Matthew Norman: Bradshaw, a true giant among men


Outrage and distress are occupational hazards for those of us who follow the British media, yet I can't recall being quite so upset as I am today by the smearing of our overseer Ben Bradshaw. Such a luminous political talent is Ben that you have to wonder whether, had the cards fallen differently, he might have risen to become a junior defence minister in the government of Trumpton, or a senior parking permits official in Camberwick Green.

Instead, he contents himself with performing his duties as Culture, Media and Sport Secretary with such distinction that the prospect of losing him is now, according to a YouGov poll, the single most compelling reason for sticking with Labour in 43 South-east marginals.

Swiftly pressing home the advantage he secured on Question Time, when he unveiled his blissful ignorance of the Polanski story, Ben last week turned that powerhouse mind to attacking the Today programme over "feeble" and "biased" interviews with Tory spokesmen. Those buffoons who suggest that skirmishing with a radio show is beneath the dignity of his office fail to comprehend how far back Ben's phobia about political partisanship within the media goes ... all the way, in fact, to his time as a reporter on that same Today programme.

Some 13 years ago, he waltzed into the office and casually mentioned, as if it was an irrelevant curio, his selection as Labour's parliamentary candidate for Exeter. When told by an editor, very slowly, that he could not – durrrrhhhh! – continue to work in BBC news, the poor lamb was flabbergasted. It had never occurred to him, a colleague recalls with an indulgent bless-his-heart chuckle, that this might make the cut as a conflict of interest. No one alive speaks with greater authority about feeble-mindedness and bias than this democratic giant. Now let that be an end to the matter, and we won't hear another word about it.

No chumps allowed

Alright, just a few. It is my painful duty to rebuke John Humphrys for his intervention. Referring to Ben's keynote Tweet at the Voice of the Listener and Viewer awards do that named Today as the most admired programme of the last quarter century, Mr Humprhys asked whether he was allowed to call Ben "a chump". The answer, categorically, is no. It may be permissible for Lord Mandelson to use Bullingdonian cuss words when berating Murdoch executives for brazen treachery, but higher standards are demanded of our most revered broadcaster.

Off the record

As for the other spat between a political deity and a BBC interviewer with a regrettably loose grasp of the concept of deference, hats off to Boris Johnson for his attempt to stuff Paxo on Newsnight over the question of the latter's salary. Boris was furious that chunks of this exchange were cut from the BBC2 transmission, and rightly so. If there is one politician better qualified to lecture on journalistic ethics than Ben is to hold forth about bias, it is the man so fondly remembered at The Times for being fired after jovially informing his editor that he made up quotes whenever possible, and could see nothing wrong with that.

Carry on crudely

The above passing reference to Mandy brings us to the latest elegance from the pen of Kelvin MacKenzie. "Lord Mandelson's striking similarity to Charles Hawtrey has led a number of you to suggest a movie career for our beloved Deputy PM," he writes in The Sun, "... a starring role in a remake of Carry On Up The Khyber appears to be your favourite. Why choose that one?" Let me explain. One sees how the argot would have escaped a wealthy chap with a lovely villa on the French Riviera, but "Khyber Pass" is cockney rhyming slang for "arse". In other words, Kelvin, the myriad of correspondents who sent you the suggestion are making a crudely homophobic reference to anal sex. I hope that clears it up.

Words never hurt?

Meanwhile, the Tweedledumb to Kelvin's Tweedledee was on elegiac form even by his own stellar standards in Friday's Sun in riding to the defence of the beleaguered Strictly Come Dancing hoofer. "Of course Anton The Berk shouldn't be sacked," insisted favourite columnist Jon Gaunt. "Just as Carol Thatcher shouldn't have been the victim of a witch hunt and Big Ron Atkinson's career should not have been blighted by one offensive comment."

What particularly impresses here is Gaunty's mastery of the complex nuance of racist terminology. See how nimbly he equivocates between "Paki", "Golliwog" and Mr Atkinson's reference to Marcel Desailly as "a fucking lazy thick nigger". "Grow up," continued Gaunty, "and realise that sticks and stones may break your bones but names etc ..." Cracking advice. The anniversary approaches of the Monday morning on which Gaunty woke me with the phone call in which, following reference here to his inclusion of Rolf Harris among his Top 10 Brits, he rebuked me for questioning his intellect. "I don't mind banter," he said, lobbing the word "chump" or its kissing cousin into that Socratic dialogue, "but I'm not having you make out I'm thick." Sticks and stones, Gaunty boy, sticks and stones.

Classic beginnings

Apologies, finally, to those who have already come across this classic, but it would be criminally negligent to leave the rest of you unaware of what must be the Intro of the Decade. It is taken from the Daily Mail of last Thursday, and here in its entirety it is. "A gay man tried to poison his lesbian neighbours by putting slug pellets into their curry after he was accused of kidnapping their three-legged cat". Utter, utter genius.