Paul Vallely is Associate Editor of The Independent where he writes on social, ethical, political and cultural issues. He writes leaders, features and has a weekly column in the Independent on Sunday. He was co-author of the report of the Commission for Africa and has chaired several development charities.
Friday 18 August 1995
The final straw for McKee came, apparently, when he returned from holiday to find that, in his absence, Gyngell had sacked the station's most celebrated producer/director, Peter Kosminsky, responsible for some of the station's most lauded documentaries and docu-dramas, including Shoot to Kill, The Falklands War: the untold story, the first interviews with Soviet veterans in Afghanistan and so on. So keen was Gyngell to get rid of the man that he told Kosminsky to clear his desk immediately and take a pounds 900,000 commission for a docu-drama on child prostitution with him.
The whole affair will be the talk of the Edinburgh Television Festival next week, when, doubtless, some will be asking whether the ITC shouldn't take a hard look at YTT. Meanwhile, Gyngell is taking on an awful lot of extra roles. He was even seen recently leafing through a copy of the actors' audition book Spotlight, looking for a suitable face to front one of his new improved documentaries. Trouble is, I'm not sure that Roland Rat is in it.
In common with so many other NHS bureaucrats, managers of the Kent Ambulance NHS Trust are planning to make it a disciplinary offence for staff to pass information, not just to the media, but even to their MP. The age of the whistle-blower is clearly not entirely past, for the internal memo outlining the scheme was leaked to the local paper Kent Today. Outrage all round? Not from the local scion of parliamentary democracy. The Tory MP Jacques Arnold told the paper he did not think the guidelines were unreasonable. Heavens - if you can't complain about a public service to your MP, who can you complain to?
At the HQ of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, I have been trying out their CD-rom version of the 44 million words of entries which, complete with 3,000 illustrations, goes on sale this week (pounds 755, inc VAT). A revelation. I looked up "terrorism AND (hostages OR kidnap)" and came up with nothing about Kashmir but found some interesting stuff about Caligula, the Spanish Inquisition and the Ku Klux Klan. "Hottest AND summer AND UK" delivered some splendidly tangential thoughts about the effect of the weather on English art and literature. A stunning product.
Then I tried "Japan AND apolog". First it revealed that in their long history the Japanese have gone in for apologetics often, but apology rarely. But then the computer packed up. Perhaps the idea of Japanese apologies was more than it could cope with. But I suspect their machine was too slow. As I have a far better one at home I have offered to road- test the CD more fully there, with the aim of filling my articles henceforth with delectably oblique snippets of scholarship. Watch this space.
Up on the moors for the Inglorious Twelfth. Not an anti-shooting quip that, merely a reflection of the paucity of targets, had there been any guns around. I saw only one, decidedly scrawny, red grouse limping along the roadside on Black Hambleton on the North Yorkshire Moors. A plague of ticks has put paid to many of its fellows.
Still, it was a fine day, with the sky a chalky blue and the vast stretches of heather just tinged with purple. It was good to get so close to large numbers of young pheasants - as yet short-tailed but in vivid virgin plumage - still tame from their recent release from the rearing pens. They sauntered cockily by the roadside verges and about the moorland paths as if they knew it will be some months yet before the guns bear down on them.
No sauntering, however, by the dreaded mountain-bikers, who have begun to infest the hilltops with their thundering broad wheels and gaudy Lycra vests. Out walking, we were stopped by a survey team from the National Park to quiz us about our views on this pestilence. Unfortunately, they picked on my aunt - a doughty 78-year-old who can outwalk us all - who replied with the moderation of her years. Had they asked me, they would have carried off suggestions about genetically restructuring the grouse- tick to attack Lycra wearers. Or that the swooping bikers provided a fairer target for gun-toting toffs than do the lumbering grouse.
Signal failure: The Docklands Light Railway, on which we hacks scuttle into Canary Wharf, got stuck, yet again, in the sweltering heat the other day. The conductor apologised, explaining that the problem was "frozen points". Surely he meant the "wrong kind of sunshine".
The 150th anniversary of Britain's first municipal graveyard may have escaped your notice. There were black horses with black plumes to mark the occasion last weekend at Beckett Street Cemetery, opposite Jimmy's hospital in Leeds. Guides were on hand to reveal that the 8ft wall was erected, by order of the Bishop of Ripon, to deter body-snatchers, and to reveal that its first chaplain was the teetotal dissenter and founder of the Band of Hope, the Rev Jabez Tunnicliffe.
But the real delight was to discover how grieving relatives secured revenge in the old days: viz the tombstone of Fred, aged 12, who was "killed instantly by an airliner owned by Sir Richard Cobham and piloted by Flt Lt Johnson". A bottle of Bollinger for the reader who comes up with the most droll 1995 inscription for tombstone revenge.
Last week's bottle was won by Ms Paddy Kitchen of Barnwell, who suggested that the pounds 10m that has been given to my National Lottery Equilibrium Fund should be distributed equally between the 350 inhabitants of her village (pounds 28,570 each), to relieve Ron and Pat, who run the sub-post office, of the need to taint their till with ticket money.
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