Matthew Norman: Yum Yum Yentob sings for his supper
Monday 10 August 2009
After a mixed week for the BBC on the courage-under-fire front (see George Alagiah, below), a rousing thank the Lord for Alan Yentob.
No doubt an armada of memos has been launched in the cause of stopping it ever happening again, but for the first time since Lord Hutton delivered his satirical meisterwork, a senior BBC executive shows evidence of a backbone. Mr Yentob's spirited counter attack against governmental censure of its choice of dance judges and other matters of state importance was a joy to behold. So too was his insouciant dismissal of the anger over his expenses, some £25,000 per annum for the man in charge of BBC talent seeming scandalously low
I must, after the fashion of my colleague Stephen Glover, declare an interest, and admit to knowing Yum Yum Yentob a little. However, neither that nor his promise to commission my forthcoming 16-part biography on Daphne from the Eggheads for BBC1 has a jot to do with it. "I don't think there's any reason for a collective mea culpa," Yum Yum told the London Evening Standard, and there isn't. Not, at least, for entertaining people to the odd dinner and pair of cashmere socks; or the "ageist" replacement of Arlene Phillips while rehiring our most beloved Anne Robinson, also in her 60s, to present Watchdog in place of gorgeous swimwear model (see the BBC website if you absolutely must) Nicky Campbell, 48.
Unfair to George
Over Mr Alagiah, however, there is the need for a mea maximum culpa, not to mention the collective donning of the Ruth Kelly Memorial Opus Dei Celise. Born of blind panic over some phantasmal conflict of interest, the decision to force a reader-out-loud to resign as patron of the Fairtrade Foundation mingles cowardice and imbecility to a degree unusual even among current management. They might as well make Huw Edwards disown his pot boiler on the chapels of Llanelli lest he's ever tempted to introduce Robert Peston with a verse from a Methodist hymn. Still, hats off to the Daily Mirror for splashing with the story on Wednesday, a trifling 13 days after it was broken in a so-called rival diary.
Oooh, Sugar, Sugar
In the light of Mr Alagiah's treatment, it can only be hours before the Beeb announces that it has abandoned government stalwart Alan Sugar for the rest of time. While he awaits the axe, Lord S busies himself with that prospective action for slander against Quentin Letts, who questioned his intellect on the radio. It's a mark of his little lordship's enterprise that he means to go after Quentin personally, rather than take on the station, LBC, in the conventional manner. But if he proceeds – and Quentin seems unlikely to give the requisite guarantee never to be rude about him again – it will be both a pleasure and a duty to raise funds for the defence. Releasing a Comic Relief single of The Archies' Sugar Sugar, with the lyric hilariously rewritten ("You were my warthog boy/Now you've got me wanting you"), would seem the obvious first step. Does anyone have a mobile number for Peter Kay?
If all fails, and his lordship scores a shock victory for the plaintiff in Mr Justice Eady's courtroom, for me at least there will be a silver lining. I will use the verdict as the precedent to launch a writ against Lord Sugar, for referring to me as "that fucking idiot" (the bigger the truth, the bigger the libel) in a Piers Morgan memoir.
Finger-lickin' good, part I
A delight to find "George W Bush's favourite historian" embracing his roots. Interviewed on the release of his new book, The Storm of War (Eleven Secret Herbs And Spices Press, £19.99; bargain bucket of ten copies, £29.99), Andrew Roberts speaks with pride of being heir to a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise fortune. "The idea that I am supposed to be cringingly embarrassed ... is such rubbish," he rebukes. "There is a photo around the corner of Mummy and Daddy with Colonel Sanders which is not something I would have outside my drawing room if I was embarrassed." He also recalls having a KFC cheque book at university, which must have been a bit greasy for the tellers of Cambridge, but there it is. Foyles is known to be contemplating a £2 discount for any customer who says "I'll have the new Roberts, please, and I'll have it to go."
Finger-lickin' good, part II
By glorious happenstance, The Storm Of War is favourably reviewed in The Spectator by Paul Johnson. He was "Ronald Reagan's favourite historian" once, and it's good to see the baton passed from one generation to the next. Although much taken with Andrew's foray into the Second World War, my sane and rational friend ends on a morosely gnomic note. "Roberts's book is a powerful, well-documented sermon on these inhumanities. Engrossing to read," he concludes. "But will it do any good?" Well, there's a question. Previous accounts of that war, and there have been one or two, tantalisingly failed to prevent Srebrenica and Rwanda. Yet who can say for sure that Andrew's won't shame the monsters of tomorrow into swapping genocide for a quiet evening in front of the telly with a Boneless Variety Bucket and a tub of BBQ Baked Beans?
A corresponding cuddle
Most touching media moment of the week, finally, came in Washington, where Barack Obama gave veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas a cuddle and a cake to mark her 89th birthday. Wouldn't it be nice if Gordon Brown bucked the recent trend by following a US president's lead, and gave our closest equivalent to Ms Thomas, Peter Riddell of The Times, a big squidgy hug when he enters his ninth decade soon?
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