The 50 most ludicrous Britons 2008

David Randall
Sunday 14 December 2008 01:00

And so, at this reflective time of year, we come to a task we've been saving for you – choosing the recipient of the Independent on Sunday Most Ludicrous Briton Award.

This country is fortunate in being blessed with eccentrics, oddballs, incompetents, fools and misfits – many of whom hold public office. To celebrate this, and the doings of others whose role in our national life is largely self-appointed, we have instituted this utterly unprestigious and, frankly, worthless, prize. The winner receives nothing, but you can win some bubbly, of which more in a moment.

We have nominated 50 Britons (including a few foreign chums we have deemed honorary Brits) who have distinguished themselves this past year by being, in some profound way, ludicrous. They range from Michael Martin, the hapless Speaker of the House of Commons, to Prince Andrew, John Humphrys and Boris Johnson, to Andrew Marr, Max Mosley, Nigella Lawson and Ronnie Wood. They also include some generic types, such as rottweiler owners, whooping TV audiences, nannying railway station announcers and middle-aged Dr Who fans. For each one, we have presented a totally jaundiced case for the prosecution, and a somewhat half-hearted case for the defence.

Prince Andrew

Prosecution: By birth, a prince; by inclination, a golf-club lothario; and by profession, a freeloader. While his brothers and sisters make some contribution to national life, Andrew is like the duff manager at work who can't be sacked, and so is put in charge of "special projects", of which there turn out to be none at all. And so, under the ludicrous pretext of drumming up business for Britain, "Air Miles" Andy is recycled around the globe on assorted planes, yachts and helicopters. There must be a cheaper solution.

Defence: Seems a nice, clubbable bloke, even if the club some people would like to apply to him is a seven iron. Keeps on commendably good terms with his ex-wife. The only member of the Royal Family you'd like to take for a drink.

Dawn French

Prosecution: 'Vicar of Dibley'. No other reason is needed. In a more civilised society, this would be sufficient to warrant a long stretch in Holloway.

Defence: She is not the first good comedian to find herself trapped by an inane character in a mystifyingly successful show. She doesn't write it – just gurnsin it. Helped found Comic Relief, campaigns for the bigger-boned woman, and seems to be a happy old sort.

John McCririck

Prosecution: Channel 4 is mercifully restricting future on-screen appearances by this betting pundit and 'Celebrity Big Brother' contestant, a bewhiskered buffoon who appears to buy his clothes from theatrical costumiers' closing-down sales. At the track he shouts aggressively at the camera and spectators alike, his arm-waving an unwelcome distraction from the racing. Will his wife, Jenny, whom he charmingly calls "the Booby", appreciate this serial misogynist spending more time at home? Long odds for that.

Defence: Never afraid to chide bookies and jockeys, he has always stood apart from the sport's comfy establishment. And they've always stood as far apart from him as they can.

Graham Norton

Prosecution: A screechingly unoriginal peddler of kitsch, smutty campery, Norton gives gay men everywhere a bad press. His every appearance gives credence to the notion that all homosexuals are obsessed with sex, glitter and lilac upholstery to the exclusion of any other hobbies.

Defence: Oooooooh!

Amy Winehouse

Prosecution: The nightmare reanimated corpse of a 1950s housewife whose self-promotion as a cipher for contemporary feminine degeneracy has become passé. All beehive and bad behaviour. Someone needs to prise the vodka from her terrible crack-stained fingers and get her back into the recording studio, sharpish.

Defence: She can sing. Er, that's it.

Ant & Dec

Prosecution: The smiling, laddish and authentically regional voices and faces of television show voting quackery. Just as call centres like nice, down-to-earth, why-aye-man Geordie voices for cold calling, so these are TV's aggravatingly chirpy premium-rate chappies. Their only function for intelligent viewers is as a brainless programme alert service: letting you know that anything they front will not be worth your time.

Defence: Cheesy, but harmless, and certainly more engaging than almost any other TV duo. They weren't responsible for the telephone line shenanigans on one of their shows, had the decency to apologise publicly, and said they would donate future profits from one of the shows to charity.


Prosecution: The first fat cat to achieve television fame. Heavily promoted by his agent as "the most important, the most beautiful, the most magical, saggy old cloth cat in the whole wide world", he always struggled to live up to his billing, was given few speaking parts, and soon became a rather pompous "celebrity".

