Don't worry - I've heard the news about Boris, Des and Tina

One day your children will look up and ask wonderingly: `Who was Tiggy Legge-Bourke?'
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The Independent Culture
WHENEVER I have been away on holiday and failed to keep up with the news, it has left permanent holes in my life. Big events have happened in my absence, which I never slotted into my memory bank. I was away when the Iranian embassy siege took place, and when the President Carter hostage crisis blew up, so I have never really been able to believe that they actually happened. The Falklands War had already started when I went away, but seemed to be over when I got back. I hadn't the nerve to ask people: "Did we win?" (I am still not entirely sure. I guess we did. Margaret Thatcher still seems happy to talk about it).

Well, during the past two weeks, while on holiday in Spain, I carefully avoided this fate by taking the British papers, even the weekly Costa Blanca News which would mean that, if anything really important happened, I would know all about it. We can dismiss the Costa Blanca News immediately, as the news contained therein was not news from home at all. It was good news but it was all foreign, ie local. There was a book signing in Benidorm by Chris Stewart (Driving Over Lemons seems to have made him the Peter Mayle of Spain, poor man), a report on a drowned man who revived in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, and (my favourite) the 700 students expelled from a foreign language college in Alicante. Their crime? Not attending classes.

For heavyweight news, you had to go to the expensively flown-in British press which groans on the news stands outside the kind of Spanish supermarket where they sell German bread, Dutch cheese and Ribena. The result, the Lord be praised, is that I did not miss the following big three stories:

1. Des Lynam goes to ITV.

2. Boris Johnson goes to The Spectator.

3. Tina Brown has a party and starts a new magazine called Talk.

What's great about not having missed these is the chance to avoid making a fool of myself. The Spectator's change of editor is not important in itself - everyone at The Spectator has been called Johnson for at least 50 years - but I would have felt embarrassed if I had said, "The Spectator is really going downhill under Frank Johnson," and my media mates had slapped my wrist and said, "God, you're behind the times - it's going downhill under Boris Johnson!" Again, if I had switched on the TV and said, "I think this must be the BBC - look, it's Des Lynam wittering on about something," and people had looked at me pityingly and asked where I had been for the last 10 years - well, it would have been somewhat humiliating.

Not knowing about Tina Brown is not so bad, because I have not seen any of the magazines she has edited for about 10 years, whether it's Vanity Thingy or New Old Yorker. Can't get them here in the West Country. That's one of the reasons I moved to the West Country:

"Excuse me, do you have a copy of Talk magazine?"

"Talk magazine? I've never heard of that one. Hold on a minute - Betty!! Do you know if Talk Radio does a magazine?"

The question is, really, why anyone reports any story concerning Tina Brown or Des Lynam or Boris Johnson, all of whom are of no importance in a news sense at all. The only possible answer is that they are not reported as news figures but as characters in the soap opera which we call British life.

Every country has this soap opera of its own. If you have ever driven down a big road in France, for instance, you will have seen posters of men and women who are household faces in France. They look famous. We have no idea who any of them is. That is as it should be. They are not ours. They are the French Terry Wogans and Chris Evanses, Melvyn Braggs and Jonathan Dimblebys.

Nor would the French recognise ours. Bragg and Wogan are not meant to be exportable - they are part of the British daily soap, to be written into the script and given predetermined roles. Along the way the scriptwriters have a few plot twists (Des goes to ITV! Camilla goes on holiday with the princes!), but finally everyone gets written out and forgotten, only to be rediscovered by accident.

My children used to look up occasionally from ancient, yellowing newspapers and ask wonderingly: "Who was Lady Barnett? Who was Lady Docker? Who was Gerald Nabarro?"

I would open my mouth and be unable to think of anything convincing to say. And one day your children will ask: "Who was Geri Halliwell? Who was Des Lynam? Who was Tiggy Legge-Bourke? And if you have any sense you will do as I do and say, "I have absolutely no idea! I was on holiday in Spain at the time..."

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