Matthew Norman: Poor Ed couldn't do the jolly banter


The phenomenally sincere police apology to poor Colin Stagg prompts a request for information about my one-time boss Jonathan Holborough.

During his tenure at the Mail on Sunday Jonathan used his front page to propagate the police's insistence, after Mr Stagg's trial had been abandoned, that they had the right man all along.

Bless him, he took such fearsome umbrage at words of mine that he wrote a letter for publication suggesting this was an act of revenge for him sacking me (naughtiness, in fact, since along with almost the entire features department I joyously resigned). Jonathan, best known for clamping his handkerchief Oswald over his mouth at moments of stress (the linen object was named after wartime fascist hankie Sir Oswald Nosely) was last sighted mixing business with pleasure by running a haberdasher's in Tenterden, Kent.

That was years ago, though, so if you know where he is, please pass on the details and I'll offer him space here to apologise to Mr Stagg himself.

Tears on the television

It's hard on a chap, as PG Wodehouse's Ukridge would put it, upon my Sam it's very hard that Carol Vorderman and Fiona Phillips should leave our screens within a few days of each other. Fiona marked her departure from GMTV, I read, by assuring viewers that she will not forget their kindness, and while I've no idea what this means (unless the word is code for sullen tolerance), still the tears well up. Why do terrible things always seem to happen at Christmas?

The class war rages on

As the aftershocks from the seismic Stourton sacking continue to reverberate, an old friend dons his hard hat and skips among the rubble to consider the role played by class warfare. In the Daily Telegraph, Simon Heffer declares that Ed Stourton's poshness had nothing to do with it, replacement Justin Webb being just as nobby, and he's probably right.

More likely, and more disturbing, is the rival theory that Ed – by a distance the best of the rest on Today, despite lacking Jim Naughtie's grasp of birdsong – was dispatched because his marketing-driven bosses felt he wasn't up to much on the jolly banter front.

Until now the solitary outpost of public life to escape such idiocy has been Radio 4, the staidness of which is such a central facet of its enduring strength. So it will be interesting to observe whether Ed's firing heralds a descent into the we-really-want-to-know-what-you-the-listener-thinks nonsense that has wrecked Radio 5 Live.

Where we unmistakably do detect the dread hand of class warfare is, oddly enough, at the Telegraph itself. Can it possibly be a coincidence that, while public school products Craig Brown, Andrew Wilson and Sam Leith have so dementedly been ditched, Simon survives?

Certainly you have to wonder to what extent all the prolier-than-thou bragging about his impeccably lower-middle-class credentials is a safeguard. Would Simon still be working for those adorable Barclay Twins had he not celebrated his humble origins in Southend-on-Sea, where his father trod the beat, in that poignant memoir Son of PC Gone Mad?

Surely it is passages like the classic about the time Mam queued overnight in a sleeping bag outside Southend's Moss Bros to buy Simon his first polyester dinner jacket in the January sale – not to mention the legendary entry about the time, during the annual hols at Mrs Sprott's boarding house on the sea front at Margate, Dad used two Phillips screwdrivers to spear his corn on the cob – that are his protective armour at a group increasingly viewed as the industry's leading Wolfie Smith tribute act.

Bully for Cameron

The assumption, writing on Friday, is that by now David Cameron has fired his press chief Andy Coulson. In his defence, Mr Coulson was undeniably blameless in the matter of the News of the World's royal correspondent bugging mobiles, which is why he hurriedly resigned as its editor. But now an employment tribunal, finding in favour of a sports reporter plagued by malevolence while on sick leave with stress-related depression, has adjudged that Mr Coulson presided over a culture of systematic bullying. If Mr Cameron hasn't already dispensed with his services, he had better do so soon. Nothing is likelier to scare off the floating voter than the prospect of the Downing Street spin machine falling into the hands of a tabloid megabully. That sort of thing is unthinkable in Britain, and so it must always remain.

On God and Cowell

All compliments of the season to the Daily Mirror's high priest of Bah Humbuggery. "One of those silly seasonal surveys claims that children are more likely to have heard of Simon Cowell than God," harrumphs Paul Routledge. "I've heard about this bloke, because there was a profile of him on the radio when I couldn't sleep." For God's sake, Routers, you silly old sausage, Mr Cowell features in about 20 stories a week, many of them world exclusives, in the paper that pays you. Would it hurt that much to flick through the Mirror every now and then?

Clever Conrad

I very much enjoyed Conrad Black's spirited defence, finally, of Rupert Murdoch. Writing from his cell, he had a right old go at Michael Wolff's insolence in failing to produce a more flattering biography of Rupert. Marvellous stuff from 18330-424, as he's known to the governor, who is as rigorous as ever in driving the last vestiges of self-aggrandising pomposity from his prose. Whether Rupert will now have a word with George W Bush about the presidential pardon on which his lordship is depending, I've no idea. But time is short, and if he doesn't do so after this ingratiation, he never will.

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