Matthew Norman's Media Diary

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Am I alone in becoming increasingly sickened by the sneering that attends the working lives of Boris Johnson? From all the embittered sniping in the papers, you could almost be hoodwinked into viewing him as a political dilettante who treats his front bench portfolio as a sinecure while concentrating on more lucrative media and literary work, such as performing the role of Young Mr Grace for the staff of The Spectator. The truth is that he puts equal effort into his all his roles, as revealed last week when the Shadow Arts Minister addressed the latest death of the British film industry.

"Listen, I'm not going to weep bitter tears about how Ken Loach isn't getting his films distributed," he told an Arts Council-sponsored conference fringe meeting. "If he made happier films, more people would go and see them." Yet again, we find him suppressing the facetious throwaway to take a carefully considered stand. As a classicist, he refers obliquely here to the precedent of Sophocles, who responded to poor amphitheatre ticket sales by turning Oedipus Tyrannos into a Busby Berkeley-style musical; and then reworked the last scene of Ajax to have the hero bounce off his sword (the chump had forgotten to remove his breastplate!) before joining a team of male strippers on the Ithacan leg of their Aegean tour. If only people stopped to listen to what Boris actually says, rather than fall for the lazy caricature...

* Mention of musical theatre brings us to the no news that is good news about Gerald Kaufman, the showtune-fixated old darling who continues, at the time of writing, to chair the Commons media select committee. In the last week, not a single credible report has been filed about Gerald scuffling in public. There was a rumour of a shouting match with a grandmother from Des Moines, Iowa, in the returns queue for Mamma Mia (allegedly, she yanked the Agnetha wig off his head and tried to ignite it). But on inspection this seems no more than mischievous invention.

* What a relief to find Radio Five Live football commentator Alan Green surviving the sort of Ofcom reprimand that might, in a world of political correctness gone mad, have cost a chap his job. The broadcasting overseer has criticised Alan for a racist remark about Manchester United's Eric Djemba-Djemba: when the player squared up to the ref, he interpreted the Cameroonian as saying: "Me no cheat".

Rather than overreact like ITV did over Big Ron, his bosses merely sent him to the naughty room for half an hour. If that strikes anyone as odd, it's worth remembering that the BBC is a positive discrimination employer, giving opportunities to people who would struggle to find work elsewhere. I think that's admirable. If they'd only gone the extra mile and agreed to pay for Alan's carer to sit beside him in the commentary box, this embarrassment would have been avoided in the first place.

* Elsewhere on Five Live, the quality of the phone-ins continues to impress. In what some radio historians posit as the cleverest phone-in trailer since Nick Ferrari asked whether the growing number of millionaires meant there was no longer any such a thing as poverty, Victoria Derbyshire introduced one last week by asking this: can it ever be right for someone to be sacked for something done outside the workplace? Given that this was provoked by a policeman being fired for making Alan Green-style comments down the pub, you have to ask whether an hour was enough to cover such a finely balanced debate. I mean, imagine that a politician was caught beating his wife. Clearly if he did it around the Cabinet table during a discussion about electoral strategy, he'd have to go. But if it was in the privacy of the marital home, far from work? Very hard to take a firm position either way.

* With Alastair Campbell doing a Liza Minelli, and making one absolutely final comeback for the election, it's more crucial than ever that the Conservatives fine-tune their media manipulation skills.

The early signs are promising. Last week they won coverage on the Today programme for the "celebrity train" taking big-name fans to Bournemouth. With Kenny Everett long dead, and Andrew Lloyd Webber tacitly withdrawing his threat to emigrate if Labour wins, you'd have thought this might have been a struggle. Not a bit of it.

On that train were not only Nicholas Coleridge, the editorial director of Condé Nast, and a man who used to work for Marco Pierre White, but also a member of the Hambro family. If the Tories can let it be known via Radio 4 that they've widened their appeal to include the heirs of merchant bankers, maybe we've written them off too soon?

* Finally, we return to British movies. Seventeen years after it was released, Bruce Robinson is still owed $30,000, we gather, of his fee for writing and directing Withnail And I. One hates to sound harsh, but if Mr Robinson had made a happier film, he'd have been paid out long ago. After all, who's going to pay money to watch a pair of penniless meths-drinkers being chased around the countryside by a predatory old queen? Dismiss the artistic insights of Boris Johnson if you will, but please don't say you weren't warned.