Terence Blacker: Warning: this newspaper may corrupt young minds

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The Independent Online

Angry e-mails are part of a columnist's life, but a complaint made to me a few weeks ago has been worrying me. My correspondent told me that he was the father of a 12-year-old girl, whom he encouraged - hurrah for him! - to read The Independent. The problem was that he had become increasingly alarmed by the material his daughter had been able to read in these pages. He then listed, in rather eager detail, various confessions, rude words and references to acts of a sexual nature which he had found in articles by Tracey Emin, Janet Street-Porter and our sleeping-around correspondent Catherine Townsend. Apparently I had just written something which added my name to this gallery of shame.

No one likes to be seen as a polluter of young minds. The idea of a concerned father snatching the Independent away from his child for fear of her reading something by me was upsetting. All the same, there was something not quite right about his argument. My fellow-polluters and I are writing for grown-ups in a grown-up newspaper; if we are obliged to worry about any passing tweeny who might read our words, the job will become more complicated and entirely different.

The culture is already infantilised enough without newspapers and magazines being governed by the safety-first principles of the nursery. The purity of young minds may be retained slightly longer (though I doubt it), but this ratcheting up of moral hygiene will only make society more childish. Increasingly, there is an assumption that the innocence of children justifies - indeed, demands - regulation in adult areas. When The Observer sacked its sex correspondent Sebastian Horsley on the hilarious basis that he would insist on writing about sex, it was not the welfare of readers that was invoked, but that of their children.

This week Claire Curtis-Thomas, the Labour MP, who has been promoting her Regulation of the Sale and Display of Sexually Explicit Material Bill, made a similar case. The more puerile school of men's magazines, notably Zoo and Nuts, were "repulsive and pernicious as far as children are concerned", she told the Today programme. They should be put among the porn mags on the newsagent's top shelf. Although the argument is essentially a New Labour version of the much-mocked campaigns conducted by Lady Birdwood, Mary Whitehouse and Lord Longford in the 1970s, the shrill, mummy-knows-best tone is authentically contemporary.

"I'm a woman of 48 with three children who puts their welfare first," Mrs Curtis-Thomas boasted, as if this unexceptional position gave her an innate moral superiority. At the end of the interview, she blasted the man who had been defending men's magazines. "I'm looking after children's welfare," she said proudly. "What are you doing?"

There's more to this than a debate about pornography. If one applied the Curtis- Thomas rule to all magazines for adults, there would be nothing left on the shelves except The People's Friend.

As it happens, there was something rather disgusting in this week's national newspapers, and it came from Mrs Curtis-Thomas herself. "If adults choose to defecate on one another that is up to them," she said. "It is not something I would want to do." In spite of that final reassurance on the personal front, this is really rather more information than most of us require.

If the 12-year-old daughter of my correspondent is reading this column, I would like to apologise to her on Mrs Curtis-Thomas's behalf.

Auntie gets a bit frisky

For some reason - the approach of the summer holidays, perhaps - the BBC is in one of its skittish moods. These moments pass quite quickly but, like a great-aunt getting drunk at Christmas and showing her bloomers, they provide a sharp stab of embarrassment when they happen.

Defying a basic rule of comedy that institutional, producer-led jokes never work, particularly when involving a normally straight-faced presenter, Radio 2's Jeremy Vine introduced a spoof news bulletin in which the murder of Ian Huntley was reported. An even sillier gag appeared during the TV coverage of the Queen's 80th birthday: Huw Edwards read out a silly breaking-news item. Edwards has many natural advantages for comedy - self-importance, a Welsh accent - but remains surprisingly unfunny.

These crass stunts were not merely ill-judged but, more seriously, were an insult to our sense of humour.

* With characteristic style and quiet dignity, the great Sven Goran Eriksson has allowed it to be known that he is to write his autobiography. As one who has been through an authentically English experience, having been on the receiving end of spite, bad jokes, disloyalty, gutter journalism, prurience and sexual jealousy, he will doubtless use the book as an opportunity to unleash the passion he normally keeps hidden. It could be one of the great memoirs of modern sport. Clearly, to find a collaborator, he needs to look beyond the baying pack of football writers who sneer at him and his sensible tactics. He will, I imagine, be looking for someone who has supported him throughout, who can bring a touch of lightness to his (forgive me, Sven) occasionally dull persona - perhaps even someone who was born on the same day as he was. Frankly, I can't wait to start.

terblacker@aol.com

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