How a hamster myth was born: Alex Renton hears the Freddie Starr legend of the 1980s debunked at a Cambridge debate

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The Independent Online
A GREAT MYTH is dead. Freddie Starr did not eat the hamster. Max Clifford, public relations man to the stars, told the Cambridge Union last night that Mr Starr's grumpy girlfriend had merely tried to 'create that situation'.

Whether she actually tried to stuff the animal into Mr Starr's mouth or not, he did not reveal, but he did decide to exploit the situation for Mr Starr's benefit: successfully - it made the front page of the Sun. 'After the story his tour was sold out and we added another 30 dates.'

This week Mr Clifford has been exploiting the situation of Bryce Taylor, the gym owner who has made the Princess of Wales's workout famous. Peculiarly, he was speaking against a motion which called for the press's 'freedom to be irresponsible' to be upheld.

Since he makes his living out of an irresponsible press, he appeared, as several speakers said, to be attempting to do himself out of a job. But he was not calling for new legislation - he called for 'the press to pay. To pay for people like myself to be appointed to act for individuals who are suddenly thrust into the spotlight.'

Also speaking, somewhat out of character, for the motion was Alan Clark, Thatch erite minister turned salacious diarist. He told Cambridge that, lacking any effective opposition, there was in effect a ' one-party state' in Britain. Only the media could oppose it.

Subjective definitions of what constituted invasions of privacy would in reality mean 'anything that actually intrudes on our comfort, anything that will make it more difficult for them to get away with things'. He promised 'grand conspiracies and full- scale cover-ups'. This, of course, is a former minister at the centre of the arms to Iraq conspiracy.

Michael Mates, opposing the motion, went all out for the sympathy vote. 'I've had a rough time with the press: unlike Alan Clark - who might be said to have had a fairly rough time - I wasn't paid for it. The fact is I lost my job.' However, he did not call for statutory controls on the media - none of the celebrity speakers did.

Mr Clifford and Mr Mates had the best of it, in spite of squabbling unpleasantly over whether or not they had had lunch together in the summer to discuss Mr Major's problems with the magazine Scallywag. But they defeated the motion by a handsome 273 votes to 190.