Category Archives: Journalism

This $15 million woman can teach you to punctuate English sentences correctly

Susan Feehan has written a book about punctuation.

Called Make Punctuation Your Bitch: Punctuation Wrangling Without The Fuss.

The paperback is already on Amazon and the e-book comes out on Friday.

I talked to her. This is what happened.

Any punctuation mistakes are mine, not her’s… erm… hers.


JOHN: So you won’t be a fan of Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in Ulysses… Does punctuation matter? I don’t think spelling was uniform until Dr Johnson published his dictionary, was it? Before that, all that mattered was that other people understood what you meant. Same with punctuation, isn’t it?

“Not a book for GrammerNazis. They would take offence”

SUSAN: It’s not a book for GrammarNazis. They would take offence at the levity. I’ve done a couple of opening sections about Tribe 1 and Tribe 2. Tribe 1 are the GrammarNazis and Tribe 2 are the rest of us.

JOHN: So who is going to buy the book? The GrammarNazis are not going to buy it because they think they know everything and the illiterates won’t buy it because they can’t read.

SUSAN: It’s for people who just need a quick answer. I wrote it because, as a tutor, doing training courses, I have always wanted to look for examples.

JOHN: Examples of… ?

SUSAN: Say, for instance, brackets. You don’t want to wade through a whole load which has everything you DON’T want to know about brackets but one thing you do. So I have split everything into sections. It is quick and easy.

If it takes two minutes to look something up, you will do it.

If it takes ten minutes, you will blag your way through.

JOHN: You are a tutor. Whom do you tute?

SUSAN: I did have a stint at university mentoring students in newspaper production and, well, there’s publishers’ staff. People who just need a bit of a refresher. When they’re editing. Grammar, punctuation, whatever.

JOHN: Surely sub-editors should not need tutoring? If they don’t know it, they shouldn’t be employed.

SUSAN: Well, the thing is, sub-editing is now an entry job. When I was first training on newspapers, you started as an editorial assistant or a junior reporter – you started as a junior writer in any form, served your time – your apprenticeship, so to speak, of about three years – and then they considered you expert enough to be paid full wage. After that, you could segue into subbing.

But, once it all became digital, the software became the prerequisite – It became Must be Quark friendly or, now, it’s Must be InDesign friendly. The software became the reason you were getting employed and the language skills became secondary.

Often, now, people are taking or are given a job as a sub-editor so they can do a hop-over into the writing side. It doesn’t make any sense to me – or anyone else I know. You’ve got juniors put in the position of changing the work of writers who are presumably more experienced. And they now do need to know more than they once would have done. In the past, the sub-editors would have been much more experienced.

JOHN: So we have all these illiterate sub-editors?

SUSAN: I wouldn’t call them illiterate.

JOHN: Different publications have different house styles, so punctuation rules don’t really mean anything, do they? For example… Single quotation marks or double quotation marks?

SUSAN: Well, some of that is house style but often, in the UK, we would generally use single quotes first, then doubles within singles. The Americans would do singles within doubles.

JOHN: Oh… I always do the American way, alas.

SUSAN: And how do you introduce a quote? With a colon or a comma? A colon is very journalistic.

JOHN: I do whatever looks better in a particular sentence.

SUSAN: Ah…

JOHN: You started off as a…?

SUSAN: A lowly junior reporter on a magazine called Display International and another one called Do It Yourself Retailing.

JOHN: You did that because you wanted to be a great writer?

SUSAN: Well, I found out very quickly that I wanted to be a sub-editor. On a newspaper or magazine, if you find a subject you are prepared to write about for the next 30 years – medical, cinema, crime, whatever – then you are fixed. If you can’t find that subject, then you are better off being a sub-editor, because there your joy is in the process and the language not the subject. You can do your job on any subject and still love the process of writing.

JOHN: You wanted to be a sub for the rest of your life?

SUSAN: I certainly did for a hefty while. Then I thought: Aaah! Perhaps I should write something myself. And that’s when I started doing the screenplay thing. There was The Kiss, a romantic comedy.

JOHN: Was that filmed?

SUSAN: We raised the money for it about four years ago – all $15 million of it – but the trouble was it all came from one investor and the trouble comes when one investor thinks he’s been hanging around too long and he takes the money elsewhere.

JOHN: You have written five screenplays.

SUSAN: I have, but I am turning them into novels. One I am going to do as a play.

JOHN: Three are already award-winning and they have not even been made.

SUSAN: You can win lots of screenplay awards without them getting made.

JOHN: Make Punctuation Your Bitch is not your first book.

“Canadians in particular loved it…”

SUSAN: No. There was How To Write Well When You Don’t Know Where To Start. That was three years ago. For some reason the Canadians in particular loved it. It was in the Top Ten in the entire Kindle Store in Canada, not just in its niche.

JOHN: Is it on Amazon?

SUSAN: It was, but I’ve taken it down because I’m going to update it.

JOHN: Are there punctuation differences between the British and Americans?

SUSAN: Yes. And there are Canadian and Australian differences as well. Sometimes they side with the Americans and sometimes they follow us. I have some in the book. The Americans put time at 3:30 with a colon and we do 3.30 with a dot; but now we are starting to take on the colon.

JOHN: In lists, I was always taught that, if you have A, B, C and D, you should never have a comma between the last two – A, B, C, and D – because the commas are standing-in for the word ‘and’. So, by adding a comma, you are actually saying “A and B and C and and D”

SUSAN: That’s not quite true, because it’s ‘The Oxford Comma’… Called that because it was created by Oxford University Press.

The example given in my book is: “Tom dedicated the book to his parents, the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela”. That actually means – without the second comma – that his parents are the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela.

But, if you put a comma after the Dalai Lama – “Tom dedicated the book to his parents, the Dalai Lama, and Nelson Mandela” – you have differentiated between them.

JOHN: But one comma isn’t worth losing sleep over, is it?

SUSAN: I have a story at the front of my book about the Five Million Dollar Oxford Comma.

There was a dairy in Maine where they had a contract that did not have an Oxford Comma in it. Their drivers sued them about what the contract actually meant and the drivers won $5 million in back-overtime.

There was another case between two telephone companies where there was a comma in dispute and, again it cost one company $2 million.

JOHN: So correct punctuation is here to stay.

SUSAN: I think, in 30 years time, apostrophes won’t exist.

JOHN: Oooh!

SUSAN: But I think the smart money is on semi-colons dying out first.

JOHN: You will have to constantly update your books. Your next one is…?

SUSAN: There might be a Make Structure Your Bitch book.

JOHN: What is structure?

SUSAN: Structure in writing. So the inverted pyramid thing will come in there. And structuring sentences and paragraphs and how to keep the reader hooked.

JOHN: What is the worst crime in punctuation?

SUSAN: Ultimately, it is inconsistency.

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Bloggers are really just desperate self-publicists… including me in this blog

You know you have lived too long when students think you know what you are talking about.

Yesterday, I was approached by a student who was writing an essay on “blogging as a means of journalism”. I told him I did not think of myself as a journalist. He did not agree. This is an edited version of the exchange.


– Do you consider yourself a journalist or any bloggers for that matter? If not, what do you think makes a journalist?

The fact you can ask the question implies the words ‘journalist’ and ‘blogger’ have different meanings. I don’t consider myself a journalist. Bloggers are certainly not news journalists – if they ‘break’ stories and report instantly on current news stories, it is not really a blog; it’s a news site. You could argue they are neo-magazine journalists providing comment and background.

Most bloggers are amateur dabblers and/or wannabe writers who want a voice in a world where they have none.

I started my blog to publicise a movie. Then to publicise stuff I was staging at the Edinburgh Fringe. It continued as self-publicity. If I were up my own arse, I might also say it preserves details of people in sub-cultures that might not otherwise be preserved. But it’s basically lightly-disguised self-publicity.

A good journalist is concerned with objective facts (whether reporting on them or commenting on them). A good blogger is usually more personal and ego-centric in style.

Some bloggers, of course, are frustrated wannabe journalists so the dividing line is muddy.

Personally, whether it’s a correct dictionary definition or not, I make a distinction between a newspaper report and reportage. I think a journalist/reporter’s piece has immediacy – you have to read it today or tomorrow for it to have any impact. Reportage (like George Orwell’s factual books and essays) can be read just as effectively years later. I would say Orwell’s Homage To Catalonia or Down The Mine are pieces of reportage by a writer, not journalism. Today, they could be written in the form of blogs.

– Do you feel any external constraints as a blogger? Do you ever feel under pressure to say specific things (or not say specific things) to protect people or yourself?

I do not generally write anything which, in my opinion, could legally, physically, professionally or personally damage people. I do not feel any pressure to say specific things and I do not give the subjects of my blogs copy approval in advance. My blogs are mostly interview-based and I record everything so I cannot mis-quote.

If – rarely – I want to disguise a person or a fact (eg if an unprosecuted or unknown crime or something ‘immoral’ or ‘embarrassing’ is involved) I will sometimes – very very VERY rarely – alter the name, geographical location or, if possible, the sex of the person involved. It means I can still tell the truth about the event itself but the person cannot be identified.

I have only done this less than a handful of times over eight years.

Altering the person’s sex totally throws people off any recognition.

– Has your blog ever been censored?

Only by me for reasons above.

I used to re-post a few of my blogs in the Huffington Post. I did once write a blog about rude words and discussed the use of the word “nigger” which is interesting because it is mostly completely unacceptable but IS acceptable from some people (eg Eddie Murphy, Quentin Tarantino) – and, in The Dam Busters movie, a dog vital to the plot is called Nigger, which was inoffensive at the time but is now worrisome to TV stations.

The Huffington Post would not publish the piece, although the word was solely being discussed as an abstract word.

– Do you ever have any issues in terms of libel or slander when writing your blog? Does it worry you sometimes that someone will ever take legal action against your opinions?

No. I worked for BBC Ceefax (part of BBC TV News) and briefly in the newsrooms at Anglia TV, Granada TV and ITN. So I am careful.

If anyone threatened me with a libel action, I would go to court, defend myself (because, in England, lawyers have no incentive to win minor cases – they get paid anyway – and the legal system has nothing to do with justice) and publicise the shit out of it to get more awareness of my blog.

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Ariane Sherine tells backstage tales of comedy amid rampant multi-tasking

ArianeSherine_AdventuresStandUpComicYesterday, ‘new’ musical comic Ariane Sherine sent out to her subscribers the first edition of her weekly e-mail Adventures of a Stand-Up Comic. The comedy industry website Chortle will be running monthly highlights from it.

“So,” I asked Ariane, “Adventures of a Stand-Up Comic will end up as a book?”

“I hope so,” she told me. “It’s so much fun to do a gig and write it up, even if it’s been a bad gig. It’s quite cathartic.”

“Except,” I said, “you will be hated by all the other stand-up comics, because you will grass them up.”

“No,” she laughed. “I’m not going to mention people’s names or dates or places or gig names. Anybody who was at the gig will know what happened, but it’s no different from posting on Facebook saying: Did a gig here and blah-di-blah. I will anonymise it.”

It is a rare thing for someone who has been working as a musical stand-up comic for only three weeks to get a regular piece on the Chortle website. It is also very unusual to get booked for a paid gig after being seen in the first week; and another paid gig after being seen in the second week. But Ariane does have a bit of previous.

She was a stand-up act 13 years ago for around six months. Back then she got into the Laughing Horse New Act Final but quit stand-up before the event to focus on comedy writing for TV shows, including BBC1’s My Family, BBC2’s Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps and Channel 4’s Countdown.

Beautiful Filth by The Lovely Electric - do not try this at home

Beautiful Filth – Ariane’s 2014 album as ‘The Lovely Electric’

She has also written regularly for The Guardian, as well as The Sunday Times, the Independent, the Independent on Sunday, NME and Esquire, appeared on BBC1’s Breakfast, BBC London News, ITV1’s The Alan Titchmarsh Show, Radio 2’s The Jeremy Vine Show, Radio 4’s iPM and Sunday, released a 2014 album of songs called Beautiful Filth and duetted with Tim Minchin at London’s Palace Theatre.

It is also very rare for a ‘new’ comic to have recent quotes like “Quite brilliant” (critic Kate Copstick)… “If she’s not a huge success, it’ll be an absolute travesty” (Charlie Brooker)… She could be a female Tom Lehrer.

Which is why she was on the increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club Podcast last week.

Afterwards, I asked Ariane something I had forgotten to ask her on the podcast (a vivid reflection of my limitations):

“Why go back on the comedy circuit after 13 years?”

“Because it’s the truest form of comedy,” she told me. “People can’t fake laughter – not belly laughter. And you get instant feedback on your work. Whereas, if you write for telly, you might only get feedback on your work from the producer and the script editor.

“What you’re saying on stage is: I find this funny. I think this is funny. And then the audience has the most visceral emotional reaction to what you’ve said. They say: Yes, I agree. This is funny. I am laughing. And that’s wonderful. It just makes you feel so… loved.”

“So,” I said, “performing comedy gives validation to insecure people.”

“Yes,” said Ariane. “I would agree with that.”

“Punters,” I said, “think all comedians must be extroverts to get up there on stage, but almost all the comedians I know want to hide in a cave. There’s that dichotomy between wanting to hide away and getting up on stage and exposing yourself to potential rejection. Actors can hide behind a character, but comedians are more exposed.”

“Yes,” said Ariane. “Unless they’re character comedians.”

Richard Dawkins publicising the Atheist Bus Campaign which Ariane created in 2009

Richard Dawkins helped publicise the Atheist Bus Campaign which Ariane successfully created in 2009

“In 2009,” I prompted, “ you compiled The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas – with contributions from 42 atheist celebrities, comedians, scientists and writers. And now you see The Adventures of a Stand-Up Comic as a book. You are also simultaneously writing two other books at the moment?”

“Yes.”

“What are they about?”

“One is a funny look at trying to lose a load of weight. Another is a book about mental illness – which is a novel.”

“Any particular mental illness?” I asked.

“Pure O.”

“Isn’t that,” I asked, “an Agatha Christie detective?”

“No,” laughed Ariane. “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It’s about the intrusive thoughts that people get which they can’t shake. Pure O is meant to denote only the Obsession part of OCD. So people with Pure O don’t carry out compulsions to the same extent. They don’t take action. They just get very, very upset by the thoughts in their head.”

“Why are you writing a novel about that?” I asked. “Is it autobiographical?”

“Not entirely autobiographical, no. But I’m very familiar with the thought processes.”

“Because?”

“Because I have OCD.”

“I just assume,” I said, “that OCD is arranging all your books and albums in alphabetical order.”

“No, I think that’s an unhelpful portrayal by the media.”

“So what is it?”

“It’s when you have a thought that really scares you and you place too much importance on that thought. So you might think: I’m going to walk down this bridge and throw myself off it. And instead of doing the normal thing and walking down the bridge anyway, you avoid bridges. Or you will only walk down the bridge while holding somebody’s hand. That kind of thing.

“You take action because of this awful thought in your head and, when people are perfectionists and do arrange everything in order, it’s because they think something terrible will happen if they don’t do that. When people clean or wash their hands repeatedly, it’s because they think they’re going to get a terrible disease or contract a terrible virus and die.”

“So why do this as a novel and not something more autobiographical?”

“Because I think it will reach a lot more people as a novel.”

In her first week back on the comedy circuit, Ariane sang about Jeremy Corbyn and Adolf Hitler.

To sign up for Ariane’s weekly email Adventures of a Stand-Up Comic, send a message to ariane.sherine@gmail.com with ‘subscribe’ in the subject line.

 

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How a spoken conversation exactly quoted can mislead the reader of a blog

Another thing unseen in a transcription is what Copstick was wearing

Also unseen in both transcription and podcast is what Copstick actually wore on the day

This blog is a verbatim transcription of a section of the weekly Grouchy Club Podcast.

In this week’s 44-minute podcast, writer Kate Copstick and I mostly talked about techniques for interviewing people. But, at one point, the subject of the print transcription of oral interviews came up.

Below is what we said… printed as a transcription. But you might also want to simultaneously listen to what the exact words sounded like when they were originally spoken.

There is link to a recording on SoundCloud HERE. the link is is also posted at the end of this blog.


COPSTICK
Is is interesting – especially when you quote verbatim. When, for example, you put down a transcription…

JOHN
You mean me or when ‘one’ does it?

COPSTICK
No, no, no. I mean you, John – you. Like when (you quote) a chunk of the Grouchy Club or whatever… Even… Not that I’m one for taking back anything that I say particularly, no matter how stupid it might be… But there is a big difference in feel to a live conversation and then suddenly seeing it written down and you go: Actually, that sounds a bit bad. Only when you see it written down. Because the other thing is that you can’t hear someone’s tone of voice when you just transcribe.

You can say: “Yeah. well I think they should all be hanged.” and (when you hear it) you can think: Oh! That’s a little bit sarcastic or ironic. But if you just (write down) COPSTICK: I THINK THEY SHOULD ALL BE HANGED, then the pitchfork brigade come out.

I think sometimes pure transcriptions can be dangerous, because you take away the aural context.

JOHN
Yeah. You are right. It is slightly different and I try to get round that. Obviously, there is one thing we are not going to talk about, where…

COPSTICK
No no no, let’s not.

JOHN
Let’s not talk about that one. But, on any other occasion, do you think it badly misrepresented you?

COPSTICK
Oh, I mean I’m not… I suppose I am talking about me, but it’s just… Of course I’m talking about me – I’m always talking about me. What else would I want to talk about? But…

JOHN
It’s interesting, though…

COPSTICK
It’s sometimes when I read – I remember the conversation and then you read it and you go: “Errr. That sounds a little bit bald.” And, of course it is. But, when you’re talking live, you can kind of get away with more because, in an ideal world, people see your face and, when your eyebrows bounce or whatever or you’re smiling, you go: Mmmm, she’s having a bit of a laugh here.

Even if it is sound only, the inflection is there. But when you write it down, all of that is taken away and you just get I THINK THEY SHOULD ALL BE HANGED.

Then the people that know you better go: Oh! She was having a laugh and people who don’t know you or know you and dislike you go: Well, of course she wasn’t! She thinks they should all be hanged. Appalling!


The 3-minute section of this week’s blog quoted above can be listened-to here:

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How ex-garbage handler Bruce Dessau owes his career as a comedy critic to the ‘uninteresting’ comedian Stewart Lee

Bruce Dessau as he likes to be seen on his Facebook page

Bruce Dessau as he likes to be seen on his Facebook page

In yesterday’s blog, highly-regarded London Evening Standard comedy critic Bruce Dessau defended his profession. But how did he become a comedy critic?

“Did you ever perform?” I asked him.

“No. Absolutely never performed. Not really had any interest in it,” he said.

“You came up through local newspapers?” I asked. ”Reports on garden shows?”

“Never really had any interest in journalism either,” he told me. “Never wrote anything for the college magazine. After I left London University, I wanted to stay in London because I was a music fan. I was staying at a house in Camberwell with a typewriter and thought I’ll write a review of that gig I saw last night. I sent it to the NME. They said: We really liked it. Why don’t you tell us what gigs you’d like to review and we might commission you and we’ll pay you. So I became a music journalist, but never trained.”

“So you went straight from university to journalism?”

“Via being a dustman in Belsize Park,” explained Bruce. “I was Peter Cook’s dustman. The funny thing is when I left my house in Camberwell at 6.30am I often saw a near-neighbour Peter Richardson (of The Comic Strip) coming home from a late night out, so it was a bit of a comedy route as well as my comedy roots. But that’s the only other job I’ve ever had. Being a dustman.

“I was at Time Out for about 8 or 9 years – started on music, then more on the TV section and then edited things from there. But, when I was doing TV, they used to call me ‘Mr Comedy’ – I would always do Vic & Bob or The Fast Show or Harry Enfield.

“The 1990s were my Time Out years. I handed in my notice the day the New Year Millennium edition went to press. I planned to go freelance – there were actually jobs in journalism in those days – only 14 years ago! – but, out of the blue, I got offered a job editing the TV section of the Saturday Express magazine. That was when the paper was edited by Rosie Boycott, so it was a different paper then, with different aspirations. About a year later, it was taken over by Richard Desmond and he wanted to strip everything back – no pun intended – so I left to go freelance again and… basically I owe everything to Stewart Lee.

Stewart Lee’s North American friend Baconface at the 2013 Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards (Photography by Keir O’Donnell)

Comic Stewart Lee’s Canadian friend Baconface performs at the 2013 Malcolm Hardee Awards (Photograph by Keir O’Donnell)

“I got sent a copy of one of Stewart Lee’s books when he was in the doldrums and he wasn’t doing very well and no-one was interested – I think it was the one called The Perfect Fool. I was getting quite pressured from his agency (Avalon) to do an interview with him but I didn’t really think anyone would be interested in Stewart Lee. As a courtesy, I thought Oh, I might as well pitch this to someone, so I emailed the Arts editor of the Evening Standard – I had never written for them before – and they said No, we’re not remotely interested in Stewart Lee, but we ARE looking for a new comedy critic. So I started at the Evening Standard in the summer of 2001, just before 9/11 and I never did do the Stewart Lee interview, but I owe it all to him.”

“The fickle finger of fate,” I said. “Now everyone wants a Stewart Lee interview. You can never tell who is going to succeed.”

“Sometimes you know when people are going to be stars,” said Bruce. “Maybe I should have stayed a music journalist. I would be much better spotting future music stars than future comedy stars. I saw U2 at the Half Moon and it was obvious Bono should be climbing on amplifiers at the O2 Arena and not at a pub in Herne Hill.

“But, with comedy, the acts I have really loved I’ve usually thought They’re never going to be big and often I was wrong.

“Like Micky Flanagan who I used to see doing stuff at The Hob when he was about 40. I thought Yeah, he’s very good. I like him very much. But this is kind of his level. Then somehow, when the Comedy Gods decided to make comedy for arenas, he got swept up and I think he now does more dates at the O2 than Beyoncé.

“The main case of me being wrong was Vic & Bob. When they had their residency in Deptford and they did pubs, I used to go and see them every Thursday night long before they did TV. I thought: This is brilliant. They can attract 100 people every Thursday night in South London but, if they try North London, they’ll get 3 people. I could never have predicted Vic & Bob would get as big as they did. But, once they make it, it kind of makes sense.

“The interesting thing I’ve seen in comedy in the last few years is a whole new generation becoming the establishment. And the whole conveyor belt nature of comedians where they fall off the other end and fall out of favour – or not even fall out of favour, but people like Vic & Bob and Harry Enfield or Ben Elton.

“I used to watch the TV series Skins and suddenly all the comics I thought were young, hip comedians were suddenly all playing the parents. Harry Enfield, Morwenna Banks, Bill Bailey and even at one point Chris Addison cropped up as a dad.

“It all moves on. Jack Dee is a bit Tony Hancock and a bit Les Dawson. And you now can’t imagine Alexei Sayle as an angry 21-year-old.”

Bruce’s book on the dark side of comedy

Bruce’s book on comedy’s dark side

“Your latest book is Beyond a Joke,” I said, “about the dark side of comedians.”

“It was about the history of comedy,” said Bruce, “and the history of all these troubled comedians from Grimaldi to Tony Hancock and so on and I kind of thought it was a thing of the past – comedians being slightly dysfunctional.

“I wrote the book around the time Russell Brand was breaking through and he’s in the book, but it’s quite obvious there are plenty of other stories – Malcolm Hardee’s in the book, obviously.

“My dilemma to resolve was Are strange people attracted to stand-up comedy or does stand-up comedy make people strange? I think I concluded it’s a bit of both. Strange people are attracted to it but, if you’re normal and you’re attracted to it, you’ll end up strange. It doesn’t make strange people normal, but it does make normal people strange.

“It’s like Jimmy Carr says – You’re the only person in a room with 2,000 people facing the wrong way. You’re on your own. That’s why it’s weirder than being in a band. It’s a solo thing. And it’s weirder than being an actor because you’re supposedly saying your own words, particularly this autobiographical, authentic comedy. Various comedians say It’s like therapy but, rather than us pay a therapist, we do our gigs and we get paid for the therapy. But I don’t know if it’s effective as therapy, because they still seem a pretty screwed-up bunch.”

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Journalist Garry Bushell talks about being accused of hating gay men

Yesterday’s now paraphrased blog

Yesterday’s original blog

Yesterday’s blog started as an I think interesting piece in which theatre producer David Johnson remembered Piers Morgan at the 1993 British Comedy Awards reacting to Julian Clary’s joke about “fisting” the then Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont.

David posted the original fascinating piece (now removed) on his own Facebook page last Monday. I asked his permission to quote it, which is why I did not post my own blog about it until yesterday.

After I had posted yesterday’s blog, very unusually, I added something to it – a further comment which David Johnson sent me. It said (I paraphrase) that it was the Sun’s thuggish columnist Garry Bushell who actually wrote the anti-Clary piece the day after the “fisting” joke incident and who then ran homophobic articles campaigning against Julian Clary, Graham Norton etc.

David said in this added section that he was pleased it was ultimately Garry Bushell not Julian Clary who became unemployable, that Bushell had hardly worked since 2007 and is an active UKIP member.

David has since asked me to remove yesterday’s blog. I have now re-posted the blog with David’s directly quoted words replaced by paraphrased words.

David wanted the blog removed in general, as I understand it, because I told him I was going to ask Garry Bushell questions as a follow-up and (in my view) to allow GB a full come-back. David was also angry because I would not immediately post in public a private message Garry Bushell sent me. Garry Bushell has now given me permission to print the message, though I have cut out one well-known entertainer’s name. The message read:

“I made my peace with Julian many years ago, John, even appearing on his TV show. I’m not sure how your claim of homophobia sits with my consistent support for talented gay artists, from Frankie Howerd and (another well-known entertainer) on. I am not an active member of UKIP and my column is still published nationally. Best wishes Garry”

David thinks I was unreasonable in not printing that immediately in a public forum without first asking Garry Bushell’s permission and, because of that, he has deleted his original Facebook post which was about Piers Morgan. He is also offended that I have allowed Garry Bushell to respond to various claims.

So here, alas without any counterbalancing arguments or facts from David, is what Garry Bushell answered in reply to some questions I asked him:

Q: Aren’t you ashamed of having destroyed Julian Clary’s career for two years? You wrote a piece trying to get Julian banned from live TV. He must hate you.

Journalist Garry Bushell

Journalist Garry Bushell says what he thinks??

A: All I did after Julian’s fisting gag was write an opinion piece reflecting the views of my editor (Kelvin MacKenzie). You have to put the incident in context. This happened shortly after Stan Boardman had been banned not just from live TV but from ITV completely for his Focke-Wulf gag. Des O’Connor’s live show was cancelled because of that row. It seemed that there was one rule for mainstream comedians and another for fashionable ones.

I did later appear on Julian’s TV show All Rise For Julian Clary in the 1990s. I wanted to bury the hatchet. I don’t know what Julian thinks of me, but I don’t hate him. Back at the start I felt that he was a single-entendre act who had been promoted beyond his abilities. I like him and his act a lot more now – I backed him to win Celebrity Big Brother in my column. He was the most entertaining housemate by far.

Q: You hate gays.

A: I don’t hate anyone because of their sexuality and never have done. I first fell out with gay activists over a tasteless joke in my column back in the 1980s and, because I’ve always loved feuds, I took it too far. One of the first people who came to my defence was Patrick Newley who wrote Mrs Shufflewick’s biography – now there was an act!

I’ve worked with gay people pretty much everywhere I’ve had a job, and championed gay acts for decades starting with Frankie Howerd (I was a lone voice in the press campaigning for his return to TV). I adore (the well-known entertainer mentioned in Garry Bushell’s message quoted above). I like Craig Hill. I supported Alan Carr when he first appeared on the scene. I loved Lily Savage (Paul O’Grady’s drag act) – I knew Paul’s boyfriend Brendan Murphy from back when we’d both been members of the International Socialists a long time ago. And, at the risk of the old ‘some of my best friends…’ cliché, I’m still mates with Dale Winton and have been since the mid-1990s.

Q: In your youth, you joined the International Socialists/Socialist Workers Party and wrote for Socialist Worker. I have always thought Hitler was a good Socialist and, after all, he did form the National Socialist Party and did everything in the name of ‘The People’…. So you were always a bit of a totalitarian?

A: I did join the IS and did write for Socialist Worker. But I think the threat to freedom now comes more from the far-Left than the far-Right, although in practice in power there is very little difference between them. It used to be rightwing Tories calling for things to be banned, now it’s the middle class Left. I find it extraordinary that the comrades are so happy to march arm-in-arm with women (and gay) hating clerical fascists.

Q: Now you are an ‘active’ member of UKIP…

A: I’m not an active member of anything.

Q: On talkSPORT Radio, you said homosexuality was a “perversion”.

A: I don’t recall the actual phrasing, but it was a dumb thing to say and I apologise for it. It’s no defence, but I had just come off the phone to my mate who is in Right Said Fred and I’d been winding him up about Fred getting punched by some Russian troglodyte.

Q: You were employed by the Sun as a ‘thug’ journalist. That’s your image, isn’t it? That’s why you get paid.

A: Am I a thug? I don’t think so. I’ve always liked acerbic humour, from Jackie Mason and Joan Rivers to Lily Savage, via Bernard Manning, and I think that if you don’t realise that you might not ‘get’ my column. Male working class humour tends to be abrasive.  My big mistake in the early days of writing the column was to caricature myself; the newspaper ‘Bushell’ was a comic exaggeration of my own views. I stopped doing that a long time ago.

Q: One of my Facebook Friends posted: Someone needs to dig up Bushell’s review of the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert. The Sun gave him two pages to rant about how AIDS was a luvvies disease and how disgusting it was to see money raised for AIDS research when there was so little funding for proper diseases. It finished with his deathless advice on how to avoid contracting AIDS: “Don’t do drugs and don’t be gay.”

A: All I can remember about that is I used it to slip in a tasteless Jimmy Jones ode – Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, If you’d stuck with fanny You’d still be with us. I think it was over a spread, me versus Piers Morgan. I loved Queen and Freddie was one of the great rock front-men. I do think the early AIDS campaign was misleading but I genuinely regret writing this piece. If I could make amends for it, by doing a benefit gig or whatever I would happily do so, although no doubt some smartarse would then accuse me of chasing the pink pound.

Q: Do you hate women as much as perverts and pooftahs?

A: Love women, don’t know any perverts, although my old guitarist is a transvestite now – does that count?

Q: Did you ever encounter Jimmy Savile?

A: Yes. Horrible bastard, but cunning. You felt like you needed a wash after meeting him but were never quite sure why.

Q: How would you describe your novels?

A: Filthy.

Q: Do you want to create art with your writing?

A: No thanks. I want people to read it.

Q: In my blog yesterday, it was claimed you mounted “a relentless homophobic campaign against artists like Julian Clary and Graham Norton that lasted as long as Bushell was allowed air-time or column inches.” So it backfired on you, didn’t it? It destroyed your own Fleet Street career.

A: My column inches still pop up regularly and vigorously in the Daily Star Sunday, which last time I looked still outsells the Independent On Sunday.

Graham Norton’s late night Channel 4 show was filthy, so I couldn’t work out why BBC1 hired him – especially when they kept giving him flop early evening LE shows to host. He is however the smartest and funniest chat-show host in the country now – something I have been saying for years.

I don’t accept the charge of homophobia. And to suggest I relentlessly campaigned against Julian Clary and Graham Norton is untrue. I relentlessly campaigned against Ben Elton because I felt he was both an unfunny dick and a complete fake.

I’m a TV critic which means I criticise shows and stars who don’t float my boat. I moaned about Jo Brand for decades but as soon as she did something great, as she did with Getting On, I praised it to high heaven.

Tabloid readers like firm opinions. If I said everything was terrific no-one would read me.

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Filed under Gay, Journalism, Newspapers, Racism

Paedophile DJ Jimmy Savile – What I ‘knew’ but never reported years ago

(This piece was also published by the Huffington Post and by India’s We Speak News)

Today’s new front page ‘revelations’

The BBC is getting blamed for doing nothing about Jimmy Savile, although it seems, over the years, five police forces actually investigated stories about him in some way and did nothing.

I worked in British television from 1973 onwards, though only twice on BBC programmes; the rest of the time, I worked for ITV and independent companies. Still, I heard rumours about Jimmy Savile.

The rumours were mostly that he was gay. After all, he was a single, unmarried man who wore bright clothes and had a possibly unhealthily close relationship with his mother.

Now it seems he was not gay.

Oddly, I heard about his dodgy interest in young girls from people outside television and before I ever worked on TV programmes.

In 1970, a girlfriend mentioned to me that, when she had been growing up in Yorkshire and was aged around 14, she went to a live show – I think it was a disco type show – which Jimmy Savile presented. Afterwards, he got talking to her and arranged to meet her later that night.

She did not keep the appointment, because she felt uncomfortable about it and about him.

As anyone who knows me well will tell you, I have a terrible memory, so treat the next memory with sympathy.

At vaguely around the same time I vaguely remember being told another story about Jimmy Savile.

He knew a family with a young daughter. The parents were going away for the night and they asked him to look after their teenage, under-age, daughter. He did not ask then, they asked him and almost insisted. It was almost an honour for them. He had sex with her. They never knew.

So those are my two stories – three if you include the persistent rumours he was gay.

The two stories involving girls now sound as if they were true. The ‘gay’ rumours now sound like they might be untrue. I never particularly repeated the stories to anyone else because they were just that – stories, gossip, rumour. You hear a lot of gossip about a lot of people.

When I worked at London Weekend Television and at Granada TV, I peripherally encountered a major ‘family entertainment’ star (mostly associated with BBC programmes). I was told by people at both ITV stations that he was a well-know ‘groper’ of women. It was widely-known.

But it might not be true.

A friend told me about an Anglia TV executive who chased her lecherously round the board room table, grabbing at her. She was also grabbed-at by a prominent Labour Party politician on another occasion. I know those stories to be true because they were told to me first hand by one of the two people involved.

In that sense, they are stories but not rumours.

At the weekend, someone was telling me that a particular macho British actor and international movie star is gay. I took it to be true because the person who told me knows her gossip. But it is just gossip, just rumour.

Scallywag ‘knew’ it was true – but it was not…

Everybody with an ear to the gossip ‘knew’ a few years ago that Prime Minister John Major was having an affair with caterer Clare Latimer.

Except he was not.

The whole of Fleet Street ‘knew’. It was widely hinted at. Media folk ‘knew’ all about the affair. I ‘knew’. Scallywag magazine – which printed stories even Private Eye would not touch – published pieces about it.

In 1992, the band Soho even included a track called Claire’s Kitchen on their album Thug. The lyrics referred to the affair without naming John Major.

It was only in 1993, when the New Statesmen printed the story, that John Major and Clare Latimer sued both the New Statesman and Scallywag.

Much later, in 2002, it turned out he had not been having an affair with caterer Clare Latimer at all, but with fellow Tory MP Edwina Currie – and it only came out then because she mentioned it in her autobiography.

Yet the gossip about the Claire’s Kitchen affair had been as strong and ‘known to be as true’ as the current long-running gossip about two US actor Scientologists being gay.

But they might not be.

It is just a rumour.

And let us not even mention the stories about a recent Prime Minister being gay or another one having a foreign affair.

As it ‘appens, the rumours about Jimmy Savile were true but they were unprintable because they would not ‘stand up’ in a court or even in a newspaper article, let alone in any BBC investigation. There are all sorts of rumours about all sorts of people. If you are famous, it comes with the territory.

So it is a bit rich when national newspapers blame the BBC for not ‘outing’ Jimmy Savile as a paedophile in the decades when those same newspapers were running ‘Our Kindly Saint Jimmy’ stories but also knew the widespread rumours. Why did they not publish the stories if they ‘knew’ they were true?

The answer is because they did not know beyond gossip. Nor did the BBC.

Now we do.

Mostly.

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Filed under Journalism, Newspapers, Sex, Television