What happened to the stiff upper lip? I grew up in a household where hugging and unseemly displays of emotion were strictly rationed. In old family photos we all stand separately, Dad with arms crossed and a grim expression, Mum smiling in a clean pinny and pearls. Appearance was all. When I married for a third time, mum's reaction was typical of her generation. She complained, "I won't be able to hold my head up in the street", followed by "What on earth will the neighbours think?". I am a product of the post-war years when the working classes worked, and expected the blokes running the country to get on with their task and tell us only what was necessary.
Until 10 years ago, the press and the public were not over-exercised about our leaders' private lives. There was the occasional scandal about mistresses and call girls, about bribery and low life, but voters weren't fed a daily diet of rumour and speculation about what politicians got up to in private. Reality television changed all that. Suddenly, living rooms were full of famous (and not so famous) people blubbing, revealing their secret hopes and fears to millions of complete strangers. We lapped it up – and this new form of entertainment became our guilty pleasure. Newspapers and online chat rooms now devote a huge amount of time and energy to disseminating utter trivia about the famous and powerful – and that includes politicians.
Social mobility has stagnated, and the ruling classes are pretty much the same as before. Sure, there are a few more women and a sprinkling of ethnics, but the vast majority of our political leaders are white, male, middle class and privately educated. As in my father's day, most of us don't want to be involved in the minutiae of government; we expect the experts to get on with it. What's different is our prurient interest in our leaders.
Tony Blair changed the agenda: he combined a presidential demeanour with the charisma of a rock star. He trumped it all by fathering a baby while in office. His wife let all sorts of intimate details slip which reinforced his sexy image. Maggie would never have approved such displays of affection, no matter how phoney and stage managed for the media. She only cried publicly as she left office. She got on with running the country, and what her kids got up to was of no interest.
We didn't know John Major was a sex god until Edwina Currie spilt the beans, and Ted Heath's sex life remains a complete mystery. After Blair, displays of emotion and the strategic leaking of intimate revelations about family life became a key PR tool. Forget policies – now we want to know, do they still have sex, do their wives nag and are their kids messy eaters? What makes them laugh? Do they get on with their parents? Hence Sarah Brown's toe-curling autobiography, her inane tweets about what the kids had for tea, and Sally Bercow telling us how sexy other women find her husband.
William Hague felt he had to reveal intimate details about his wife's gynaecological problems when he faced questions about his relationship with a young male assistant. David Cameron tells us what music he likes and what telly he watches. Even Vince Cable, on Desert Island Discs, discussed the death of his first wife. Why? Do politicians think that each titbit makes us warm to them and their policies? Now Clegg bleats to Jemima Khan, "I'm a human being, not a punchbag – I've got feelings." The final proof that he is wet, though, is the revelation that he cries "regularly", listening to music. I don't care. Will these chaps man up, get on with the job, and stop revealing stuff we don't need to know?
My recipe for oven-ready TV ratings
Cooking has become the programming equivalent of Polyfilla – plugging the gaps between more risky offerings.
Last Friday, I took part in Britain's Best Dish, and my rhubarb pie caused a fuss because I used ready-made puff pastry. These shows are just reality telly under another name – not about skill, but gladiatorial sport. Even top professionals are presented as entertainers: we've never watched Nigella in order to learn how to cook, have we?
I sense that cooking is becoming a bit passé, and now television has turned to decorating to deliver viewers by the million. Kirstie Allsopp has been painting lampshades and learning crafts for Channel 4, and now Richard Desmond, the new owner of Channel 5, has decided to follow suit, giving Kelly Hoppen her first series.
The woman who's made a fortune out of a style based on twigs, pebbles and various shades of beige is going to visit "ordinary homes and meet very ordinary people", she says.
Will this symphony of subtlety tick the boxes for 5's viewers? Kelly has worked for Gwyneth Paltrow and Victoria Beckham. Desmond must be hoping Kelly persuades them to drop in on some "ordinary" folk.
Addicts need a hand, not a handset
Is texting the best way to give addicts the support they need to stay off booze? I doubt it.
The Health Foundation charity is spending £75,000 funding the first texting trial with the NHS in Bolton. To track progress, 120 patients who are trying to detox are given special mobiles which cannot be used to make or receive calls. Instead, the handsets send out automated daily messages. If the patients respond positively (for example, by saying that they haven't had a drink), they receive a congratulatory text. But if they say they are in danger of wobbling off the straight and narrow, they're offered personal counselling, or a phone chat with a helper.
Given that most addicts routinely lie, I'd say this trendy techo-support is doomed to failure. What these patients need is group support and intensive counselling.
A miracle in Margate
I visited Margate last Friday for a sneak preview of the impressive new Turner Contemporary gallery. The sun was shining, the beach inviting, and David Chipperfield's stylish new building made an imposing statement overlooking the harbour. Horrid old run-down Margate is already perking up.
The old town near the harbour is fast being restored, funky shops and cafés have moved in, and now this fine gallery has arrived, sure to attract more visitors. The carefully chosen exhibits are inspired by Margate regular J M W Turner. How annoying, then, of Channel 4 News to run a report by one Mathew Cain, who seemed more interested in styling himself on the Smiths than offering any constructive comment.
Ignore this fashion victim: Margate is well worth a visit.Reuse content