WHAT THE PAPERS SAID

WILLIAM HARTSTON REVIEWS THE WEEK'S PRESS
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Indy Lifestyle Online
The week of the Tory conference was best summed up by Matt's cartoon on the front of Friday's Telegraph. It showed a delegate bearing a placard saying: "Bring back caring, tolerant hanging." Perhaps that was just the party-uniting message that William Hague was searching for all week. As things went, the papers seemed very confused about what had really happened at the conference. In Wednesday's Mail, above the front-page headline "March of the Dinosaurs" we read that "Tebbit and Clark trample over Hague's bid to unite the Tories", yet on an inside page of the same paper, its political editor, David Hughes, wrote: "William Hague yesterday lifted a vanquished and demoralised Tory party to its feet and charted its course out of the political wilderness." There was, however, agreement on one front: both the Times and the Telegraph had identical front-page headlines: "Hague slaps down Tory 'Dinosaurs'" - even to the single quotation marks around the last word.

The Express hit on an interesting analogy to make the Tory conference accessible to its readers - John Redwood as a Teletubby. On Thursday, under the headline "You can call me a teletubby if you like," they quoted Mr Redwood as being rather flattered by the image. "That makes me very British, cuddly and adored by millions of television viewers. I can live with that." The hidden agenda, however, was revealed the following day when the same paper had on page 10 a hideous picture of "Portillotubby", illustrating a piece on the former Defence Minister's new "soft and cuddly" image. On page 26, however, it was "Posh Spice v Po" - the story of a battle between Spice Girls dolls and Teletubby toys to be the No.1 Christmas best-seller. The conclusion is obvious: it's the Spice Girls or the Tories, you can't have both. In the Mirror on Friday, incidentally, there was a cartoon of William Hague as a Teletubby. We must nearly have a full set by now.

Above all, however, this has been the week of royal socks. First it was the Queen, taking off her shoes to put on what, according to Wednesday's Times" looked suspiciously like British Airways issue woolly footwear". The Telegraph treated us to two pictures of the regal feet in their navy- blue (surely royal blue would have been more appropriate) hosiery, while the Mirror said "Bless E.R. cotton socks".

Prince Andrew's socks, however, were a darned nuisance. The story broke on Thursday in the Mail ("Oh, darn it ... Andrew reveals his stitched sock") and the Sun ("Grand Hole Duke of York") both carrying tales of the prince's supposed embarrassment when he removed his shoes at the Eurogolf 97 trade show in Birmingham to try out a new machine that improves one's golf swing. Was that a hole in one, or not? The Mail referred to "what appeared to be a large darn in one of his socks" while the Sun quoted "a palace source" as saying: "I cannot imagine who'd do a repair like this. But so long as you can't see through the hole, that's the main thing." It was left to Friday's Telegraph to come to Andrew's defence, quoting another palace spokesman as saying: "I can categorically say that the light-coloured pattern is not a darn. It is some kind of maker's insignia." In the interests of balance, they also quoted a UK Knitting Industries Federation spokesman who "had not heard of such an unusually placed logo".

All of this left little room for coverage of last week's major event. It was, though few of us realised it, National Back Pain Week, which was launched, as reported in the Times, with the publication of a survey revealing that the average 11- to 12-year-old carries a satchel weighed down with 17lb of books. "In Egypt," the paper told us, "boys aged 12 to 15 are not allowed to carry over 22lb."

When Tony Blair met Bill Gates at Downing Street on Tuesday he seemed completely unaware that in terms of back strain our children lag behind the Egyptians. Does he not know, when enthusiastically embracing all aspects of computer literacy, just how heavy the average lap-top computer is? Stick one of them in every child's satchel and you could cripple our youth for a whole generation. Precisely what went on when Blair met Gates is a mystery, but it gave the technophobes a chance to nail their colours to the keyboard. "Don't abandon books for the fake allure of computers", warned the Express on Wednesday, introducing a long piece by philosophy professor Anthony O'Hear, who was worried, among other things, about the crippling costs of maintaining computer equipment and training teachers to use it. On the previous day, however, the Express had carried a report ("Scalpel, forceps, Gameboy") on how children's computer games can improve surgeons' skills. The Telegraph also showed its wariness of Bill Gates by headlining its report of his meeting with the Prime Minister: "Princess warns of screen slaves", and beginning the story with Princess Anne's vision of a nation of nerds. The clever bit, though, was ending the report with a signpost to a story on the business pages: "Microsoft sued: p.31".

So what did Blair and Gates talk about? The Times on Tuesday had said: "Tony Blair will today enlist the support of Bill Gates, the world's richest man, for a pounds 100m scheme to link Britain's schools to the Internet" which seemed to suggest that the PM was hoping to touch his rich American visitor for a quid or two to buy a cup of microchips. Sadly, however, the phrase "public money" also cropped up to dash any such hopes. Perhaps it might have been better to describe him as "Bill Gates, the world's most successful computer programmer", or "Bill Gates, chairman of the world's biggest software company".

There were two contenders for Best Headline of the Week. The Mirror, reporting on the decision by Kelloggs to back out of a Virgin Radio sponsorship deal because Chris Evans was not the sort of image they wanted to be associated with, simply called the story: "Cereal Killer". The Times on Tuesday, however, came up with the intriguing "Gucci lover is banned from keeping horses" - which incidentally was on the same page as "Dog club official jailed for cruelty to pregnant badger".

Finally, the front page of Friday's Mail told us that "Maggie puts BA into a tailspin" with the story of how "British Airways was 'handbagged' by an irate Baroness" for daring to suggest that the British flag should be removed from the tails of their planes. But what I wonder is whether she was carrying 17lb of books in her handbag at the time?

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