Defence: An early victim of cosmetic surgery, when a firm giving him a makeover made a blunder and his ginger striped coat was turned pink. It was a huge psychological blow, and, after only 13 episodes, he retired. He now lives in the Rupert Bear Museum, Canterbury, a twilight home for recovering children's TV stars.


Prosecution: A talent for draughtsmanship, yes; but an even greater one for self-promotion. His guerrilla street art, which seemed fresh when it first appeared, has long since become one of the country's longest-running and most tiresome publicity stunts. The work is still pleasing to the eye, but the presentation of this "anonymous" artist as radical and chic is wearing very thin. His message rarely gets through, either. On London Zoo's penguin enclosure he once wrote "We're bored of fish", but the penguins just kept eating.

Defence: See that bloke over there, spray-painting that wall? That's vandalism, that is. But Banksy, well, he's better at it, see? So it's art.

Cherie Blair

Prosecution: So loathed that we yearn to find the features that will redeem her. But then, no sooner does she write a sensible article on penal reform than up she pops in Australia taking a fat fee for a thin speech. Then it's off to Knight, Frank and Rutley, eager to add another fancy property to the portfolio. It's the insecurity of a deprived Scouse childhood, we're told. Looks like something more pathological to us.

Defence: Thrust by her husband's success into a limelight she never craved. And what PM's wife would refuse to cash in on her position? OK, so Sarah Brown hasn't, Samantha Cameron won't, and others who didn't include Mary Wilson, Audrey Callaghan, Norma Major, Dorothy Macmillan, Violet Attlee, Clemmie Churchill... Hm. Can I get back to you?

Sir Ian Blair

Prosecution: The accused has been known to police for many years as an incorrigible old management lag. Officers have observed him on many occasions in the act of obsessing over targets, and have many recordings of him talking in management-speak to fellow-conspirators. Such is the volume of material – on everything from the shooting of unarmed civilians to the heavy-handed pursuit of citizens who have broken what were once no more than by-laws, and milking cash from marginally over-the-speed-limit motorists – that we are asking for time to prepare a full list of charges.

Defence: In view of the number of lawsuits between members of his management team, Sir Ian's defence is sub judice.

Dr Ken Boston

Prosecution: Until last night Head of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, and here to represent the test-obsessed, multi-choice, grade-degrading, demi-literate, spelling-error-tolerating, A-Level-lite decline of English and Welsh education. Is this due to: a) excessive government interference; b) an irrational fear of being "judgemental"; c) a nationwide scam to cover up a fall in standards; or d) all three? Answer on one side of the paper only. Marks given for writing your name, and regurgitating the relevant National Curriculum Subject Notes.

Defence:It is unfair to denigrate so many officials who are on the way to a 99.9 per cent rating on the government's bureaucratic excellence scale. Promising results were even obtained by some without parental help.

Sir Ian Botham

Prosecution: Everyone wanted to be like Botham when they were younger but, since he started doing TV commentary, everyone wants to hit him. Slags off every England player (apart from his mates Pietersen and Flintoff) and then, when someone has the temerity to ask who he'd pick, says: "I'd drop him and bring in him, him, him and him." All very well, if it was 14 a side.

Defence: All possibly true, yet it is but piffling grapeshot against his immortal role in the greatest cricket match of all time. July 1981: England, following on, were 135 for 7, and 92 behind. Botham caught fire, scoring 149 not out, then helped to bowl Australia, needing only 130 to win, out for 111. A victory so inspiring that Englishmen spoke spontaneously in the street to each other.

Bullingdon Club

Prosecution: It's not the uniform (£3,000 for a get-up that makes them resemble wine waiters at a Dubai hotel); it's not even the bread-roll-throwing hooray hooliganism at their dinners. It's those haughty public schoolboy faces sneering down their noses into the lens of any passing camera. They are living proof that there is no relation between a natural aristocracy and those whom a series of genetic accidents has thrown up.

Defence: There are only a few of them, and their youthful toff antics leave them with a residue of guilt that then informs their dealings with the world for the rest of their lives. The excellent Lord Longford, for instance, or even David Dimbleby. And, hopefully, David Cameron.


