Richard Ingrams' Week: Youth appeal is wasted on the young

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The Independent Online

The picture released this week of David Cameron with his new team looked just like the kind of picture you see in a trade magazine of the manager of a recently opened mobile phone outfit in the high street.

They were all unrecognisable; they were all smartly dressed and smiling. But, above all, they were young.

There was something fairly pathetic and depressing about this emphasis on youth - an indication that behind all the talk about a new look and a fresh start, Cameron is another predictable slave to the conventional wisdom that the all-important thing nowadays is to appeal to youth.

You can see it in almost every walk of life, but especially in the media. We have to attract young readers, young viewers. (Ignore the fact that young people tend not to read newspapers or watch television.)

Similarly with Cameron and the Tories, you have to appeal to young voters - even though they are notoriously uninterested in politics. And the way to do that is to have young politicians.

In just the same way, to attract women voters you have to have more women MPs, even if that means defying the equal opportunities regulations.

One irony in all this is that it goes on at a time when, thanks to this or that reason, there are ever-increasing numbers of old people in the community.

But if David Cameron were to suggest that there ought to be more Tory MPs who are old in order better to represent the interests of all the old-age pensioners, he would be ridiculed as some kind of nutcase.

Fashionable, yes, but not always funny

No one has ever been known to admit to lacking a sense of humour. That is because in nine cases out of 10 they haven't got one. They simply follow the fashion. This explains why at any one time the entire nation seems to decide that a particular joke is funny and another one not.

With TV the process is always the same. A particular programme will be picked on and everyone will then tell you that it is fantastically funny. After a set period, however, you will begin to hear that it has "gone off" and is not as good as it was.

This is what has recently happened to the BBC1 show Little Britain (starring Matt Lucas and David Walliams, pictured left) which is no longer considered funny. The new series has been roundly attacked by all the critics - though simultaneously given an award for funniest British comedy, an indication that the judges must have made their decision several months ago, before the savage reviews were published.

I can remember being told that programmes such as Men Behaving Badly and Absolutely Fabulous were brilliant and hilarious. Subsequently that they, too, had "gone off" and weren't funny any more.

Sometimes the penny takes a little longer to drop. For years and years, Monty Python's Flying Circus was held up as the funniest programme ever produced and John Cleese hailed as possibly the greatest comic genius of all time.

But now, after many years, the public seems finally to have come round to my view that neither was very funny in the first place and Mr Cleese is widely ridiculed as a pompous old bore.

I would bet anyone that in two or three years' time Little Britain will be completely forgotten.

* It is reported that a schoolbook picture of the great engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel has had the cigar removed for fear of encouraging smoking among the young.

Not so long ago, if we read a story like that we would have dismissed it as an April fool. But in these days we have come to accept that it is more than likely to be true.

In response to the demands of assorted pressure groups, headed, in the most part, by self-appointed spokesmen, the language and literature of the past are being rewritten and even pictures airbrushed to avoid giving offence.

In the same way, dictionary compilers will soon have to amend the definition of marriage, described by the first great lexicographer Dr Johnson as "the act of uniting a man and a woman for life". Such a form of words would nowadays be likely to offend members of the so-called gay community.

The word gay has already been adopted to replace the queer of yesterday. And there is no such thing as a gay community - only a great many gays. Never mind. The phrase helps to give a helpful impression of respectability and unity of purpose.

Likewise, a recent addition to the dictionary, the word homophobia, is used to describe any expression of anti-gay feeling. The effect of this made-up word is to suggest that any such feelings are the result of a morbid and abnormal psychological condition similar to an irrational fear of mice or spiders.

In all these cases, the BBC and the rest of the media have been more than willing to go along with the innovations. So you may be sure that, before long, marriage will be something that can involve those of the same sex.