Richard Ingrams' Week: Where's Les Dawson when you need him?

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The Independent Online

The late Adolf Hitler famously decreed that no politician should ever be photographed in a bathing costume.

In this matter, if not in others, the Führer showed a shrewd and statesman-like instinct. He realised that politicians could survive all kinds of calamities so long as they retained a modicum of dignity. The one thing that was fatal was to become a figure of fun.

John Prescott's difficulty was that he was already a figure of fun even before the latest revelations about his love life. His valiant struggle with the English language made him the butt of Tory jokes in the House. Others remembered the famous punch-up on the election trail.

As for sexual hanky-panky, Prescott should have remembered what happened to David Blunkett when his affair with Kimberly Quinn, the comic American lady at The Spectator, came to light. Until then, Blunkett had been treated with great respect by the media, even though he was responsible for all kinds of Home Office bungles.

After the Quinn episode and stories about him lurking around in Annabel's, the posh Berkeley Square nightclub, hoping to get lucky, it was open season on the Home Secretary. Jokes were even made about his blindness, a subject that hitherto had been strictly taboo.

The last straw came with Alistair Beaton's brilliant television satire A Very Social Secretary portraying him not only as comic but as not very nice. I hope Mr Beaton will now do the same kind of job for Prescott. It's just a pity that Les Dawson isn't still around to play the title role.

It doesn't take much to be branded anti-Semitic

The Israelis and the Scientologists have at least one thing in common. They both believe in browbeating their critics from all sides in the hope that eventually they will give up and go away.

Any journalist who ventures to cast aspersions on either party is likely to find himself in receipt of angry letters, threats of libel actions, reporting to the Press Complaints Commission. In the case of the Israelis you will almost inevitably be branded as an anti-Semite.

Such a policy is highly effective. Faced with a possible barrage of protests, editors become wary while commentators may decide that it isn't worth all the hassle.

Over the years, the Israeli authorities have made a special target of the BBC, alleging all kinds of bias on the part of its correspondents such as the admirable Orla Guerin, left.

It was in response to the constant complaints that the BBC appointed a former civil servant, Sir Quentin Thomas, to examine the whole question. And to the surprise of almost everyone Sir Quentin last week reported that the BBC was at fault for showing a pro-Israel bias rather than the reverse.

There was, he said, "little reporting of the difficulties faced by the Palestinians in their daily lives and a failure to convey adequately the disparity in the Israeli and Palestinian experience, reflecting that one side is in control and the other side lives under occupation".

No sensible person could quarrel with that judgement. But it remains to be seen just how long it will be before Sir Quentin is himself branded as an anti-Semite.

* The painter Mr John Myatt, whose story is currently being made into a film, was launched on a criminal career thanks to a small ad in Private Eye. In 1983 he offered to run up what he called "genuine fakes" for as little as £150. As a result he was approached by one John Drewe and the two men embarked on a highly profitable career flooding the market with forgeries, mostly of modern artists. It could have gone on indefinitely had not Drewe's estranged wife tipped off the police. Myatt was sentenced to a year in prison of which he served four months.

I myself would argue that instead of a prison sentence Myatt deserved a medal for helping to expose the lunacies of the art world where very bad paintings - in this case fakes - can be verified by highly paid experts and sold for huge sums. Why should one feel sorry for those who bought the fakes purely as an investment or those who may even now be looking at the acquisitions and wondering whether they are genuine?

Forgers like Mr Myatt often perform a valuable public service. Another such was the mastermind behind the Hitler diaries hoax, Konrad Kujau, who likewise ended up behind bars. Yet Kujau among other things made a fool of the late Professor Trevor-Roper and exposed the greed and cynicism of Rupert Murdoch who went ahead with publishing the diaries even though by that stage they were widely suspected of being fake. As with those paintings, money was all that mattered.