The Gentlemen Ranters site is a
brilliant compendium of reminiscences of the great days of Fleet Street. –
Issue # 225
December 16, 2011
We are taking an extended break at Palazzo Ranter.
In the meantime, we can still accept copy.
So please get typing
We are breaking up for the hols today (spend too much
time with the Hackademics, and it’s catching) so, first… a very merry Christmas
and a happy and prosperous new year to all our contributors, without
And also to our supporters, the columnists and
commentators who have generously helped promote the Ranters plot and carried the flame of
old hackery around the world.
225 issues (and more than 3 million hits already this
year) is something of an achievement, and the buggers who never contribute quite
clearly appreciate the efforts of the few who do.
We’ll be back, DV, on January 6. If you will need
reminding, use the box on the right.
So, to this week…
There is currently an Inquiry into the press that…
wait for it… that you didn’t know about. It’s in Australia. And
although they know about it Down Under they don’t actually know what it’s about. Mark Day tries to fathom
We have our own of course (you have heard about it –
it was in all the papers) and John Dale has the double this week, first, writing about how the Leveson Inquiry
is taking over his life, and then by suggesting, in a worthy rant, how it might
have done for Kelvin.
But first, a Christmas story from Alan Whittaker about getting a turkey home from Fleet Street. And then Liz
Hodgkinson (subs pse chk splg)writes about getting people’s names right. That’s the people who matter… the writers.
All of the above. Plus Rudge the cartoonist.
Now we’re going for a long lie down.
Have a merry one.
If you think you might suffer from withdrawal symptoms in our absence, go and check the books site – http://booksaboutjournalism.com/ – if you’re quick you could still get something decent to read over the holidays.
It was a scene worthy of a Christmas
card. The advance flakes of the next snow flurry glittered ominously above the
street lamps enhancing the seasonal decorations displayed by two of Fleet
Street’s most venerable trading enterprises. The grey pre-war holly wreath had
once more been resurrected from the cellar and now adorned the entrance to
Mick’s Cafe while a delicate necklace of red and green fairy lights added a chic
Parisian touch to the Durex display in Hancock’s window.
Ian Watson-Jones, who had served 20
something years as copy taster on the Evening Standard and the much lamented
Star before joining the News of the World, reckoned we could
just make it to the back bar of the Harrow before the snow thickened. He also
surmised that the sole occupant of the bar so early in the evening would be John
Halcro Ferguson, the Observer’s Latin America guru. ‘And I bet you a large
Scotch he mentions South America within two minutes,’ said Jonah. I rashly accepted the bet.
Sure enough the only person lurking in
the back bar was JHF. ‘It’s turning into a blizzard, Fergie,’ said Jonah amiably
as she slipped out of his overcoat. ‘Indeed it is,’ replied the sage of
South America. ‘Reminds me of a dreadful night I spent in Patagonia…’
Ian glanced at his watch and smiled.
‘Fifty seven seconds,’ he said. ‘It took him some time to get into his stride
but I’ll have a Grouse.’
Jonah was due to meet Joe Adams, crime
reporter of the Evening News, who turned up an hour later than arranged accompanied by a shapeless object in a huge black plastic sack on which the tread pattern of a tyre was clearly
discernible. He had difficulty squeezing the sack through the pub entrance.
Joe apologised for being late but he had
been to Smithfield. Before leaving home that morning he
had informed Mrs Adams that the usual oven-ready turkey from Sainsbury’s would
not be required. There would be a change this Christmas. He would select a bird
fresh from the Norfolk countryside.
‘I waited till the market was closing;
that’s the best time to get bargains,’ he said, jubilantly pointing to the black
sack. ‘Look at that beauty. Weighs a ton and all for three quid. I had a hell of
a job getting it here.’
The tyre impression on the bag was the
result of trying to heave the carcass out of the path of the bus he was about to
board in Farringdon
Street. ‘The front wheel ran over the bag when it
slid off the pavement,’ he explained.
The turkey was indeed rather large.
About the size of an ostrich. And severely mangled as a result of its encounter
with a number 18. If Joe hadn’t bought the thing the market trader would have
had to fork out three quid to get the council to dispose of it. No one in their
right mind would contemplate buying such a grotesque creature. No domestic oven
was big enough to accommodate it.
