Richard Ingrams' Week: Where health and safety tread, fear soon follows

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The Independent Online

The Proms are having a hard time from officialdom this year. In March government minister Margaret Hodge warned the organisers that the concerts were guilty of elitism where "people of different backgrounds didn't feel at ease in being part of this".

Now Sir Terry Wogan has revealed that the health and safety people have been in to check the orchestra noise level at the Royal Albert Hall, which they say must not exceed the statutory 140 decibels specified in EU regulations.

It would be interesting to know if the health and safety people would ever dare to show their faces at an event like last weekend's Reading pop festival. The noise level there far exceeds anything the London Philharmonic Orchestra could produce. When the wind is in the right direction, I can hear the racket from my garden about 12 miles away. But this is an event where people of different backgrounds feel at ease, so I presume any interference by Health and Safety Executive officials is unlikely. Yet the noise pollution produced by hugely amplified pop music is a much more serious issue than anything to do with the Proms.

It has been known for years that listening to loud music on earphones can lead to premature deafness. And one shudders to think what the effect on shop workers must be of being bombarded throughout the day by thumping Muzak, unavoidable nowadays even in supposedly peaceful bookshops. But here again I very much doubt if the HSE would think of interfering with the smooth running of high street retail outlets.

If only ITV was more boxed in

Jeremy Paxman's latest outburst – this time about the stranglehold that women have over the commanding heights of the BBC – reminds us that this is the season for telly pundits to sound off, usually at the Edinburgh Festival.

Another voice to be raised in outrage this week was that of Mr Peter Fincham (formerly the head of BBC1 and presumably shunted out by the viragos identified by Paxo).

Mr Fincham is now the head of ITV and his particular gripe was the amount of regulation that the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom has over his programme-making. It may come as news to many that there are still requirements on ITV to produce what they call "public service broadcasting". If you examine the schedules, you might find it rather hard to see anything answering to that description. Still, Mr Fincham feels that his creative talents are being hampered by having to conform.

Others may feel, perhaps rightly, that ITV needs a lot more regulations – not fewer. At the same time that Fincham was sounding off, Ofcom revealed more details of ITV's skulduggery. We were already familiar with the Ant and Dec scandal, when the viewers were defrauded of millions of pounds by voting in competitions the results of which had already been decided.

Then there was the 2005 Comedy Awards affair where the results were rigged. And now it is revealed that the same sort of thing happened in 2004 when viewers were conned into believing that the last half of the ceremony was live when it was nothing of the kind.

In due course, Ofcom will impose a big fine on ITV, whereas by right the police should have been called in long ago.

* Could Cardinal John Henry Newman become the first gay British saint? This seems to be the hope of gay rights activist Peter Tatchell and his followers, who are opposing the exhumation of Newman's remains on the grounds that he particularly asked to be buried next to the man whom they call his "partner" Ambrose St John.

By way of research, I have consulted the famous book Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey, a devout atheist and unashamed gay, because if there was anything in the Tatchell version he would have been the first to make a meal out of it in his book. But Ambrose St John scarcely gets a mention.

If Newman is eventually canonised, as now seems to be likely, it will be a useful reminder that saints are generally not very saintly as the world might understand the word. I mean they are not nice, quiet, peaceful types with beatific smiles as you see in the stained glass windows.

It was Newman's sermon approving of Jesus's instruction to his followers to be "wise as serpents" that got him into a famous scrap with Charles Kingsley, the voraciously anti-Catholic author of The Water Babies. After Newman died, his fellow eminence Cardinal Manning, pictured, said by way of an obituary tribute: "He was a great hater." If true, it seems to have been no bar to his eventual sainthood – something that Manning himself has never been nominated for.