John Major is innocent - OJ?

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The Independent Online
Am I the only one who finds it odd that the OJ Simpson trial has attracted so much attention over here? Why that particular trial? Is it just because we always follow the latest American soap opera, whatever it is? Are there people in Britain wat ching the OJ Simpson trial who actually, really think it is a soap opera? Do people write in to the TV channel to ask for the name of the superb actor who is playing OJ Simpson?

It's not as if there is anything interesting about Simpson to the average non-American. Simpson may have been a star in America but nobody in Britain (outside a few late-night American football fans) displayed the slightest interest in OJ Simpson before he was arrested on charges of murdering other people of whom nobody had ever heard either. So why the sudden interest now? It's not as if there aren't other trials on offer for our amusement, and in much nearer places. There are always sensational murdertrials going on in France, involving family massacres on a scale which make OJ Simpson's charges look namby-pamby. Even in America there are rival cases which I find more interesting, which don't even involve murder.

For instance, there was a report in the International Herald Tribune the other day of an American woman who had recently lost her husband to cancer. They had always wanted another child, so the husband had left some frozen sperm behind. The widow had used this in order to become pregnant. But when she had a baby by her late husband, the child was declared illegitimate by the local American authorities on the grounds that she was not married at the time of birth (or, indeed, conception) even though the father of her child was indubitably the man she had married for life. Lots of material there, I would have thought, for pub speculation or head-scratching at the Vatican, but I don't think this fascinating case was even reported in the British papers.

Nor am I convinced that the OJ Simpson trial is as universally popular in America as we suppose it to be. There was a piece the other day by the veteran humorist Art Buchwald offering comfort to fellow Americans who couldn't or wouldn't follow the trial,in the form of suggested one-liners they could use when they found themselves trapped in a conversation which became Simpson-oriented. Some good lines too, like: "I haven't watched the trial but I read the book."

"I believe a man is innocent until proven guilty, except in a case like this when you're certain who did it."

"It doesn't matter if OJ did it or not - he should be punished for screwing up our day ..."

It would be nice if there was something we could export to America in revenge for OJ Simpson, but the only thing I can think of is the Royal Family, and by coincidence bang next to the Art Buchwald piece on the back page of the Trib of 31 January there is a report of the New York opening of the film based on Alan Bennett's play The Madness of George III. According to the report, a lot is being read into this study of Prince Charles's mad ancestor - lines like "To be Prince of Wales is not a position, itis a predicament" apparently had them nudging each other like mad in the aisles, which either shows that the Americans do have a sense of irony after all, or, of course, that they don't.

It seems odd to me that a film dealing with our very own loony monarch should open in the American colonies before it gets here, but the Americans have always had a queer taste in their views of the British scene. I am told, and I have no reason to doubtit, that our very own Prime Minister's Question Time is often broadcast in the USA as an example of democracy in action. How Question Time can be confused with anything democratic puzzles me, when it is clearly a sort of bar-room brawl without the fighting, but maybe the Americans see something in it which we can't.

Or maybe to them it's a kind of genteel version of the OJ Simpson trial. Maybe they see John Major as a doomed figure arguing passionately for his freedom before the electorate passes sentence. Surrounded by sycophants and toadies, poor Mr Major has beenpersuaded to believe that he really is innocent ... Or maybe Mr Major is a figure in some Alan Bennett play: The Madness of John Major, the tragic story of a once noble figure who convinced himself that he really was in charge of the Irish situation,

thathe really was at the heart of Europe, that it really was a good move to ruin Britain's railways.

Tomorrow: Free family tree wall-chart - How OJ Simpson and Wallis Simpson are related.