Bless the pugnacity of the Welshman

`I am very grateful to the late Clive Jenkins for being the only person to report me to the Press Council'
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The Independent Culture
ONE OF the great sadnesses of my life is that I have never been sued for libel. I have occasionally written libellous things, but invariably the object of my ridicule had either a skin like leather or an incompetent press cuttings service, and they have never come back to haunt me. So I am very grateful to the late Clive Jenkins for doing the next best thing, and being the only person who ever reported me to the Press Council.

Clive Jenkins was refreshingly different from the ordinary union leader. Most union leaders in my youth were grim and grey and dour in public, unable to express themselves except via union-approved cliches. Not so Jenkins. He was sharp and combative, conceited and witty. He was also Welsh. As befits a nation which has produced so many teachers and preachers, politicians and poets, story-tellers and glib liars, the Welsh are wont to have a way with words, and Jenkins had it in spades.

Another characteristic of the Welsh is that they are very sensitive to two things. One is being ignored. The other is not being ignored. When they are being ignored, they feel unfairly cold-shouldered. When they are the focus of attention, they suspect immediately that they are being patronised, criticised, covertly mocked, or compared disadvantageously to someone else.

These are very broad generalisations, of course, which are always the most fun to make. I have written disparaging things about the Scots and about the Irish and indeed the English, but they seem to react differently from the Welsh. The English never notice. The Scots stay above it. The Irish, if they do react, tend to look down their noses at me and say, Look, Kington, we Irish do a much better job of disparaging each other than an ignorant Englishman like you can ever manage (which hurts, because it's true). But the Welsh are more likely to come out fighting. For instance, I remember once theorising that the Welsh have a tendency to be long- winded. I got a furious letter from a Welsh reader which rebutted this idea. Unfortunately, it went on and on, for page after page...

Well, some years ago there was a period when the Welsh got so resentful of English people buying second homes or even first homes in Wales, that they started burning them down. The Welsh Liberation Army claimed responsibility for this campaign. They never seemed a very conventional army, being equipped mainly with cans of petrol and boxes of matches, and not, it occurred to me, with much sense of logic. If English people couldn't own property in Wales, why the hell should Welsh people be allowed to come to London and take up valuable space?

And so in a piece for The Times I invented a group called the English Liberation Army, whose sole mission was to search out Welshmen with second homes in England, and burn them down. I tried to think of an example of a famous Welshman in London. Harry Secombe came to mind, but I had a funny feeling that his second home was in Mallorca. Then I thought of Clive Jenkins, Just right. So at the end of the piece I wrote that the English Liberation Army wanted to know if anyone could give them Clive Jenkins's address.

For this, Clive Jenkins took me to the Press Council, accusing me of incitement to arson. I was bitterly disappointed not to be allowed to attend the case in person, being strongly advised by The Times's lawyers to stay away. In my absence, and no doubt in his absence too, the case was dismissed, Jenkins was told not to be so humourless in future, and I was told by The Times not to incite arson again, and that was it.

And now he is dead, and I read in his obituary that he was very litigious and made lots of money out of libel actions, which I suspected. I also read that he made a lot of money out of property, and had lots of houses dotted around London and the Home Counties, and I now understand why the old bastard was worried about arson. Still, he reported me to the Press Council and I shall always be grateful to him for that.

STOP PRESS. Yesterday on Radio 4, I heard Professor Steve Jones saying that a "modest scientist" was a contradiction in terms, like "Scottish Amicable". How refreshing to hear a Welshman sending up another Celtic nation, even if, as an Englishman, I feel somewhat sidelined by the process.