Joe placed himself by the bar and the
black bag by a hot radiator. Outside the snow fell with increasing
An hour or so later Joe slung the bag
and its mutilated and slightly warm occupant over his shoulder and headed for
the rail head. By taxi.
Things didn’t improve. After depositing
Joe at Waterloo
the cabbie drove off and in the process managed to inflict further grievous
damage to the turkey when the rear nearside wheel ran over the bag. The bird was
now in a seriously distressed condition. Undeterred Joe boarded his train and
stowed his mangled bargain on the luggage rack opposite his chosen seat. That
way, he reasoned, he could keep an eye on his purchase. He checked his watch. It
would be twenty minutes before the train moved. He must stay
The compartment was warm. The Scotch was
working its soothing magic and he felt deliciously drowsy. Through half-closed
eyes he saw a fur-coated matronly woman occupy the opposite seat. She was built
on the lines of Hattie Jaques with a cleavage to match. She looked the type who
would have been to Covent Garden for the opera.
An abrupt lurch indicated the train was
moving off. The motion roused him and so did the piercing scream from the near
hysterical Hattie Jaques look-alike. The sudden jolt of the train had disturbed
the black bag above her head and the scrawny neck of the turkey had slipped out
and was now nestling, beak down, in her unwelcoming bosom. Another convulsive
jolt caused the entire carcass to cascade, first to her head and then to her
Joe shuddered at the memory of the
woman’s horrified face as one of the turkey’s legs became entangled in her hair.
‘When she recovered she was furious and moved to another compartment,’ he said
when he recounted the tale next evening.
Mrs Adams didn’t bother to look at his
purchase before ordering him to heave it one last time. Into the dustbin. ‘We’re
having Sainsbury’s oven-ready as usual on Christmas Day,’ Joe
By Liz Hodgkinson
If you want to attract attention to the brilliance of
your copy, it’s good to have a byline that stands out. That’s easy enough,
possibly, if you have a name like Roz d’Ombraine Hewitt, Meredith
Etherington-Smith or even Marcelle d’Argy Smith, all of which are completely
individual and as such, hard to ignore.
But if you are Liz Hodgkinson, how do you
differentiate yourself from Liz Hodgson?
The answer is that much of the time, you don’t. Although Liz Hodgson and I are completely
separate people and have little in common other than a similar name, for most of
our professional lives, we’ve been mistaken for each other.
It all began when Liz Hodgson started working for the
Femail pages of the Daily Mail. No problem, you might imagine, except that I,
Liz Hodgkinson, was already there.
Before long, her byline was on my stories and my name appeared on her
copy. It was inevitable and so one of us
had to go. Last in, first out, and it
was the other Liz.
She then went to the Sunday Mirror and for a time we managed
to regain our separate identities.
The mix-up resurfaced when Liz and her partner, Ian
Markham-Smith – for whom she wrote an affectionate obituary in Ranters the other
week – moved to LA. From there they filed many showbiz stories to all of Fleet
Street. Once again, my name started
appearing on her stories and hers on mine.
It got worse when, not infrequently, I was sent cheques that were rightly
hers. Of course I returned them and I hope she did the same for any sent to her
that were meant for me.
I don’t know how the subs thought that I (or she) was writing prolifically in the UK
at the same time as filing endless celebrity stories from America but perhaps
they simply didn’t ask themselves that logical question.
Then for many years, subs seemed able to keep us
separate. Their task was made easier now
by the fact that Liz and Ian often used a joint byline. I think that both names appeared on their
books, as well.
But just when I imagined people could finally tell us
apart, we are getting mixed up again.
Only this week I had an email from a reader about Ladies of the Street, my book about
women journalists. The sender, a journalist called Vernon Ram, wrote:
are the same Liz who did a stint with Ian Markham-Smith at the SCM Post in the early '80s, including a
spell at Hongkong Tatler before
pushing off to the US and Variety/The
Hollywood Reporter?!! Object of this is to congratulate you for Ladies of The Street I have just
finished reading, a real show-stopper by any yardstick. Bet you remember
visiting us at our home in Lamma Island. Best wishes, – Vernon
It’s a lovely accolade but that was the other Liz. I
have never worked for the SCMP or
pushed off to the US. Liz Hodgson, if you are reading
this, you may like to get in touch with Vernon.
