Richard Imgrams' Week: Memories of my time in the psychiatrist's chair

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The Independent Online

It was rather disconcerting to be invited to do an interview with Dr Anthony Clare, who died this week aged 64. As he was a psychiatrist, it seemed safe to assume that before issuing the invitation he had detected some interesting neuroses that he was keen to investigate and expose.

Clare was a nice, quietly spoken Irishman with a considerable record of success in extracting confidences from his guests. An exception was the former Postmaster General, John Stonehouse, famous for his Reggie Perrin-style fake suicide and subsequent imprisonment. Whenever he was bowled a particularly difficult delivery by Clare, Stonehouse announced that he had to go off for a pee. The filming stopped while he left the set to think up a good answer in the toilet.

In my own case, the invitation to be interviewed seemed the sort of challenge that I should not funk. So for about an hour I sat in the studio opposite Dr Clare doing my best to answer his rather too earnest questions.

More than 20 years later I can't remember much about the interview, except that afterwards I considered I had been quite frank about my motives, even about my so-called private life. But the day after the programme went out, I was buttonholed by a stranger as I was walking up Shaftesbury Avenue on the way to Private Eye.

"You were great on the TV last night," he said. "You didn't tell that little bugger anything."

Is it racist to mention the elephant?

Mr Norman Podhoretz, 77, has a number of mentions in The Israel Lobby, the authoritative new book by two American professors, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, which I wrote about last month. He is one of the most persistent campaigners for an American attack on Iran with the prime purpose of thereby protecting Israel. As former editor of the staunchly pro-Israel magazine Commentary, Podhoretz makes no secret of the fact that he is simply a propagandist. "The role of Jews who write in both the Jewish and general press," he proclaims, "is to defend Israel."

In a long interview last week with The Daily Telegraph, Podhoretz urged the immediate bombing of Iran with cruise missiles. Described by the paper as "a pre-eminent conservative foreign policy intellectual", Podhoretz was confident that the attack on Iran would be a simple business. "I would say it would take five minutes. You'd wake up one morning and the strike would have been ordered and carried out during the night. All the President has to do is to say go."

One hopes that many people will be alarmed by the thought that the view of this belligerent old man are apparently taken seriously in America. But equally worrying, on this side of the Atlantic, is the fact that in the course of the Telegraph's long article, there is not one single mention of Israel, nor any reference to Podhoretz's lifelong campaign to make propaganda for their country. Yet his hawkish views on Iran can only be explained in this context. If it was an isolated example of the elephant in the room being ignored, it wouldn't matter so much. But it is likely that in all the debate about a possible attack on Iran by George Bush this issue of Israeli and pro-Israeli pressure will continue to escape the attention of our media. That is a tribute to the success of The Israel Lobby in branding as a racist anyone who is foolhardy enough to mention the elephant's presence.

* When so many people regard the welfare of wildlife as more important than that of human beings. it isn't surprising that a massive police operation should be mounted following the killing of two hen harriers in Norfolk.

There is now even a special arm of the police force, the National Wildlife Crime Unit, to crack down on such killings. The cost of maintaining it is enormous and the results in terms of prosecution negligible. In the hen harrier instance, the dead birds have not even been found. The investigation is an expensive charade.

Behind all this lies the almost fanatical crusade to foster the introduction of birds of prey into the countryside. And it has been a great success. There are now in Scotland growing numbers of huge sea eagles and in England, as I have previously noted, thousands of red kites, not to mention almost equal numbers of buzzards.

The birds are all protected under EU legislation and have the vociferous support of organisations like the RSPB. There are parallel campaigns in the animal world to introduce wild boars and even wolves into the countryside.

Gamekeepers are usually blamed for the killing of birds such as hen harriers which prey on grouse and partridges. But farmers have good reason to resent them when they can attack lambs and poultry. (The hen harrier I assume is so called because it harries hens, just as the sparrowhawk preys on sparrows.)

But to the fanatics of the RSPB such complaints are irrelevant. The welfare of these savage birds, they say, must take precedence over that of farmers and their lambs, not to mention the many smaller birds which constitute their staple diet.