Prosecution: Excuse me, do you have a moment? I wonder if you've ever considered how much misery is caused by formerly unemployed young people stopping honest citizens in the street and trying to get them to make a covenanted gift. Just £10 a month from every one they stop today will produce a sizable income for the firm they work for. A percentage will even go to charity. Just give me all your bank account details, sign here, and we'll do the rest.

Defence: What's the problem? The charity profits, lots of young, pleasantly spoken young people have a job – everyone gains. And what's so special about your life that you can't spare a few seconds to politely decline to give. Cheapskate.

Giles Coren

Prosecution: The pin-up boy of the "Do you know who I am?" classes. His notorious diatribe against a 'Times' sub-editor who had the temerity to change his copy ("I have written 350 restaurant reviews for 'The Times' and I have never ended on an unstressed syllable. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck") was not so much arrogant as tellingly revealing about his own ignorance of the finer points of print production. But then, having a famous father, he didn't have to learn his craft from the ground up.

Defence: Unfair. His work has given pleasure to scores. His novel 'Winkler' was widely admired, he won the 2005 Bad Sex in Fiction Award, and he has appeared with distinction in a Bird's Eye frozen foods commercial.

Characters in 'EastEnders' who shout all the time

Prosecution: You just don't get to be an 'EastEnders' character unless you have anger management problems. You know, real WHA'CHULOOKIN' AT? issues. Thus, 30 minutes of people turning even the most prosaic of daily exchanges into a slanging match. First character: "Good morning." Second character: "WHADDYA MEAN 'GOOD MORNING'? WOSS GOODABO'IT, YOU SLAG!"

Defence: Calm down, it's only a soap opera. OK, so it lacks the humour and warmth of 'Coronation Street', but there's clearly a market for a programme that presents personalities even more dysfunctional than those we meet in real life. It's therapy.

Huw Edwards

Prosecution: Here as the figurehead of BBC television news and its simpering, patronising transformation into a spin-off from 'Blue Peter'. Not content with regarding viewers as simpletons who must have everything spelt out and illustrated in Ladybird book graphics, newscasters and reporters insist on addressing each other by their first names. Much more of this and they'll be wanting us to know them as "Uncle This" and "Auntie That", and handing each other badges for covering stories.

Defence: There are very few Welsh people at the forefront of British public life, and so we should value the few we do have. Besides, the news is so often so brutal that, unless there was a warmth and accessibility about its presentation, we'd all turn off. Back to you, Huw.

Alex Ferguson & Arsène Wenger

Prosecution: Successful, wealthy, but morally suspect. In the face of all evidence, they will cling to an absurdly myopic view of anything involving their own clubs or players. However gross the behaviour, bestial the tackle or cheating the dive, these men will utter no words of condemnation, nor take any public action that might suggest sportsmanship was not yet dead. How very different to the managers of old, like Sir Matt Busby, who could, would and did take action against the cheats and cloggers in his midst.

Defence: All I know is that with 20 seconds to go, and the score 1-1, all our players went down in the penalty area, and the ref pointed to the spot. You can't argue with that.

Diarmuid Gavin

Prosecution: Professional Oirishman and horticultural paranoid who attributes his lack of medallion success at the Chelsea Flower Show to being a free-thinking outsider with radical ideas that disturb the Establishment-minded status quo. In fact, it's due to his gardens being either silly or impractical.

Defence: His gardens are challenging and have shown much improved planting of late. And heaven knows we need an antidote to the plum-in-their-mouths, floppy-haired, public schoolboy designers who are horticulture's perennial establishment.

Golf spectators who shout 'Get in the hole!'

Prosecution: Almost always American, they shout it on the tee of a par-5, from the rough, and, incessantly, from round the green, thus defining themselves as jerks who know nothing about the game. It's about time some leading professionals condemned these idiots.

Defence: They pay gate money. They get off their butts and go and support the players. And if their enthusiasm lacks the restrained subtleties of a Scottish gallery in the gloom of an Ayrshire July, then so be it.

Alan Green

Prosecution: A strident football commentator who seems convinced that Radio 5 Live listeners would rather hear his opinions on the game in general than any meaningful description of the action unfolding in front of him. Loves a feud – his hate figures include one of his own colleagues and Manchester United's manager, Sir Alex Ferguson (they haven't spoken since 1993). Many others would count it a blessing never to have to listen to him again.

