WHAT THE PAPERS SAID

RACHELLE THACKRAY REVIEWS THE WEEK'S PRESS
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Indy Lifestyle Online
IT HAS been a week of clashes: Tim Henman angry with England fans at Wimbledon who chanted "hurry up" so they could watch football; Louise Woodward versus hostile tabloids; the Sun waging war on Blair for his stance on the euro; bishops coming out against gay sex; and local residents scorning plans for a "Diana walkway" through Kensington.

After British fans came in for a battering by the press last week, it was the turn of the Germans. Anything we can do, it seems, they can do better. While Tuesday's Mirror showed four English football fans trooping home, heads down, after being kicked out of France, and while the Sun reported the good behaviour of their compatriots - even after England's defeat by Romania - it wasn't long before pages were splashed with new atrocities. Wednesday's Mirror displayed in graphic detail how one French policeman, Daniel Nivel, was clubbed over the head by a neo-Nazi German fan wielding an iron bar. Quick to shift the blanket of blame from the shoulders of the Brits, the paper ran the headline: "The picture that shamed all Germany", while the Mail shuddered: "They went for him like animals." By Thursday, the Star was telling how the injured cop was set to be swamped again, this time by "a tidal wave of German 'guilt' money"; more than pounds 500,000 had already poured in from remorseful citizens in the Fatherland. "We want to show not all Germans are vicious thugs," Bavarian businessman Aurel Muench told Star readers. Wimbledon was suffering its own pangs. To the sighs of many a lust-stricken male tennis fan, the lovely Anna Kournikova withdrew from the tournament with an injured thumb, closely followed by Mary "The Body" Pierce, and Britain's great white hope, Greg Rusedski, whose ankle had given way. Even Tim Henman wasn't exempt from angst, after the Times reported how viewers rang the BBC to complain that its dumping the World Cup France- Denmark match to screen Henman's game against David Nainkin, "was taking patriotism too far".

Meanwhile, the ubiquitous Louise Woodward was also courted by the big screen, using a Panorama interview with Martin Bashir to refute the rumour that she is just another vicious thug. The Mirror claimed she was attempting to emulate a similarly adept performer and controversial female icon. "An insult to Diana," screamed Monday's front page. "Woodward seems to model herself on the princess... she wears a similar dark suit [and] like the princess, she also places her hands demurely on her lap and gazes wide-eyed at her questioner." Well, she's hardly going to skulk in a corner and wring her hands muttering darkly "I did it", is she?

The Express also focused on the change in Woodward, publishing a photo of her as a "dumpy teenager" alongside the new, improved version. Her mother claimed: "She's anxious to speak. You'll get lots of answers." But no clear-cut explanation was forthcoming about how many Woodward "expenses" have been funded by interested parties. Fortunately, said the Express, the Press Complaints Commission's Rottweiler Lord Wakeham "is set to launch an inquiry into the affair". The saga will rumble on - by Christmas, doubtless, she'll have her own chat-show. Earl Spencer, another aspirant TV personality, failed to convince the Guardian of his potential in a 45-minute BBC encounter with Sally Magnusson on Wednesday. "There were moments when the earl's interview had the feel of a glossy corporate video," it noted snidely. "All in all, the kind of polished performance you would expect from a former NBC presenter."

The reception for plans to commemorate Diana wasn't much better. While there were no objections to a pounds 5 coin, an award for young people, and Diana-funded children's nurses, Kensington's upper-crust were outraged about a proposed walkway tracing her funeral route. The Kensington Society's Janet Mayhew spluttered to the Telegraph: "The idea of the People's Princess has gone too far - this is appeasing the great British public's appetite at the expense of a whole borough." Hot-dog stalls and kiosks selling Diana-embossed sunglasses wouldn't quite fit with its elitist image, one presumes.

Premier Tony Blair has managed to dodge the spotlight of late, but the Sun caught up with him on Wednesday. "Is this the most dangerous man in Britain?" it thundered, menacingly. The issue was the beloved British pound - and its possible demise. "Blair is a charming, persuasive politician. We like him," insisted the paper. But his persuasiveness, said new editor David Yelland, was precisely the problem. "He seems determined to scrap the pound and take Britain into the European single currency. The result could be disastrous." By Thursday, a "huge army" of readers (36,688 - actually only a fraction of Sun devotees) had rung to register their support for the paper's stance. It's good to note that our PM is listening to the readers rather than the paper's proprietor, although the Telegraph cast doubt on that notion in its front-page report that Blair had "toned down his enthusiasm for the European single currency after a fierce counterblast from Rupert Murdoch's Sun newspaper".

Outbursts against the Government's vote to lower the age of homosexual consent were surprisingly muted; the odious Peter Tatchell carried on ranting ("Fourteen seems a fairer and more realistic age of consent," he told the Express.) but the bishops, while ranked in mutiny against the decision, failed to make a newsworthy splash except in Monday's Mail, which carried the equivocal headline: "Bishops lead gay sex at 16 revolt". Labour MP Stuart Bell clarified the situation in an opinion piece on page eight ("Sixteen-year-olds are too vulnerable and impressionable"), alongside an editorial which left no doubt as to this paper's orientation. "What is doubly depressing about this parliamentary move to legalise gay sex with 16- and 17-year-olds is that it has the blessing of both the Tory leader, William Hague, and the Prime Minister, Tony Blair," it wailed despairingly.

But spare a tear for poor old Linford Christie, who has certainly come off worst in his libel-case clashes with John McVicar. Last week, his emotional performance earned him a new moniker: "The Judy Garland of the 100 metres". Perhaps he should give Martin Bashir a ring.

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