Matthew Norman's Media Diary
Neil gets Nobel for knee-squeezing
Monday 10 September 2007
In this country, as Alan Bennett once observed, all anyone need do to wipe the slate clean, however soiled that slate, is survive: "If you live to be 90 in England and can still eat a boiled egg, they think you deserve the Nobel prize." The latest beneficiary of this sentimental national trait (Bob Monkhouse syndrome by proxy) is Andrew Neil. Andrew isn't 90, of course, and regardless of his ability to ingest yolk and albumen seems unlikely to become a Nobel laureate until the gang in Stockholm create a prize for the wearing of humorous string garments. What he has become, however, is a style icon for trendy males aged 25-35.
In one of the more bizarre features ever printed in a lower shelf magazine, Arena runs a lengthy piece celebrating him – and Michael Portillo, who plays the Hank Kingsley to Andrew's Larry Sanders on BBC1's This Week – as style gurus to the young and hip. "Which duo-about-town have wealth, influence, sex on tap and party harder than all the others?" asks the Emap title. "Kate and Sadie? Jay-Z and Bono? No, it's Westminster players Andrew Neil and Michael Portillo – Arena's unlikely night-life heroes." Blimey.
From spending time with "The Boys", Steve Beale learns the art of seduction. "Old school chivalry and panache, served with a dash of knee-squeezing sauce, is more popular with the ladies than ever..." he writes. Encouragingly for those ladies, Andrew, whose gleaming white teeth get a mention, has a "decade of potency" left to him. What a renaissance this is. Years ago I launched a nationwide appeal to find Andrew a girlfriend. There were only two respondents, and one of them was my mother. And just look at him now!
* And yet, and yet... Andrew might wish to divert some time from cultivating his image as a Eurotrash poster boy to helping his employers, the Barclay brothers. The Telegraph owners could use a crash course in gallantry after Patience Wheatcroft's departure from the Sunday Telegraph editorship. Adorably skittish as some perceive it, the Bros' inability to stick with any editor for more than five minutes may one day make them look like chumps. Given that Patsy "resigned" over her unwillingness to embrace the brave new world of multimedia, it was peculiar to discover, at 4am on Friday some eight hours after his death was announced, the web site speculating about the state of Pavarotti's pancreas. Anyway, when the Barclays next hire a female editor, they must give Andrew a hands-on mentoring role. Who's to say that Patsy wouldn't still be in situ had she had her kneecaps saucily squeezed now and again by our industry's very own Young Mr Grace?
* I am sad to report that the prankster responsible for Daily Mail sports columnist Des Kelly's Wikipedia entry has not come forward. You might recall last week's account of this crude satire, which is replete with a section of quotes and the intriguing detail that Des sold a house in West Cork in 2006. A witch-hunt was promised unless the culprit came forward and undertook to desist. I must inform you that there has been no such undertaking, and that consequently the witch-hunt begins.
Not that Des's entry is the longest of any print journalist. As my colleague Stephen Glover has observed, that honour belongs to David Aaronovitch. David is also the victim of a malevolent nihilist, quite possibly the same one, who has spent untold hours at the newspaper library in Colindale trawling through old columns, just to append a section of quotes designed to make him look like a deranged narcissist.
* Following the revelation that his political memoir is the book most commonly discarded by hotel guests, Alastair Campbell receives a morale boost. "I think the BBC is... arrogant beyond belief," said Alex Ferguson, who refuses all contact with the Beeb over a documentary about his agent son, Jason, when interviewed in this paper last week. "I read Alastair Campbell's diaries recently, and he's written a fantastic piece explaining the arrogance and their inability to apologise." We gather that he never reached the chapter in which Ali admitted that, with hindsight, he now accepts that Andrew Gilligan had the story right all along, perhaps because Sir Alex left the book in a Travelodge somewhere off the M6. But a touching show of friendship all the same.
* The Daily Mail campaign to have cannabis reclassified at class B is losing steam. A few years ago, the Mail supported the downgrading to class C, but reversed its position due to mounting evidence of a connection with psychosis. There is nothing wrong with changing your mind because of fresh information, of course, but there's no excuse for reticence once you've done so. On Thursday, however, the Mail could only spare pages 27, 54 and 55 for lurid accounts of skunk-related tragedy. This dilettantism won't do at all.
* Returning, finally, to the Telegraph Group, I am perplexed to find Simon Heffer overlooked for an editorship yet again. Everyone knows that a more cherished ambition of Simon's than the resurrection of Enoch Powell is to park his pert and peachy buttocks in an editor's chair. Yet every few weeks when a job becomes vacant, he is passed over. If the example of dear old Mr Chips becoming headmaster isn't reassurance enough, he need only glance at Arena for succour. In about a dozen years, when he is down to his final decade of potency and heralded as a metropolitan sex god, his patience will surely be rewarded.
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