Matthew Norman: Wanted: woman who can read out loud


If there is one corner of national life towards which we in the media show scandalous contempt, it is the matter of who is and isn't presenting news bulletins. I've made the point before, but make no apology for reiterating it.

There is no higher journalistic calling than the discipline known in kindergartens around the English-speaking world as "reading out loud". Yet days pass with less socially responsible newspapers devoting as little as two or three pages to the matter. So thank heaven BBC director-general Mark Thompson's drive to remind us of its sovereign importance by commanding his minions to scour the land, much as Arthur sent his knights to find the grail, for a mature lady newsreader. We will come to the betting below, but first a suggestion.

Of such significance is the search for a woman over 50 who retains the twin capacities to read and speak that it must not be rushed. The answer is a Saturday night BBC1 show, after the Arlene Phillips-free Strictly Come Dancing, on the usual lines. A panel of Joan Bakewell, Esther Rantzen, Mary Warnock and Lady Thatcher would judge the performances before the public phoned in its votes. The grand finale would be a live read-off involving a bulletin heavily dotted with Thai, Sri Lankan and Latvian surnames, and with traps laid for potentially obscene Spoonerisms. This is so much more, after all, than a cunning stunt to assuage the middle-aged female demographic. This is a golden chance to democratise a vital area, because as Marshall McLuhan should have said, you get the newsreaders you deserve. Let's find ourselves one to be proud of.

Runners and riders

And so to the early betting for the Tokenist Old Boiler Autocutie Stakes. Paddy Power makes Anna Ford 100-30 favourite, with fellow ageism victim Moira Stuart close behind on 7-2. Nonagenarian chart topper Dame Vera Lynn is next best at 7-1, while bracketed on 9s are Kate Adie, Angela Rippon, Virginia Wade and Sue McGregor. A slightly desperate job application on 5 Live ("I'm still hot" was the gist) sees Jan Leeming drift to 12s. Then comes Arlene Phillips on 16-1, with Valerie Singleton, Bridget Kendall, Mad Mel Phillips, Orla Guerin and the late Googie Withers all on 20s. It's 25-1 bar those. Susan Hampshire is now available at 33-1 "with a run" after complaints to the BBC from the British Dyslexia Association about bias.

Hunt the Tory spokesman

Little has been heard on this mature female newscaster front thus far from the Tory spokesman on the media, but it can't be long.

Jeremy Hunt is everywhere these days, dominating the subject at Westminster with ease.Admittedly he's up against Ben Bradshaw, but you can only beat what's put in front of you. I'm not entirely convinced that Jeremy's call for the BBC to recruit Tory-supporting hacks is a masterstroke, while his ritualistic paying obeisance to Rupert Murdoch is tiresome. Even so, with his perpetual blogging and his own YouTube channel (18 months old, and 26 subscribers; viral indeed), he is the very model of a modern media general. A personable, bright, youngish post-Thatcherite with his own charity to educate the orphans of African Aids victim seems someone worth watching, and further detail would be welcome. But nothing, please, about the hand-written expenses claim for £0.01 for a mobile call. This we already know.

A Sun tribute to Mum

In one of those touching flights of fancy that help make him a Friday must-read in The Sun, Jon Gaunt addresses his deceased mother ("God rest her soul").

Recalling how she "used to always say that hate was a wasted and negative emotion", this paradigm of filial respect deploys a contrite "I'm sorry, Mum" as the launch pad for a list of things he hates (HATES, to be precise) about Gordon Brown. "Mum, hate may be a negative emotion," he concludes, "but I sure as hell feel more positive now that I have got that lot off my chest."

We look forward to Gaunty's next lament about how the feckless, feral kids of today never take a blind bit of notice of their parents' advice.

It's safer in the office

Congratulations, finally, to David Blair who is leaving the Daily Telegraph to oversee the Financial Times' coverage of Africa and the Middle East. It was David, you will recall, who insouciantly wandered into a bombed-out Baghdad building and chanced upon a file of documents falsely alleging that George Galloway was on Saddam Hussein's payroll. And why on earth would such a miraculous discovery trigger alarm bells? The scoop bought joy, however short-lived, to the governments of Britain and America, and possibly the CIA, before costing the Telegraph £1,350,000 in libel costs and damages – enough to buy the MPs' exes data a dozen times over. All in all, a desk job in London looks the wisest way to go.

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