Bill Hagerty on the Press - Media - News - The Independent

Bill Hagerty on the Press

Editors should stay off TV - except for superstar Boris

It's hard to believe that not so long ago, editors of national papers or news magazines would no more think of flirting with show business than they would of joining a conga line along Fleet Street.

It's hard to believe that not so long ago, editors of national papers or news magazines would no more think of flirting with show business than they would of joining a conga line along Fleet Street.

While there are those who would argue that in a world where the drinking was ferocious, a conga was not out of the question come the end of a convivial evening, the fact is that editors did not appear on television game shows, talk shows or celebrity quizzes. Editors were not national celebrities and even those considered giants within journalism remained relatively unknown outside it, unless they had a story to sell on the news. (Yes, Arthur Christiansen embraced the movies, but waited until he had vacated his chair at the Daily Express before giving a passable imitation of himself in The Day the Earth Caught Fire.)

Only occasionally did senior print industry figures respond to television's voracious appetite for "personalities" - Eve Pollard moonlighted from the editorship of the Sunday Mirror and, later, the Sunday Express, on Through the Keyhole. The Sunday Times' Andrew Neil was, perhaps, the first seriously to link arms with fame, although his many appearances were and are largely confined to political programmes scoring high in the cut-and-thrust of debate, but low in audience ratings.

And then along came Piers, the first to springboard via television to celebrity so great that his surname became superfluous. This has stood him in good stead: Morgan may be a yesterday man at the Mirror, but television has adopted him as one of its own. Yet Piers' flight down a new career path appears almost subdued compared to the editor whose personality has exploded in all directions - some of which he would have preferred to avoid - and, according to a television profile aired on Saturday, established him as "a national figure" and "elevated him to the ranks of Britain's leading comedians". He is, claimed BBC4's documentary on The Spectator, another of those luminaries whose Christian name brings instant identification. Boris is the very first editor superstar.

A mixture of eccentricity, jovial good nature and what his erstwhile proprietor Conrad Black described as "pseudo-bungling" has seen him succeed as editor of a thriving magazine, a Conservative Member of Parliament and a television performer who makes the late Tommy Cooper's act look a model of discipline. Never mind that a personal peccadillo saw him jettisoned from the Opposition front bench last year; Johnson is only 40 years old and his celebrity still in its infancy.

In the BBC film, The Guardian's Polly Toynbee, who was romanced by the younger brother of Johnson's mother, recalled first seeing Boris as a six-month-old " fat, pink, naked baby". "He hasn't changed much since then," she mused (although, as far as I am aware, Johnson restricts his nakedness to his private life), and also observed: "He doesn't know anything at all." Don't be daft: what Boris knows is how to play his audience - on television, in the House or on the hoof - as if bowing a perfectly tuned fiddle.

Black referred to Boris's "especially unusual personality", but questioned his loyalty, and Charles Moore went further, suggesting Boris shared a certain quality with the late movie heart-throb Errol Flynn: "You knew where you were with Errol - he'd always let you down." Meanwhile, Boris burbled charmingly, whether scorning calls from politically correct critics to sacking columnist Taki for his extreme views, or explaining that "you won't find much red-in-tooth-and-claw socialism in The Spectator". How true, Boris.

Any editors contemplating entering the public arena by such gateways as Top Gear or Have I Got News For You should forget it. Boris has been there, done that and got the rumpled T-shirt. He's the incandescent exception to the rule that editors should be heard - through their newspapers - and not seen. Dacre, Thomson, Newland, Wade and the rest are right: all but Boris should leave stardom to the stars.

Be a Diamond and return the £3,000

In the early 1980s, a People writer named Graham Ball broke the story of a relationship between the television presenter Anne Diamond and her producer, Mike Hollingsworth, who happened to be married to someone else at the time. Diamond and Hollingsworth, employing the skills of the formidable Peter Carter-Ruck, promptly issued a writ for libel.

After some customary legal arm wrestling, the couple changed their minds and sued for peace, offering to withdraw the action if Mirror Group agreed to pay their costs. MGN, represented by Geoffrey Bindman - a libel advocate second to none, then and now - politely declined, but did consent to a settlement in which each side paid their own expenses. Just weeks later, Diamond and Hollingsworth acknowledged that they were indeed an item. When The People, having coughed up about £3,000 for legal fees, drew attention to this, Hollingsworth again complained, claiming that he and the woman he later married were not involved at the time of Ball's original piece.

Fast-forward 20 years or so, to last week's serialisation of Anne Diamond's autobiography in the Daily Mail. "My affair with Mike had been incredibly passionate," she writes, "but also painful, because he was married." It could be that consummation did not take place until after The People exposé, of course, but, if so, surely the paper can take credit for helping the couple into the sack and for their subsequent, if doomed - shame - marriage. Either way, and especially with The People having hit hard times, I reckon the paper deserves its £3,000 back.

media@independent.co.uk

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