Editor-At-Large: Better a quick death than a painful life

Tony Scott was a lovely bloke in a town full of creeps, and generous to his crews

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I'm not sure why the death of Tony Scott affected me so much, but it has. We met in the Seventies when he was a top advertising director – he used my house to shoot a bra commercial in which glamorous semi-naked women played snooker. Everyone seemed to have a lot of fun. We don't know exactly why he chose to end his life by jumping off a bridge in Los Angeles – a dramatic gesture that seems to echo a scene from one of his brash action movies – but in death he made headlines in a way his recent output seldom achieved. His biggest hit, Top Gun, made in 1986, had obvious shortcomings – the relationship between Kelly McGillis and Tom Cruise never seemed that believable. But Georgio Moroder's hot soundtrack and Scott's over-the-top editing style were a potent mix, and millions of us were seduced by this luscious piece of brilliant entertainment. Forty-eight hours before his death, Scott had met Tom Cruise to discuss a sequel.

By all accounts he was a lovely bloke in a town full of creeps – hospitable, generous to his crews, happily married with 12-year-old twin sons. He is said to have left notes in his car for his family. There are rumours he was suffering from inoperable brain cancer and had not told anyone. If that's the case (and it was denied by his wife), was choosing death selfish or understandable? Is it cruel to deny your children a father, or kind to spare them the sight of their dad deteriorating horribly before their eyes?

Tony Scott wasn't much older than me – and his death has made me worry about what quality of life is worth pursuing. He lived in a town where youth is king, where macho men rule the roost. He smoked huge cigars every day, drove fast cars, collected powerful motorbikes and thought nothing of climbing a sheer rock face. His life was as brash and high volume as his movies. Was he, like so many of my generation of baby boomers, a Peter Pan who couldn't face imperfection – who decided it was better to go out with a bang than a fizzle?

Last weekend, I had dinner with a doctor who charges rich people €3,500 for a full body scan, and then tells his patients what tumours they are likely to develop and what lifestyle they should adopt to prolong their lives. He personally only ate one meal a day, and was advocating a restricted diet, favouring certain fruits and vegetables. It all sounded a bit repulsive to me – if you're wealthy enough and prepared to shun a whole load of enjoyable activities like drinking and eating, then maybe you can hang around till you're 90. Would I do that? Years of discipline in the vain hope of buying a bit longer on the planet?

Plenty of people do – my friend eats raw chillies every night, sprinkles linseed on his fruit, and drinks gallons of hot water every morning, his secret for longevity. Tony Nicklinson wanted the right to say he'd had enough. Tony Scott seems to have decided that a quick end is preferable to a slow and painful one. I think about death every day. And I'm in Scott's camp.

Bottom's up

My partner's favourite television series of all time is Bottom, starring Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson. The boxed set sits in pride of place next to the telly, and he watches the show mouthing Richie and Eddie's every word from memory, laughing uncontrollably as two dishevelled incoherent men hit each other brutally for hour after hour. Bottom is a man thing – a cult that completely bypasses 90 per cent of the female audience, like Men Behaving Badly, or Robson Green's Extreme Fishing. There was huge rejoicing last week in our house at the news the BBC is reuniting Rik and Ade in Hooligan's Island, to be transmitted in 2013, 18 years after the original series ended.

Leigh Francis's alter ego, Keith Lemon, is the modern version of Bottom – I once foolishly agreed to appear on his panel show Celebrity Juice, and decided afterwards I'd never work with children, animals or Mr Lemon again. He insisted on calling me Margaret and farting every time I spoke. Keith is filthy 100 per cent of the time, and is very persuasive (obviously, he got me to participate in his "fun"). In his new film, gorgeous Kelly Brook appears in bed with him, and Fearne Cotton, Chris Moyles, Jedward and Peter Andre all contribute. I am almost tempted to see this movie, after it received terrible reviews and one critic described it as "the most staggeringly perfunctory piece of filmmaking I have ever seen". I doubt that will deter its target (male) audience.

Wise Elisabeth

In 1995 I delivered the prestigious MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival and my comments about working in an industry dominated by the "M people" (male, mediocre, middle-class, middle-aged) made headlines around the world. Gradually, women rose to real positions of power – Liz Forgan was appointed Director of Programmes at Channel 4, Dawn Airey took the same role at the new Channel 5, and Jana Bennett became Director of Vision at the BBC.

But in the cosy world of the luvvies running this event, time stood still, in spite of age and gender issues constantly making headlines: the removal of Arlene Phillips from Strictly, the sidelining of Miriam Phillips from Countryfile and research showing that the BBC has far too many male faces onscreen in their news and factual coverage. No further women were thought suitable to give this lecture – until last week, when Elisabeth Murdoch used it to defend the BBC and the licence fee, unlike her father and brother who used the same platform to rubbish the corporation. She kicked off by wondering how much I had offended the committee, berating them for taking 17 years to ask another female.

It will probably take another decade to find another acceptable woman. And she will probably be the next Director General

Thumbs down

Northumberland has a beautiful coastline with miles of sands and photogenic Holy Island, atmospheric castles, from Bamburgh to Dunstanburgh to Alnwick, and millions of acres of empty fells and hills for solitary walking – a fabulous destination in all weathers. But some misguided county councillors think they have a better way to attract visitors – promoting the country as a cheap booze destination for Scots when the minimum price of alcohol north of the border is fixed at 50p a unit from April next year. They reckon towns such as Carlisle, Berwick and Morpeth, will be flooded with savvy scots shoppers pending just £3.50 on a bottle of wine compared to at least £4.70 back home, and plan to set aside money for an advertising campaign. Are these the kind of tourists local tea shops, hotels and B&Bs want? I very much doubt it.

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