Janet Street-Porter: What's eating Zadie Smith?

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The Independent Online

The bottom line is, there's no point in writing books if you're not prepared to go and promote them, and I expect that the press department at Hamish Hamilton told her to get on a plane back to the mother country pronto and get herself back into the British media in time for the launch of her latest opus, in which they have a considerable investment.

I loved The Autograph Man, even though some editing would have tightened it up and the plot wobbled a bit. I can't wait to read her third novel On Beauty, which has received excellent reviews. As for the Booker, I loathe most awards, unless they are chosen by the public, especially events like last week's extravaganza hosted by GQ magazine. These are PR-driven bashes, totally meaningless, with gongs chosen to pander to advertisers and sponsors. They are no badges of merit in any way whatsoever. The idea of a panel of judges choosing one book over another and giving the author a large cash award is a ludicrous concept, and just panders to our obsession with lists. But I suppose anything that gets more people buying and reading books has to be a good thing, and so I hope that Miss Smith's intemperate outburst will not count against her.

But Miss Smith's tirade is so pitiful, it's hardly worth taking seriously, especially as she seems to have acquired the script from elsewhere. Last month her friend, the author Hari Kunzru (who turned down the £5,000 John Llewellyn Rhys award for his novel The Impressionist because he didn't agree with the sponsor's position on asylum-seekers), told a newspaper in Spain: "London is dirty, the food is bad, the weather worse... English people have such bad teeth." He calls London a "shithole". A former journalist, Kunzru was born in north London and went to public school in Essex and then Oxford. Zadie too grew up in London, and then attended Cambridge. What can have caused both of these highly intelligent authors to turn their backs on the most cosmopolitan and inspirational city on the planet?

It's funny how other award-winning authors such as Andrea Levy and Peter Ackroyd adopt the very opposite point of view, but then they are a bit more grown up. Zadie's tantrum stinks of self-obsession. In all honesty, White Teeth might have been a cracking series on Channel 4, and, whether she likes it or not, she is considered extremely attractive. But I don't think for one moment Miss Smith would be hassled on the Tube or in Starbucks.

There are more nationalities living in London than any other city on the planet. Don't tell me my Polish cleaning lady, the Indian grocer over the street or the Iranian guy running the supermarket up the road have a clue who Zadie Smith is. Who does she think she is? Makosi would be signing more autographs in Oxford Street than the author of The Autograph Man. Most authors are invisible, and by the way, it's the millions of people who watch reality television who buy books. Reading isn't the preserve of the middle classes. It's what people do every day on trains and buses as they travel to work, and that's something Miss Smith might do well to remember.

Blazers rule

It was no surprise to read that Faria Alam lost her case against the Football Association for unfair dismissal. How we were entertained by the saga of the two-timing PA who managed to bonk both the England manager and the FA's chief executive at the same time! Faria managed to make us consider that middle-aged men in blazers could be sex objects. Her claim that the FA's executive director David Davies sexually harassed her was dismissed, but there is no doubt that the atmosphere at the FA's offices was not perhaps like that of a funeral parlour.

Mr Davies plans to step down next year after the World Cup and is rumoured to be planning a career in politics. It sounds as if the antics in the offices of his organisation will have prepared him well for a stint in Parliament. In the meantime, football is a game which plenty of women contribute to by paying at the turnstiles, but which few are rewarded with any kind of executive power. It's a business where those wearing skirts type letters and attend dinners as arm candy and those wearing blazers crack sexist jokes and sit in the boardroom.

* * *

If you've got anyone you want to punish, tell them to go and see The Aristocrats, surely the most unfunny comedy film I've ever squirmed through. A parade of self-important, deeply unattractive men tell the same music-hall joke over and over again, each trying to be more outrageous than the last. With the exception of Whoopi Goldberg, The Aristocrats is one long, limp exercise in pointlessness. Eddie Izzard makes a token appearance but wisely doesn't participate, and Billy Connolly nearly chokes laughing at himself.

If you want to see why British humour inspires the rest of the world, go out and buy the new DVD of The Original Vic Reeves Big Night Out, which has just been released. It's an astonishing 20 years since Vic and Bob's great double act burst into life, and last Friday I was lucky enough to see them do their first live gig in five years, in the former Raymond's Revue Bar in Soho. Aided by Matt Lucas and Paul Whitehouse they revived some classic Big Night Out moments, including a judge in a wheelchair, the furry wheel of fortune, dog poo and chives, spirit levels and lard. And of course the hilarious musical interludes - all in front of a packed audience of their comedy peers from Harry Enfield to David Walliams and David Baddiel. Quite simply Vic and Bob are sublime - true masters of the surreal, disciples of Kenneth Horne and Spike Milligan. Five minutes of this cracking stuff and you want to tell Zadie Smith to come back home from New York, all is forgiven.

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