does that no-one else does – that public service remit that saves them from privatisation? Newsbeat is astutely pitched to its audience, offering a squaddie’s-eye-view of events in Iraq, and unsnobbishly happy to put football at the top of the running order in the knowledge that if their listeners ever bother to pick up a newspaper, most will start at the back.

Oh, and I got quite huffy about the poster on Digital Spy who pointed out that "all the writers on Private Eye are double the age of the target audience - of course they're not going to like it" - until I did the maths and realised that 15+15=30, and I've got two years on that.

Oh well, the pseudonym was supposed to be ironic anyway.

Post you don't need to bother reading

I've just been on Radio Cambridgeshire to, inexplicably, plug my book The King of Sunlight, which came out three years ago. You can listen to it here if you really want to - the Andy Burrows show, it should be online from about 10am on Friday.

The producer told me that "The USP is that Andy doesn't know in advance what they are so no previous knowledge is presumed on the part of the listener! It's always fun and very informal." Is that not the best way of turning "the presenter hasn't read it" into a positive ever? I hate to tell them, but from my experience of local radio interviews, it's not a USP...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Buy the Eye

Did something I'm really proud of this week... it's a feature called "a new kind of politics" on p.7. It's the thing I'm most chuffed about since the series of Daily Express Madeleine front pages a few issues back, and I hope and expect to see it ripped off in just as many places over the next few weeks...

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

story for which the picture below would be more appropriate, but there you go

This didn't make it into the last Eye due to a last-minute injection of Maddieballs into the space it was going to occupy. So we'll call it an online exclusive...


Doctor Who is the nation’s favourite television fantasy. Which might be why one paper doesn’t feel the need to base its stories about the series in reality – or go back in time and correct them when they turn out to be balls.

26 May: “Doctor Who actress Freema Agyeman has been axed from the next series, The Sun can reveal,” writes a breathless Sara Nathan, TV editor of the Sun. “Show chiefs think her performance is not as strong as in her earlier episodes. And they are planning a storyline where the Doctor, played by David Tennant, will lose her and travel through the universe searching for her.” By mid-morning, the BBC has put out a statement: “It is absolute rubbish that Freema Agyeman has been axed or sacked from Doctor Who.” And indeed, it is announced in July that Agyeman will return for much of series four – after moving across to guest-star in several episodes of sister programme Torchwood. How does the Sun greet the news? “The BBC has confirmed Doctor Who star Freema Agyeman has been axed as the Timelord’s sidekick Martha Jones — as we predicted.”

31 May: “Doctor Who to get axe in 2008”. Nathan’s assistant Gordon Smart bears the bad tidings to Sun readers: “Hit show Doctor Who will be EXTERMINATED next year — after the fourth series. Boss Russell T. Davies has decided to axe the BBC1 sci-fi drama and concentrate on other projects. A source said: “It was decided the best thing for the show was go out at the top next year.” That very afternoon a bemused BBC spokeswoman tells the Guardian “there isn't any way it would be axed even if he left.”

5 July: “Easy Rider star Dennis Hopper is set to rev across the galaxy – with a role in Doctor Who,” Nathan shrieks. Executive producer Julie Gardner clarifies this slightly to IF magazine three weeks later: -“That’s an unfounded rumor I’m afraid. He’s not going to be on the show. It was all over the place, but he’s not coming.”

2 August: “Word has reached TV Biz that the Beeb have found the man to take over as Doctor Who from David Tennant - Cold Feet star James Nesbitt,” enthuses Nathan in the Sun’s TV column. “David, 36, is expected to quit at the end of the next series and insiders say Irishman James, 42, is a cert to get the Tardis key. The Jekyll star is pals with Doctor Who writer Steven Moffat, tipped to replace show chief Russell T Davies when he also stands down at the end of the next series.” This story circulates for nearly a full 24 hours before Moffat himself shoots it down in flames on website Outpost Gallifrey: “A total fabrication. Made up. A fantasy. Just a guy sitting at a desk and just inventing stuff.”