Defence: Well, as attacks go, that was pretty feeble. No penetration, a lack of width, and I really think that if this went on until the crack of doom, they wouldn't get through this formidable defence. I have to say... Oh. 1-0! That really was out of the blue.

Orla Guerin

Prosecution: She came at dawn. On breakfast television. Her report using few words. But with pauses. In between. She thinks. This sounds. More dramatic. But it doesn't. Just clichéd.

Defence: Brave, has reported from Russia, Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans. Won umpteen awards. Doesn't trade. On her gender. Oh God. It's catching.

Head of Service – Inclusion and Participation Strategy and Commissioning

Prosecution: Post advertised, at £56,268-£61,392 a year, by Wigan council, and here as representative of local government bullshit. This is a world of stakeholders, initiative-takers, outreach programmes, transgender counselling, resilience managers, cycling enablement and quality-assurance operatives. It is a world, too, of meaningless mission statements, where all of Anytown's literature, vehicles, posters, hoardings and hi-vis jackets must all declare an asinine motto such as 'Putting Anytown First'.

Defence: We are referring this to our Media Empowerment Strategy Team to prepare an appropriate response. They will report by April.

Damien Hirst

Prosecution: Widely regarded as an artist, but really just a manufacturer of artefacts – objects that lack feeling, meaning or even originality – for the investing classes. One day they will wake up and find they have bought the saleroom equivalents of bankers' derivatives. Has made a fortune from the reductionist argument that anything can be art so long as someone says it is. To those who wonder whether his conglomerate's work will speak to future generations, we ask: what intrinsic (as opposed to cultural) meaning do they convey to this one? That having something to sell is more important than having something to say, perhaps.

Defence: Innovative, challenging and has raised the worldwide profile of British art. Gives to charity, and employs a lot of people.

John Humphrys

Prosecution: A hectoring saloon-bar boor whose only technique is to play devil's advocate. He has done this for so long that he has ceased to be able to distinguish between a minor policy disagreement and the collapse of civilisation. Makes the 'Today' programme unlistenable to, and...

Defence: I must interrupt you to point out...

Prosecution: You're not listening, are you? You have failed to answer any of these points, haven't you?

Defence: But I was just trying to ...

Prosecution: Well, that's all we have time for. Now, the weather.

Boris Johnson

Prosecution: A ludicrously successful example of the PR double-bluff. Ah, say those "in the know", what you see is not what you get; for behind that bumbling, jokey, hair-and-mind-all-over-the-place exterior is a razor-sharp and ruthless intelligence. So successful has this viral marketing of Boris been that no one considers the obvious: that behind the gags and self-deprecating humour there lurks a good old fashioned, Bullingdon-joining, old Etonian toff.

Defence: Gosh, er, well, whiff-whaff's coming home and I think we can all be proud of that. I should also add that my election pledge to reduce unnecessary layers of management is being carried out, albeit via a series of enforced resignations.

Kevin Keegan

Prosecution: Sometime inspirational and technically expert football manager who has built an even bigger reputation for being what the upper classes used to call a "bolter" – one who can be relied upon to leg it at the first sign of trouble. So entrenched is this view of him that, when his name is linked to a new job, speculation immediately centres on how soon it would be before he walked out on it.

Defence: Well, we have here, to explain his departure in person, Kevin Keegan himself. Kevin, I'd like to start by asking you... Kevin? Kevin? Oh dear, he seems to have gone.

Nigella Lawson

Prosecution: The erotic fascination that Ms Lawson reserves for traybakes would be forgivable if she didn't earn millions making the rest of us feel inadequate. No real person has time and inclination to lick their lips seductively while flavouring cookies with organic cardamom. She might be nice as pecan pie in real life; it's the unreconstructed image we object to.

Defence: Well, at least she can do a cookery show without effing and blinding at the drop of a spatula.

