Matthew Norman's Media Diary

Pretend you can't hear! Perfect!
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The Independent Online

Put this down to the sort of extreme paranoia that generally concludes with a spell as an in-patient, but events during BBC1's local election programme late on Thursday night suggest a startling development in the relationship between media and government.

Things were already a little tense, of course, thanks not least to the sensitivity of former Home Secretary Charles Clarke (see below), but on the eve of his sacking they took a dramatic turn. The election results show was going oddly well, with Jeremy Vine and Emily Maitlis alleviating the sepulchral presence of David Dimbleby with a dash of youthful spark, when the elfin features of David Blunkett appeared from Sheffield.

The Davids chatted for a bit, until Mr Dimbleby asked him about John Prescott's survival chances in the forthcoming reshuffle. At this, Blunkers instantly announced that his earpiece had gone dead and that he could hear nothing. A few minutes later, up popped Jeff Hoon from a count in Derby. Again, all was going to plan until Mr Hoon was asked about his own prospects of coming through the reshuffle (he did, bizarrely, albeit with a huge demotion), and would you believe it, he couldn't hear a thing. Not a dickie bird.

Logic may suggest that even Blairite superloyalists aren't daft enough to feign deafness whenever they're asked a question they'd rather avoid. Yet for this to happen twice in a few minutes, each time at the precise moment the question was put, makes you wonder just how hands-on Alastair Campbell is being permitted to be on his semi-official return to No 10.

"I'm so sorry, I've completely lost you," has the ring of a brilliantly cunning Campbellian tactic, and, if so, hats off to him for that. The crucial thing to drum in to the likes of Mr Hoon, an amiable chap but a very long shot indeed for the All Souls' high table, is that on no account is he to try it when he's in the same studio as the person asking the question.

* WHILE ON the subject - and this isn't one for those of you having breakfast - thanks to Popbitch for passing on a BBC anecdote about Charlie Clarke once yelling at a technical crew over a faulty earpiece before charging off in one of his strops. "The sound technician quickly discovered what the problem was," reports the website. "The earpiece had been jammed with an enormous piece of ear wax." Sorely missed.

* AS FOR his Home Office replacement "Dr" John Reid, I must agree with my colleague Stephen Glover about his Today programme interview with Jim Naughtie last Wednesday. Writing elsewhere, Stephen dwelt on the intense chumminess of this exchange (simpering giggles about the hash found at the good "doctor's" home), and you did wonder what the programme's new editor imagined he was up to by allowing Jim - who referred to New Labour as "we" in the run-up to the last general election - to do the interview when John Humphrys was also on duty.

Jim's a lovely chap, and top notch on classical music and rare British birds, but... well, let's not be too brutal. As for the ceaseless tutting, sighing and groaning while the interviewee is being impertinent enough to talk, less of the weltschmertz, Jim, please. It's a radio interview, love. It's not Strindberg.

* OVER ON Radio Five Live, meanwhile, Victoria Derbyshire's morning show is more richly entertaining than ever. Indeed, one topic last week rivalled my all-time favourite "Is it ever right to sack someone for something done away from the workplace?" as the most challenging in phone-in history. "Should all foreigners who commit a crime be sent home?" asked Victoria, ushering in a stream of calls possibly better suited to commercial radio. ("If I say a word like 'golliwog' or do monkey chants at Blackburn Rovers I'll get locked up," as one gentleman put it. "England, wake up!") Having pondered the matter without pause for several days, I still can't make my mind up. Suppose a Canadian national is caught on camera doing 34mph in a 30mph zone, or a visitor from Soweto overheard by a plain clothes policeman praising Mandela's role within the ANC, thereby glorifying terrorism. Should such people be deported? It's simply too exquisitely well balanced for a decision either way.

* HOW BRACING to find Carol Vorderman turning to lawyers over the campaign to pressure her into giving up a contract to advertise Barclays-owned loan consolidation firm FirstPlus. Tonight, BBC1's Real Story will review cases of the already financially stretched whom Carol has encouraged to "splash out a bit" with a new loan on the inarguable grounds that "life is for living", so we'll wait to see the evidence before risking the libel suit. Even so, in an age when crushing debt is so common and bankruptcy such a painless escape route from it, it's lovely to see her embracing the time-honoured epicurean catchphrase carpe diem. In fact, I find this the most touching TV ad campaign since Esther Rantzen - herself a huge fan of the ode, of course, albeit those of Cyril Fletcher rather than Horace - took to the screen to advise victims of accidents to work to do what Carol is doing now, and seek legal advice.

* NOW THAT the England football coach's job is finally sorted, it cannot be long before Jonathan Pearce issues that long-awaited public apology for misinforming Grandstand viewers that Alan Curbishley would be appointed to the post. In fact I may well have missed it. If so, perhaps someone would e-mail the reference.

m.norman@independent.co.uk

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