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News of the World. Forget the hacks. It’s The Bill you always have to pay.

I have worked as a researcher and sub-editor for BBC TV News (via their old Ceefax teletext service) and, briefly, in the newsrooms at Anglia TV, Granada TV and ITN. I have known a lot of journalists. But even I was shocked by the News of the World and other tabloids’ amorality.

I don’t mean the telephone hacking scandal which has now seen Rupert Murdoch close down Britain’s biggest-selling newspaper.

I mean the cheap Killer Bitch movie and Katie Price’s ex-husband Alex Reid being caught on camera with his trousers down.

Police corruption comes later in this blog.

In what must have been a moment of madness I financed Killer Bitch without reading the script (look, it was cheap) and I was away at the Edinburgh Fringe for weeks when shooting started.

While I was away, a sex scene was shot between Alex Reid and the lead actress, the director’s girlfriend/partner.

Alex Reid’s chum/manager asked the director if it was OK to have a photographer on set that day – not to take photos of the sex scene itself but just of Alex arriving, being on-set, being glamorous. The director said Yes.

And, of course, when the sex scene happened, click-click-click and off in a corner Alex’s photographer goes to e-mail out his photos.

What the director didn’t know was that the manager guy had, all week, been playing-off the News of the World against The People to get a higher price for the sex scene pictures. The People ran their photos on the cover and in an “exclusive” double-page spread that Sunday.

But the News of the World, unknown to anyone else, had secretly set up a hidden camera in the grotto where filming took place. They took their own photos and ran a single-page ’spoiler’ about “sickening footage” in the “vile and degrading hardcore porn film” in which Alex had been involved in a “disgusting rape”.

In fact, it wasn’t a rape scene at all. Never was. Never scripted as rape (I read that bit later); wasn’t shot as rape; wasn’t edited as rape. I saw the uncut footage when I came back from Edinburgh and it simply wasn’t rape.

But, bizarrely, journalists often believe what they read in tabloid newspapers, so this story about the vile rape scene in a hardcore porn movie (which is wasn’t) quickly spread across the world, sometimes using the same words the original News of the World had used.

The movie, which had only just started shooting and which was months away from being edited, was reviled as “violent porn” by The Times of India, a “vile and degrading movie” on Australia’s Perth Now website and “violent, aggressive… icky stuff” by TheHollyoodGossip.com. Back home, totally unseen, the Daily Mirror slammed it as “a sick movie” with “vile scenes…stomach churning”

Fair enough. Good publicity for a small film, though sadly much too early to profit from.

Two weeks later, The People ran a new cover story and two-page spread about how Alex Reid had “returned” to the Killer Bitch set “to shoot more torrid outdoor sex shots”. This had never happened. It was a complete fiction. But The People had detailed descriptions, actual photos from this supposed second sex scene (they were re-cycled from the original scene) and they even had a direct quote from the director saying, “I can confirm that Alex filmed these scenes within the last seven days”.

The director told me not only that The People had never talked to him about this alleged re-shoot but, at that point in time, he had never actually talked to anyone at the newspaper about the film ever.

Obviously, you expect to be mis-quoted and have your words twisted by newspapers. Now, it seems, it’s common to simply make up entirely fictional stories.

The New York Daily News correctly reported that “the film’s producers don’t seem bothered by the publicity.”

Fair enough. Publicity is publicity.

But just as the Stephen Lawrence affair, to my mind, was not about racism but about police corruption – an investigating policeman was paid-off by the father of one of the accused – the current News of the World scandal is not about phone hacking but about endemic police corruption.

Two days ago, I saw a Sky News double interview with, on the one hand, Brian Paddick, former Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, and on the other ex News of the World journalist Paul McMullan.

McMullan could be seen almost literally biting his tongue off after he said that, if you were investigating police corruption, the only way to find out the facts was to talk to other policemen. As they might lose their jobs by dishing the dirt on fellow officers, they could not be expected to do this for free or for a few pounds and it was not unreasonable to pay them £20,000 or £30,000.

This figure was picked up by the interviewer.

Brian Paddick, who was basically defending the Met, said this was terrible but “clearly everyone has their price”.

This is an interesting thing to say because it is an acceptance by a former senior Met officer that, if the price is high enough, any Metropolitan policeman can be bought.

Yesterday’s London Evening Standard led on a story that “Corrupt Met police received more than £100,000 in unlawful payments from senior journalists and executives at the News of the World.

It also claimed that two senior Scotland Yard detectives investigating the phone hacking scandal held back: “Assistant Commissioners Andy Hayman and John Yates were both scared the News of the World would expose them for allegedly cheating on their wives if they asked difficult questions of the Sunday tabloid.”

Today’s Guardian says: “Some police sources suggested there was no evidence yet that officers had actually received the payments and what would also be investigated was whether the journalists involved had kept the money themselves.”

Obviously some Met officer here, limbering up for a career as a stand-up comic.

Police in the UK taking bribes? Shock! horror! – And the Pope is a Catholic?

