WHAT THE PAPERS SAID

WILLIAM HARTSTON REVIEWS THE WEEK'S PRESS
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"WHO can take Diana's place?" asked Alexandra Shulman in the Daily Telegraph on Monday. By the end of the week we had the answer: two runaway pigs. Last year, thanks to the late Princess, five per cent of all newspaper coverage was devoted to royal stories. Last week, it was pigs hogging the space.

You could tell that it was not going to be a good week for heavy news when even the serious papers sent their reporters on a North Yorkshire Training and Enterprise Council duvet-stuffing course. The Times got its graphics department to do some diagrams with a garish mauvey-pink duvet cover and a lot of arrows, while the Telegraph confused its readers even more by also illustrating the alternative, first-turn-your-cover-inside- out method.

Talking of stuffing, how about some pork? In editors' offices throughout the land, the cry went out for porcine puns. "Pork on the wild side" said the Express, while the Mirror called it "Sty Freedom". The Daily Mail's headline read: "The Grunt Escape" with the sub-heading "On the run, pigs who saved themselves from the pork chop". The two ginger Tamworth pigs were "the daredevil boars who oinked in the face of death", and the Mail launched an appeal to "help to save their bacon". The Times devoted a leader, "Ze swine have escaped", telling the tale as a Colditz-style yarn from the pigs' point of view. However, a rather heavy-handed style was betrayed by putting into the pigs' mouths such lines as: "We are the Ginger Tamworths, the nearest of the domestic breeds to the original wild boar of Old England. And some of these are returning to southern England."

The Guardian was more restrained than most, even ending its first report of the Great Pig Hunt with six lines about two emus that had escaped from their pen in Broadstairs, Kent, and were pursued by the police in a 30mph chase. The next day, however, emus were forgotten as the pig story started crackling: "In scenes reminiscent of the OJ Simpson car chase ..." its report said, but that was surely taking things too far. The Independent gave the best account of the escape itself, in Martin Newell's "The Ballad of the Tamworth Pigs", of which the fourth verse went:

"For having gained some distance

From the slaughterhouse's thugs

They swam the River Avon

Like a Chinese team on drugs."

For the tailpiece to this saga, the Mail gave the woman's angle, as "Elspeth Barker tells of her long-standing fascination for the swine" in a page- long feature entitled "There are rasher things you can do than fall in love with a pig".

Similar thoughts may have been passing through the head of Margaret Cook as she contemplated the actions and statements from the other candidate for the Ginger Swine of the Week award. "Her Britannic Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is taking his work home," said the Sun, adding: "Well, the 'affairs' part at least." The Express also came out against "Romeo Robin" with a sympathetic piece about Mrs Cook: "So loyal even as the final betrayal loomed". The Mail got quite worked up about it all, particularly in a commentary by Simon Heffer which began by referring to "Robin Cook's current extra-marital affair", then moved on to describing him as "a deeply egotistical man who has had a string of mistresses", before working up to "adulterer on so prodigious a scale". Heffer's argument seems to be that you can pursue an ethical foreign policy when you have one mistress, but it's a bit dodgy if you have had a string of them and are egotistical too.

Several women columnists seemed happy to get their claws into Mr Cook. Libby Purves in the Times wrote: "I have no ethical difficulty in permitting myself to observe that the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary is a louse ... To leave your wife is one thing, but the gracelessness with which Robin Cook ended his marriage takes the breath away ... it is hardly decent to announce the end of your marriage in the airport lounge. The man's a creep." Nevertheless she thinks he should keep his job. Suzanne Moore in The Independent agreed: "I don't think Cook's private life makes him unfit for public office, but it does undoubtedly diminish him. He may be the cleverest of them ... flaunting his grasp of detail in debates, but when it comes down to it he is but another serial adulterer." But Sarah Sands in the Telegraph argued: "The problem with sexual scandals is that they are eclipsingly memorable. Rupert Pennant-Rea, the former deputy governor of the Bank of England, may have had some dazzling financial policies but he is remembered horizontally." Robin Cook's demise is, she says, "only a matter of time".

With Gaynor Regan wisely not talking to the press, the only person with anything pleasant to say about Robin Cook last week was Mary Riddell in the Mirror. "The sex appeal of Robin Cook is quickly explained," she claims. "Clearly it does not hinge on any passing resemblance to George Clooney. Nor is it wholly to do with power. Mr Cook is amusing and good company. He likes women, and is interested in them." Anne Robinson in the Express, however, took a very different view. "Who would fancy that ugly little gnome, women have been asking each other for weeks? Oh but they do! It is what I call the Kissinger factor. The ability of men in positions of power, however grotesque, to pull very beautiful women."

Which, in a way, was exactly the line pursued by the Sport. "Forget Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt or Leonardo Di Caprio - the hunk who really gets gals panting is Foreign Secretary Robin Cook! And the Sport even provided its readers with a cut-out "Romeo Robin Cook Sex Mask". "Ring us and tell us what happened when you wore it," it cried.

Compared with this emasculation of Robin Cook, "'Silly' artist cuts off the Queen's head" as the Mail headlined its piece about Justin Mortimer's new portrait of Her Majesty, seemed a minor injury. As usual, when seeking a quote about a silly artist, the Mail knew just where to look, and as always, Brian Sewell did not disappoint: "He's done this to create a fuss and it probably will, but it is damn silly of him, because when you are commissioned to do an official portrait, you have a responsibility to take it seriously. I shudder to think what the Queen will make of it."

Or, for that matter, of her Foreign Secretary.

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