A serious case of press contempt

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The Independent Online
MICHAEL SHEA speaks] Goodness, what an enviable scoop for the Times, I thought. He was press secretary to the Queen from 1978 to 1987 and has kept his lips buttoned till now, so his three-parter on 'The Palace, the press and the people' could hardly fail to be riveting, could it?

Well yes it could, actually. It was as turgid as a school essay, and only remarkable for the staggering degree of snobbishness it revealed. Mr Shea clearly feels the plebs have no business knowing anything about their betters; really, it is rather tiresome of them to want to read newspapers at all; they certainly have no right to comment on, still less to criticise, those whom God in His wisdom has set above them. The tabloids, he said, were 'a cancer on the soft underbelly of the nation': no longer having to read them was one of the pleasures of his retirement.

What a truly brilliant qualification for a press officer] Equivalent to appointing an agoraphobic to run the Countryside Commission or a blind person to run the National Gallery. No wonder Palace public relations have steadily deteriorated for the last decade if such kneejerk contempt for the popular press and all its 20 million readers is the norm at court. Yet according to Daily Express diarist Ross Benson, Shea was given not only Palace permission but Palace encouragement to write his articles, which means that the same cast of mind still prevails. Have they learned nothing from the PR disasters of the past year?

THE GREAT BAND question threatens to become even more of a friendship-breaker than the 071/081 schism of 1990. At least the London phone lottery was straightforward: if you drew 071 you felt smug, if 081, bitter. But this band business is far more complex, as I learnt when my father rang me from the country.

He asked what band we'd landed in and I told him G, then started babbling apologetically about how London house prices were completely insane and anyway the valuations were based on April 1991 prices which were top of the market. He let me witter on before remarking, 'Same as us then.' I couldn't believe my ears. 'What?' I shrieked, 'Your titchy little cottage] But it's in the country] It can't possibly be worth pounds 160,000; that's ridiculous]'

At this, my father grew heated and said that their part of Wiltshire was considered highly desirable, and though their cottage might be small, their garden was huge. And then - shocking me to the core - he proceeded to reel off all the prices that every cottage in the village had changed hands for in the last three years.

I was appalled - not at the prices, but at the fact that he knew them. 'Do you mean,' I hissed, 'that you all sit around every day talking about house prices? You might as well live in London]' 'We don't want to,' he said smugly, 'we're lucky enough to be able to afford to live here.' And with that we both slammed down our phones.

THE WELLCOME sex survey has fallen rather flat in the media, perhaps because it failed to produce any sensational results. The main finding - that single, young and wealthy people have more sexual partners than the married, old and poor - hardly seems worth stating. Nevertheless it is an important survey and more scientifically respectable than the Kinsey report of the 1940s, because its 19,000 respondents were selected at random, whereas Kinsey's 20,000 were volunteers.

Nearly all Kinsey's results were shocking at the time - especially the discovery that 37 per cent of male respondents had had at least one homosexual experience to the point of orgasm, and that 8 per cent had had sex with an animal. The Wellcome survey didn't ask about animals and found only 6 per cent of its male respondents had had any homosexual experience.

Presumably the effect of the Wellcome survey will be to discredit Kinsey, but I shall be sorry to lose him: I loved some of his incidental findings - that three of his male respondents routinely performed self-fellation, or that another achieved sexual arousal by reading Motley's Rise of the Dutch Republic. The Wellcome report is dull as ditchwater by comparison. I wonder how much the appearance of the interviewers matters? Kinsey looked like a Martian, with his domed head, mad staring eyes, and letterbox mouth. The women who carried out the Wellcome survey, on the other hand, looked dauntingly respectable; their earnest, caring expressions must have deterred any would-be zoophiles from blurting out that what they really fancied was sex with a nice Alderney.

LORD TEBBIT, on Desert Island Discs, chose Frank Sinatra singing 'My Way' as one of his records. A lot of people like 'My Way' - it is one of the standards at karaoke evenings and I remember once when I followed Brian Johnson making Down Your Way, he told me that guests were allowed to choose absolutely any piece of music they liked - but he always prayed they wouldn't choose Peter Dawson singing 'The Floral Dance' or Frank Sinatra singing 'My Way'.

What is strange about 'My Way' is that it is a hymn to non-conformity, the cry of the maverick, the semi-housetrained polecat, and yet whenever a gang of indistinguishable grey men in suits is gathered together, mildly pissed, you can bet one of them will sing it. It is the musical equivalent of those notices saying 'You don't have to be mad to work here but it helps' - an advertisement of dullness, a symptom of irremediable banality of the soul.