30 August: “Rock legend David Bowie is set to star in Dr Who — as an evil alien abductor,” reveals Smart. “Producers reckon the Ziggy Stardust singer, now 60, makes a perfect villain because of his ‘great other-worldly look’.” Breaking all previous records, Bowie manages to deny this before it has even appeared. “Tomorrow’s Sun newspaper has a half page exclusive,” his official website announces. “The whole story is news to him. David Bowie is not planning to star in Dr Who and the whole story is ‘absolute tish and tosh’.”

4 September: The BBC announces that Doctor Who has been recommissioned for two further series. Both Russell T. Davies and David Tennant will remain with the show until at least the end of three special episodes planned for 2009. How does the Sun greet this news? “BAD news for fans of Doctor Who – the show’s fifth series has been shelved until 2010.”

Friday, September 07, 2007

Not a Portakabin


Just to prove I do really understand the importance of trademarks (sorry Dick), here's a story I sold to the Radio Times five years ago, when the Doctor Who revival was still just a fanboy's dream. The story got picked up everywhere - including the BBC news, which hadn't noticed up until then...

From the Radio Times, published October 22 2002

As any fan of Doctor Who will tell you, the Doctor stole his Tardis from the Time Lords of Gallifrey. But the question of who actually owns the time-travelling machine has been keeping lawyers busy here on Earth.

Due to a malfunction in its chameleon circuit, the Tardis spent the 26-year run of the show disguised as a blue police public call box of the kind common on thestreets of London and other British cities from 1929 until the sixties. London's blue boxes were owned by the Metropolitan Police - but a ruling by the UK Patent Office has ended a six-year legal battle by giving all rights in the design to the BBC. They decided the boxes are now "more associated with the TV series" than with the police themselves.

"We're disappointed, but philosophical, " says a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police. The Met has, however, registered the rights to the traditional blue police-station lamp and its metal identity badge, which might cause problems forany remakes of Dixon of Dock Green or Juliet Bravo.

Portakabin



Four years ago, the Eye's esteemed architecture correspondent, Piloti, used the word "Portakabin" in one of his columns.

We promptly received a letter from one Dick Ellershaw, Trade Marks Officer for Portakabin ltd, upbraiding us for using the word "as a generic term" and suggesting the use of "portable building" or "relocatable building" instead. Our even more esteemed editor ran his letter beneath the headline "What a tragic way to make a living", and headed every other piece of correspondence in the issue "Portakabin".

Two weeks ago I was, as usual, writing up the Solutions column for the magazine. I got to "Kensite Services Ltd: the fullest range of Welfare Solutions" and tapped in next to it "portable toilets."

Then I thought fondly of Dick Ellershaw, deleted it and put in "Portaloos" instead.

And lo, like clockwork, this week a letter arrived at the office:

"Dear Mr Hislop,

I am writing to point out that 'Portaloo' is a registered Trade Mark which may only be used to describe buildings manufactured by this company..."

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Finally... that exciting news in full



My first novel, Topped of the Pops, is to be published by The Friday Project in April 2008.

They're a small but groovy publisher, and their distribution is done by Pan Macmillan, which is a big and groovy publisher, which means it should be in bookshops across the land.

For more details of the book, see my website. But if you missed your chance to buy a first edition when I self-published it on Lulu earlier this year, bad luck - I'm taking it off there now. Those'll be worth, ooh, not a lot in a few years time...

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Reader feedback

I've just come across Peter "Bonkers" Hitchens' reaction on "Wikipedia" to a piece I wrote for the Eye back in March, and attempted to reassure him about at least some of his paranoid delusions right. The more he tries to protest he isn't bonkers, the more bonkers he sounds. The silly old poppet...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

"Did you pack the desk yourself, sir?"

Just working on a piece for next week's Eye, and I came across this, on the Heathrow protestors, from the Mirror on August 13:

“BAA expects demonstrators to pose as passengers to infiltrate the four terminals where it is feared they will set up fake ticket booths so innocent travellers miss flights."

One question (perhaps one which someone at an editorial level at the Mirror might have asked at the time). How? HOW?? How in the sodding bloody hell would you possibly actually go about doing that?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

oh, happy day...

