Media: Hell hath no fury like the tabloids' scorn - Maggie Brown looks at coverage of the latest royal scandal and detects anxiety in the tabloids

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The Independent Online
On Monday the Daily Mirror called James Hewitt a revolting creep. By Tuesday it decided that was far too kind. But by then the Sun had staked out vicious new ground, reporting in gleeful, lingering detail that he could be 'hanged, drawn and quartered' under the 1351 Treasons Act (though the down side is that the Princess of Wales could be burnt at the stake, too). Meanwhile, the Star added for good measure that he was bad in bed. Better than he would be if the Labour MP Austin Mitchell has been correctly reported: 'Off with his bits]' he demanded. Oh yes, and the Press Association reported that the Life Guards have entered his name on the gates of his regimental barracks to make sure he gets the message: he may have been mentioned in dispatches from the Gulf, but he is blackballed from the mess for ever and ever.

What this week's press coverage of Princess in Love demonstrates in buckets is that Britain remains an amazingly class- bound society - in mind-set, at least. We expect our officers to be gentlemen, not common kiss- and-tell merchants. And if they betray their class, then hell hath no fury . . . We roll out Kenneth Baker (Daily Express) to observe that 'the price of betrayal has gone up from 30 pieces of silver to pounds 3m'. Or a five-bedroomed manor house in Devon: yesterday's Daily Mirror had exclusive colour details of Mr Hewitt's latest object of desire. Perhaps the trappings of country squiredom are all he can look forward to.

Even Anna Pasternak, who stands to profit greatly from the 'tale that had to be told', was reported as saying, 'He's too stupid to be my lover'. Not that she escapes untouched. The Daily Express wheeled out five eminent reviewers to trash her. 'Horse manure,' said Melvyn Bragg. 'Shop-girl sleaze,' said Leslie Thomas. In the Times, Lord Rees-Mogg called it a 'terribly, terribly bad book'. At moments like this one turns to the Daily Telegraph for the final word. There was Niall Ferguson, the Oxford history don, beating his breast on the centre pages. 'One is bound to draw a simple conclusion. If even the services can no longer be depended upon to instil a sense of decorum, then the integrity of the Victorians is gone for ever.'

AFTER that unanimity over the bounder there comes an interesting gender gap over Diana's position: the women writers were taking her side, and reminding everyone of the Prince of Wales's behaviour. Marje Proops said: 'Once again she is the victim of a self-seeking man.' Lynda Lee-Potter, the Daily Mail's top columnist and by no means a consistent admirer of Diana, wrote: 'She's a woman, not a goddess. Like all of us, she craved affection . . . I don't think the book will damage her in the eyes of anyone with compassion, understanding or humanity.' (Is there a subtext here, and are they hoping lost Di will turn once again for sympathy to Richard Kay, the Mail's royal correspondent?) James Whitaker (Daily Mirror), in contrast, thought that while nice people (women) will feel sympathy, 'Diana will lose thousands of supporters', while 'Charles will be smirking'.

The prescription is clear. The Express and Mirror called for a divorce. Alone among the broadsheets, the Guardian added its voice. 'Enough is enough. In the name of sanity, let Prince Charles and Princess Diana divorce - then get on with the rest of their lives.' The Sun was far more cautious. 'Divorce would surely mean Diana would lose the boys'; or is this a coded message for what would there be left for us to write about?