Richard Ingrams: How reassuring to know that Sir Fred was still in control

Click to follow
The Independent Online

In these days of diminishing press freedom we have had to get used to hearing about people who cannot be named for legal reasons or whose faces have to be blacked out in order to protect their privacy.

I read more this week in the Financial Times about the female "senior colleague" of former Royal Bank of Scotland CEO Sir Fred Goodwin with whom he conducted an alleged affair. Apparently the bank has conducted an internal investigation into the matter and concluded that the senior colleague who, incidentally, remains in her job, was not involved in any of the disastrous decisions which brought the bank to near collapse.

This information, according to the FT, comes from "a person with knowledge of the internal investigation". This person, who cannot be named for all kinds of reasons, said that it was "slightly ludicrous" to suggest that Sir Fred's reported affair with the woman who cannot be named "might have impaired his decision-making capacity" (nothing could possibly have made it worse, some unkind persons may think).

"There is no suggestion that he spent day after day locked away in a secret bolthole," the anonymous person went on. "He went on holidays. He had hobbies. This was comparable." Just like a few rounds of golf in other words.

Who are these Lords Fink and Wei?

Who on earth is Lord Fink? I ask the question merely as an excuse to point out that, unnoticed by almost everyone, David Cameron has elevated more than a hundred men and women to the peerage over the last year or so – Fink being one of the lucky winners.

"Who he?" the famous editor of The New Yorker Harold Ross used to pencil in the margin when he hadn't heard of the person mentioned by one of his contributors. He might well have queried not only Fink but Lord Wei, another little-known peer who briefly surfaced in the news pages this week. It transpired that Lord Wei was the man David Cameron had appointed to "head up" his Big Society project.

Few people understand what this is and those who do tend to regard it as a fairly pointless exercise. But Cameron presses on and actually made another attempt to re-launch the Big Society this week. But the following day Lord Wei announced that he was giving up, using the customary formula about wanting to spend more time with his family. For Cameron, the news must have put a bit of a dampener on the re-launch.

But who will now take Wei's place? Lord Fink perhaps.

What we didn't learn about Wilson and Heath

I appeared briefly on Wednesday's BBC documentary about the Ted Heath/Harold Wilson years, shamelessly laughing at my own jokes in Private Eye. But in retrospect it seemed hard to take either of the prime ministers very seriously – Wilson the geezer ducking and diving, Heath totally lacking any form of charisma.

Missing entirely from the programme was any suggestion of scandal – though reference was briefly made to rumours that Heath was gay, rumours answered convincingly by the late and sadly missed Anthony Howard, who described the Tory prime minister as being, in his view, asexual. Nothing was said to explain how he was able to afford an ocean-going yacht, nothing about funds he received later from sucking up to the Moonies and the Chinese.

In Wilson's case the omissions were more striking. His final period in office (1974-76) was a fairly chaotic interlude during which all kinds of rumours surfaced – about the so-called Lavender List of honours, MI5, and shady businessmen. And there was the notorious slag-heap scandal. None of this was referred to.

Also notable for its absence from the Wilson-Heath documentary was any reference to Marcia Williams, Wilson's secretary, whom he ennobled as Lady Falkender. In 2006 Falkender – whom the BBC is doubtless aware is still with us – threatened to sue the Corporation for alleged libels in a play by Francis Wheen based on a book by Wilson's press secretary Joe Haines. Without even consulting Wheen, the BBC paid out £75,000 damages and £200,000 costs.