Gary Lineker

Prosecution: OK, so he was a prolific scorer for England and a masterful poacher, and his cheeky grin was endearing for a while. But it shouldn't be enough to sustain a career outside football. His Walkers crisps ads and attempts at being a lad in 'They Think It's All Over' became increasingly irritating. Then he was made the BBC's face of golf, casting aside his little-boy-lost image for an attitude of gloom and mumbling. Golf on TV was bad enough before.

Defence: Was that how it looked to you, Alan?

Alan Hansen: Well, you cannae fault the lad for effort. But I'm afraid for me at this level...

Defence: Wrighty?

Ian Wright: I think my boy done great.

Defence: Well. Opinions divided here on an extraordinary night for British sport.

Lycra fascists

Prosecution: They've got the bike, the 21 gears, the tailor-made saddle, and the full day-glo Lycra kit. What they haven't got, however, is any sense. Instead, they have a belief that global warming has given them the moral high ground, an inalienable justification for squirting at full pelt down side streets, on pavements and up alleys, and a permanent right of way. Wrong.

Defence: So they can look a bit poncy in their face masks, but these are the carbon-positive vanguard of the new green world order. Go pick on a white-van man or gas-guzzling driver instead.

Andrew Marr

Prosecution: He's here, he's there, he's every bloody where, whether it's being all matey and Westminsterish with politicos on a Sunday morning, or as the voice-over for yet another swooping helicopter shot in a documentary series. Lately, these have descended into the "how we live now" sort, packed with amazing facts about how effluent flows down drains, and that the electricity grid needs maintenance. He'll be doing the nature programmes and cricket next, mark our words.

Defence: And now, Andrew Marr presents highlights from today's play at Wimbledon. And then, in an hour, it's 'Andrew Marr's World of Adventure', followed by the news, and then, at 10.30, Graham Norton presents 'The 100 Best Andrew Marr Clips'.

Michael Martin

Prosecution: Possibly the silliest man in British public life. By bringing to his office all the intellectual rigour of a third-rate councillor for a rock-safe seat in Cambuslang, he has probably caused more damage to the House of Commons than any other Speaker in seven centuries. And now, reportedly, there is talk of finagling an exit predicated on his son inheriting his parliamentary seat. Breathtaking.

Defence: He is always very prompt with his expenses.

Me columnists

Prosecution: Self-obsessed witterers who occupy prominent corners of the national press to tell us about their doings. Got their jobs by relentlessly schmoozing editors, and by being photogenic (although the byline photo is now a decade or more old). What with all this party-going and preening, there's no time for original thinking, especially when it comes to current affairs.

Defence: Why are you picking on ditzy little me? It's all very well for these people in Zimbabwe to complain, but they don't have to make Jemima's costume for the nativity play, do a book review, go for a manicure, meet Piers for lunch, write this bloody column, and get to our place in the country – all by Friday.

Middle-aged 'Doctor Who' fans

Prosecution: Harmless though such an enthusiasm may appear to be, a fondness for this festival of glitzy impossibilities is a warning sign that you could develop the kind of full-blown dementia so many psychiatrists have noted in science-fiction fans. Watch one too many episodes, and you are embarked on a slippery slope, at the bottom of which is collecting 'Star Wars' memorabilia and building your holidays around attending SciFiComCons at provincial Holiday Inns.

Defence: Sure, maybe anyone over 15 who's interested in sci-fi is a bit suspect, but perhaps these are just parents who have successfully found a bonding point with their 'Who'-obsessed kids. Lighten up.

Charles Moore

Prosecution: Former editor of the 'Daily Telegraph' and 'Spectator', now author and rural sportsman, who has turned a campaign against the TV licence collecting service into his life's work. When he goes to the great leather armchair in the sky, the 'Telegraph' will record his passing not as a journalist or huntsman, but with a story headlined: "TV licence fee man dies".

Defence: Nonsense. He may look like P G Wodehouse's Gussie Fink-Nottle (he has worked hard to achieve this), but he is an essential antidote to the bureaucratic jobsworths now infesting public services in New Labour's Britain. Why should someone who doesn't have a television pay a licence fee? Not exactly Magna Carta or habeas corpus, we grant you, but a step in the right direction.

Max Mosley

Prosecution: Gave his wife a terrible shock when his taste for being spanked surfaced on the front page of the 'News of the World'. Did she never suspect? Not even when he came home after an "extended business meeting" and declined a chair, preferring to stand for the rest of the evening?

