Matthew Norman's Media Diary
Burnham by name, if not by nature
Monday 28 January 2008
A warm welcome to our new guv'nor Andy Burnham. Andy's appointment as Secretary of State for Media (and sport and culture, of course, but we know the priorities) observes a modern tradition: that of handing the media job to one of those malleable loyalists ("I was a Blairite," said Andy last June, when asked where his heart lay, "and now I am a Brownite") who, on returning from No 10, should always be asked "Did you find any polyps up there while you were with the PM?"
If anyone can reach depths of obeisance unplumbed even by Tessa Jowell and James Purnell, he's your man. So faux-naifs, anticipating a more robust approach to the Murdoch empire's expansionist ambitions, are advised to avoid breath-holding. We can all guess Andy's imminent decision on whether News International must sell its significant stake in ITV, while he will doubtless ape Mr Purnell, to whose Ant he has long played Dec, in seeking to weaken the BBC by sharing its income out among other broadcasters.
As for his instincts on the press, we recall that when David Blunkett was resigned for the first time, Andy ascribed this to nothing so soppy as those widely published allegations of repeated abuses of power and financial irregularities, but "trial by media".
Perhaps he feels the same about the investigations (and hats aloft to Guido Fawkes for getting that ball rolling) that removed Peter Hain. We wish Andy well in his "dream job", and trust he will waste little time before confirming that, whatever the post's official tripartite name, his correct job title is Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Retaining the Electoral Support of the Murdochs, Père et Fils."
In a bid to boost the disturbingly low tally of column inches devoted to Jeremy Paxman's pants, I offer this warning about the long-term perils of publicity generated by the nether regions. Some years ago, news dribbled out of a London theatre that William Gaunt, starring in A Humble Boy, fought a frantic battle for a new prosthetic penis (the character peed on stage), being loathe to inherit the one worn previously worn by Dennis Quilley. Sadly, Mr Gaunt's victory seemed Pyrrhic when he was later overheard remonstrating with a member of the production team. Thirty years and more he'd trodden the boards, he thundered, and now his obituaries would be nothing more than "Penis Actor Dies". So think on, Paxo. "TV's Pantsman Dead" is the last Daily Mirror headline your admirers would care to read in 2043.
Mention of that title brings us to tonight's Cudlipp lecture at the London College of Communication, where Alastair Campbell's talk will be catchily entitled The Media: a Case of Growth in Scale, Alas Not in Stature. The audience will reportedly be an amalgam of old No 10 chums and students hand picked for their docility. Anti-Iraq war militants will not be admitted.
As for those who may wonder whether Alastair is a voice worth hearing on journalistic ethics, we've heard quite enough from the cynics and sneerers already. Besides, it's good that he is finding activities that get him out of the house. All that staring at the long-disconnected hotline to No 10 in the kitchen can't be good for so fragile a soul.
one man confident enough to require no claque of admirers is Jon Gaunt (our cover story this week). Our plans for an outing to his Q&A road show are almost finalised, but anyone still wavering may be assisted by his Sun item about the man who threw his small son to death from a balcony in Greece. Having shown typical insight by observing that John Hogan "has psychiatric problems", Gaunty calls him a "monster" (nothing wrong with mixed messages when they provide balance). "If he was so stressed, so suicidal," he adds, "why didn't he just top himself ..." Sparkling, as ever. Off stage, the good news for Gaunty is that his TalkSport show attracted more complaints than any other radio presenter. The bad news is that all 48 (for offensive language, bias, over-intellectualising childishly simple issues like immigration, and so on) were rejected by the relevant watchdog. What any Rush Limbaugh wannabe needs most is a high-profile rebuke, or better still, a suspension, so better luck next year.
Worrying signs that Gaunty's Sun colleague Kelvin MacKenzie's confusion over Hillsborough persists. One minute he begs forgiveness for his catastrophic Sun fictions about Liverpool fans, the next he insists he was right all along. On Thursday he was in unapologetic mode, wondering how his offer to buy fiscally troubled Liverpool FC might be received on Merseyside. He is scheduled to grovel again later this week, before taunting relatives of the deceased anew on 5 February. Poor love, he doesn't know whether he's Arthur or Martha.
A friend rings with the unlikely claim that the fifth sports broadcaster inducted into the Radio Academy's Hall of Fame, in succession to Eamonn Andrews, John Arlott, Brian Johnston and Peter Jones, is 5 Live football ranter Alan Green. It might be a satirical, crypto-anarchic gesture of contempt for the academy itself, I suppose, but it still seems most unlikely. We'll investigate and return to the matter shortly.
"Chris Tarrant jokes that he has been reduced to living like Alan Partridge on Boost bars and Lucozade since his marriage split," observes Richard Littlejohn, lastly, in the Mail.
"Let's hope he doesn't end up working for Radio Norwich and living in a Travel Tavern. Ah-ha!" A million quid a year, they pay him for that. And more.
Geoffrey Macnab reviews American Hustle, also starring Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper
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- 5 Christmas comes early: Justin Bieber is 'retiring from music'
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