But it doesn’t end there. Since the book was
published, I’ve had several other emails from journalists who say they remember
me living in LA and working for US publications.
Now, Liz Hodgson and myself are not rivals; in fact,
we are good mates and when we meet, we laugh about the byline similarity. Perhaps we have even helped each other’s
careers, who knows?
But we all like to think we are special, completely
original. And actually, the Hodgkinson
family mix-up doesn’t end there. My son
Tom Hodgkinson, who writes for the Independent on Sunday and is the famous,
or notorious, idler, has a rival
called Tom Hodgkinson, who writes book reviews and literary articles. I’ve often
been contacted by bookish friends to say they have seen Tom’s piece in the Literary Review, or somewhere, only for
me to have to tell them, sorry, it’s the other Tom.
Now, I gather, the other Tom calls himself Thomas to
differentiate himself, but the confusion continues. At least I don’t think
they’ve ever had each other’s cheques.
Mind, nobody pays anything these days so it would hardly matter if they
But none of this is quite as bad as Liz Gill and Liz
Gill. Again, both Lizzes worked at one
time for Femail. One Liz Gill is a journalist, a writer, and
the other is (or was) a fashion artist and cartoonist. They are, once again, completely separate
People journalist John Smith, another
Ranters contributor, solved the problem of his name by having Plain John
Smith as his byline. And of course, he became famous as ‘Plain John’, so much so that is almost became his name.
I suppose I could be Plain Liz (my second name is
Jane, and that’s plain enough) but I hardly think it would set the world alight.
So, to set the record straight once and for all, I am
the Liz with that important bit extra: three more letters, to be exact: Liz HodgKINson, author of Ladies of the Street.
Ladies of The
Street by Liz Hodgkinson is published by Revel Barker at £9.99.
By Mark Day
We’ve got to hand it to you Poms. You do your
inquiries well. You’ve got your Lord Leveson forensically probing the ways and
means of the modern media. We’ve got The Fink.
You have an inquiry where all parties – politicians,
journalists and inquirers – are at pains to say that whatever the outcome, the
Press must remain free. We’ve got a political witch hunt where such niceties
fail to get a mention.
The Australian press has, since its inception, pretty
well followed the British path. Decades ago it did so with much tugging of the
forelock, but those days have passed. We did, after all, give you Rupert Murdoch
in a bit of reverse colonisation, but we have still admired the breadth and
creative energy of the British media while allowing the odd tut-tut about its
Stings, such as those so mercilessly executed by the
Fake Sheik would not pass muster in Australia on two counts – they would break
the Australian journalists’ code of ethics which demand that a reporter shall
identify him/herself and the publication they work for and if any recording of
conversations were clandestinely taken, that behaviour would breach the federal
Listening Devices Act.
As for phone hacking – it is perhaps a sad truth, but
most of us down here are so technologically dyslexic that we wouldn’t know how
to do it, let alone be willing to break another law relating to
telecommunications interception. No evidence of hacking has emerged in
Australia – from hackers, hackees or
But that’s no matter. The British phone hacking
scandal has provided a convenient excuse for a media inquiry, currently under
way, presided over by a former judge, Ray Finkelstein and a former media writer
and now academic, Matthew Ricketson.
The inquiry was set up because our parliament is like
yours – the life of the government depends on a coalition of parties. Just as
David Cameron needs Nick Clegg, in Australia Julia Gillard needs Bob Brown, the
leader of the Greens.
For more than 20 years Brown, a Tasmanian senator,
has been in the parliament preaching climate change, land care, clean water, the
end of coal, banning all nukes – all matters of great importance, for sure, to
students and doctors’ wives. But he has been largely ignored by Labor and
In the 2010 election Julia Gillard managed to form a
government only with the support of three lower house independents and one
Green. In the Senate, she needs all nine Greens to have the numbers needed to
pass legislation. Suddenly, Bob Brown is no longer ignored. As a wily old pollie
he’s in the box seat and he knows it.
