The Tories refused to put up a Cabinet minister to go on the BBC's Question Time on Thursday because Alastair Campbell had already been booked.
Was it felt that no self-respecting minister could dream of appearing on the same panel as this excitable, foul-mouthed former Daily Mirror journalist, a prime player in the infamous story of the Iraq war, the man who gave us the "dodgy dossier", who hounded Dr Kelly and the BBC when they dared to suggest that No 10 had interfered with the intelligence reports about Saddam Hussein's WMD – now known to be non-existent?
No. It seems that Campbell, being neither an elected figure nor a frontbencher, was considered unsuitable to bandy words with a government minister.
New Labour made no objection to the choice of Campbell, despite the fact that the Iraq war still rankles with the party faithful, which is no doubt why the Miliband brothers, both contending for the leadership, have tried to distance themselves from any commitment, both stressing their eagerness to move on and talk about other matters. But they can't have it both ways – expect us all to forget about the war but continue at the same time to have as one of their leading advisers and spokesmen one of its most conspicuous architects.
Granada TV – home of eccentric characters
It must be about 40 years since I was first invited to present Grenada TV's What the Papers Say. Later it became quite a regular assignment for me, albeit a hazardous one. It involved going to Manchester – something one normally tries to avoid – and recording the programme in primitive conditions where if anything went wrong you had to go back to the beginning and start all over again.
What made it always enjoyable was the camaraderie of the readers whose job was to read out the newspaper cuttings in the appropriate voices. Their leader, Peter Wheeler, kept everyone in high spirits to such an extent that it was often hard not to break down in laughter during the recording – another hazard. Sadly, he has just died of a heart attack aged 75.
A Granada jack-of-all-trades, Peter was full of wonderful stories, many of them concerning my first WTPS producer Derek Granger, a distinguished director who had worked at the National Theatre and elsewhere. Even when Peter was reading out humdrum news items from the Daily Mail, Derek would give him wonderfully over-the-top instructions – "Page 9 is too green", he would say, or "I want it a little higher and as if over sandpaper".
My favourite story of Peter's concerned the maverick Bill Grundy when about to interview Tory grandee Iain Macleod. Asked to say something "for level" before the programme went on air, Grundy asked: "Mr Macleod, is it true that you suffer from dandruff of the crotch?" When the lights went up they showed Grundy confronting an empty chair, Macleod having stormed out in a huff.
Captivated by the power of Bach
I remember a piano teacher at school once telling me that I was very lucky to like Bach. I couldn't understand what he was talking about. He might just have well as said that I was very lucky to like sunshine or ice cream. Surely everybody liked Bach as much as I did.
I remembered his remark this week coming out of Alan Watkins's funeral service at St Bride's church in Fleet Street. As we, most of us ageing grey-haired hacks, tottered out of the church, the organist struck up one of Bach's great preludes. It stopped me in my tracks and I felt a tingling in the scalp as sometimes happens when I listen to music.
But nobody else seemed to be taking any notice. As one of the great masterpieces by the world's greatest ever musical genius thundered out, they chatted and gossiped about Alan, the service, where they were going to lunch. And I realised then that my piano teacher was quite right and that I am very lucky to like Bach.Reuse content