Matthew Norman's Media Diary
Monday 21 February 2005
The last time I described a strategic partnership as human history's least attractive alliance since the non-aggression pact between Hitler and Stalin, the boxer Naseem Hamed (he'd taken Chris Eubank into his entourage) and I nearly got it on down the High Court.
The last time I described a strategic partnership as human history's least attractive alliance since the non-aggression pact between Hitler and Stalin, the boxer Naseem Hamed (he'd taken Chris Eubank into his entourage) and I nearly got it on down the High Court. So you will appreciate my relief to find, in the matter of the BBC's fiscal future, Gerald Kaufman lining up not with but against John Birt.
Gerald's endorsement of the BBC licence fee may lack enthusiasm (he calls it "a bad, regressive tax"). Yet he cannily sees through the flaw in Lord Birt's masterplan - as expressed by his homey, arch Whitehall placeman Terry Burns, in his new report - that the BBC should share licence-fee revenue with commercial rivals.
At first sight, the idea has huge appeal. Wouldn't it be marvellous if Sky One's When Celebrities Fellate Pumas were licence-fee funded? Indeed it would, and yet on reflection one wonders why Lord Birt would wish to subsidise profitable broadcasters at the Beeb's expense.
Now, I yield to no one in my admiration for the former BBC chairman, whose contribution as the PM's top blue skies thinker has revolved around the building of a special spiral staircase to enable him to reach his office without mingling with lowly civil servants. Certainly, no one sane would accuse him of being motivated here by hatred of Michael Grade, with whom he fell out at the Beeb long ago. He's much too big a man for that. Even so, we look to Gerald to do all in his power as media select committee chairman to bolster Tessa Jowell's rearguard against the Burns report, which Sir G describes not merely as "foolish" but "stupid" too.
Had he thought of it, he might have added "idiotic", and (if only for the variety) "moronic". Still, nobody's perfect, and it's a real joy to see Gerald emerge as such a staunch defender of BBC values. Keep it up, old fellow, keep it up!
* No branch of the BBC strives harder to underline the central importance of public service broadcasting, meanwhile, than Radio 5 Live. Nicky Campbell has managed an entire week on the breakfast show without using the "c" word once, while Victoria Derbyshire confirms this upmarket lurch by devoting much of her morning phone-in to a debate - ah, the echoes of a Brains Trust debate involving Isaiah Berlin and AJP Taylor on the old Home Service - on the matter of obese household pets. Another hour was devoted to the London Olympic bid, during which a caller mentioned that Paris is the hot favourite. "It's only favourite with the bookies, John," was Victoria's tough, no nonsense. And she's quite right. Go down to the butcher or the florist, and you'll find London long odds on at 1-3.
Speaking of domestic animals, the Daily Mail's relentless drive against the credulous idiocy of modern times gathers pace. "Dog In The Bark", was a witty punning headline from last Tuesday. "Couple spot the face of their dead pet in a log beside the fire."
* There was a time, more mature readers may recall, when journalism was largely about reporting or commenting on the activities of others. Thankfully that time has long passed, and it's a thrill to find so many colleagues inviting a global audience to follow them on their own bespoke websites.
Telegraph Middle East correspondent Toby Harnden and "his faithful dog Finn, a long-haired terrier mix and former Belfast stray" will feature shortly. Also due a cheery "Ave!" is Julia Caesar, a BBC business reporter whose picture-saturated homepage suggests she is very close to crossing her personal Rubicon, and entering the land of the glamour model. Any nominations for other sites will be much appreciated.
A brief word of praise for Jonathan Dimbleby. There are journalists whose heads might be turned by a friendly acquaintance with the Prince of Wales. Jonathan, who of course teased that adultery confession out of Charles, is much too professional for that, however, limiting himself to a few radio appearances celebrating the imminent nuptials and irritably dismissing any notion that it is both unpopular and constitutionally dodgy. Any attempt to contact Jonathan to congratulate him would have failed, since he was out all day Friday being fitted for his page-boy outfit.
I am depressed by the lacklustre coverage of EastEnders' 20th birthday in The Sun, which restricted itself to a centre spread on Friday. Worse, there was just the one picture of the editor's husband, Ross Wade (Ross Kemp as was). On this evidence, it seems Ross won't be following his fictional potato head brother Steve McFadden back to Walford, preferring to concentrate on his career as a stage actor instead. Ross's Petruchio enchanted the provinces last year, and he is believed to be in talks with the RSC regarding when to sate the growing public appetite for his Lear.
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