... I've just managed to use the phrase "smirkingly fingered" in a piece about Peter McKay of the Mail. Sometimes I like my job.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

In Eye news

that hackwatch last week on newspapers reaching for the smelling salts over TV fakery? That was me, that was. I can't be bothered to cut and paste it in though. Go out and buy the magazine. Get me one too while you're at it - my subscription copy never came. I reckon the bloke upstairs half-inched it.

I know, I know...

... I've started a new job (for Popbitch, in addition to the Eye), been negotiating contracts for some VERY exciting news (watch this space), had the builders in and been enjoying the sunshine far too much to be sitting inside in front of a screen.

Have some photos of stupid dogs to be going on with.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Say what you really think...

best headline so far on the Campbell book:

Blair's Fatuous Spin Doctor Releases Gossipy, Preening Diaries

Sadly, Bloomberg seem to have pulled the story in question extremely quickly... perhaps their fact-checkers had difficulty verifying it.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

I've just been looking through my site statistics

... and I can only apologise to the Googlers who were brought here by their search for "Big Jubblies" and "I miss you so much big ginger prince harry".

As for the journalists who keep googling their own names - we can see you, you know!

R.I.P.



George Melly was one of the nicest people I ever interviewed.

His memoirs (Owning Up: The Trilogy, published by Penguin) are also without doubt the most entertaining autobiography I have ever read.

Hardly unexpected at 80, I suppose, but I still feel sad this morning.

From the Big Issue special "Grey Issue" guest-edited by pensioners, July 30 2001.

"Mellifluous: flowing with honey or sweetness: (of sounds) sweetly smooth." The word doesn't derive from the rich, rolling tones of George Melly, but it should have done. Even when simply speaking, his voice - which has made him a fixture at Ronnie Scott's for half a century ("I was too lazy to learn an instrument, so I decided to sing") - is rich enough to fill a room, silence all latecomers, sit them down and keep them spellbound for an hour or two. To the honey of Melly's sound, you'd probably have to add a decent tot of whisky - perhaps the Glenfiddich he is enjoying when we meet in his study at 2.30 in the afternoon.

Mellifluous or not, the voice is still very much in demand. Later in the week he's recording with Cleo Laine for the first time in his career, even though they've been knocking round teh same jazz clubs since the 1950s. A six-part celebration of his life begins this week on Radio 2. And he'll be puncutating kid's TV throughout the year as the voice of Red Riding Hood's wolf in a series of TV adverts - "A bee appears, and I have to say 'no offense Red, but I'd rather have a bowl of Honey Nut Loops'." It must be reassuring, I venture, to still be so much in demand?

"Flavour of the month," he harrumphs in slightly Eeyore-ish fashion. The upsurge in interest is down to Melly's forthcoming 75th birthday, which has caused producers to sit up and notice that we have a National Treasure in our midst.

He likes to quote Alan Bennett's line on the English attitude to age: "If you can eat a boiled egg unaided at teh age of 80, they think you're a genius". But to be able and willing at 75 to turn your hand to pretty much anything is better than most of us manage at any age. He made a triumphant appearance on the BBC's Room 101 recently, a programme not known for being aimed at the over-70s. Does he not believe in retirement?

He shakes his head. "It's important to continue to work if you can. But one cannot blame anyone for retiring if they've had a boring job."

Melly's never had a boring job. Even when National Service forced him in to the navy in the late-1940s (he managed to miss the war by the skin of his teeth) he spent his three-and-a-half years romping his way round Europe as, in his own words, "a convinced homosexual."

He came ashore to 1950s Soho, "London's naughty square mile", fell in with such vintage reprobates as Quentin Crisp, Lucien Freud and a generation of jazz musicians. Meanwhile, he says, "I began to move towards hetrosexuality", much against the wishes of his mother, an extraordinary old-fashioned fag-hag, who surrounded herself with boys from the London shows in the Melly's Liverpool family home. She "didn't like it when I went sleeping with dodgy girls all over the Midlands."

