Simon Carr: Seeing him, it's hard to believe the reputation

Off his ground, out of his tank, Dacre looked nervous, defensive, even awed under examination

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You've heard the Mail editor Paul Dacre's morning conferences are nicknamed "the Vagina Monologues"? It's hard to believe when you see him, with his major's face, his hair parted in the middle and his resonant voice with its 1950s, Stanley Holloway timbre.

Still, there was a distant possibility yesterday that he would call the courteous Lord Leveson a ****. Perhaps it was just wishful thinking.

As it turned out, he deserves credit for not letting counsel Jay have it right in the mush.

"Publish celebrity stories just to amuse people? Phone up Haifa to check a cancer scare story? What do you mean I failed to investigate phone hacking? What was the 'underlying reason' for starting a corrections page? I 'wear down' complainants to avoid adverse adjudication, do I? Did I risk my paper's reputation on the Lawrence case because the father had once done some plastering for me? ARE YOU CALLING ME A ****!"

There is something in Mr Jay's manner that would start a fight in a pub. Not just the beard, or the passive combativeness. No, he insinuates mean motives into his questions, and sometimes when he finishes his question he leaves his mouth open.

It hangs there, disbelievingly. Try that in the Garrick Club and you'd leave without your teeth.

Dacre is a hate figure for the mild-mannered left – but he is also the patron saint of journalists. He pays them enormous sums of money and has a kill budget – to pay for but not publish articles – bigger than most features budgets.

Most unforgiveably he presides over the largest news website in the world, and makes £1m a year.

But off his ground, out of his tank, he looked nervous, defensive, even awed. I suppose you have to give Jay that. He is questioning the biggest figures in Fleet Street's bestiary and they do seem embarrassed when put on the spot. Even apologetic.

The stories run in the gaiety of the moment do look outré under a basilisk eye. A story that says turning on the light when you go the toilet at night can cause cancer ... It's not easy to defend that with a straight face.

But those wishing to see Dacre crushed were disappointed – like those who wanted to see him do the crushing.