The stories and pictures I'm too soft-hearted to print

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The Independent Online
PEOPLE seem amazed that Hello] magazine should buy photos of the Princess of Wales sunbathing topless, for the sole purpose of not printing the offending pictures, and making sure nobody else does either. But there is nothing amazing about it at all. The press world is constantly doing good works like this which never get talked about. The amount of stuff that is hushed up by journalists and editors to protect people's feelings would amaze you. I am not just talking about the Tory Party here, though goodness knows the press has leant over backwards not to investigate the dirtier corners of what our decrepit government is up to. In Richard Ingrams's great phrase, they have suffered enough.

No, what I am talking about is the contents of my room. I have accumulated over the years a rather snappy collection of stuff I have never had the heart to use. I suppose all journalists who are as soft-hearted as I am have such a collection. I am thinking, for instance, of the photograph of Ronnie Biggs I have on the wall. Everyone has photos of Ronnie Biggs. This one is different. It shows him standing in front of Westminster Abbey. Last year. Not many people know that Ronnie came on a little trip to London last year. People might have got upset if they had known. Tried to arrest him. I wouldn't want that. So I didn't use the photo.

Here's another one. Picture of Barbra Streisand. Basking on the beach. Amply clothed, too - nothing topless here. So what's so significant about it? Well, it was taken on a beach in California a week or two back at the very time she was supposed to be appearing at Wembley. So who was that on stage at Wembley if it wasn't her?

Well, think about it. She hadn't appeared on stage for years. People didn't really know what she looked like now. If you sent on a Barbra Streisand lookalike, who would know? She could mime to the records, and you know what these huge concerts are like - no one gets close enough to have a good look. Just a dot on the stage. But why publish the photo? It would hurt a lot of people's feelings. They might ask for their money back. Not worth it.

(Of course, it doesn't compare with the trouble it would cause if I printed a picture of Nelson Mandela today. And reveal where he is right now. And what he is doing. I don't mean the man who keeps appearing in photos with FW de Klerk. That smiling, slightly Chinese-looking man is not the Nelson Mandela who went to Robben Island all those years ago. He doesn't even look like the man who went to Robben Island. But I think I have said too much already).

I also have what I call my Kitty Kelley collection. Kitty Kelley is the writer who specialises in warts-and-warts biographies of the great. Frank Sinatra, Nancy Reagan, people like that. No, I haven't read any either, but apparently they are shocking. She digs up a lot of dirt. She is working on a life of the Duke of Edinburgh at the moment. She let me have some of the photographs she has decided not to use in the book, showing the Duke with people I didn't even know he knew. I am glad she has decided not to use them. It would be very hurtful. Why she has decided not to use them and to hand them over to me I don't know, unless it is something to do with the photographs I have acquired of Kitty Kelley herself. But that's another story.

The prize of my collection, though, has to be the photograph of John Major. Addressing the Tory Party conference. With no clothes on. Topless and bottomless. Absolutely convincing. It was taken by a man who has invented a new computer program for photographs. It has what he calls a 'Nudity Enhancement Factor'. In other words, you can programme it to turn photos of fully clothed people into what they would look like if they had no clothes on. Bingo] At a stroke, you never need to send paparazzi out to hunt for a compromising snapshot again. You can whip it up in the lab . . .

'I am sorry,' I told the inventor when he brought it to me. 'I could never handle stuff like that. Newspapermen like me would rather pay to have your invention destroyed.'

'But what can I do?' he whined. 'I've got to make money out of it somehow. Here, look at this photo of the Queen opening Parliament in the altogether . . .'

'No, thanks,' I said coldly. 'My advice to you, if you must use this infernal invention, is to manufacture topless photos of people and sell them for a small fortune to magazines who would rather not print them . . .'

I meant it as a joke at the time. Now, I am not so sure.

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