Even now, telling these tales for the umpteenth time, his delight in his own naughtiness is written across his face. Melly can't not be the centre of attention. And if the astonishingly colourful suits, kaftans and hats that are his trademark don't do it, he's quite prepared to be as indiscreet, and downright smutty as he possibly can. "I'm a frightful exhibitionist, I don't know why," he giggles. "I've always liked shocking people - I don't want to get lynched, but I do like making people react strongly, which they do less and less these days."

But he can still manage it. His memoirs, dealing with his favourite hobby of fly-fishing, came out last year. Hardly scandalous, you might think. But Melly manages it. In the first chapter he catches a large trout and masturbates on the riverbank in celebration. He chortles delightedly. "The wanking? Someone said I did it over the fish. I did not. I lay down and did it in honour of the fish. There is a difference you know!"

These days, however, he insists he's not up for anything. "Lacking Viagra, my sex drive is more or less dead now." He remains in a state of "happy companionship" of some 30 years with his wife Diana. Their house is very 'lived-in', and there is much evidence of a well-loved family. Melly inherited two children from Diana's first marriage ("I was so in love with her, I didn't mind about the children"), and later they had a son of their own. Lately, the Melly ranks have been swelled yet further by the arrival of his second grandchild, named Django. "I'm enjoying being a grandfather. I mean, I'm not soppy about it like old men in the cartoons, but it's very nice to see a double genetic jump. I don't see much of myself in him yet - he's only about two-and-a-half. My step-grandchild (that is my stepdaughter's child) and I share a terrible passion for Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

Does he feel he was a good father to his own children? A slightly sombre tone enters his voice, for the only time all afternoon. "I'm not a very good father really. Not really. I'm rather like my own father. 'As long as they're happy', was his motto. To which could be added, 'And I don't have to speak to them.' He was a lovely man, my father, and as I grew up I really liked him." In 1980, Melly's stepson Paddy died of a heroin overdose. In his last book, Melly recalled the horror of it, and his own reaction. "I retreated into drink, jazz, writing, the dream of the Surrealist Revolt, and above all, fishing."

Does he ever find himself getting down? Is there a gloomier side to the constant clowning? "I have never had a depressive side," he says almost apologetically. "I always think, however down you are, you're going to have to go up."

Does he find himself thinking more about the end of life, and what might lie beyond? "No. As an atheist, I don't believe in an afterlife. And I believe in it no less and no more than I did at 20."

So does he intend to go disgracefully into that good night? Sort of. Outrageous showman that he is, he's no Jeffrey Bernard, destined to sink into a gutter in Soho, looking at the stars all the way. Now, he's rooted in the suburbs, more funny uncle than Soho roue; the relative you always look forward to seeing at family parties, who makes sure everyone's glass is full, and has enough charm to get away with making outrageous comments to your pretty cousins.

Melly admits his days in the Naughty Mile are pretty much over now. "I don't go to Soho much - inevitably when I'm at Ronnie Scott's, and then I do the rounds, drop into the Colony Rooms and so on. But I don't go up for the night to get pissed. I couldn't conceive of such a thing these days."

So where do you get out of your head now? "Here." He gestures (whisky glass in hand) around his study, packed floor-to-ceiling with surrealist paintings, sculptures and installations.

"Something quite funny happened recently. I take this pill to make me pee, and I was walking back one night and suddently felt I was going to burst. I nipped up this little alleyway and had a pee on the side of a building. Part-way through, I heard a voice go: 'And what do we thing we're doing, Sir?' and I recognised that phraseology peculiar to all policemen. I said 'I'm sorry, officer, I wouldn't normally do this kind of thing, but I'm on these pills, you see.' Eventually he said, 'We'll overlook it this time, sir. But next time, try not to piss on the wall of the police station!'"

In George Melly's case, the old ones really are the best.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

thoughts on Gordon's new boys

Two of several from the new Eye, out today...

Having forced through a below-inflation licence fee agreement earlier this year, Gordon Brown last week added insult to injury for the BBC by appointing James Purnell as the new minister for culture, media and sport.