Defence: Had the courage to take on the legal and financial might of the 'News of the World'. And, for the first time in his life, was happy not to be beaten.

Nannying railway announcers

Prosecution: They can't tell you when the next train is, but they can tell you how to lead your life. "At this time of increased temperatures, you may find it advisable to carry a bottle of water..." "Because of today's wet weather conditions, customers are advised that conditions under foot may be slippery." What's next? Asking if we've blown our noses? Telling us to make sure we've done Number Twos before leaving home?

Defence: Oh, come, come. It's better than it used to be. Remember those muffled announcements of old when everyone froze as the baffling jumble of consonants and semi-syllables came out as: "Mwnnahnnn tffololition Junction, sidibnnnawewah falatedoh mmever laggaghanahh any inconvenience."

Mark Nicholas

Prosecution: Was annoying enough when he fronted Channel 4's cricket coverage, with his pieces to camera always showing off his good side. Not intent on desperately wanting to be the next Richie Benaud, he then followed him to Australia, where at least he has the decency to annoy the locals. Incredibly irritating catchphrases like "Zowee", "Wow-wee" and "Yessir" when anybody plays a good shot. Nicknamed McKenzie, as in "Precious".

Defence: All possibly true, but at least the coverage he presents brings technology to bear on the proceedings. This is more than can be said for Radio 4, whose 'Test Match Special' is still stuck in the era of Gentlemen and Players.

Neil Nunes

Prosecution: Radio 4 continuity announcer whose voice is so mellifluous, you want to scream. Does he sound like that all the time? Even when asking for a cheap-day return to Doncaster? "A cheap daaay retuuurn to the towwwwn of Doncaaaaaster, pleeeeease. Heeeeeeere is my credit caaard." Get some life into it, man. Rough it up a bit. Sound like you're human, and not a computer simulation.

Defence: There's enough buzz-saw voices on radio, and Nunes offers a soothing alternative – a man who can make words sound like hot fudge sauce flowing slowly down a spoon. Get him on tape, and you could cure all the nation's insomniacs in one night. Who better to listen to when you can't get to sl... zzzzzzzzzzzz.

Personal stereo owners who broadcast to the rest of the train

Prosecution: You know who you are. You bought a cheapo model whose earpieces are so inefficient they give you a thumping bass, and everyone within 10 yards the tinny treble. And it's always the ones who have no taste in music. Why can it never be a bit of Charles Ives or Brahms whose strains come to us uninvited?

Defence: Oh dear, I don't think there is a defence here. All one can say in mitigation is that they are people who can't afford decent cans – and are unaware they are torturing the rest of the train carriage. Point it out and they'll generally turn it down. Or hit you.

Melanie Phillips

Prosecution: One of those disturbing people who has a strong opinion about absolutely everything. Probably only a matter of time before she unleashes a rant about, say, traffic bollards, or the way grass grows. Started at 'The Guardian' as a soft lefty, but has veered ever rightward, and is now the resident knocker of teachers, Muslims, gay rights advocates, Darwinists, Palestinian appeasers and anyone who disagrees with her on the 'Daily Mail' "Why, oh why" page.

Defence: Er, she has been known to be right – and prescient – identifying the "inclusive" disaster that is English education in a 1996 book called 'All Must Have Prizes'. And she's a game old thing, undeterred by her many critics.

Harry Potter

Prosecution: The eponymous boy-hero of J K Rowling's books has matured into one of the most smackable characters in fiction: bland, whiny, prudish, irritatingly good at sports and surrounded by toe-sucking sycophants. After book four, Harry's "specialness" gets grating as he stumbles towards the privilege he was born for like any other private-school twit.

Defence: Yes, but he's given pleasure to nearly half a billion readers around the world. Who else has put a book in hands that had hardly ever held one unless they were being tested on it the following day?

Jamie Worrall-Ramsay-Blumenthal

Prosecution: The all-purpose, interchangeable celebrity chef who has mastered the art of turning over-illustrated, content-lite books into a gold-mine. And, as if that were not bad enough, some have become foodie missionaries, using their dropped aitches and effing and blinding as means to spread the word about torn chicken and ripped-up basil to the lower orders. Memo to all: they're only cooks.

