Simon Kelner: Man of the People? Give me my ivory tower any day


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The Independent Online

It was gratifying yesterday to open my copy of Britain’s favourite newspaper (“Just Say Aye” – or even i – as the adverts have it) and discover two letters from readers agreeing with my assessment of the film The Artist, which has been lauded by film critics, but left me strangely unmoved.

“Full marks to Simon Kelner,” wrote Edward Williams of Dorset, while Anne Goodchild of Sheffield said of my column: “How reassuring.” In truth, I never thought I’d be on my own in dampening the critical ardour for this film, although when I had admonishing texts from two of the senior women on the paper – the features editor and the legal eagle – I began to doubt myself, and I certainly began to wonder whether appreciation of The Artist split on gender lines. “


You’re so wrong,” said our woman with a copy of Gatley on Libel. But, thankfully, I readers, judging by the small but (I hope) representative sample in the letters column, agree with me.


Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is this: one of our sub-editors (a group of people who, it must be said, don’t have much fun in their lives given that their main purpose in life is the thankless task of stopping people like me making mistakes) indulged in a little sportwhen writing the headline on the letter about my article. It read simply : “Man of the People”.


What? Me? You must be blinking joking. It was obviously written by someone who doesn’t know me very well, or maybe by someone who does know me well and wanted to have a joke at my expense. Because friends will have read that, and recognised the heavy irony.


If there’s one thing I’m not, it’s a man of the people. I’m the person who has never watched EastEnders (I heard it in the background once, and mentally switched off when I heard one of the characters say: “You can’t just go around killing people, you know.”), I’ve never eaten at McDonalds, I’ve never watched X Factor, and I’ve never been to a Starbucks (although, as I don’t drink coffee, that hardly counts). I have never shopped at Primark or Lidl, and have only once used Ryanair (not a pleasant experience, it has to be said).


I do use the bus and the Tube, largely because I find the cost of London taxis enough to give a fit of the vapours, but if you’ve been lucky enough, as I have, to have been the editor of a national newspaper for some years, you exist in a portable ivory tower which means your contact with what might loosely be called real people is kept to a minimum.


My colleagues joke that I’d get on a bus and give the driver the exact address to where I was travelling, which was a vile calumny, but you get the idea. Everyman I am not, and nor have I had any pretensions in that direction. Which is why the headline was so wrong it was right. And whoever wrote it deserves applause: you gave my friends, family and colleagues a proper laugh.