Not only is Mr Purnell a former apparatchick of the loathed John Birt, serving under the then director-general in the BBC's corporate affairs department from 1995 to 1997, but his most recent contribution to BBC-government relations was to host the notorious auction last year at which a copy of the Hutton report signed by Cherie Blair was sold to raise funds for the Labour party.

-----

The Sun declared itself its approval of “Gordon’s Young ‘Uns”, praising every member of the new Prime Minister’s “youthful cabinet”… except one.

“Why the hell has he picked a ferocious anti-American as Minister for the UN?” the paper’s editorial column demanded, homing in on an obscure junior minister, Mark Malloch-Brown. “Nobody here knows Lord Malloch-Brown. But the White House is acutely aware of his bitter personal attacks on Mr Bush and his tirades against the Gulf War. Malloch-Brown is entitled to his opinion. But he should not be a member of the British government. His appointment casts a shadow over Mr Brown’s new-broom Cabinet.”

While most other publications seemed to agree that the new Minister for Africa, Asia and the UN was a relatively blameless herbert, the Times was equally outraged. “This self-promoting former Deputy UN Secretary-General has made some crude public remarks about the US Administration along with the slightly unhinged assertion that the UN’s failure to act decisively on Darfur is partly the fault of the US and UK for invading Iraq,” its leader column huffed. “It will be interesting to see what is uncovered by investigations into the UN Development Programme under his tenure. Lord Malloch-Brown’s elevation is believed to be part of the Prime Ministers’s scheme to bring in ‘all the talents’. He should approach this venture with far more caution. It may sound noble in theory but it could easily result in crass tokenism in practice.”
Could this vitriol be in any way connected to Malloch-Brown’s very public complaint in June 2006 that the UN failed to receive fair coverage because “much of the public discourse that reaches the US heartland has been largely abandoned to its loudest detractors, such as Rush Limbaugh and Fox News,” which was determined to keep “the UN's role in effect a secret in Middle America”? Presumably not – for Rupert Murdoch, who just happens to be the proprietor of Fox News as well as the Times and the Sun, has on several occasions given assurances that he never interferes with the editorial lines of his newspapers.

Friday, June 29, 2007

It was SO John Reid, wasn't it?



"Gie ma job to Jacqui Bloody Smith, would ye? Right, Carine, load the gas cylinders into the Merc - ah'm off down Picadilly circus tae see how the bitch deals wi' this!"

Thursday, June 21, 2007

"Roy and Hayley are such popular characters, we gave them an exterior of their own"




Hello.

Here's a feature I wrote eight years ago about a visit to the Coronation Street set.



Where The Street Has No Shame
from The Big Issue, August 2 1999


I'm standing with a man wearing a three-foot-tall plastic head which makes him look a bit like a fictional character, on the set of a TV set of a fictional street, which is supposedly in a town called Weatherfield which is really Manchester - in Manchester. And just behind a barrier at the end of the street is a large warehouse where the actor who plays that fictional character is currently acting out scenes which are supposedly taking place inside the houses on this fictional street. My brain hurts.

A woman approaches, clutching a blond toddler by the hand. 'Excuse me', she demands of the plastic-headed figure. 'Who are you supposed to be?'

'I'm Jack Duckworth', comes the reply, slightly muffled by the head, which is so uncomfortable that he is having to hold it up with both hands.

'Oh, of course you are,' she says, smiling at her son, who looks terrified.

'Do you want your photo taken with me?' asks Jack.

'No,' she says, turns on her heel and strides off down the cobbles of Britain's most famous street.

I'll come clean now: I've never really got Coronation Street. A wussy southern EastEnders man by birth, I've never acquired the committment and background knowledge that Corrie requires. Last year my housemate banished me from the sitting room for asking in the middle of an episode 'Who was Don Brennan?' It's a secret society, and I don't know my Ena Sharples form my Elsie Tanner. This leaves me in the minority here at Granada Studios, on this hallowed ground, the two-thirds sized street where the programme's exterior scenes are filmed every Monday. I am in the presence of die-hard pilgrims, who would take Bill Roach over Brad Pitt any time. America might have Madonna and Cher, but we've got Julie Goodyear and that woman who used to be Nadia Popov in Rentaghost. This is the cult of celebrity, British-style.

