Richard Ingrams: Lord Deedes and the more genteel days of Fleet Street


Saturday 01 January 2011 01:00

As part of my one day editorship of the BBC's Today programme this week I visited for Christmas The Daily Telegraph's headquarters in London's Buckingham Palace Road and interviewed some of the staff about the papers new multi-media operation.

The vast newsroom with rows of desks branching out from a central hub is an impressive sight and there are even some little studios on its periphery where videos can be made and interviews filmed for the papers website.

In a quiet corner of the newsroom above a file of current newspapers hangs a portrait in oils of the legendary Telegraph reporter and one-time editor Lord Bill Deedes who died in 2007 at the age of 94, still working as a Telegraph columnist.

In the dynamic new environment the portrait looks more than a little incongruous. I couldn't help wondering what Bill would have made of the change. More importantly, perhaps, what would he have made of that very day's headline revealing the indiscreet remarks made by the Business Secretary Vince Cable to two female Telegraph reporters with a hidden recorder, posing as two of his constituents?

It's hard to imagine an editor of the old school like Bill endorsing such tactics. Would he perhaps see it as yet another sign of the rather desperate state of journalism today when even papers like the Telegraph are reduced to manufacturing political scandals with the help of their own agent provocateurs.

Jo Yeates, a suspect and trial by media

When a good education is nowadays considered purely as an economic benefit, its not to be wondered at that music teachers, already in short supply, should be the first to be affected by government redundancies. What use after all is playing a musical instrument when it comes to competing with our European partners in the export markets?

Those music teachers who are lucky to stay on will in the meantime be expected to conform to the new regulations proposed by the Musicians' Union and the NSPCC. They have been instructed in future never to touch their pupils, in order to avoid possible accusations of abuse.

Coincidentally, it is an edict that had come too late for the pupils of Mr Chris Jefferies, currently being questioned by police about the murder of landscape architect Joanna Yeates. A former teacher of "music appreciation" at Clifton College, Jefferies, according to one of his former pupils, "used to touch peoples hands and say 'oh your very sweaty that means your sexually active'''.

Such lurid details could be read in the long profiles of Jefferies published in yesterday's press, all suggesting that he is thoroughly weird what with his wild hair and eccentric personal habits. Whatever the rules for music teachers may be, it seems to be ok for the press to finger murder suspects with impunity.

Opting for censorship instead of action

A Cambridge scientist Omar Choudary has invented a simple £20 device which can apparently trick chip and pin machines into accepting cards without being given a valid pin number. Mr Choudary has personally proved its success by using it to buy books and CDs worth £50 in a Cambridge HMV store.

The news will not be welcomed by those who have been insisting for years on the 100 per cent failsafe security of the pin system; even more alarmed will be those millions of us who tap out our pin number without a glimmer of concern almost every day of the week.

But instead of reacting with gratitude to Mr Choudary for exposing the weaknesses of their system, the banks in the person of former Labour Treasury minister Melanie Johnson have written to the university demanding that all information about Mr Choudary's discovery must be removed from the Cambridge website. To date the university has refused to oblige.

Instead of trying to censor his research the banks should be grateful to Mr Choudary for exposing what seems to be a fairly elementary fault in the pin system. In much the same way Mr Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, instead of being hounded ought to be thanked by the American government for revealing the total lack of security in relation to its internal communications.

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