Unpaid, unsung and ready to tell the truth

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ON FRIDAY, while I was reading about Hugh Grant as usual, I got a call that told me I would not be needed after all as a minor witness in a libel trial. This was disappointing. I hadn't libelled anyone - if anyone had, and we don't know because the case isn't over; it was a publishing company with which I've no connection - and I was looking forward to a relatively relaxed time in the witness box. Like many reporters and editors, I have been charged with libel. Lawyers for reporters and editors, however, tend not to ask them to stand up in court. The wisdom is that juries are not impressed by their veracity. The one time I offered, my lawyer said:

"But what would you tell them?"

"The truth, I suppose."

"Exactly."

And now here was a case that offered a carefree experience in which I might discover my steadfastness, if any, under cross-examination:

"Come now ... yes or no."

"I don't think the question can be answered in that way."

"I put it to you that it can ..." and so on.

Meanwhile, the lawyers prepared my statement. Faxes came and went, conferences were conducted, and eventually my words appeared on lush legal paper, nicely hinged at the corners with black cardboard, in one of those brown envelopes that lawyers, for some reason, insist on addressing as a vertical rather than horizontal item. I was asked to stand by, and stood by for a couple of days, during which a shameful and injudicial thought came into my mind. A great deal of money was being made and spent in this case, none of it made or spent by me. Next to juries, witnesses are the heroes of the legal system; inconvenienced, taking time off work to be bullied by men in wigs, unsung, unpaid. If the argument is that money corrupts truth and justice, why hasn't it corrupted the lawyers?

AN OLD joke. Question: Why is George Bernard Shaw like Ava Gardner? Answer: they are both distinguished vegetarian 85-year-old Irish playwrights with long white beards ... apart from Ava Gardner. And now the following question is asked in the same fantastical and jocular spirit (indeed so - see above). What is the connection between Hugh Grant and Jeffrey Archer? Well, they both went to Oxford and they both, if I remember rightly, chose the "Teddy Bears' Picnic" as one of their eight records on Desert Island Discs. But is there something else?

The questions asked in the papers for most of last week were variants on the old theme of why-oh-why? "What more could a man want?" as the Daily Telegraph had it, answered by the writer Lesley Garner with the thought that: "When a man who has everything to lose gets himself caught, it is often because he wants to escape the situation he has created for himself. The inner and outer realities no longer match."

Raj Persaud, "a top psychiatrist" in the Mail, went further: "Quite simply, they [men like Grant] are afraid of failing in bed. And rather than risk failure with a loved one, or even a social equal, they look elsewhere ... in the downtown streets."

Fanciful (but well-paid) stuff such as this comes from the same sense of incredulity that the late Sir Bernard Caulfield showed in his speech to the jury in the Archer libel case. Archer was a rich and successful man with a lovely and fragrant wife: "Is he in need of cold, unloving, rubber-insulated sex in a seedy hotel round about quarter to one on a Tuesday morning after an evening at the Caprice?"

As it happens, Archer wasn't, but the question that was asked then and again for most of last week seems to me to be the wrong one. Men (many men, perhaps even most men, and particularly young men and drunk men) are often not wise, considerate and rational when it comes to sexual desire matched with opportunity. Billy Connolly once observed that most male life could be summed up with a question and an answer. The question: why not? The answer: serves you right.

THE COMBINATION of Hugh Grant and John Redwood has had hysterical effects on broadsheet newspapers, which now seem concerned to make and over-milk the joke before it gets into the hands of the lads on Have I Got News For You. The Guardian in particular has taken to jokes in a big way, perhaps because it is now edited by a man with a sense of humour as opposed to a man who may have had one. Lifting it off the doormat, I almost expect it to break into song like the Laughing Policeman: Yahahaha, hohohoho, heeheeheehee.

There last week I came across a description of Liz Hurley as "one of the most fanciable women in the world" who afforded her boyfriend "presumably unlimited access to what he (Grant) called 'the best pair in London' ".

Tsk, tsk. There is more to Ms Hurley than that. Liz, as we know her in this office, happens to be a reader of that distinguished and intellectually stimulating magazine, Granta. I suppose it might be because the name reminds her of Hugh, but we prefer to think of her as a passionate fan of new writing from the Baltic republics. Watch out for the new Lithuanian issue, Liz!

Ian Jack is the editor of Granta.

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