The first rule is to know your stuff. Even the guides who patrol the set can't compete with the expertise of some of the visitors. 'The worst thing is when people just remember something wrong,' one guide tells me. 'You know you're right, but they're totally insistent that Minnie Caldwell lived at number four, or something. In the end you just have to give up. And quite often they say to me, "No, you remember this", and I have to stop them and say, "Actually, er, I wasn't born."'

Certainly the tour group I joined know their stuff - one particular group of girls, who can barely have been out of nappies when Brookside started, can recite every landlady of the Rovers Return. According to my guide, 'The worst ones are the ones who actually believe it's real. They're convinced that the people really live in the houses, and whatever you say, they carry on thinking that. When Kevin went bankrupt, we had people coming up to us with cheques for £20 or £30 and asking us to pass them on. And a couple of months ago when Des died, people were coming up and laying wreaths outside his house.' She lowers her voice to a whisper. 'It's not like a normal programme, you know. It's a religion.'

So is she actually a fan of Coronation Street? She checks to see that there are no Spanish Inquisitors within earshot before pulling a face. 'I could tell you what's happening in EastEnders.'

Corrie atheists like myself can brush up with the help of a series of plaques attached to the drainpipe of each house, which give a potted history of their various occupants. This being soapland, crises that would destroy the average person are reduced to single, apologetic sentences. 'Unfortunately, he turned out to be a bigamist, and was arrested after trying to kill Emily,' is accompanied by smiling pictures of the cast in their best clothes. The braver amongst us lift up the odd letterbox and squint through. One child announces 'I've found the Battersbys' and their hall's a tip!'.

If you follow the back alley all the way down, you end up in an alternative Rover's Return next door to Emmerdale's Woolpack, both of which do a good trade in beers from their respective (and fictional) breweries. Down a few here and you wouldn't be overly surprised to step out onto what the site map calls a 'typical New York Street', which seems to be mainly an excuse to give Burger King a lucrative on-site catering franchise. Or, if you head the other way out of Weatherfield, past Roy's Rolls (according to the tour guide, 'Roy and Hayley have become such popular characters, producers gave them an exterior of their own') you find yourself transported back a couple of centuries to the time of Moll Flanders, and a 'typical London Street' from the ITV series. To add to the surrealness, it is here that I meet three Victorian Cockneys who are taking a breather from Sherlock Holmes' Baker Street next door. They're not real Cockneys, I discover, but three Mancunians called Keely, Emma and Jill.

'We're strictly from the Dick Van Dyke school of comedy,' Jill tells me. 'It's a good laugh though. I've been working here about three years now.' Suddenly a family go past with a pushchair and the girls leap into full-on Chim-chim-cheree action. 'Allo darlin,' they shriek in chorus. 'Gorblimey, you 'avin' a nice day?' They watch the group walk away before continuing their conversation. 'Keely's quite new. Emma and me are a duo: we do weddings as well.'

Surely, though, it can't all be fun. Performing the same Pearly Queen act eight times a day must get wearing. And it must be hard to work up enthusiasm for the Old Joanna when you turn up for work with a hangover. 'Oh, mostly we just sit around till a manager comes by,' Emma confides. 'But the worst thing is the bloody inflatable hammers. The kids buy them and then bash us with them as soon as we come near them.'

This seems an understandable reaction to anyone singing I'm Getting Married In The Morning. But the Cockney Lovelies aren't the only ones objecting to the hammers. Shortly after I arrive at Granada Studios a stern voice comes over the tannoy: 'This is a warning. It has come to our attention that inflatable hammers are not being used sensibly. If security see you being careless with your hammers, you will be removed from site.'