The system-wide corruption within the Metropolitan Police in the 1960s was supposedly partially cleaned-up.

Bollocks.

On 4th December 1997, former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Condon gave evidence to the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee and said there were around 100-250 corrupt officers in the Met. By “corrupt” he meant seriously corrupt – they dealt drugs, helped arrange armed robberies etc.

Condon is also the man who coined the phrase “noble cause corruption” – the idea that some police justifiably ‘bend the rules’ to get a conviction when officers ‘know’ the accused is guilty but do not have enough proof to convict. So it could be seen by some as “noble” to plant evidence, lie under oath and generally ‘fit up’ any ‘known villains’ when there is no actual evidence which would prove their guilt.

In Stoke Newington the police did, indeed, ‘fit up’ guilty drug dealers who would not otherwise have been imprisoned. But their motive was not to ‘clean up’ the area but to clear away the opposition as police officers were themselves dealing hard drugs. Whether this comes within Sir Paul Condon’s definition of “noble cause corruption” I am not sure.

In 1998, the Telegraph got hold of (and one wonders how) a confidential document containing the minutes of a meeting organised by the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS). It quoted this police document as saying: “corrupt officers exist throughout the UK police service… Corruption may have reached ‘Level 2’, the situation which occurs in some third world countries.”

I once asked someone who had managed a ‘massage parlour’ – in other words, a brothel – how he had avoided getting raided by the police. He looked at me as if I was mad:

“Cos we fucking paid the Old Bill and gave them free services,” he said.

In Britain today, it remains a fact of life – as it always has been throughout my life – that you always have to pay The Bill.

Last night’s TV news shows reported that today the police would arrest former News of the World editor Andy Coulson. Now where would they have got that story from? Only the police would know. And today he was arrested.

Was the tip-off paid-for or was it just a nudge-nudge case of You do me a favour; I’ll do you a favour?

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Cabinet minister Chris Huhne and the convent-raised comedian

I mentioned in a recent blog that comedian Charmian Hughes was one of the first small intake of six girls at Westminster Boys’ School. The person who suggested she go there was her childhood chum Chris Huhne now (well, at the time of writing he still is) a Government Cabinet Minister. He is currently having a spot of bother over claims by his furious estranged-wife that he got her to accept penalty points for speeding when, in fact, it was (reportedly) he who was driving the car.

“I was driven in a car by him,” Charmian tells me. “He used to have a London taxi in his gap year before university. He must have been 18 and drove it to Turkey. But, alas, he didn’t take me to Turkey… Alas.”

He did give Charmian her first snog though and, back when Charmian first knew him, his preferred mode of transport was pedal-powered. She was about 10 when the two of them used to ride their bikes through a South Kensington mews. “It was such a genteel area,” she tells me. “The neighbours shouted at us because they found it a bit threatening and noisy.”

“His family were always extremely kind to me,” she says. “His mother – an actress – was the first person ever to take me to the theatre. It was The Mermaid Theatre. I think Marcel Marceau was miming something or other. Chris’ family were nice to me when I was persecuted by my own family. His mother said I was very artistic and special whereas my own family said I was twisted and strange because I wrote poems.

“When he was in the Sixth Form, he started a school paper called The Free Press for London-wide free distribution and didn’t have enough paid adverts for the first one, so the first edition was in danger of looking very bare and amateur. His friends were all making up ads he could stick in. I was about 14 or 15 and I wanted to impress him like mad and I remember we were sitting in a tube train on the Circle line when I suggested: How about an advert for Madame Hughes, Maison de Plaisir with my mother’s phone number? That would be good!

“I didn’t really think he would do it, but he did. I forgot all about it until one day the phone rang. I picked it up and a husky male voice said: Is that Madame Hughes? My blood ran cold, my stomach sank. I was terrified my mother would hear me talking to the man on the phone and I whispered: It’s all a ghastly mistake. A joke. I’m a school girl. The man was very understanding and rang off. My mother was and is a terrifying person with a terrible raging temper.

“The next phone call was from a tabloid newspaper reporter investigating ‘the schoolgirl brothel’. My mother answered. I heard her Medusa-like voice shrieking and threatening and the reporter scampered away never to ring again. When I told her what we’d done, she summoned Chris round.

Are you going to sue me? he asked in his most sophisticated timbre. Sue you? my mother sneered, A silly stupid little arrogant schoolboy like you? You must be joking, but I’m going to speak to your parents…”

Charmian’s first snog was with Chris Huhne when she was around 15 and he was around 17.

“I was at a convent boarding school,” Charmian tells me, “so it was hard to cop off.

“Later it was Chris who suggested I went to Westminster Boys’ School, but,” she adds dolefully, “by the time I’d got there, he’d left. Once he was at Oxford I hardly saw him. He was a very glamorous and sexy figure. We all adored him. He was brainy and cool and sophisticated. I think he only snogged me to put me out of my misery.”

