Tom Sutcliffe: Would the BMA deny Bond his martini?

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Some people, it seems, just don't quite understand how drama works. First we had the head of the Bar Council suggesting that Criminal Justice, Peter Moffat's excellent series for BBC One, should be struck from the record as inadmissible evidence. It was not, he explained, in an indignant letter to a newspaper, "the basis upon which one can draw any sound conclusions about our system of justice".

I hadn't been aware that anyone had suggested it might be. It wasn't, after all, the raw material for a Royal Commission report on the provision of legal services but a fiction which was expressly about the less satisfactory aspects of the law. Even so, Timothy Dutton QC felt that it should have come with a health warning for the more impressionable viewer. "What isn't brought out in it is the fact that this is improper conduct", he said, complaining about a scene in which a barrister had nudged his client towards a more manageable defence.

Quite what form he thought the "bringing out" might take he didn't say. An onscreen caption reading "Bang out of order" would do the trick, obviously, or perhaps an ancillary character could have been given a line or two: "I say Peter, that's not really on you know, and if you persist I shall be forced to bring this matter to the attention of the Bar Council [turns to address viewer directly]...an excellent organisation which protects the interests of the client and strives to ensure that the highest possible professional standards are preserved".

Now we have the British Medical Council urging the British Board of Film Classification to stick an 18 certificate on all films which "portray positive images of smoking" and for all such films to be preceded by an anti-smoking advert. This suggestion is apparently a response to the fact that – after a period in which smoking was beginning to disappear from feature films – there has been an increasing trend for stars to smoulder gently.

One can understand that the BMA might be a little dismayed by this fact but they should perhaps take a moment or two to ask why the graph has turned upwards again before they offer a cure. Why is it that cigarettes now have a raffish quality which makes them useful for scriptwriters wishing to give a hint of daring recklessness to a character? Precisely because everyone knows that there was a period when they were effectively outlawed.

The specification about "positive images" is a little unclear too. Are we to take it that you will be able to get away with a lower certificate provided that the smoker is shown kicking a kitten and cackling heartlessly shortly before lighting up? And is the rule to be retrospective – so that all screenings of Casablanca will have to be preceded by a health warning, preferably one that includes a picture of Humphrey Bogart dying of emphysema?

If so why stop there? There are, after all, countless other ways in which public health can be improved. Perhaps next time James Bond orders a martini the barman can point out that he's already exceeded his recommended daily units and it's time for him to move on to cranberry juice. His Aston Martin could remind him to put his seat-belt on before he screeches off in pursuit of the villain, and M could insist that he reads the MI6 guidelines on effective lumbar support and regular screen breaks before she briefs him on his next assignment. Alternatively the Bar Council and the BMA could spend less time worrying about fictional worlds and devote their energies to one in which they can actually do some good.

Noises off from the Wendy set

To the London Literary Festival on Sunday afternoon, where Wendy Cope took on Nadal and Federer and, for our crowd at least, won stylishly. I was chairing the session and I'd expected a lot of laughter, which many of the poems duly got.

What I hadn't encountered before was the subtle noise that followed the more reflective, open-ended poems she read. It was an almost sub-audible moo – half revelatory "ahh", half murmur of approbation. It could be roughly translated as: "We'd like to acknowledge receipt of your poem. We realise that what we should do now is ponder it quietly for a bit, but we can't because we've got to listen to the next one. But don't worry it reached us – in more ways than one." It's a very communicative noise.

* Charles Wheeler, as several colleagues pointed out, would have been impatient with the encomiums that marked his death. The combination of that face and that voice offered a guarantee of informed integrity that the reporting never defaulted on.

But I couldn't help thinking that he might have had some quietly tart words to say about the likelihood of another such figure emerging under a breezier editorial news climate. Not because there aren't talented journalists at the BBC but because the cult of the young and the photogenic perhaps has more sway than it used to and because his sort of accumulated journalistic experience is a good deal rarer.

In one sense he is irreplaceable but the best tribute to the values that were talked up in the obituary tributes would be for the BBC to do everything in its power to ensure that he isn't unique.

t.sutcliffe@independent.co.uk

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