Richard Ingrams’s Week: You're never too young to get a mobile, apparently

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The Independent Online

On Wednesday Samsung launched its new mobile phone, the Tobi, aimed specially at primary school pupils. It joins a number of similar phones already on the market, one of which, the Telephone, is designed for four-year-olds.

The move could be a sign of desperation by the mobile phone industry. Most people who want one already own a mobile, so young children remain the most promising untapped market. Parents, who will pay the £80 for a Tobi, can be told how important the phone will be to ensure their child's safety.

As it happens, the launch of the Tobi coincides with news that the French government has introduced a crackdown. Mobiles for children under six will be banned altogether in France and advertising to children under 12 is to be prohibited by law. The moves follow a number of research projects, including one recently carried out in Sweden, which indicates that children and teenagers are five times more likely than adults to develop brain cancer if they use mobiles.

Our own Government knows all about these reports but is unlikely to follow the example of the French. Although the Health Protection Agency has issued a number of warnings over the years that young children should not use mobile phones, nobody has paid much notice, least of all the schools. The Government does too well out of the mobile phone industry to introduce any compulsory restrictions on marketing, so the new Tobi model should be assured of a big sale.

Girls will be most at risk. It comes as no surprise to learn that they use mobiles twice as much as boys.

Come into the garden, Anthony

"The world keeps ending but new people too dumb to know it keep showing up as if the fun's just started."

You might not gather from reading the long obituaries of John Updike, and all the talk about sex and suburban mores, that he could be a very funny writer – not surprising when you remember that he spent his formative years at The New Yorker relishing the work of writers such as James Thurber and Robert Benchley.

Updike was also a religious man, as you can tell from his critique of Matthew's gospel in his book of essays Odd Jobs. One of the reasons I like reading him so much is his habit of describing trees and flowers, something he has in common with the great novelists such as Hardy and Lawrence.

Contrast his poetic awareness of nature with the lack of it in our revered British novelist the late Anthony Powell. In his published diary, Powell describes in elaborate detail how he visited Buckingham Palace in 1988 to be invested with the CH. Making small talk after the ceremony, the Queen asked him about his garden. "Do you have aconites?" Powell had no idea what she was talking about and stammered a non-committal reply. "I am totally ignorant on all horticultural matters," he added with not a glimmer of shame. One reason, although there are plenty of others, why he is a greatly inferior novelist when compared to Updike.

A word of warning to anyone buying stolen obituaries

I spent an enjoyable half hour on Monday being interviewed for a forthcoming TV documentary about the late Tom Driberg, left, the journalist and maverick Labour MP who died in 1976.

Tom, now best remembered for his exploits as a reckless gay philanderer, had a long association with 'Private Eye' and compiled the magazine's crossword. He took special delight in including naughty words partly in the hope of annoying me, the editor.

One day a young man appeared in the 'Eye' offices offering to sell the magazine a proof of the obituary in 'The Times' of the then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. Without asking how he had come by such an interesting document, I bought it off him for £10.

It later emerged that in fact the obituary had been written by Tom and stolen from his desk by one of his young boyfriends.

As it happened, the issue of the 'Eye' featuring the obituary, which was not at all complimentary of Wilson, coincided with a party at No 10 Downing Street to which I had been invited. It was the only time I met Harold Wilson, and assuming that what everyone wants is to read their own obituary I handed him a copy of the 'Eye'. But Wilson pretended not to be interested and brushed it aside, saying that 'The Times' had always had it in for him.

Wilson must have forgiven Driberg as shortly before his death he was given a life peerage. It was a sort of consolation prize for never being given ministerial office. Though much better qualified than many of his Labour colleagues, Tom was thought to be too much of a security risk.

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