Matthew Norman: A grubby gardener’s game for a laugh

Diary

The tale of Alan Duncan and his not-so-secret gardener underpins the fast-emerging irony about the “surveillance society”. So far at least (and it is very early days), the technology seems more effective in enabling the public to persecute those in authority than the other way round.

We have seen more significant examples (Twitter at the start of the Iranian election protests; the YouTube posting of the police assault that prefaced Ian Tomlinson’s death), but the sneaky recording of Little Alan saying nothing wildly shocking about MPs being “treated like shit” helps to hint at the way ahead.

In truth, it’s hard to admire the reporting style of Heydon Prowse. His digging a huge pound sign in Little Alan’s flowerbed was amusing, not least because Heydon was the child star of the 1993 film The Secret Garden. But abusing Alan’s hospitality after being invited to parliament for a friendly chat seems a bit grubby, and doubtless that Solomon de nos jour Mr Justice Eady, who hasn’t been humiliatingly reversed by the Court of Appeal for several days now, would have something to say about the privacy implications.

For all that, the incident points towards a brave new world in which YouTube is the conduit for bullying politicians and keeps the police relatively straight. Watching you watching us watching you watching us... as so often, in the vexing world of civil liberties, the Game For A Laugh team were way ahead of everyone else.

Pet lover

The last time I set eyes on Alan, four years ago, he was having lunch on another terrace, this one belonging to a smart hotel restaurant overlooking the sea on Italy’s Ligurian coast. The ration book stretched further then, although perhaps he was being entertained by holiday hosts

Lady Verucca Wyatt and her daughter Petronella. It is four months since Petsy wrote of her engagement to mature Austrian reinsurance broker Johannes Muehlenburg, and not a dickie bird since. Does anyone have information about the romance’s progress? We assume Petsy’s silence is down to nothing more sinister than her natural reticence, but it’s the not knowing that’s killing me.

All on her Liz Jones

Speaking of those who can barely bring themselves to share their lives with Daily Mail readers brings us to Liz Jones. Liz’s new book The Exmoor Files, an enchanting account of her odyssey from urban designer label hound to bucolic milk maid, sounds a

transcendent joy. Not everyone agrees, alas, and among the naysayers is the excellent Jane Shilling. Reviewing this magnum opus in the Mail must have been a tester, given that Liz fills 40 per cent of the average day’s paper with her thoughts. Jane handled the commission with élan, concluding with the lavish compliment that “beneath the emotional incontinence, the sentimentality and painful narcissism, there lies a sort of steely courage; of a woman facing the process of ageing and mortality on her own, as best she can.”

Health warning

Alan Duncan isn’t the only video star causing his leader grief, meanwhile, and commiserations to Telegraph blogger and Tory MEP Daniel Hannan on sacrificing his career as vaguely mainstream politician with his health service-bashing appearance on Fox News.

In fact, Daniel said much the same in March when interviewed by Fox’s Sean Hannity, the lobotomised man’s Rush Limbaugh, after his YouTube rant at Gordon Brown. The health service, Hannan told redneck America, “is the last survivor of the socialist post-war conspiracy … sorry, I’m tired, it’s midnight here … socialist post-war consensus.”

Many a true belief spoken in fatigue. Mr Hannan is the first person to apologise on Fox for raising the spectre of leftist conspiracy, and for that alone will be fondly remembered.

Bacon to ham it up

I am pleased to mark Edinburgh Festival-goers’ cards on two fronts. On Thursday week, Richard Bacon will be making his debut as a stand-up comic at the Udderbelly. He isn’t the first Radio 5 Live presenter to try his hand as a master of mirth (every morning Nicky Campbell reduces his geisha-like colleague Shelagh Fogarty to girlish giggles), but he is the first to do so in front of a large, live audience, and we wish him well.

The best of British also to Don Mackay of the Daily Mirror. Don has done some stand-up, most memorably at the UK Press awards do at which, in what leading critics cited as “the best drunk act since Arthur Lowe”, he dropped the team prize he and colleagues had just received while berating journalists from The Sun. Don will be in Edinburgh for A British Subject, the play by his actress wife Nicola MacAuliffe about his part in winning the release of a Leeds man from death row in Pakistan. Although not to all tastes, Don is a fine reporter, and among the last of his breed in this age of the call-centre newsroom, and we hope the play goes down a storm.

Stormy waters

Gloom about the industry’s future deepens further, finally, on the news that Rupert Murdoch is reduced to renting out his yacht. Rupert, or “sugar tits” as he’s known to his friend and shipmate on a recent cruise to Alaska, Mel Gibson, is offering the vessel for about £200,000 per week, but if no takers can be found it’s assumed he will make it available as a competition prize for Sun readers. It’s some 30 years since Rupert did that with his 12-year-old daughter Elisabeth’s pony, which he confiscated without her knowledge and gave to the winner of a News of the World contest, but if there’s one thing time cannot wither it’s a charitable heart.

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