Matthew Norman: A BBC chief in need of media training


With concerns about BBC ageism intensifying all the time, the fear grows that director general Mark Thompson and trust chairman Michael Lyons will be retired before the fight over "top slicing" the licence fee is resolved.

Sir Michael seems quite antique enough already for some tastes, and yoked to standards of politesse barely seen since Lord Altrincham was ostracised from society in 1957 for describing the Queen's speaking voice as a pain in the neck. Responding to words from new culture, media and sport secretary Ben Bradshaw, Sir Michael asked him to refrain from "personal criticism". What Ben (entirely unbriefed by Newsnight producer-husband Neal Dalgleish, by the way; they keep an exquisite Chinese wall down the middle of the bed) said is that senior management should "show some leadership", which looks more like an attack of their professional competence.

Personal criticism might be to ask Sir Michael what, in the name of sanity, he imagines he's doing by taking a 30 per cent rise in his pay package (with taxable benefits doubled) when money for journalism is so squeezed... and just for spending extra days doing his job. That sort of pay structure is fine for agency nurses and others paid by shift, but it looks eccentric for the holder of such a privileged post. If he'd spent the extra £15,000 on media training, you might understand it. On last week's form, apparently not.

Mum's the word

Elsewhere in the Beeb, that venerable ageism debate spreads from rancorous newsreaders to Arlene Phillips's shock removal as a judge on Strictly Come Dancing. Many take a dim view, none more so than the Daily Telegraph, which so scrupulously avoids cover flashing its younger and sexier lady columnists on the front page. On Friday, its third leader censoriously agreed with Harriet Harman's analysis that Arlene's 66 years explain her firing. Bang next to that, meanwhile, Genevieve Fox took the death of "world's oldest mother" Maria Bousada as her cue to rail against the wickedness of mature women having babies. High time the British Press Awards added Wittiest Self-Parodic Juxtaposition to the Oscars of our industry.

A bitter taste

Here at The Independent, the publication of the latest list of Chequers guests causes the usual anguish, with not a soul from this group getting the nod. Among those who did join the Browns for lunch were many from News International, albeit chief executive-elect Rebekah Wade-Brooks seems to have confined her evening to overnight merriment at Sarah's Dionysian pyjama parties.

Also making the cut, along with his former chairman Victor Blank (justly rewarded for masterminding that brilliant RBS deal on behalf of Lloyds TSB), was Daily Mirror political supremo Kevin Maguire. I wish to make it clear that Kevin attended, as with that meeting of Damian McBride's little cabal of top-ranked smearers, in a purely private capacity.

Stop the press

Telly Scoop of the Week goes to the Mirror's Nicola Methven. "Filming on ITV drama Doc Martin is continuing apace down in the Cornish village of Port Isaac, where the Doc's girlfriend – played by Caroline Catz – was spotted noshing on a pasty (what else?) on set," reveals Nicola. "Question is, was it part of the plot or was she just having a crafty snack. Tune in next series to find out!" Sometimes it feels like only the nuclear clock in Zurich will do to count the moments.

Dickie court out

A feeling in my bones suggests we may return to the libel trial between Richard Desmond and Tom Bower once it's done with.

For now, a word about the Express owner's jaunt to see Lord Black in his Florida nick, a trip that proved as futile (he wasn't allowed in) as it was touching. Asked in court why he wished to spend time with Conrad, subject of the Bower biography in which the alleged libel appears, Richard replied "to see how he was". Bless him for that. Even Lord Longford never crossed the Atlantic at his own expense just to check on the wellbeing of an inmate.

As for Richard's remark that Rupert Murdoch is the media world's Darth Vader, this grotesque caricature will not stand. Look at any recent photo, and tell me he isn't Davros.

Wolff takes a bite

Rupert's latest biographer, Michael Wolff, posits an intriguing theory about the News of the World's naughtiness. Writing on, he argues that the interception of phone messages has as much to do with the boss's craving for gossip as selling newspapers.

"Gossip was one of the consistent themes in my conversations with Murdoch... If I brought him gossip, he was much happier than when I did not. It is a prurient interest...he refers to having pictures and reports and files – though this may be as much what he imagines a powerful person like himself should have, whereas all he really has is some speculation from sycophantic reporters feeding him what he wants to hear." Disrespectful rot and we'll give it no house room here.

No laughing matter

Over at The Sun, finally, the man who once played Rupert's Supreme Dalek continues to delight. Contrary to popular belief, there is much more to Kelvin MacKenzie's column than providing a template for Gaunty's effort the next day, albeit these twin towers of opinion-forming tend to cover uncannily similar ground.

"Do stop sending me these disgraceful Michael Jackson jokes," writes Kelvin. "The one I particularly objected to was: Jackson hasn't been as stiff as this since Macaulay Culkin told him he was coming over for the weekend. Just stop it," he concludes. "And no laughing either." Kelvin, my lovely, you may set your mind at ease about that.