During the life of the Gillard government, and Kevin
Rudd’s before her, Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers in Australia, notably The Australian, rigorously and
relentlessly examined government activities. The Oz has broken story after story
about money wasted in stimulus spending designed – successfully, it must be said
– to avoid a global financial crisis-induced recession. It has attacked the $36
billion national broadband network spending and declared the Greens a political
movement that must be destroyed at the ballot box.
Before the hacking scandal Bob Brown had declared The Oz was ‘the hate media’ and after
the closure of the News of the World
Julia Gillard opined that News had ‘some hard questions to answer’. She never
outlined those questions but when the Greens deputy leader Christine Milne
argued that the hacking events provided a ‘convenient’ pathway to a full media
inquiry’, the die was cast. The tail wagged the dog.
So we have the Finkelstein Inquiry, set up to inquire
‘the effectiveness of the current
media codes of practice in Australia, particularly in light of technological
change that is leading to the migration of print media to digital and online
platforms; the impact of this technological change on the business model that
has supported the investment by traditional media organisations in quality
journalism and the production of news, and how such activities can be supported,
and diversity enhanced, in the changed media environment; ways of substantially
strengthening the independence and effectiveness of the Australian Press
Council, including in relation to on-line publications, and with particular
reference to the handling of complaints; and any related issues pertaining to
the ability of the media to operate according to regulations and codes of
practice, and in the public interest.’
Not a word, you’ll note, about the freedom or
independence of the media. It is refreshing to see high up in the Leveson
inquiry terms of reference acknowledgement of the most important and fundamental
aspect of the media’s place in society: it is to inquire if there is a need for
‘a more effective policy and regulatory regime which supports the integrity and
freedom of the press, the plurality of the media, and its independence,
including from government, while encouraging the highest ethical and
The Fink’s inquiry got under way last month. Among
the first to give evidence was Greg Hywood, CEO of Fairfax Media, publisher of
the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. He began his address by asking:
‘What problem are we trying to solve?’
In a later interview he explained: ‘There were some
issues for News International in the UK – a long way from here – and there’s
been no evidence that anything like that happens in Australia; none at all.
‘So because something happened in the UK
we’re here talking about changes to the regulatory environment, with a whole
range of things being floated – government intervention in the Press Council,
government funding, a new regulatory environment. My view is that freedom of the
press is a precious instrument; you don’t lightly play with it and what we do as
a media company in a commercial environment is a very important public good; we
ask the questions people don’t like being asked and our communities are, over
time, better off because it.’
So far it appears The Fink is concentrating on the
structure, the power and the funding of the Australian Press Council, a
self-regulatory body funded by publishers but without punitive powers beyond
admonition. His report is due to government by the end of February and his
recommendations will be incorporated in the much wider Convergence Review
inquiry which is looking at broader issues of outdated broadcast regulation.
This indicates the true nature of The Fink’s
endeavours – an afterthought bolted on to an existing structure as a matter of
political convenience. Don’t expect much to come of it.
By John Dale
I admit it, I’m an addict. I’m mainlining on reality
TV in a way that is scary. I always told myself I could fight it. What a fool
I’ve been! Now I am waking up with the schedule in my head, cancelling convivial
lunches, getting the shakes if I try to withdraw.
Lord Justice Leveson is ruining my life. I may
consult a lawyer.
It’s got the format of Judge Judy, the characters of
le Carré, the red herrings of Agatha Christie and the plots of Robert Harris.
Off-camera, there’s a sword of Damocles suspended by a single hair and every
day, as they deliver another 30,000-odd words, the witnesses invite it to skewer
their well-coiffeured skulls or greasy pates.
With agonising slowness, revelations are being
extracted which are then inserted into the big picture like pixels on
For us hacks and ranters, and no doubt many
civilians, it’s a slow-burning blockbuster.
There’s Robert Jay, QC, playing Robin to Lord
Leveson’s beetle-browed Batman, and the beautiful Carine Patry Hoskins as a
wide-eyed Girl Wonder.
On Monday the inquiry into press standards reached
Chapter 5: News International Week.
