Matthew Norman's Media Diary

Mystery of Johnson and Johnson
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The Independent Online

APOLOGIES FOR the dominance of the one obvious subject, but in a bid to imbue it with a veneer of class I start with a variant on an old question to our top-ranked gene-experts. Would Richard Dawkins or Steve Jones explain, given the posited supremacy of genetic inheritance, how the world's most opinionated man Paul Johnson, could have sired a son like the Channel 4 chairman, Luke? For those who missed Luke's magnificent Today programme appearance last week, so uncannily accurate was his impression of Forrest Gump that he seemed certain to answer the first question with: "My papa told me TV's like a box of chocolates... you nivver know wha' you're gonna git." As it turned out, he didn't manage even that, kicking off with a spirited "no comment" before referring all subsequent enquiries to a pre-issued statement. As Jim Naughtie pointed out, it seemed that the only person in the country with nothing to say on the cause célèbre was the chairman of the company responsible for it.

How this restaurateur came by the post has always been a mystery. I yield to no man living in my appreciation of his decision to shrink the pizzas when he owned Pizza Express. It was a bold and imaginative move, but whether it qualified him for the chairmanship of a part-state-sponsored terrestrial network is probably open to debate. All that aside, the sadness here is encapsulated in that dismal "no comment". To be the son of a man liable to rattle off a thousand words of livid commentary on finding a snowdrop poking through a Bayswater pavement stone, but have no view about the allegation that his own channel broadcasts racist bullying for profit... I wish I had the words to express the pathos.

Luke's tenure at Channel 4 expires this year. I say give the lad another chance. All he needs is to spend some time with the old man, and Paul's limitless talent for opinionising should reactivate his latent ability to form a human thought.

* EXONERATED FROM any criticism, however, is Channel 4's director of television, Kevin Lygo, my cousin by marriage (whom I have never met). Despite being the executive ultimately responsible for all output, Kevin was equally reticent when approached for his thoughts late last week, refusing even to come to the phone. But you'll find nothing but support for Kevin here, because a family divided is a family broken. If the story of Jade's downfall ensuing as soon as her mother, Jackiey, left the BB house teaches us anything, it teaches us that.

* MEANWHILE, although richly impressed by the emergence of so many anti-racism warriors in the red-tops - who'd have thought the very columnists who take such a trenchant line on mass immigration, such as the effete Fergus Shanahan of The Sun, would turn on Jade and co with such convincing wrath? - I'm more baffled than ever by their attitude to the "asterisking" of rude words. Even more perplexing than The Sun's preference for "t*t", often a centimetre from a picture of the real thing, was the Daily Mirror's approach last week on its CBB spread. Polly Hudson's amusing round-up of the various contestants' form carried the ironic phrase "no shit", while the news report on the same page quoted Jade using the word "s***". As for the styling "a**e", who the hell do they think buys the bleeding paper? Someone needs to produce guidelines, and I'll be speaking to Sir Christopher Meyer at the PCC, the man instructed to "get up the White House's a**e" on becoming ambassador to Washington, forthwith.

* AS FOR Polly's colleague Paul Routledge, the Mirror's working-class-hero-in-chief touched on the subject himself when writing about Gordon Brown's trip to India. "Unbelievable that a chancellor on a foreign tour should have to apologise for a junk TV programme," observed Routers. "It shows that in today's world of 24-hour media, bad news travels faster than a jet plane." How very true this is. But is it any truer now than when the international telephone call first came into being?

* AS FOR Esther Rantzen, tremendous to hear her taking to the airwaves on Friday to demand that Luke and my cousin Kevin at C4 give the profits from that night's eviction vote to charity (as those fabled altruists indeed did). If Esther does have a fault, it's that she simply cares too much, which is why she made those TV commercials for one of those delightful firms that help people consolidate their loans. So I'd like to make it plain that her suggestion was entirely unrelated to the near-identical one made the night before on Question Time by our most beloved Shami Chakrabarti.

* FINALLY, LEAVING that tired old subject at last, a plea to Melanie Phillips. It has been far, far too long since Mad Mel treated Daily Mail readers to one of her typically balanced, carefully nuanced treatises on the matter of Israel and the Palestinians. What explains this Luke-Johnson-style reticence I've no idea (it's hardly as though she'd have taken instructions to steer clear of the subject by anyone at the paper), but I can't wait much longer for another instalment, and in this I know I speak for millions.