Media: Kelvin: from top yob to top job: S J Taylor, who once felt the Sun editor's boot, knows why he had to quit
Wednesday 26 January 1994
Once or twice in the past few months, I've actually picked up the Sun and thumbed through it before tossing it aside. My reaction? 'Been there, done that.'
And in fact I have. I ate, drank and wrote tabloid for two years of my life; there is very little about the tabs I don't know. I could turn over a few doorsteppers myself, if I were that kind of girl. But I'm not, and they must have sensed that, or they would never have given me the insider information they did for my book, Shock] Horror] The Tabloids in Action (Corgi Black Swan, 1992).
I am also one of a handful of outsiders who have been invited to meet MacKenzie in person in his office - for the singular experience of being kicked out of it. So I know Kelvin. And despite the ritual humiliation I was subjected to, I have a lot of time for him.
Kelvin MacKenzie pushed language to the outer limit of its vulgarity quotient. Under the influence of his terrible genius, the Sun, like great literature, worked on all levels. Intellectuals and boors alike gorged on its pages; for a while there, if you didn't know what outrage Kelvin had perpetrated recently, you didn't know much.
All that came crashing down in 1991, with the demise of the Press Council and the creation of the Press Complaints Commission. It was then that the national newspapers began fully to understand that if they didn't 'put their own house in order', Parliament would do it for them.
Exactly how serious matters had become was evident last November when the Daily Mirror received public censure for publishing photographs of the Princess of Wales, taken without her knowledge in a London gym. It was a caper that a decade ago would have seemed like great fun. Now even the tabloids were registering bitter complaints about the unethical conduct of the Mirror.
The event demonstrated that, even in a worst-case scenario, the national press could indeed put its own house in order. But for free spirits such as MacKenzie, it signalled the end of the Street.
But there is always BSkyB, an unregulated medium bounced off a satellite somewhere outside the powers of Parliament. Somebody somewhere is going to have to figure out how to regulate the skies, but that's going to take time. Meanwhile, where has Kelvin gone? To BSkyB, of course.
He is the latest and the best-known editor seconded from the tabloid press to tabloid television by Rupert Murdoch. First there was Steve Dunleavy, metro editor at the New York Post when Murdoch owned it, who became producer and star of a popular show at Fox Television. Another skilled journalist from the Post was Peter Fearon, thought to be the model for Peter Fallow in Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities. He too was enlisted in the cause of tabloid TV - a genre that has changed the face of television in the US and is no doubt destined to become a dominant force here as well. And Wendy Henry, former editor of the News of the World under Murdoch, recently left her post as editor of a supermarket tabloid in Florida for the greener pastures of Fox Television.
A master of the emerging technology, Murdoch is moulding satellite to his own specifications. It is a repeat on a grand scale of what he managed to accomplish with the British press.
'Bloody television,' MacKenzie once said. 'They'll get you on and then say, 'Why are you such a scumbag?' '
It is one of those strange ironies that he has been chosen to become managing director of BSkyB. Questions as to whether he has the moxie to make the transition from top yob to executive status are moot. But more than any other tabloid type, MacKenzie possesses the common touch.
Any mogul planning to rule the skies need look no further than Kelvin MacKenzie. And Murdoch hasn't.
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