Matthew Norman: The historian's excuse: 'I wasn't there'

Diary

I am stricken by a full blown fit of the vapours by the sneering reception for William Shawcross's magnificently weighty (4.5lbs) tome on the Queen Mother.

The notion that William, author of a similarly well balanced work on Rupert Murdoch, confuses hagiography with biography barely deserves the dignity of rebuttal. But what can you do when Jenni Murray besmirches Woman's Hour with the impudent suggestion that the book, commissioned by the sovereign, ignores such contentious material as the old girl's feelings about Diana, fabled spendthriftery and health problems. In the light of confirmation that the Queen Mum had an operation for colonic cancer in the 1960s, it is unspeakably distasteful for anyone to portray William as technically less a biographer than a colonoscopy in human form.

There may be those who, meeting William after wading through the more than 1,000 pages, would ask if he found any polyps or fibroids up there. Snarky cynics are, after all, the plague of the age. But small wonder William lost his rag when Jenni asked him about Princess Margaret burning scores of letters her mother received from Diana, the most wanton act of literary arson since Julius Caesar incinerated the library at Alexandria. "I don't know, I wasn't there," William replied, and historians everywhere might ponder that crushing put-down before they indulge any silly plans about ever researching and describing events to which they were not eye witnesses. So we salute Backstairs Billy Shawcross for this magnum opus, and eagerly await the next. Myself, recalling his fondness for the neo-con experiment, I'd kill to read him on Dick Cheney. I think we could trust him to avoid such embarrassments as the VP shooting his hunting chum in the face. After all, he wasn't there.

Rich bitching

From one champion of deference to another, and Kelvin MacKenzie's latest offering in The Sun. In a startling foray into virgin territory, Kelvin devotes a chunk of his page to attacking the BBC for the salaries it pays its stars, specifically Anne Robinson whose return to Watchdog displeases him. "How can you be enormously wealthy, like Miss Robinson," he muses, "and understand what it's like to be conned out of your money by holiday companies and the like?" Certainly, Kelvin's argument that it is impossible to comprehend the concerns of the less well-off is even more devastating than William's "didn't see it, can't comment" annihilation of Jenni Murray. it goes a long way towards explaining why it never occurred to Clement Attlee, old Etonian that he was, to create a national health service. Happily, Kelvin himself is immune from the dangers that afflict the Watchdog audience. He spends his hols at his elegant villa on the French Riviera, and which Sun reader doesn't have at least one of those?

Dacre's acres

Then again, maybe those with unusually refined powers of empathy can bridge the financial gulf between themselves and their audience. Mannerly Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre has bought himself a majestic 15,000-acre estate near Ullapool in the Scottish Highlands, the £3.5m he spent likely to be offset nicely by the income it generates (£1.65m last year). Somehow, you suspect, Paul's uncanny insight into what makes the middle English so fearfully angry about pretty much everything will not be threatened by his long overdue accession to the status of laird.

More Mad Mel

Paul's leading satirical writer Melanie Phillips continues to treat visitors to her blog to a relentless stream of semi-consciousness about the Middle East. My sole concern here, and it's probably paranoia, is that Mad Mel may be becoming that crucial iota too nuanced for her market. Take her thoughts on President Obama's acceptance of an offer of talks from the Iranians – "a mistake of simply staggering proportions" which threatens to make "the US look so weak and pathetic that Neville Chamberlain would retrospectively appear heroic and far-sighted by comparison ... Only an imbecile, brainwashed ideologue or lunatic would agree to pick up Iran's gauntlet of contempt." I've said it before and I say it again. Mankind knows no better antidote to melancholy than passing a couple of minutes on MM's Spectator-hosted blog.

Pet project

The BBC director-general has been hoist by his own petard (you will recall that he once sunk his fangs into a newsroom colleague's arm for no apparent reason), and been bitten by his cat. "My wife says that it is the trauma of being separated from the family. I think that he's been talking to Ben Bradshaw." The smart editor will waste no time in inviting Mark to ghost the unnamed feline's weekly reflections. It's high time the anthropomorphised pet column market, vacant since Andrew Marr's guinea pig Mr Snuffles departed the Daily Telegraph, was plugged.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' is based on historical events
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face
books
Arts and Entertainment
filmSir Ian McKellen will play retired detective in new film
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
'Molecular Man +1+1+1' by Jonathan Borofsky at Yorkshire Sculpture park
tv
News
Glamour magazine hosts a yoga class with Yogalosophy author Mandy Ingber on June 10, 2013 in New York City.
newsFather Padraig O'Baoill said the exercise was 'unsavoury' in a weekly parish newsletter
Extras
indybest
News
people'She is unstoppable', says Jean Paul Gaultier at Paris show
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Sales Perfomance Manager. Marylebone, London

£45-£57k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

Social Media Director (Global) - London Bridge/Southwark

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Social Media Director (Gl...

Personal and Legal Assistant – Media and Entertainment

£28,000 - £31,000: Sauce Recruitment: A Global media business based in West Lo...

ERP Business/ Implementation Analyst

£40000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: This is an e...

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil