Matthew Norman: The villainy of bewigged buffoons


If there is one iron rule of human existence, it is that the repetitively named are invariably villains.

Humbert Humbert (Nabokov paedo), Sarwan Sarwan (Bobby Kennedy assassin), Neville Neville (father of erstwhile England defensive liability Philip)...and now Judge Judge. If the dissing of Sir David Eady by the Lord Chief Justice, Igor Judge (to dignify the brute with his official title), became shameful long ago, last week it tipped over into intolerable bullying when JJ and his Court of Appeal chums reversed Eady yet again, this time over the Simon Singh chiropractors' case.

If the Solomon of libel declared that Mr Singh was not entitled to use fair comment as a defence, that should have been good enough. Yet these bewigged buffoons had the impudence to defy him, as they did (inter alia) over his deliciously individualistic handling of Richard Desmond's failed action against Tom Bower. Reading Judge Judge's judgment, you might almost imagine he believes in the right of journalists to write things to other people's displeasure for no better reason than that they believe them to be true. And this in a supposedly first-world democracy!

Rather than lionising Igor as a bulwark against our deranged libel laws, stop to think where this might lead. On 1 October, Eady is being stood down (by JJ, naturally) as head of jury and non-jury lists at the High Court, while you will recall how an advertisement for a new defamation judge led to speculation he may be thinking of retiring later this year. Poor Eady has already endured more reversals than an entire regiment of Italian tanks. How much more humiliation can he take before he concludes the game isn't worth the candle, and abruptly walks away?

"Orwellian" was an adjective JJ used about the potential consequences of Eady J's sagacious ruling, but it strikes me as better suited to the red-top response to Tony Blair's campaign debut. The Daily Mirror, having spent a decade telling us what a greedy charlatan he is, welcomed him as the Messiah. The Sun, after beatifying Blair as the saviour for as long, dwelt on his lack of credibility. It must have been a bit confusing for readers of both. Still, it was confusing for the residents of Eurasia when, without a word of acknowledgment, its government allied itself with Oceania after a decade of war, and they seemed to accept it as the eternal status quo soon enough.

Less is always more

A rare foray into ITV's News At Ten induces concern for Alastair Stewart. Sitting next to Julie Etchingham (our one-time tenant, and a total delight about whose hilarious visit for dinner in 1997 I will never divulge a word), Alastair seemed to have developed the US news anchor habit of trying to browbeat the viewer into believing that the story is more important than perhaps it technically is. Nothing wrong with that on a determinedly upmarket news bulletin, however strongly it suggests a loopy great uncle railing at some PC Brigade lunacy after too much egg-nog on Christmas Eve. However, as moderator of ITV's party leaders debate, cultivated aggression might look more like attempted self-affirmation as a hard man than anything. Less is more, Alastair.

Littlejohn's labours laid bare for all to read

Well aware of his duty to toss the odd bit of red meat at a reading public whose appetite cannot be sated, Richard Littlejohn publishes another magnum opus. In truth, I haven't read it all yet (a pleasure deferred and all that), but from the Daily Mail serialisation it seems a typically self-deprecating and rigorous account of Britain's disintegration into one vast travellers' campsite since New Labour came to power. Catchily entitled Don't Say I Didn't Warn You: How I Was Again Proved Right About Everything And Why No One Has Ever Been As Clever As Me...And That Includes Da Vinci, Einstein And That Swotty Girl Off University Challenge, Gail Something I Think Her Name Was (Onanist Press, £19.99), this is his finest since that Swiftian satirical novel To Hull For A Hand Job in 2001. The special brilliance about Richard's analyses of British social ills is that he produces them from the Florida-gated community he so rarely leaves to pay us a flying visit. Distance lends precisely the perspective scholars of his kind always crave.

Off to battle

After yet another Times piece transparently intended to justify his fervent support for the Iraq war, regardless of the nominal subject matter (in this case, the terrorist threat), action can no longer be postponed. I am planning an intervention at which Armchair Field Marshal the Lord (David) Aaronovitch's friends will tell him he must now face up to his issues and wean himself off this addiction. Anyone wishing to attend is welcome but be warned these things can turn ugly.

Tea with Uncle Jim

Radio Moment of the Week goes to Jim Naughtie, finally, for imbuing the Today programme with the air of the impromptu country house tea party. "Very nice to hear from you," Jim concluded Friday's report from Colin Blane about the splendid skiing conditions in the Scottish Highlands. Now you will pop in again, won't you Colin, if you happen to be passing? If Jim's busy, pop down to the kitchen where cook will give you a cup of tea and a bun.