Richard Ingrams’s Week: What a surprise: a prince defends a tyrannical king

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The Independent Online

The BBC is keen to keep close links with the Royal Family, which is presumably why the corporation invited Prince Charles, below, to deliver the annual Dimbleby Lecture this week.

But it must have been well aware when it issued the invitation that any lecture delivered by the prince would almost certainly be written by somebody else.

And it could have predicted that once Charles, pictured, got going on the need to preserve the planet, there would be quite a lot of critics asking whether it was appropriate for a very rich man with a very extravagant lifestyle to preach to viewers on the need to safeguard all our vital natural resources by cutting back.

One can assume that all the high-flown nonsense on this theme was the work of one of the many tame environmentalists who sit at the court of the prince. But there were signs that Charles contributed input of his own, notably in the form of a tribute to his ancestor Henry VIII, widely and correctly regarded by historians as a murderous tyrant.

But just as Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone was keen in a recent interview to stress the many positive achievements of Adolf Hitler, Charles went out of his way to praise the obese and power-mad Henry.

Not only did Henry, according to Charles, have a keen interest in green issues, but he also shared with the prince "an interest in architecture which may well be hereditary". (Ecclestone's hero the Führer, it is perhaps worth noting, also had a passion for architecture.)

Charles is notoriously ignorant about historical and cultural matters but somebody might have told him that as far as architecture is concerned, Henry VIII is nowadays best remembered as the man responsible for the destruction of some of the most beautiful buildings in Britain, the countless abbeys and priories which were demolished and ransacked during his reign and which now remain only as crumbling ruins.

Reporters out, private detectives in

In defence of the News of the World, caught out in a huge phone-bugging operation, it is said that all newspapers have been guilty of hiring private detectives to do their dirty work and hack into telephones.

The difference is that papers have done it for the most part in the same spirit as the police – ie when seeking to nail a particular villain or villains. But the News of the World operation seems to have been a massive trawl of phone calls merely in the hope of finding something that they could base a story on. Otherwise, what was the point of bugging people like Nigella Lawson?

In other words, it is yet another sign of the desperate state of journalism today, when papers which have sacked most of their key reporters have to resort to private detectives in the hope of finding something to make a story.

It is perfectly clear that the News of the World has broken the law and equally clear that the police don't want to do anything about it. The police have always had a very close and cosy relationship with the News of the World, and leading politicians would do anything rather than upset Rupert Murdoch, even though he is by now quite old.

'Ordinary' works are far harder to explain

So-called great art – music, writing, painting – is only for the elite. The "ordinary people" have no special liking for it, and it is pointless to try to help schoolchildren appreciate it.

The sculptor Antony Gormley, famous for his massive Angel of the North (which bears a strong resemblance to a Nazi memorial to the Luftwaffe), is only the latest to articulate what is now the general consensus.

Gormley, right, is currently enjoying a huge amount of publicity as a result of his Trafalgar Square stunt, allowing punters to pose on the famous empty plinth and enjoy 15 minutes of being miraculously transformed into a work of art.

What a difference in this lively scene, Gormley says, to the nearby National Gallery, which is to most people "off limits", and where "you need background to know what a picture means and to access emotional content".

It will be news to quite a lot of people that you need background in order to appreciate, say, Constable's Hay Wain, above, or Van Gogh's Sunflowers. As for accessing emotional content, I don't know what that means and I suspect that neither does Gormley.

If you think about it for a moment, though, you realise that the truth is exactly the opposite to what Gormley suggests. You don't need any background to appreciate those great paintings in the National Gallery.

But what requires considerable subtlety of mind and philosophical expertise is to explain to those so-called ordinary people how a boring-looking man in a suit standing on a plinth sending text messages is a work of art. That surely is a very obtuse intellectual concept well beyond the capacity of most of us.

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