I give the following as one exquisite moment of
Jay, who never misses a dot or comma, was in the
middle of a lawyerly duel with Tom Crone, former legal manager at News
He inquired about a reply Crone had given to Adam
Price, MP, at a select committee.
Jay: ‘If I were to ask you the same question as Mr
Price asked you, would you give me the same answer?’
Crone requested the transcript. For two minutes he
pored over it. Everyone waited. As we got ready for the answer, the judge looked
at the clock and said: ‘It’s time for a short break...’
If it were TV, you’d call this a cliffhanger. It
would be ‘Next week: see what
So people popped to the loo, stretched and yawned,
stood up and turned around, shuffled their trousers and underwear, had a natter,
took a breather. Five minutes passed.
Then the judge reappeared and the inquiry
Crone jumped straight back into his seat, leaned
forward and peered over his spectacles. Without prompting he said three words to
Jay: ‘Yes, I would.’
Yes, he’d give the same answer. There was a palpable
sense of relief or disappointment, depending on your
I don’t have space here to explain all the
complexities. The evidence is long and detailed.
In another time and place, Murdoch’s company might
have felt honoured to have four days of non-stop coverage devoted exclusively to
it. But this was different.
News International Week - the announcement acted like a movie trailer,
creating such a buzz that various hacks who normally shunned daylight rushed
down to the Royal Courts of Justice to hang out like stage door
They were initially disappointed in that the first
star was himself ‘redacted’, at least visually.
Therefore I cannot say whether Mazheer Mahmood wore a
lounge suit, his Fake Sheikh gear or dressed as a High Court judge in hope of
creating his usual mayhem. I do not know. All we got was his voice, which had
the well-rounded vowels of someone used to impersonating Eton-educated desert
When he answered questions incompletely, we heard a
toughness enter Lord Leveson’s otherwise amiable tone.
Maz insisted he had carried out his News of the World
investigations as a public duty and denied that he entrapped people by offering
He said: ‘We risk our lives on a daily basis. I live
under death threats. I’m proud to have exposed paedophiles, drug dealers, drug
runners and the like.’
But he also added: ‘I’m a journalist. We publish
stories, we sell newspapers. I’m not a police officer, I’m not a social
Leveson asked him if a story would be justified
simply because an MP was having an affair.
Maz: ‘Yes, that’s right. We vote for these
What if it was an actor or
Maz: ‘No, no, no. MPs hold public office, slightly
different for an actor - except if he’s in Hello and cashing in on his family life
- a degree of hypocrisy.’
As he left the witness box, the press was allowed to
return and the camera switched back on. We saw his place being taken by Neville
Thurlbeck, former NotW chief reporter. Because he had been arrested in Operation
Weeting, he was not asked about phone hacking.
Otherwise his evidence was
Kiss and tell story
fees: ‘There were six figure sums but rarely. Average for a
front page splash was £15-20,000.
Authenticity: ‘There was always a myth that we made it all up, and
that still prevails. We didn’t. We went to enormous length to satisfy our
lawyers it was demonstrably correct - documentary evidence, photographic
evidence...a birthday card, gift, phone call. For every kiss and tell that made
it, there were were six, ten, that fell by the wayside, even if we believed the
situation: ‘The kiss and tell story is now largely
Privacy: ‘Recently I exposed a politician for having an
affair. It made a big story. We thought long and hard about whether we should
run it. The man had used his family and happy marriage in his election
literature, so we felt justified.’
Beckham: How much had they paid Rebecca Loos? Thurlbeck
paused, saying he was trying to think of reasons why he should not reveal this.
Leveson told him to answer.
Thurlbeck: ‘A six figure sum, the most I’ve ever
Jay: ‘Not quite a seven
That was taken to mean it was nearly a
What was the justification?
Thurlbeck: ‘The Beckham’s had been using their
marriage to endorse products, presenting themselves as a fairytale marriage,
they married on thrones. I thought it important to expose the fairytale as a
Jay: ‘What products had the Beckhams sold on this
Thurlbeck: ‘He was promoting Brylcreem, sponsored
left, right and centre.’
Was Brylcreem using his family image? Jay suggested
there was a difference between ‘implied’ and ‘expressed’ representation - which
is becoming a central issue.
