Hit & Run: The brazen invasion

The British are coming, and they're smug, swaggering, middle-aged authority figures. How is it that the faces our nation presents to the world have come to be those of Simon Cowell, Jeremy Clarkson, Gordon Ramsay and Piers Morgan? And why is the world – or America, at the very least – so keen on them?

Cowell, the extravagantly conceited impresario at the heart of both Britain's Got Talent and The X Factor, is now the highest-paid man on US prime-time television, thanks to his leadership of the American Idol franchise, which earned him £45m in the last year alone. Top Gear, starring the spectacularly self-satisfied Clarkson, is broadcast in 100 countries to a combined audience of 350 million, not to mention being the world's most illegally downloaded programme.

After succeeding Stateside with Hell's Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares, Ramsay's mastiff-faced gastro-rants are to be put to use in an American version of Masterchef for Fox TV. And Piers Morgan, once the unabashedly unsympathetic editor of a British tabloid, has transformed himself into a smarmy housewives' favourite for America's Got Talent. Theirs are among the most familiar faces on US television.

The British invasions of the past – cultural invasions, I mean, not actual invasions – have been premised on national archetypes such as the bounder (see Terry Thomas, David Niven), the fop (Hugh Grant, Colin Firth), or the cheeky chappie (Michael Caine, The Beatles). Now, instead, we have the shouty boss. One of the most popular fictional figures come film awards season is likely to be Malcolm Tucker, Peter Capaldi's poetically profane spin doctor from In the Loop.

Britons have long played the villain in Hollywood productions, and you could argue that Messrs Cowell, Clarkson, Ramsay and Morgan have merely created villainous personae for the sake of the cameras. But it seems many Americans actually admire their post-imperial snobbery and propensity for flinging elaborate insults at aspiring singers, chefs, jugglers or Hyundai-owning audience members. In fact, their incessant meanness gives them the sheen of authenticity. And meanwhile, the entrepreneurial success of Cowell and Ramsay endears them to a US audience that respects that sort of thing far more than we cheese-eating Europeans.

I'm beginning to suspect that this charmless offensive is some sort of elaborate conspiracy cooked up by Cowell: technically speaking, Morgan is his employee on Talent, and he earned rare respect from Clarkson for his speedy turn around the Top Gear track in a reasonably priced car. He's even known to have advised Ramsay on how to banish his famous wrinkles. Maybe he plans to create a race of television stars in his own image; he is, after all, extremely fond of it. Tim Walker

How easy is it to escape from an open prison?

It was eight hours before guards at East Sutton Park realised Jane Andrews ( right), the convicted murderer and former aide to the Duchess of York, had even absconded. So just how easy is it to escape an open prison? "It couldn't be easier," says Harry Fletcher, an assistant general secretary of Napo, the body representing family court and probation staff. "The majority of people in open prisons are on various day release schemes. They check out in the morning and go off to work and just don't come back."

Prisoners, who are often given their own keys, could almost as easily escape under the cover of darkness but wouldn't require grappling hooks. "You could just walk out," Fletcher says. The only deterrent is a swift dispatch to a closed prison for captured escapees but that didn't put off the 14,000 people who, according to a BBC Panorama investigation last year, absconded from open prisons in the past decade. Simon Usborne

Bad Sex

The Literary Review's 17th Bad Sex Award is announced on Monday. Founded by Auberon Waugh, its crusade to stamp out embarrassing sex scenes in English novels continues under his son, Alexander. This year's shortlist features much animal imagery ("It was as if she were wearing a mask on her genitals... she could have been a crow or a coyote" – P Roth) and cliches of surging waves ("I moved like a tide determined to crash against those ancient rocks" – Simon Van Booy), while bodies are transformed into "a delicate seismograph" (Amos Oz,) "the inside of a soft-boiled egg" (Jonathan Littell) and a pubic "pin cushion" (Richard Milward.) It's a curiously British convention that shortlistees are expected to join in the ridicule. Not coming to the event, or expressing disapproval, is considered poor show, but some have refused to play ball. Sebastian Faulks was the only winner who didn't turn up. A A Gill suggested, amid much tut-tutting, that Auberon Waugh's sex life was probably "the sound of one hand clapping." Philip Kerr delivered a speech that rubbished the prize and its corporate sponsors. When asked about writing and sex by the LA Times, Margaret Atwood shuddered: "Nobody wants to win that prize..." As for its effectiveness in discouraging talk of writhing loins and erect nipples – well, John Banville, shortlisted this year for some sweaty action in The Infinities, told the Irish Writers Centre that, since this is his second nomination, he may "steer clear" of sex henceforth. Result! John Walsh

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

HR Manager - HR Generalist / Sole in HR

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - HR Generalis...

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Banking - People Change - Lond...

HR Manager - Milton Keynes - £50,000 + package

£48000 - £50000 per annum + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Shared...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape