Editor-at-large: Up, up and away

Click to follow
The Independent Online

In a week in which Elizabeth Hurley is splashed all over the press, not talking about her pregnancy (but apparently having lunch with a journalist who manages to convey to us her innermost thoughts), it was hilarious to find myself speaking at a conference organised by the Institute of Public Relations on the subject of reputations.

Hundreds of serious people were closeted in a darkened room in west London debating the role of the media in making or breaking their clients' careers.

As someone who's been pilloried regularly by other journalists, I feel quite well equipped to comment on the subject. (The fact is, most journalists do a lot of score-settling that is of absolutely no interest to anyone except other journalists.)

Still, the PR industry still seems blissfully unaware of how newspapers actually work, and how editors decide which stories will fill their pages. Even though I stopped editing this paper last July, I still receive hot news flashes daily from the Football Association, as well as press releases about heated towel rails.

No wonder, then, that stars like Ms Hurley decide to bypass the role of the press officer and take matters into their own hands. For the public relations officer these are difficult times. When newspapers are filled with news about events in Afghanistan, how are they to get us interested in safety glass and organic cheese? One anxious PR lady approached me as I was leaving. "Tell me," she said, "how do I get editors to write about sheltered accommodation in rural areas for the over-70s when all they are interested in is Ali G and young people?" I felt like saying that her task was virtually impossible, but found myself waffling something about money pages – "pitch it at the crumblies' kids and point out how they'll save their inheritance".

Back on the subject of reputations, what anodyne times we live in when the pinnacle of satire is represented by Ali G. His presentation of the MTV Europe music awards the other night represented a triumph of tape editing. In person, Sacha Baron Cohen is brilliant and charming, but don't tell me he represents the cutting edge of satire – drab sexist comment is more his style, and that was lost on a German audience.

Trading insults is no substitute for the cut and thrust of programmes such as Spitting Image in which a bunch of latex puppets did more to destroy politicians' careers than newspaper editorials.

Sotheby's is selling all the remaining Spitting Image puppets on 29 November, including an extremely flattering one of me (lot 156 with a pretty low estimate of £300 to £500, if you're interested). Compared with the original JSP puppet back in the Eighties, entitled Janet Toilet-Cleaner, this latex me is positively gorgeous. Roger Law, my creator, very kindly allowed me to visit his workshops years ago and meet my alter ego. There on a bench was a little sad thing with no arms and a giant tuft of shocking pink hair tied in a knot. I was unexpectedly touched. I think Roger has re-used the teeth from the original in my new version. But the stars of the auction are undoubtedly the set of press pigs (estimated at £600 to £800 each) from a blistering sketch about The Sun in which they held all their editorial discussions lying in the gutter. David Yelland will want the set for his office to remind him of the good old days.

BBC1 is planning a whole night in December devoted to impressionists and their victims and once again I think we will see that the gay repartee of Graham Norton or the genitalia-obsessed chat of Jonathan Ross is lacklustre fare compared with the great days of satire and such shows as Not the Nine O'Clock News in 1980. In her biography of Billy Connolly, Pamela Stephenson tells how she met Billy the night they did a sketch together for the show, with her dressed as me. Her teeth fell out. Soon afterwards Pamela and I did another sketch for BBC television with Kenny Everett in which we all dressed as me. Pamela and I waited for an hour and a half in the studio while Mr Everett returned to planet Earth in his dressing room. After that I felt I'd collaborated enough with people who wanted to dress up as me. I should have gone into partnership with my dentist and flogged sets of my teeth. Reputations, who needs them?

The Victoria and Albert opens its new British Galleries later this week (see page 7), which represents a big step forward in the museum's strategy to reposition itself as a must-see attraction. For a long time the V&A seemed to have lost its way, with trivial shows like its latest effort, Radical Fashion, and a labyrinthine layout that makes Hampton Court maze seem a doddle.

I've had a sneak preview of the new galleries and they certainly go a long way towards presenting the V&A's treasures in a far more thrilling way, occupying two whole floors of one wing of the museum. For the first time, visitors can stand in one of the 18th century's most glamorous interiors, the white and gold music room built for the Mayfair house of the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk in 1756. Hopefully the museum will stage concerts and parties in this opulent setting. By adopting themes such as Who Led Taste and What Was New?, the galleries have moved away from the old rigid, chronological approach. Go and see for yourself. I was impressed. Entrance is free from 22 November.

The only thing that did jar was the sculpture by Cornelia Parker in the two rooms set aside for rest and reflection. Cornelia is a terrific artist, but isn't this just another example of the V&A trying to emulate Tate Modern or the Serpentine? How I long for the London museums to stop being competitive when it comes to contemporary art. Why can't the V&A just stop collecting things and showcase what they already have, but better?

I put all this to the new director, Mark Jones. He stoutly defends the decision to commission Cornelia's work, and says the V&A will continue to collect the best modern decorative art, which he intends eventually to showcase in the new extension. He wants to restore the entrance to the V&A via the subway and start a massive reorganisation of the museum's ground floor. But he did allow that museums duplicate each other's collections and it was high time the V&A and the British Museum did some exchanges. Exciting news – the world of high culture finally enters the 21st century with some Premier League-style transfers. Can I play the part of Mr Eriksson in all of this?

As you read this I will be entering the final stages of my preparations to climb Mt Kilimanjaro. Thank you to readers who've written in with boot suggestions. I aim to reach the summit on World Aids Day, 1 December, to raise money for the Elton John Aids Foundation. The highest I have climbed before was more than 16,000 feet, and this is 19,340.

I've given up on gym training because it's so boring. Trudging through sand and mud for two hours must be just as efficient, and you don't have to see thin people. My legs are now so muscley I can't zip up my Versace biker boots. Which is good and bad news, really.

Sotheby's 'Spitting Image' sale is at Olympia, London on 29 November. The puppets are exhibited 24 to 26 November (020-7293 5555).

Comments