Max Mosley orgy
splash: Thurlbeck accepted that without the Nazi theme, there
would have been no public interest justification.
On three occasions, the judge intervened forcefully
in seeking answers to questions.
To one, downplaying to his own influence, Thurlbeck
said: ‘Chief reporter, news editor - grand sounding titles, they don’t call the
shots at all.’
The judge also told him to a name the newsdesk person
who, he said, had instructed him to send the orgy women emails described as
‘close to blackmail’.
Jay asked if such pressure was normal journalistic
Thurlbeck: ‘It would happen all the time, the
broadsheets, TV stations...offering anonymity in return for the
Leveson: ‘Did you give any thoughts to Article 8
rights (privacy) of the women? Yes or no?’
Thurlbeck: ‘There was no discussion of
In his appearance, Tom Crone was asked about News
International’s ‘one rogue reporter’ defence. He said: ‘My feeling was this
would probably come back to bite the company.’
Leveson: ‘You were certainly right
By my reckoning, we’ve had half a million words at
least up to now. There are many more to come. At the same time, there are
parallel hearings before other courts and committees, as well as additional
revelations, official and unofficial. There is even doubt about whether the NotW was involved in Milly Dowler’s
phone hacking, which is what triggered off the inquiry. But it is now way beyond
mere hacking in that it is dealing with press standards as a
From my own observations, I’d say that Lord Leveson
is deeply committed to press freedom. But he is identifying ethical and cultural
failings which have become institutionalised in that journalists think they are
‘normal’. His task is to decide how these can be rectified without damaging free
expression and commercial viability.
If you have not started following it in detail, I
suggest you don’t. If you do, you’ll end up in The Priory. I’ve just booked my
John Dale is covering media matters on his website johndalejournalist.co.uk
By John Dale
Delighted as we all are for his
thoughtful contributions to the national discourse, there are moments when I
long for someone to put a sock in the smug, droning, self-affirming motor-mouth
of Kelvin MacKenzie. It’s been a long wait and I’d almost given up hope but then
at last a candidate hove into view.
Yes, it was Lord Leveson.
It is yet another strand of the
multifarious services the judge is performing for the good of the nation. A lot
of his impact is entirely incidental to his central mission but, for me, he is
becoming a bit of a superhero.
At its very least Lord Leveson’s
Inquiry into press standards is offering five star entertainment and, although
that is not its primary purpose, there is a medieval pleasure to see him poking
the most ferocious bears of old Fleet Street with a sharp stick.
As the best-known old bear, Kelvin has
been rather slow in grasping the underlying theme but, in between his
bar-rattling rages, he may be getting the point at last.
He is in a cage and he is wounded and
at bay, just as the tabloid press is wounded and at bay. His ritualistic fury
only confirms his impotence, that he is an exhibit whose life force is publicly
bleeding away in parallel with that of the journalism of which he was
He was put on display on the BBC’s Politics Show last week. He thought he
was there for his insights. The rest of us know it was just cruel
Roll up, roll up, see us bait the Great
His temporary keeper was Andrew Neil,
the presenter, and his tormentor, in Lord Leveson’s absence, was Chris Bryant,
Neil fed his hubris by referring to him
as the ‘red top legend’, with an irony in his voice which went straight over its
Then Kelvin was invited to comment on
various topics and did so with his customary compassion.
Referring to illegal immigrants, he
recommended that the government should announce ‘we are going to send armed
guards over to Lille and actually we are going to shoot
It was his bid for a Clarkson
Bryant, an old target of the red-tops,
had prepared well and now mentioned the presentation that Kelvin had made to
Lord Leveson some weeks earlier. Not only had he insulted the judge (and quickly
apologised in the Daily Mail) but he
had made some unwise boasts about his editing – well, his lack of it – during
his reign at the Sun.
Bryant said to him: ‘I think you’ve
owned up now, haven’t you, that you hardly ever checked whether any stories were
true because frankly that was irrelevant...’
Kelvin was unusually
Bryant continued: ‘And also you spent a
great deal of time pooh-poohing the whole idea of any hacking at the News of the World, and I remember going
on many programmes with you when you said quite categorically that it didn’t
happen, you could not believe that it had possibly happened, that nobody senior
would know about it, and anyway even if it did, it didn’t really matter. You
said it was a socialist conspiracy...’
