Oh dear. One of the joys of this job is receiving Deborah Ross’s column in advance, to read and in theory to approve.
I say in theory because there’s rarely been a contribution from Deborah that I haven’t delighted in. She’s that special creature: a genuinely funny writer. Her ability to poke and to diminish the biggest of egos, and to share her life with us (who can forget the travails of her son’s return from university, with the piles of washing in the hallway?), always with humour, sets her apart.
This week, she did it again, claiming that I’d fired her, to replace her with Pippa Middleton. “I did remonstrate with the editor of this newspaper quite vociferously… but, I’m afraid, he laughed in my face, and asked what I knew about Pimms or party planning or Wimbledon.”
“Where,” the editor asked, “was my exclusive interview with Roger Federer, revealing what he has for breakfast?”
Deborah broke down and wept. “I’d have asked Federer what he had for breakfast, had I been given the opportunity, and would have also asked him what he has for lunch!” Alas, “the editor shoo-ed me from his office, as he is a busy man. Things to do, people to see…”
The peg for Deborah’s sacking, she said, was that Pippa is everywhere: newly made contributing editor for Vanity Fair, columnist in Waitrose Kitchen Magazine, and author of a book on festive celebrations. And now at The Independent. When I read it, I assumed everybody would see it for the joke it was. But no. The following day readers, even a senior staff member, wanted to know if we’d appointed Pippa Middleton. One reader said they were cancelling their subscription in disgust.
They left me flummoxed. Hurt, I’ll admit, they should even think there was any truth in Deborah’s “news”. Did they honestly think The Indy would give a column to the Duchess of Cambridge’s sister? How could they? Then I was reminded of the late, great Times columnist Bernard Levin who argued that his newspaper should have a type-face called “ironics” to warn his more poker-faced readers when he wasn’t being serious. In fact, as he said, Levin was quoting Tom Driberg, who “proposed that typographers should design a new face, which would slope the opposite from italics, and would be called ‘ironics’. In this type-face jokes would be set, and no one would have any excuse for failing to see them. Until this happy development takes place, I am left with the only really useful thing journalism has taught me: that there is no joke so obvious that some bloody fool won’t miss the point.”