Stephen Glover on The Press

Has Andrew Neil reduced the role of his editor to that of a spectator?
Click to follow
The Independent Online

To mark its 180th anniversary The Spectator magazine is holding a series of monthly events. Some people may be pleased to know that two of these feature Andrew Neil, the magazine's chief executive. Next month he is hosting "a whisky and cigar dinner" at Boisdales restaurant in Victoria. Those unable to make this enticing occasion might consider a "wine-tasting evening" at Berry Brothers in November where Mr Neil is again the star attraction.

Reading about these forthcoming events it is impossible not to lament the absence of Matthew D'Ancona, The Spectator's amusing and clever editor. In October there is what is described as a "Black Tie Dinner with The Spectator Editors", where presumably Mr D'Ancona might make an appearance, though we are not promised it. Otherwise the 180th celebrations roll on with the magazine's self-promoting chief executive playing a much more visible role than its cerebral editor.

Doesn't this say it all? The Spectator recently published the same article twice in the same issue. Such embarrassing cock-ups occur from time to time in most publications. The production staff at the Speccie received a 'bollocking,' but this was administered not by Mr D'Ancona, who as editor might have been expected to do so, but by an irate Mr Neil, whose magazine The Spectator has in effect become.

I do not suggest he commissions articles or edits them – of course not. It is a question of values. Mr Neil's have been steadily colonising The Spectator since Boris Johnson stepped down as editor and was replaced by Mr D'Ancona nearly two years ago. The increasing number of business and lifestyle articles are largely attributable to Mr Neil, who wants The Spectator to be useful before it is entertaining. Last week it was announced that the magazine is to carry a technology column. Technology has long been an obsession of Mr Neil's.

Some people may welcome these changes. They certainly have had no ill-effect on The Spectator's sales, which continue to edge up. However, aficionados grumble as the magazine's former idiosyncratic character is gradually obliterated by Mr Neil's culture wars. He is at odds with almost everything the old Spectator stood for. It was Tory, elitist, ironic and elegant. He is right-wing, meritocratic, earnest and obvious.

Let us not pretend that all is Nineveh and Tyre. Some of the old voices survive: Charles Moore (who once memorably compared Mr Neil to Caliban); Taki; Paul Johnson. The other day I read a brilliantly funny piece by Toby Young about how time speeds up as one grows old. Mr Neil's foot has not yet impressed itself on the books and arts pages. As with a country under occupation, The Spectator's culture is not easy to extirpate.

But who will liberate it? That is the problem. Mr Neil appears to have enchanted the Barclay brothers, who own the magazine, and his rule seems set to last for as far as one can see. If only we could do something to show our solidarity with those under occupation – send them food parcels, perhaps, or parachute in a friendly agent.

Might Matthew D'Ancona be stoked up to lead a rebellion from within? Impossible thought! If only someone would find Mr Neil another, bigger job – he does, after all, have his uses – and he would leave The Spectator to be itself.

Free Indy? Talk is cheap these days

How pleased I was that Simon Kelner, editor-in-chief of The Independent, has unequivocally denied a Media Guardian story that the paper has been considering launching a free edition. It is difficult to give away free copies without eating into paid-for circulation.

The Daily Telegraph once managed to offer a cut-price subscription deal to tens of thousands of people happily paying the full cover price.

Another rumour makes more sense: that The Independent on Sunday may be sold at £1. I don't know whether the figures would add up, but there may be a constituency on Sundays that yearns for a less bulky upmarket paper – at a less bulky price.

Incidentally, it has been confirmed that Tristan Davies, about whom I wrote three weeks ago, has stepped down as editor of the IoS. As he is having a leaving party on Wednesday, he is unlikely, as some have suggested, to be living in Peru.

Heffer TV is sure to entertain

Journalists may deal in words, but many of them yearn to be on television. Some newspaper managements share this longing. Several years ago, the Daily Mirror launched Live TV, which featured "topless darts", trampolining dwarfs and the weather in Norwegian. Mercifully, it did not last very long.

Now, The Daily Telegraph is launching seven new television programmes, including Right On, a weekly political talk show starring Ann Widdecombe and the newspaper's assistant editor, Andrew Pierce. The highlight will be an item called "Heffer Confronted", during which the bombastic right-wing columnist will be examined by the (less bombastic) right-wing political blogger, Iain Dale.

My first worry is that this programme is expected to be broadcast in the morning, and therefore many hours before the 9pm watershed. Is it sensible of Murdoch MacLennan, chief executive of the Telegraph Media Group, to inflict his friend Mr Heffer on impressionable children at that time of day? Since the programme will be viewed over the internet, parents may wish to consider installing parental controls that will block out possibly incendiary views.

No, seriously, I love Mr Heffer's column – of course I do. But why does he want to appear on screen when he is a master of the written word? And what is the Telegraph Media Group doing dabbling in a foreign medium? If the BBC were to produce a newspaper, we may be sure it would be pretty anodyne. Why should the Telegraph's boxwallahs think they will be any good at producing TV programmes, or that readers will want them? Their heads are so full of stuff about multimedia platforms that they forget newspapers and television are different. Wouldn't it be more sensible to concentrate on producing a better paper?

On the other hand, Mr Heffer will doubtless provide his admirers with much enjoyment.