Matthew Norman: It's just the start for the David Brent of fascists
Monday 26 October 2009
Never in the field of media endeavour, to adapt the man posthumously sequestered by the BNP, has so much tosh been written by so many about a single wretched nebbish. "I believe Question Time will be one of the great political events of our time," predicted anti-racism stalwart Kelvin MacKenzie in The Sun. "Right up there with Frost-Nixon."
Well, not quite, and it's an all too rare honour today to doff the cap to Mark Thompson for letting it happen. The memory of Nick Griffin citing David Duke's lesser known Ku Klux Klan – the adorable KKK Lite where the good ol' boys wore black hoods in solidarity, and had their black friends over for fried chicken and choruses of Ol' Man River on the porch – will linger for a good while.
For this is the David Brent of fascists... less chilled-out entertainer than a smug yet insecure platitudinous bungler reduced by the gentlest probing to substituting that ingratiating rictus grin for rudimentary forensic skills; and mixing the classically Brentian cocktail of amusement and cushion-hiding embarrassment for his audience. But QT must be only the start.
Mr Griffin must now be booked for as many BBC shows as possible. He should be invited to form a dance partnership, creepy as that idea might strike him, with Anton du Beke. He should have a cameo on Holby City as an amnesiac trauma victim who wanders in to A&E unable to recall a word he has spoken over the past 15 years. They should resurrect Jackanory, and have him read that charming piece of children's fiction My Imaginary Friends: Secret Radio Intercepts From the Eastern Front. In an ideal world, in fact, Thommo would find the cash to launch a new channel, BBC Griffin, because every moment this pitiable chump spends on screen deals a portion of death to his cause.
One gratifying by-product of the hysteria was a long overdue public outing for Mark Byford, the deputy director general so admired at White City that his £513,000 salary draws not a shred of baffled resentment. "We see here a fantasising conspiracy theorist," was Mark's post-show verdict, "who madly defines his politics by race rather than by moral values". Hard to dispute, of course, but odd from this source. The official reason for inviting Mr Griffin on was to extend the same impartiality shown to other party leaders, so it seems poor form to jettison the neutrality the minute the show was over. But always good to hear from Mark, whose appearance on Thursday's Today programme was the most authoritative any senior TV executive has turned in there, according to at least four media professors, since Channel 4 chairman Luke Johnson went on during the Shilpa Shetty row to refuse to make any comment at all.
Carry on Hammering
Fans of old British films made for thruppence ha'penny are directed to the Hammer Festival, which begins in east London on Wednesday. Meanwhile, one of Hammer's more versatile stars will be giving a keynote address about her career in horror, Bond movies and Carry On films at the Jermyn Street Theatre on Sunday evening. If you don't recall Valerie Leon as a PVC-clad, whip-wielding vamp suffice it that many rock and pop historians believe Kings of Leon to be a tribute band, and cite Val as the inspiration for their memorable refrain "Your Sex Is On Fire". She also sold Charles Hawtrey his tent in Carry On Camping.
Cruel taunt for Gaunt
It's still too soon to dwell on Jon Gaunt's demise from The Sun. As with any bereavement, you must work through the denial and anger before reaching acceptance. Still, at least I've moved to the second stage, rendered livid by the choice of replacement. I know Gaunty and Shami Chakrabarti made common cause when, by way of another instance of Jungian Synchronicity, he unearthed a latent passion for human rights the week he was sacked by TalkSport. Even so, giving Shami the first guest slot after his departure seemed a cruel taunt from cerebral new editor Dominic Mohan, if not dancing on Gaunty's grave.
Memoirs of a nearly man
Not since Duckworth and Lewis published their racy guide to calculating run targets in rain-shortened cricket matches has a book captivated me like Gyles Brandreth's memoir, serialised in the Daily Mail. What a raconteur he is, with all the tales of showbiz, politics, and social climbing from Oxford all the way to becoming official Laughter Track-In-Waiting to the Duke of Edinburgh. Sometimes Dame Fame visits those who seek her least, and this is such a case. "No I shan't be Prime Minister," Gyles reflects in 1997 on being turfed out by the good people of Chester. "I missed the boat – too busy faffing about on the quayside." Aagh, the agony of the near miss. Just a couple of years less gracing breakfast telly with the humorous jumpers, and ... heartbreakingly close. But no Churchillian cigar.
The glare of publicity
An impossible task for Jan Moir in Friday's Mail, meanwhile, as she tried to walk the tightrope of grovelling apologia and reasoned self-justification over that piece. She'd clearly had a monstrous week, so we'll charitably ignore the gaping holes in her argument. The truth, you suspect, because this is not your archetypal Mail monster, is that the defence she wanted to use, but couldn't, is the one that narrowly failed to get Mr Griffin's pin-ups off at Nuremberg. Next time, I'm sure she'll find the strength to disobey.
Finally, curiously, the entire story managed to evade one of Jan's colleagues. "Forgive me, I know I really should get out more," wrote Richard Littlejohn, "but who is Stephen Gately?" I forgive you, Richard, but I am concerned. If you wandered into Holby last Tuesday and asked that question, they wouldn't let you leave in a hurry.
*'We have been asked to point out that Anton Du Beke considers his being associated in any way with Nick Griffin to be grossly unfair and deeply offensive'.
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