The hammers aren't the only big sellers. No tourist attraction is complete without an array of overpriced branded tat, and Granada Studios does not disappoint. Equally, no British tourist is complete without a good moan about the prices. "Five-fifty for one pot!' an elderly lady tuts over a display of Corrie-themed food. 'Well, you're paying for the label, aren't you,' her companion clucks. Yes, if you're stupid enough to want a picture of Nicky Platt on your biscuits, chances are you'll be stupid enough to be fleeced.

And the commercialism doesn't end here. One of Granada's latest attactions is Futurevision, a 'stunning, interactive presentation of tomorrow's technology'. Well, I have seen the future, and it doesn't work. It consists of a few flashing lights, metal flooring and computer monitors plastered with 'Out of Order' signs, over which floats the voice of Dale Winton playing Reverse Reveal - whatever the future might hold, it's good to know we'll still be watching Supermarket Sweep. Futurevision is, in other words, a plug for OnDigital, a company half-owned by, er, Granada TV.

They can make the gogglebox as interactive as they like, but nothing will compare to the real thrill of walking down a street which appears four times a week in your sitting room. Knowing it's fake just makes it better- I can't see coachloads of tourists flocking to Paddington Green, scene of the BBC's latest barrel-scraping docusoap, or camping out on the lawns of the Animal Hospital to see how many hapless critters they put down when Rolf's not looking. The success of Coronation Street lies in how real it is - it genuinely looks like the streets which surround these studios - but TV gives it that inexplicable glamour that makes sane individuals line up to peer through a grimy window, their day made by a glimpse of a phone that the man playing Mike Baldwin has pretended to use. Even better would be a glimpse of the phone-user himself, as one tour-guide tells me. "We get groups, of kids mostly, who wait at the end of the road by the studio building for three or four hours, sometimes, just for the chance of maybe seeing one actor go in our come out.'

And if they do, the reality is inevitably disappointing. One disgruntled girl brandishes a small bit of paper at one of the tour guides. 'I got Jack Duckworth's autograph,' she complains. 'But he signed it with someone else's name.'

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

And annoyingly

This one doesn't seem to have made it in in any form...

In case you have somehow failed to keep up on the most important story in the world (487 items in the national press in the last month), we offer a brief guide to the highlights of Paris Hilton’s incarceration so far.

Prior to her imprisonment Hilton was “petrified”, according to Rav Singh of the News of the World. “A friend of the heiress told me she’s not eating and is always in tears.” Nevertheless, according to the Sunday Express, she managed to plan “a champagne-fuelled farewell do in a defiant gesture to critics jubilant over her jailing for drink-driving.” It was to take place on Tuesday 5 June.

She checked in to prison on Monday 4 June, the day of the Sun’s exclusive revelation that she will “be banged up tomorrow.” Having “employed an army of stylists to ensure her entrance to jail is as dramatic as possible” and arranged to arrive “a day early so pictures of her will be in time for the deadlines of the US celebrity magazines.” (Sun), she “managed to dodge the massed ranks of photographers hoping to capture her moment of humiliation by handing herself in at the men’s jail” (Mirror).

She was forced to share a cell with “her creepily obsessed no. 1 fan… We can reveal that the Twit girl’s new roomie is Kelly Matthew,” (“Goss” column, Daily Star, 4 June), although she still managed to“be spending 23 hours a day in solitary confinement as there is enough space for her not to have to share with a cellmate,” (“Goss” column, Daily Star, 5 June).

On 7 June she was released for medical reasons – namely, “fears she was suicidal” (Sun), “a mystery rash on her body” (Star), “claustrophobia” (Sunday Mirror), “a sexually transmitted infection” (News of the World), “dehydration” (the Sun again), or possibly a combination of all the above. This may have been because “her billionaire grandfather donated money last year to the sheriff who released her” (Mail on Sunday), or merely the result of “a secret deal thrashed out THREE weeks ago, shortly after Paris was sentenced” (Mirror), but whatever it was, it didn’t work, because she went back in again two days later. She has since alternated between “crying a lot and being given psychoactive drugs” (Sun), being “sullen and despondent” (Mirror), “learning and growing” (Daily Mail) and “finding God and planning a new life after jail” (Guardian). She is expected to remain in prison for at least one more week, during which time no one has a clue what will happen. They will continue to write about it none the less.

