The Media Column: Deayton stays, because he has pulling power
Tuesday 28 May 2002
One man's schadenhas rarely given so much freude. The comeuppance of Angus Deayton had nearly two million extra viewers tuning in to Have I Got News for You last Friday, presumably to see just how badly the man would be savaged. We were not disappointed. In a strangely public-school performance ("Sorry, Carruthers, it's your turn for the cane, even if you are a fellow prefect") his two co-regulars, Ian Hislop and Paul Merton, were so horrible to him that in the end it was the viewers who were left crying for mercy. I saw Bacchai the next day, and there was more left of Pentheus at the end of that – head, ribcage and one bloodied leg – than there was of Angus.
The whole business raised four disconnected thoughts in my mind, which I want to share with you. The first of them is a reflection upon how different the lives of TV stars are from those of journalists, no matter how exalted. There is no scribbler or editor in the whole of the land whose leisure arrangements could give rise to such comment and interest. You may recall the recent "orgy" in a wine bar in London, at which two Evening Standard reporters spotted a "senior Telegraph executive" looking on excitedly at some multiple grope. No one, as far as I know, has even bothered to ask the question of who that naughty chap was.
That is easily understood. The public doesn't much care what print journalists do in private. They have no desire to put a body to the face they cannot see. If that iron pillar of unforgiving rectitude, the columnist Melanie Phillips, were caught in a public act of gross indecency with a gay, Arab asylum-seeker, I don't think her readers would blink an eyelid.
My second point is the observation that the press has revived a profession from post-Cold War disuse. Deayton's blonde nemesis was not, in a conventional sense, a prostitute. Caroline Martin, according to a report in The Sunday Telegraph, makes her living not by charging men for sex, but by charging newspapers for having sex with men.
She has, for instance, already bedded a pair of Manchester United players. In Deayton's case, it seems likely that she was trawling for famous blokes when she spotted him in a Manchester hotel, and it took two weeks of text-messaging for the tryst to be arranged.
So women who seduce married men are being paid by newspapers for our entertainment. It is not entirely clear, in this situation, where the balance of immorality lies.
Point three is to remind readers, should they need it, of the original report in the News of the World, in which Martin posed as a shocked suitor and was described as being very upset to discover that Deayton had a partner and small child. In this coke'n'poke saga, both she and the newspaper should have been perfectly well aware of their target's amatory status. So there is a routine mendacity in some newspapers, which they expect always to get away with. They just lie, if it suits them.
And finally, what about the BBC? It is only a few years back that the Blue Peter presenter Richard Bacon was fired for having taken cocaine. No – for having been caught taking cocaine, because coke-sniffing is pretty widespread among telly types.
Go to a conference hotel in Edinburgh during the television festival and – in the evenings – spot the electric-eyed execs as they float past on their white clouds. Bacon's boss, Lorraine Heggessey, now controller of BBC 1, even went on screen to execute the poor man in public. Six months ago, Bacon went on Have I Got News for You with Angus and the team and survived a belated caning with considerable wit.
But there is no way that Deayton will be fired. He is a star, a consummate performer and a witty man. Deayton has a pulling power that poor old Bacon lacked. He will survive.
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