When, at a lunch to discuss Time magazine's annual selection of its person of the year, I nominated The West Wing's Jed Bartlet, my American friends disabused me gently. Time has never bestowed the accolade on a fictional character, they said - and, despite Bartlet being the president much of the world wishes America had, he is, of course, the product of Aaron Sorkin's imagination and Martin Sheen's acting skills.
Get real, advised Time, but don't necessarily get heroic - the person of the year doesn't have to be noble, but a major player, for good or ill, over the 12 months (they subsequently proved the point by choosing George W Bush).
This set me wondering who was Britain's print-journalism person of the year. Not the most worthy, but the man or woman whose fingerprints, grubby or otherwise, were left most indelibly on 2004. Of course, the virtuous editor of this newspaper would have been a leading contender, had the compact revolution that galvanised the industry not started in 2003.
Following the Time guidelines, I was not concerned that candidates should be of impeachable honour. But, from among the less salubrious, I swiftly discounted Boris Johnson, Petronella Wyatt, Rod Liddle, Simon Hoggart and, yes, Kimberly Quinn, on the grounds that sexual high jinks, while doubtless good for recruitment at The Spectator, had probably not much affected the industry.
A better case could be made for Lord Black, erstwhile proprietor of that magazine and the rest of the Telegraph Group. Conrad lost his power - though not his peerage - but did so with indefatigable chutzpah. According to Hollinger International, over seven years Black and his associates paid themselves almost $391m in assorted unauthorised fees. Yet he fought his detractors to the end (indeed, he fights still), describing them as "truly evil people, who are a menace to capitalism as any sane and civilised person would define it". But bravado alone does not make a person of the year, especially as the curtain may well have been drawn on Conrad's British newspaper career.
Then there was Piers Morgan, the cavalier former editor of the Daily Mirror, who undeniably made an impact during 2004. Often resembling an accident waiting to happen, Morgan followed his brave but, in terms of circulation, disastrous anti-war, upmarket, stance by publishing bogus photographs and thereby ending an eight-and-a-half-year editorship.
As his new and burgeoning television career proves, he is a mercurial talent, but hardly person of the year, even though the "faked" photographs of British servicemen ill-treating Iraqi prisoners have mysteriously disappeared from sight and, presumably, the minds of the investigating authorities.
So, following a pause during which I considered awarding the title to Lord Rothermere for putting financial muscle behind Associated's Big Idea of the (London Evening) Standard Lite - but, then, he's got one already - I turned my attention once more to the Telegraph Group. There, one Jeremy Deedes - the son of a newspaper icon, and who had retired as managing director in 2003 - was catapulted back in March again to run the paper he had served loyally for almost 20 years. He proceeded to steady the holed ship brilliantly and remained unfazed as the battle for control of it raged.
His demeanour remained unruffled even when, at a meeting, Richard Desmond, a failed suitor for the group, goose-stepped and described the German Axel Springer group, rivals in the bidding, as "fucking Nazis". (The Express Newspapers boss, having paid himself £46.2m, is presumably one of those sane and civilised capitalists to whom Conrad Black was referring.)
Politics aside, there's something of Jed Bartlet about the unflappable, resolute Jeremy Deedes, which is why he's my person of the year.
OBE? Oh, bemused more like
Like God, those who control Britain's honours to the great, the good and those whose names appear simply to have surfaced in life's lottery move in mysterious ways.
Honours to journalists often appear as random as those in other areas, even if Margaret Thatcher rewarded with knighthoods and other gongs working editors, whose papers had not only fallen to their knees in adulation but very nearly got their noses stuck in the carpet.
Therefore, while congratulating Michael Maloney on his New Year OBE for service to photojournalism, I cannot help but wonder why he has been so honoured and my friend Kent Gavin - the multi-award-winning Daily Mirror photographer - ignored. Gavin, a Mirror legend for not far short of 40 years until his "retirement" - he's still a valued contributor - a year ago, is regarded as a giant of his trade.
Maloney is probably best known for having danced one night with Robert Maxwell. Used by the late Captain Bob almost as his personal photographer when at The People, Maloney was summoned to the yacht, from which the publisher was later to plunge, in order to take pictures for a promotional brochure.
One night, when Mrs Maxwell had retired, Maxwell demanded: "Let's liven this place up." Maloney followed instructions to switch on the salon's disco lights and the pair moved around the small dance floor, face to face, snapping their fingers to Chris Andrews' "Yesterday Man".
Perhaps that OBE is for service beyond the call of duty.Reuse content