I'm taking requests now...

and this one is for Damien, in the comments section a while back. There's a much-shortened version of this in the new Eye (out tomorrow), but I thought you deserved the full horror....

“All 137,500 tickets for the Glastonbury festival sold out in a record 90 minutes yesterday,” reported the Guardian, which just happens to sponsor the festival, on April 2. And that, you might think, would be that for the 60,638,738 residents of the UK – at least a million of them readers of the Guardian – who did not buy them. But you would be wrong.

21 April: “Going to Glastonbury this year?” enquires the paper’s motoring page, apropos of nothing. “You'll need Land Rover's new Freelander 2, then. No other car has got its festival head so well sorted.”

7 May: Stop the presses, there’s a hot scoop in the news section: “Glastonbury plans new stage”.

28 April: Kate Moss launches a range of clothes at Top Shop. There are some people queuing outside. They are wearing wrist bands. This is enough to prompt deputy fashion editor Hadley Freeman to wonder “has Glastonbury come early this year?” How unlike her coverage of the Primark Sale three weeks earlier, which she pointed out caused “a stampede rivalling the competition for tickets for Glastonbury.”

28 May: Vital information in the home news section: “Hundreds of metres of fence at the Glastonbury festival will be decorated it with tapestries showing the history of radical protest”.

1 June: “Dame Shirley Bassey once said that she was happiest when sleeping three to a bed in Cardiff's red light district and working in a sausage packing factory,” observes the paper’s news section. “Such stoicism will shortly serve her well. In three weeks, the spangle-clad septuagenarian will perform her most unlikely gig yet: sandwiched between James Morrison and the Manic Street Preachers on the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury.” Over in the Film and Music section, the entire line-up of the festival is exhaustively listed. “If you weren't one of the lucky 177,500, look away now,” the paper enthuses. The vast majority of readers promptly oblige.

2 June: Millets is offering a new “eco-friendly camping range.” Who would be the ideal customers for their recycled sleeping bags? Yes, “sleep-deprived Glastonbury visitors”.

6 June: Maev Kennedy pens a 900-word profile of the Welsh singer Shirley Bassey, who will, we are reminded, be appearing in “the living legend slot at Glastonbury”.

6 June: England are to play Estonia – fortunately it is an away game, for, as the paper’s sports section observes, “at Wembley the pitch is so bad it has been compared to playing football at Glastonbury.”

9 June: New website isanyonegoingto.com offers car-shares for environmentally-friendly travellers. This is particularly useful, the paper notes, if you “need a lift to the Glastonbury festival.”

14 June: A scoop for the Arts section: “A photograph published exclusively in the Guardian today… Banksy's latest installation, a replica of Stonehenge built on the site of the forthcoming Glastonbury festival.”

15 June: In the fashion section Jess Cartner Morley has advice on how to put together a summer wardrobe. “'Summertime, and the living is easy.’ Not any more it's not, sunshine. Clearly, George Gershwin never tried to pack for Glastonbury.” Over in Comment, Simon Jenkins muses on the politics of the food industry: “Yoghurt, sesame and nut extract were once strictly for beards, sandals and Glastonbury. Now they have taken Kensington High Street by storm.”

16 June: The paper’s Business section reports on a campaign against the private equity industry. “The GMB union… said the next stage of its campaign would arrive in Glastonbury next week where the expected 175,000 revellers will be allowed to vote for the ‘worst rogue’ in the industry,” notes Phillip Inman.

18 June: “Thanks to its frequently muddy conditions, reminiscent of a first world war battlefield, revellers at the Glastonbury festival have long considered the event as much a war as a celebration, a four-day skirmish against the forces of nature and the ever-present mud,” muses Esther Addley over an entire page of the news section. Staff on the paper’s G2 section clearly consider this insufficient: that day’s “The Question” column asks “Will Glastonbury be a mudfest?”

The gates of the festival open this Thursday. Guardian readers are advised to look for their news elsewhere over the long weekend.