What we really think of royal watchers

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The Independent Online

The dear old Prince of Wales revealed some of his true feelings inadvertently the other day. Not that he's ever been shy of owning up to his opinions, but even if one is the Prince of Wales, one can't make a public speech about the ghastliness of Nicholas Witchell.

The dear old Prince of Wales revealed some of his true feelings inadvertently the other day. Not that he's ever been shy of owning up to his opinions, but even if one is the Prince of Wales, one can't make a public speech about the ghastliness of Nicholas Witchell. So the marvellous semi-public denunciation of the BBC's man had to be contrived some other way.

On the first day of his pre-wedding skiing holiday at Klosters, the Prince and his two sons were posing for publicity shots for the media. The BBC people had left their microphones at the feet of the three, and the Prince of Wales's sotto voce comments were picked up. "I hate doing this. Bloody people," he said. As Nicholas Witchell, the BBC's royal correspondent, piped up with a question about the forthcoming wedding, the Prince said, "I can't bear that man anyway. He's so awful. He really is. I hate these people."

Afterwards, Clarence House was at pains to say: "It wasn't personal. He does regret saying it. He really didn't mean to take it out on Nicholas." But I bet he really did mean it, and I bet he doesn't himself refer to "that man" as Nicholas either. In our house, too, we can't bear that awful Nicholas Witchell with his pieces to camera outside Buckingham Palace. Frankly, we loathe him even more than his appalling predecessor, Miss Jennie Bond. That is really saying something.

The aspect of the BBC's royal coverage which sticks in the gullet is, like so much about the BBC, its assumption of superiority. It is deeply unattractive even to the casual watcher, so God knows how annoying it must be to a member of the Royal Family. Every BBC royal correspondent has occupied a position of lofty, hypocritical disdain towards "the media", meaning everyone but themselves filming or writing about royal tittle-tattle. Every single one of them has stood in the rain outside Buckingham Palace, reporting the contents of press releases with Easter Island faces.

And every one of them fondly believes, on no evidence whatsoever, that they are personally loved not just by the great British public, but probably by the Royal Family too, who recognises their seriousness, their respectability, their general clean-socked smarminess.

Jennie Bond, in her subsequent incarnation in light entertainment, had exactly two stories to tell, trying to convey this lovable quality in herself. The first was that she didn't wear any knickers. The second was that the Queen once said to Princess Margaret, within Miss Bond's hearing: "Oh look, there's that awful woman off the telly."

I have news for them: the British public thinks they look like total pillocks; the Royal Family, if it takes any particular notice of them at all, probably thinks they are exactly the same as any other hack who ought to be out and about doing some proper reporting, and not hanging around buggering up people's holidays.

Or rather worse. At least the chap from The Sun doesn't, unlike some awful people one could mention, pretend that he's any better than he really is.

All politicians are fair game - even dead ones

* Was there not something a little strange about the tributes to Lord Callaghan? De mortuis nil nisi bonum, and all that, but you had to get quite a long way into the newspapers before anything approaching a recognisable version of Lord Callaghan's government started to be set out. Of course, to many people, he seemed like a kind and avuncular fellow; of course, the touching circumstances of his death, immediately after his beloved wife's, immediately invoked sympathy; and, of course, that government is such ancient history now that it hardly seemed worthwhile raking it up again.

But even in the circumstances, it was most peculiar to read accounts of the Callaghan government which suggested that he'd done a good job in a difficult situation. It was one of the most catastrophic governments in history, resisting any kind of reform, at the utter mercy of events, and effectively done to death by the unions which Callaghan himself had encouraged in their megalomania. It does no good at all to pretend, as is currently fashionable, that the catastrophe happened after 1979, and dishonest not to admit that Callaghan was, in many respects, a disaster.

It is almost comic that the newsreaders were asking: "What was Callaghan's legacy?" The answer, really, is nothing. It was all swept away, and it deserved to be. They won't be so kind when Margaret Thatcher dies.

In the arts, plain English often won't do

One of the most delightful discoveries of the week was that Dame Moura Lympany, that splendid pianist, played all her life under a pseudonym. Her real name was Mary Johnson, as her obituaries revealed.

Early in her career, she was given the advice to take an exotic-sounding name; Moura, one of many Russian diminutives for Mary, she chose because of her mother's passion for all things Russian. Lympany is an old surname from her home territory of Cornwall. It was common advice at the time: the ballerina Dame Alicia Markova started life as plain Alice Marks. The tactic certainly worked; Dame Moura was, over a long career, one of the most admired of English pianists.

But the question which keeps haunting me is this: would she ever have been so successful under the name Mary Johnson? Even now, that seems like something of a hurdle to overcome. If you heard that a Mary Johnson was about to perform the Ravel Miroirs, you instantly think of a clever girl winning a music-school prize.

The deplorable fact is that we do tend to think of the most elevated art as the prerogative of exotic foreigners. Audiences tend to admire the most ordinary of Russian visitors over a superb English performer.

And if you think this is on the decrease, just take a look at the current Chelsea line-up. It can't be long before an English striker called Eric Brown renames himself Enrico Bruni.

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