Defence: This fine body of men (why are they so rarely women?) has done more to raise public awareness about the effects of what we tip down our throats than generations of nutritionists. And remember eating at friends' houses before they got going? All those prawn cocktails and chicken kievs? We're making progress, and it's down to them.

Rap-rapping, pose-striking, knife-wielding, gun-toting, homophobic urban yoof

Prosecution: Very last year. Ever since the election of Barack Obama, the black kids can see there's another way. And the white ones have always been literally pale imitations of pimp-styled US rappers and their once-justified victim psychology. As for being social rebels, they're really just brand-obsessed kids who've not grown up, using knives and guns as the ultimate expression of pester power.

Defence: We are awaiting social reports, m'lud.

Tony Robinson

Prosecution: Symbolic of the dreary modern TV orthodoxy that expertise has to be moderated. So on 'Time Team', as a horde of vastly knowledgable, articulate archaeologists and historians struggle to get a wise word in edgeways, every few moments up pops Robinson – and we know that the flow of intelligence has dried up until he does. Time for a ritual burial, with or without grave goods.

Defence: Do you think that a programme that consisted of letting university archaeologists loose in a field with only trowels and cameras to keep them company would ever get off the ground? Robinson, bringer of life to the classic character of Baldrick, is the price we pay for some down-and-dirty history. And he takes the trouble to know his stuff.

Jonathan Ross

Prosecution: Television face whose act as an asker of sexually explicit questions now seems holed below the waterline by the Russell Brand-Andrew Sachs affair. The BBC will put him on a rein so tight he will hardly be able to do more than croak and leer. And, at rising 50, there is a danger people will begin to see him not so much as a laddish cheeky chappy but a trainee dirty old man, more raincoat than radical.

Defence: He's a laugh. He's a caution. He's the geezer down the pub who everyone says should be on telly – and he actually is! (Well, he will be after the end of January, anyway.)

Rottweiler owners

Prosecution: It's all right, they say, he's only playing. Well, yes, he may be now, but if he wanted to he could crush my child's skull like an eggshell. What, really, is the difference between walking down the street with an attack dog bred to kill, and doing so with a loaded and cocked shotgun? Answer: a human being is in control of the gun, but no one's in charge of one of these dogs if they get it into their in-bred brains to go for you.

Defence: He's only playing, honest. And he's been to training classes. He can sit and lie on command and everything. He's just high-spirited. He's ... Oh Christ! Down Bullseye! Down! Bullseye!!

Ringo Starr

Prosecution: A few months ago, the old Beatle issued a statement to the world on video informing the planet that no more correspondence from fans would be replied to. Was he fed up that signed photos ended up on eBay? Suffering from writer's cramp? Or couldn't afford the stamps any more? No one knows because he dressed up the message in Sixties babble about "peace and love". Cut the crap, Ringo.

Defence: I think he was being ironic. He was a decent drummer, an engaging face and a world-class narrator for 'Thomas the Tank Engine'. Since when do people not even born when the Beatles broke up have a right to bombard him with requests for stuff they can flog on auction sites. Get some heroes from your own generation, kids.

Whooping audiences

Prosecution: It is an irrefutable law of modern media that the whooping generated by a television studio audience is in inverse proportion to the quality of the fare on screen. Where do they get these people from? What drugs to they give them to make these crazy keening noises? And why? Just why?

Defence: They're having a good time, they're having a night out and they've been working themselves up into a fever of excitement ever since the coach left Droitwich earlier that morning. All they're doing is playing their part, and aping, as they've been asked to do, the lobotomised audiences of American television shows.

Ronnie Wood

Prosecution: Most 61-year-olds who hanker after the lithe bodies of Russian teenagers wait till the family's out and content themselves with an hour or so on the web. Not Ronnie. He took up with 19-year-old Ekaterina Ivanova and made a public spectacle of himself, and a humiliated woman of his wife, Jo Wood.

Defence: The man's clearly got personal problems, but he's a considerable musician, playing not just with the Stones, but Bob Dylan, Rod Stewart and David Bowie. And he's a good painter, praised by no lesser authority than Brian Sewell.

Entries written by: David Randall, Marc Padgett, Laurie Penny, Simon Redfern and Andy Tong

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