Stephen Glover: I'll miss the sage of Essex, now he's gone
Media Studies: There is little doubt that some senior colleagues were not distraught to see him go
Monday 16 May 2011
Three significant things happened at The Daily Telegraph last week. The Press Complaints Commission upheld a complaint about articles in the paper based on interviews of Vince Cable and colleagues, which were secretly recorded by undercover women reporters with their top buttons undone. The Telegraph's sinuous deputy editor, Ben Brogan, launched a "morning briefing" blog which popped up uninvited on my BlackBerry. And – by far the most sensational development – the right-wing columnist and scourge of David Cameron, Simon Heffer, walked (or was pushed) out of the door.
The PCC's adjudication can be quickly dealt with. Tony Gallagher, the paper's editor, grumbles that it has "alarming implications for the future of investigate journalism". I doubt it. This was a "fishing expedition" in which two pulchritudinous reporters posing as constituents lured silly old Vince into saying what he really thought about Rupert Murdoch's bid for the whole of BSkyB. Let's face it: the Telegraph would have cut a more impressive figure if it had "splashed" with this story rather than apparently suppressing it before someone leaked it to the BBC's Robert Peston.
As for Mr Brogan's blog, I wonder. Early in the week I looked at my BlackBerry and saw Ben's name. Had he at long last invited me to lunch? No. This was his first "morning briefing". Further bulletins arrived on subsequent days. They are, like all Ben's pieces, lucid and well-informed. But it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Even the best columnists should not write too much. If William Shakespeare sent me his unsolicited ruminations every morning I should eventually tire of them. Ben might be wise to ration himself.
And so to the ginger-haired sage of Essex. What a development! And yet it has been universally underplayed. More than anything, it was fear and loathing of Mr Heffer which once took Mr Cameron to the Channel Island fortress owned by the Barclay brothers, proprietors of the Telegraph. Tell him to ease up on me, was the Tory leader's desperate plea. To no avail. Sir David Barclay liked Mr Heffer's effusions. Murdoch MacLennan, the paper's wily chief executive, was his friend and shooting chum. The sage banged on.
Yet in the paper's engine room not everything was love and concord. Mr Heffer's political views were not the only problem. His irrepressible ambition for high editorial office grated with some, his overbearing manner with others. For a while, though, his long-term future at the paper lay in doubt as he took himself off to his old Cambridge college to sort out its various problems. Our friend Ben Brogan, a rising power on the Telegraph, was not his greatest admirer. Was he responsible for the extraordinary act of lèse majesté which I mentioned here several weeks ago? During a rare absence from his column, Mr Heffer's place was taken by his lifelong enemy, Bruce Anderson. It was like asking Trotsky to stand in for Stalin. The omens were not good. Anyone could see trouble was brewing.
At last, Mr Heffer's old college let him go. Gnarled dons wept into the Cam. Chambermaids craned their necks out of windows to witness his departure. The end came quicker than even I had thought. It was brilliantly spun by Tony Gallagher to sound like a national tragedy, as though the sage had walked off entirely of his own volition. He was reported to be writing a compendious history of Victorian Britain. Be that as it may, there is little doubt that some senior colleagues were not distraught to see him go.
And do you know what? I shall miss him – not just because a remarkable character has, at least temporarily, been hauled from the stage, but also because he offered readers a service barely provided by any other right-wing journalist in Britain. It is not every columnist who is feared and loathed by a prime minister. He was feared and loathed because he was good at what he did – criticising Mr Cameron. I am sure he spoke to the hearts of many Telegraph readers.
My only advice to him, in the unlikely event of my being consulted, would have been not to peak so early in his campaign – a few hours into the Tory leader's tenure. Take it more slowly, I would have said – discharge a couple of small battlefield nuclear weapons before graduating judiciously to something more lethal, and then only finally, if you get no clear results, let fly with your largest intercontinental missile. Once he had immediately committed his heaviest weaponry there was no pulling back, and there was always a danger of tedium setting in. That said, no one could deny that under full propulsion he was a wonder to behold.
Now that he has gone I feel, if I may be allowed to change my image, as our human ancestors must have done when the last woolly mammoth stomped off over the horizon to extinction. They would have gazed out almost nostalgically across the bleak Siberian plains, where not long before, this wondrous beast had crashed around, flattening hapless victims under his fearsome feet.
When I suggested that the royal wedding had stirred atavistic longings in the tabloid press, I did not imagine they would centre on Pippa Middleton's bottom. This doubtless attractive feature is said to have 200,000 followers on Facebook – or is it Twitter? Either way, admirers have been worked up by the sight of Ms Middleton's rear in her tight-fitting bridesmaid's dress. Spotting a growing market, the News of the World and the Mail on Sunday dusted off some five-year- old photographs of her on holiday with Kate and their mother and Prince William. In the News of the World version Pippa was topless. The Middleton family has responded by complaining to the PCC. I fear this may mark only the beginning of hostilities between the Middletons and the tabloids. I shan't be surprised if it all ends up with Pippa's bottom being the subject of a super-injunction.
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