Matthew Norman's Media Diary

Give that woman a prize for bravery
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The Independent Online

I f only there were a category for Courage Under Fire at the British Press Awards, "the Oscars of Our Industry", the 2008 prize would be in the bag. In fact I may commission a statuette, in the shape of a syringe, and arrange for Su Pollard (see below) to present it to Melanie Phillips at a special ceremony. For in a show of barely precedented bravery last Wednesday she dared touch on healthcare (the tendency of the moneyed to use private GPs is, she understated, "a dagger pointed at the very heart of the NHS") the very day after her own Daily Mail reported the latest overwhelming evidence that there is no link between autism and MMR (the triple jab, that is – not Mad Mel Rocks!, the new Andrew Lloyd Webber-Ben Elton musical, with Su Pollard cast to type in the title role, scheduled for the West End in October).

Melanie was such a fervent proselytiser of the research that may shortly see Dr Andrew Wakefield struck off the medical register, you will recall that she jettisoned the carefully nuanced approach that marks out her work to cite that phantasmal link among the great public scandals of the age. Some will wonder whether her championing of the cause contributed to the recent resurgence of potentially fatal childhood measles, and whether her failure to apologise is a sign of the insane journalistic arrogance (see David Aaronovitch below) that refuses to countenance the possibility of error. Let them think what they will. We who know Mad Mel understand that with her it is raw courage, and not love, that means never having to say you're sorry.

Less brave, at least by his own tortured admission, is favourite columnist Jon Gaunt. Reporting an encounter with "feral" adolescents on a train (quite a motif; I recall a similar outrage en route to a Coventry City game), he turns on himself. "My name is Jon Gaunt," runs his first sentence, "and I am a COWARD."

Nonsense. All that happened is that, when a trio of unruly teenagers invaded his first-class carriage at Clapham Junction, Gaunty, "bricking myself", did the self-preservatory thing and scarpered. "What would you have done?" he asks. "Was I a coward?" Mate, the clue's probably in the above quoted intro, but we can't all be Leslie Welsh. Do stop beating yourself up like this. You'll always be a fearless warrior to us.

Bravery being today's theme, a warm hats-off to Jane Garvey for her act of near-suicidal audacity. If there is one rigidly unbreakable media rule, it's never, never attack Radio 4 for elitism. For while the British middle class will meekly endure filthy hospitals, appalling transport conditions even in first class (see Gaunty above), wicked military adventurism and even Quote, Unquote with Nigel Rees, they will riot, maim, slaughter and deploy short-range tactical nuclear missiles to defend the purity of their radio station of choice. The anti-Jane counterstrike has been surprisingly restrained, column inches lacerating her outrunning those on the US election by barely 6:1, because it's hard to disagree with the argument, if not the stridency. The new presenter of Woman's Hour, a superb broadcaster and as grievous a loss to Radio 5 Live as our beloved Fi Glover, is misguided to complain about the "massive middle-class bent" to R4 programming. Mediocrity in the sovereign names of "accessibility" and its kissing cousin "inclusivity" is hardly in short supply elsewhere on the Beeb. But my God, you have to admire her balls in having a go.

I am intrigued to hear that a forthcoming More 4 episode of the Larry David sitcom Curb Your Enthusiasm features a character called Simon Kelner. Details remain patchy, but it appears that Simon fails to invite Larry to his party despite having a lot of money from him. All we know for sure, from a colleague, is that Mr David has described Simon Kelner as the most unpleasant character he's ever written. Which is no trifling accolade from the creator of George Costanza.

From the most gleaming of all Seinfeld gems to someone who played a mere cameo (Kramer's girlfriend with the "jimmy legs"), and potty-mouthed US comedian Sarah Silverman. Just in case you haven't seen it, I beg you to visit YouTube and watch the video, created by Sarah to honour boyfriend Jimmy Kimmel's fifth anniversary as ABC's late-night chat show host, entitled "I'm Fucking Matt Damon".

Passing over the tricky question of whether she really did write it before the apparently soon-to-end US screenwriter's strike began in October, this is one of the funnier things in human history, and not to be missed.

it remains too soon to consider the Telegraph's foray into Munster TV with a show featuring Ann Widdecombe and Simon Heffer. Frankly I haven't had the stomach for it yet. But with suitable medication I hope to have a look this coming week.

returning finally to the question of courage, did anyone read David Aaronovitch's Times article "No Retreat From the War on Terror" without being overcome by the smell of woad? Upon my soul, the man's bellicosity is a marvel to behold, and while the idiots who expect an MMR recantation from Mad Mel might also revel in an Iraq apologia from Colonel A, they can all go to hell. His continuing support for Western interventionism despite the increasing horror of Afghanistan puts John McCain to shame. Just one thing. I just wish the Colonel would lead from the front that tiny bit more, and take up that commission in the TA.

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