Matthew Norman's Media Diary
Monday 10 January 2005
In the century-old history of screen images, it is hard to think of any single shot as shocking as the one on Thursday night when a limo door opened in east London and out she popped. I've been raiding the memory vaults for anything to compare with the astonishment provoked by Germaine Greer's arrival in the Big Brother house, and the best I can do is Jessica Lange's reaction when Dustin Hoffman tore off his wig and dropped his voice by 17 octaves at the end of Tootsie. Students of surreal broadcasting may posit the visit to Nelson Mandela's garden of Alan Titchmarsh, to install a water feature, as a closer analogy for the televisual mingling of Greer and John McCririck, whose feminist credentials may intrigue the professor when they get down to deconstructing the works of Andrea Dworkin in the hot tub. Bizarrely, it might have been even weirder. Sources at Endemol, the programme's makers, hint that Commons media select committee supremo Sir Gerald Kaufman was close to signing up a fortnight ago, only pulling out when he was offered the role of the Childcatcher in the Batley and Spen Am-Dram Society's forthcoming revival of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Even so, this is weird enough for most tastes, and I can barely wait for the torrent of wrathful "think pieces" on the death of modern culture in the Daily Mail (where have you gone, Mad Melanie Phillips? A lonely nation turns its eyes to you). As for Professor Greer, a lovable if tetchy eccentric, I can't help wistfully recalling the raven-haired stunna who took on and slew Norman Mailer at that fabled New York Town Hall feminism debate in 1971, the year after The Female Eunuch's publication, addressing the braggartly Neanderthal by the endearment "c***y". From Mailer to McCririck in 35 years. Who shall say that isn't progress?
* More worry, would you believe it, in the endlessly troubled life of Telegraph prophetess of doom Janet Daley. The latest disaster to strike Janet, who is still coming to terms with the power cuts during the 1973 miner's strike, is a burglary. Her daughter and son-in-law were done over, she relates, just before Christmas, returning to find not only a smashed door and the presents gone from under the tree, but "their cat cowering on the bed, amid the debris of emptied drawers; a terrified witness". And all this in "one of the leafiest of Hertfordshire towns". One expects traumatised pet witnesses in centres of urban deprivation, of course, but in the Home Counties... All we can do is join Janet in blaming "the confederacy of liberal opinion formers" for the outrage (yes, Polly Toynbee, and what's your alibi?). As for the cat, we would remind it of the new Feline Witness Protection Scheme, should the matter come to trial.
To the Radio Five Live reporter outside Big Ben last Wednesday at the start of the three-minute silence, who insisted that the catastrophe lay beyond the descriptive power of the English language: have you ever thought about trying another career? One that doesn't involve words?
* New subscribers to The Spectator are being sent a letter of confirmation. "I hope this is the start," this concludes, "of a long relationship. Yours sincerely, Kimberly Quinn". We've all heard the rumours about the list of names that may feature in your diary, Kimberly, but not every new reader, surely?
* A joy to hear Geoffrey Boycott share his thoughts on England's tour to South Africa on Radio Five. His little exchanges with female presenters, whom he invariably calls "love", are a particular delight (if only he could be in the Big Brother house with Professor Greer). Geoffrey's relationships with women haven't always been so mannerly, of course, what with that French conviction for beating his then girlfriend in a hotel room. Meanwhile, Stan Collymore remains in the wilderness, having been dropped by the same station as a football summariser - work offered to him, by the way, long after he whacked Ulrika in a Paris bar - for having sex in car parks. When it comes to personal morality, it seems that Radio Five is trapped in what Geoffrey knows as the corridor of uncertainty.
* Having touched last week on media figures missing from the New Year Honours, we come belatedly to the most scandalous omission of all. "Here is a man who had an operation on his heart only a few months ago," writes Mary Ann Sieghart in The Times, dismissing any notion that Mr Blair might have returned early from his hols, "and facing his most gruelling year ahead... Personally, I would prefer the man running our country to be energetic and healthy, rather than haggard and sleep-deprived." What exactly does a girl have to do to get a peerage round here?
* Finally, to another Blairite cheerleader writing in the New Labour house bulletin known as The Times. The reason Mr Blair declines to appear in a US-style live television election debate, explains Alastair Campbell, has nothing to do with him running scared, and everything to do with broadcasters "incapable of discussing and negotiating the detail without it all being made public". The way some people will leak everything to friendly hacks... the mystery is how one of Alastair's exquisite sensibilities lasted so long in such a dishonourable world.
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