The Bear continued to
In full flow Bryant continued: ‘...And
then you found out that your phone was hacked and suddenly you were upset and
thought it awful. Why should anyone listen to a word you
Bryant continued to poke him with a
sharp stick, knowing it wouldn’t take much longer to elicit a
Bryant: ‘All I want journalism to do is
return to its old fashioned thing of bringing the truth to light but doing it
within the law and not doing it on the basis of
At that moment the Bear became
Bryant: ‘...Not running headlines about
Hillsborough... just lies.’
Now Kelvin started jabbing fingers at
him like the sublimated fists of a boxer, yelling: ‘This has got nothing to do
Bryant: ‘It’s about
If you look at the TV recording, you
can see that Bryant is smiling, almost chuckling, enjoying the baiting. In
contrast Kelvin looks like a man on the edge. He’s losing it. Was it approaching
a Lebedev moment? Not quite.
Kelvin merely saw
He said: ‘That story came from a
Liverpool news agency and Liverpool
Whoops! (It didn’t – and two hours
later he withdrew his allegation and apologised.)
The arguing continued, Bryant won, and
eventually Andrew Neil restored order in the manner of kindly gent coming to the
aid of the wounded old bear. But if Kelvin expected respite, he was
disappointed. Neil had his own Leveson-style agenda. It was his turn to pick up
the sharp stick and do some poking.
He said to Kelvin: ‘I’ve got a broader
question. Do you have any regrets or remorse about some of the things you did as
a tabloid editor?’
It was a long pause. You could see his
mind whirring behind eyes that had blanked. Whatever he replied, he would not
just be addressing Neil and Bryant. There was a ghostly spectre hovering in the
studio – Leveson himself. Anything he said could be used against him when he was
called to testify at the Inquiry.
So which way should he go? Point blank
denial… or candid confession to regrets or remorse?
‘Errrrm... probably. Yes. I
I mean, it was like watching Homer
Simpson. He’d done it again, just like at the seminar. Foot in mouth. Hostage to
fortune. Dig dig dig. He should have smacked his forehead to make the
You could picture Leveson sitting on
the other side of the TV screen, framing a future question now on the lines of:
‘Mr MacKenzie, do you recall your appearance on the Daily Politics
MacKenzie: (feeble squeak):
Leveson: ‘You admitted to “regrets or
remorse”’, did you not? Could you explain what you regretted and what caused you
Back in the studio, Kelvin tried to
mitigate the damage, saying that he wished he had covered Hillsborough
differently. But Leveson is unlikely to confine the questions to that subject
alone. Kelvin is a very significant figure in the decline of the British red top
from popular and proud to less popular and shameless. His influence, his
self-admitted lowering of standards, remains at the root of its crisis.
Is he losing his
First he has had to apologise to the
judge himself. Then he has had to apologise to Liverpool journalists. And still he keeps saying things
that will make him even more vulnerable for Leveson’s Day of
He thinks he can wing it with a
virtuoso performance in the witness box, cracking some third rate jokes from the
Sun book of 1980s headlines. But
Leveson, although a humorous man privately, does not do humour during evidence.
Neither does his lead counsel, Robert Jay, QC, who has yet to smile, never mind
chuckle, and has a seriousness of visage that makes Mr Spock look like Les
Dawson on laughing gas.
If Kelvin takes that approach he will
die faster than if he were tarred and feathered at the gates of Anfield stadium.
Some say this is a man on the Hubris
Express who won’t disembark until it reaches Station
But I do wonder. Surely he must notice
that he has turned himself into an easy target, inviting Homer Simpson moments
every time he puts his head above the parapet.
I am glad he enjoys freedom of speech.
I will defend his right to do so. But if he retained any of the commonsense he
likes to boast about he would enter a state of self-imposed purdah.
Kelvin, just go home, draw the
curtains, sit in a darkened room, retire from the national discourse and give
everyone’s ears a rest. Wait for the call from Leveson. You can have your say
Can you do it? Maybe, maybe not.
But if you do, a grateful nation will
surely thank Lord Leveson.