DJ Taylor: The end is Nighy

...but there's still stuff to get angry about, such as bullies at work, the EU, headline-hunting schemers, and good actors in rotten films like 'Glorious 39'
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The Independent Online

According to a survey carried out by researchers at the University of Stockholm, getting angry with your boss can be good for your heart.

The study, which tracked nearly 3,000 male workers for something over a decade, suggested that those who suffered in silence over conflict at work had twice the chance of a heart attack or dying of heart disease compared to those who simply blew a fuse.

As one of the mildest-mannered men on the planet, who last seriously lost his temper around 1982, I approached these findings with more than usual interest, for they seemed to me to reflect a dilemma first advertised in PG Wodehouse's novel Psmith in the City (1910). Mike Jackson, Wodehouse's fresh-faced hero, and his chum Psmith have ended up clerking in a City bank, where their lives are made miserable by a notably exigent manager, Mr Bickersdyke. The problem, alas, is that of commerce's stultifying hand. As Mike puts it, a schoolteacher who annoys you can be mocked or ragged. Mr Bickersdyke, if so treated, would merely give you the sack.

Psmith's solution is ingenious. He pursues Mr Bickersdyke through his leisure hours, haunts him at his club and turns up to heckle at a public meeting that the bank manager – a prospective Tory MP – is addressing. All this recalled the war of attrition I fought about 20 years ago with a somewhat pompous chartered accountant named JB Stuttard, then head of the Coopers & Lybrand marketing department – now, I believe, Sir John Stuttard and former Lord Mayor of London. Mr Stuttard was given to saying things like, 'We're not civil servants, you know', if one was wearing a pair of suede shoes. The worm finally turned at the department Christmas dinner when, despite an assurance that no speeches would be given, Mr Stuttard made one. Fortified by the recent receipt of a job offer from a rival firm, I decided to make one too. For 10 balmy minutes, I breezed on about the heroic role played in the department's affairs by Mr S, and the beacon of light that blazed forth from the office where he hatched his schemes. Mr Stuttard didn't "do" irony, as the saying goes, but he looked distinctly uneasy. Sadly, whatever private amusement I got from this was destroyed by the knowledge that everyone else in the room thought I was sucking up. Perhaps, following the Stockholm template, I should just have yelled at him.


The fallout from last week's European debacle continued to descend in the shape of dozens of newspaper articles – alternately pained, accusing, or simply amused – about our relationship with the EU. The commentariat, I noticed, were rather bemused by the Van Rompuy-Ashton ascendancy. On the one hand, no one seemed to want Mr Blair to get the presidency. On the other hand, his not getting it was seen as a slight to our national honour. Lurking beneath was an assumption, common to nearly all domestic coverage of EU affairs, that the whole thing is simply a joke designed to exhibit the frightful foreigners in the worst possible light.

But the implications of these manoeuvrings are rather more serious. It takes only a glance at the history of the past 50 years to realise that Europe is the divisive influence on British politics. It did for the Conservatives in the 1990s, just as it did for the Labour Party in the early 1970s by offering a rallying-point for most of the dissident right-wingers who would defect to the SDP a decade later. The curious thing about these divisions is that they are far more obvious at an executive level than down among the electorate itself. As one or two people pointed out earlier this week, a majority of UK voters has always been opposed to the EU which, despite constant reassurance to the contrary, they regard as a Franco-German cabal designed to undermine British prestige.

All this naturally produces a terrific tension higher up the political chain. The average British politician – non-Lib Dem politician, that is – must greet any mention of "Europe" in the way that Saxon villagers greeted the sight of a Viking longboat out in the bay. He knows most of his constituents despise it, and that a percentage of them are quite capable of decamping to smaller parties keen on referenda and the rights of shopkeepers opposed to trading in kilograms, and yet orthodoxy requires him to be in favour of it, on the grounds that here, amid the economic groupings of the early 21st century, there is no alternative. As with several other issues of the day, if what the public really thought about Europe had any chance of being reflected at the ballot box, we should all be in for a big shock.


Asked at any time over the past 20 years to name the worst film I had ever seen ("worst" being defined not just as a bad film, but a bad film which compounds its badness by taking itself seriously), I would always instance the inimitable Paul Verhoeven's Flesh & Blood. Mr Verhoeven's masterpiece, which stars Rutger Hauer and Jennifer Jason Leigh, opens with the caption "Europe 1504" before turning to a scene in which a group of mercenaries discuss, in rich Milwaulkee accents, the "asshole" who has just captured their "kassel". Then, one day, the scales fell from my eyes and Mr Verhoeven's quiet charm, his feeling for character and the subtlety of his depictions of the sexual act shone out like a bonfire on a winter's night.

The tipping-point was a trip to Stephen Poliakoff's Glorious 39, a film of such staggering awfulness that the BFI ought to distribute it to trainee directors as an object lesson. Several critics have criticised the plot, in which a gang of pre-war appeasers go around murdering their opponents and leaving gore-strewn corpses all over the place.

My own gripe was with the dialogue, whose banality seemed to depress the great Bill Nighy so much that he could barely bring himself to deliver his lines. At least as interesting as the question of how Mr Poliakoff gets away with this stuff is who pays him to do it, Glorious 39, I discovered from the credits, is part-funded by BBC Films. Who knows? Perhaps the shadow Culture Secretary's complaints about the way in which the corporation spends public money have some merit.


All week long, reconnoitring the forest of tabloid headlines about Ms Katie Price, her anguished departure from I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!, her (possible) throwing-over of cross-dressing, cage-fighting boyfriend Alex, and her (apparent) rapproachment with Peter Andre, I found myself being reminded of someone. Then, after reading a story entitled '"Is This the Most Hated Woman in Britain?", I realised who it was. The connection between Ms Price and Brenda Dean Paul (1907-1959) is perhaps not very obvious. Miss Dean Paul was a slim-figured, morphine-addicted baronet's daughter celebrated as one of the "It" girls of the late 1920s social scene. Ms Price is, well, Ms Price. What unites them is an almost preternatural urge to exploit the media for their own ends.

Brenda, for example, whose escapades were reported in much the same way as her talented descendant's, was forever cultivating the sympathy of the press, losing it through some spectacular gaffe, and then winning it back again. Trailed home from Paris once by a mob of photographers, she revenged herself by throwing her suitcases at them from a staircase. Let out of Holloway, where she had been imprisoned for offences against the Dangerous Drugs Act, she bounced back with a series of articles about her exploits in Tahiti and a coyly written autobiography. The other great thing about Brenda was her ability to keep the ball rolling: she could still be seen tottering along the King's Road to get her syringe filled in the 1950s. Celebrity culture, alas, is nearly 80 years old. I have a feeling Ms Price will be with us for a long while yet.


The general reaction to Wigan Athletic's 9-1 defeat at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur last Sunday was surprisingly measured. Harry Redknapp, the Spurs manager, obligingly recalled that he had lost his first match as manager of Bournemouth 9-0 to Lincoln in 1983, and explained how the memory of it still cut like a knife. I was a bit alarmed, though, by the Wigan players' decision to offer their supporters a refund, for grand gestures of this kind, whether in sport or the wider world of entertainment, set a very dangerous precedent. Most writers, after all, have to deal with occasional smart-alecky letters along the lines of "Your book was crap. Kindly return my £16.99". This will only add fuel to the flame. On the other hand, there is a keen anticipatory pleasure at the prospect of writing to Stephen Poliakoff.