Then she adds mysteriously:

“I also gave Frank Skinner his first avocado.”

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John Lennon, Aristotle Onassis and the famous ballerina who was a gun runner

“There’s nowt as queer as folk,” is a saying which perhaps doesn’t translate too well into American. In British English, it means there’s nothing more strange nor more interesting than people.

So bear with me, dear reader, as I tell this meandering tale of less than six degrees of separation, a Wagnerian concentration camp, John Lennon and hand grenades in Cricklewood, north west London.

In my erstwhile youth, while I was a student, I lived in a Hampstead house of bedsits. One of the other inhabitants was the late Martin Lickert who, at the time, was John Lennon’s chauffeur. He lived in a bedsit because he was rarely home and only needed an occasional single bed to be unconscious in at night. Although, one night, I had to swap beds with him as I had a double bed and he had to entertain a girl called Juliet. He later went on to become a poacher-turned-gamekeeper. Long after I knew him, he trained as a barrister and specialised in prosecuting drug cases for HM Customs & Excise.

His relevance, as far as this blog is concerned, is that he accidentally appeared in the little-seen and staggeringly weird Frank Zappa movie 200 Motels.

In that film, shot at Pinewood Studios, the part of ‘Jeff ‘was originally going to be played by the Mothers of Invention’s bass player Jeff Simmons who quit before filming. He was replaced in the movie by Wilfred Brambell, star of BBC TV’s Steptoe and Son and The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night, who walked off set in a rage after a few days and Frank Zappa said: “The next person who comes through that door gets the part!”

The next person who came through the door was Martin Lickert, by then Ringo Starr’s chauffeur, who had gone to buy some tissues for his drumming employer who had a “permanent cold”.

The co-director with Frank Zappa of 200 Motels was Tony Palmer, famed director of documentaries on classical composers who, last night, was talking about his career in a Westminster library. I was there.

It was an absolutely riveting series of anecdotes which lasted 90 minutes but it seemed like 20 minutes, so fascinating were Tony Palmer’s stories.

He has, to say the least, had an odd career ranging from directing Richard Burton, Vanessa Redgrave and Frank Zappa in feature films to large-scale documentaries on heavyweight classical composers and from making documentaries on Liberace, Hugh Hefner and Peter Sellers to Swinging Britain TV rock shows like Colour Me Pop, How It Is and the extraordinary feature-length 1968 documentary All My Loving, suggested to him by John Lennon and so controversial at the time that it was shelved by David Attenborough (then Controller of BBC2) who said it would only be screened over his dead body – Attenborough denies using these words, but Palmer has the memo.

All My Loving was eventually screened on BBC TV after the channel had officially closed down for the night. I saw it when it was transmitted and, even now, it is an extraordinarily OTT piece of film-making.

Tony Palmer’s film-making career is much like the composing career of Igor Stravinsky (whom Palmer introduced to John Lennon when The Beatles were at their height). Stravinsky saw Tchaikovsky conduct in the 19th century and was still composing when he died in 1971, after The Beatles had broken up. So there are fewer than even six degrees of separation between Tchaikovsky and Martin Lickert.

Palmer – who is currently preparing a documentary project with Richard Dawkins – has had an extraordinarily wide range of encounters from which to draw autobiographical anecdotes.

He directed Michael Palin and Terry Jones in Twice a Fortnight, one of the important precursors of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and he directed the 17-hour, 12-part 1977 TV series All You Need Is Love tracing the development of popular music. Again, that project was suggested to him by John Lennon and he discovered that, though The Beatles had never tried to copyright the title All You Need Is Love, it had been registered by a Hong Kong manufacturer of sexy clothing and a brothel in Amsterdam.

Palmer also advised director Stanley Kubrick on music for his last movie Eyes Wide Shut and has apparently endless anecdotes on the great creative artists of the 20th century.

Who knew that the cellist Rostropovich used to get paid in cash, would put the cash inside the cello which he then went and played on stage and bought refrigerators in bulk in the UK so he could send them back to the USSR and sell them at a vast profit?

I, for one, had never heard that the German composer Richard Wagner, Hitler’s favourite composer and much admired by the Nazis, actually had a grandson who ran a concentration camp towards the end of World War II.

Nor that, in the 1950s, ballerina Margot Fonteyn got paid in cash which she then took to a Cricklewood arms dealer to buy guns and grenades which were channeled though France to Panama where her dodgy politician husband was planning a coup.

It’s amazing that, by now, someone has not made a documentary about Tony Palmer.

I suppose the problem is ironic: that the perfect person to have done this would have been Tony Palmer.

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Advice on how to get a book published…

Someone asked me yesterday how to get a book published by a reputable publisher in the UK.

My answer was to get a ghost writer – me – and pay me £156,000 + 98% of the royalties plus all the chocolate I can eat.

Sadly my offer was turned down, so my edited advice was this…

The conventional wisdom is that, to get a publishing deal, you need to have a literary agent but, to get a literary agent, you need to have a publishing deal.

In fact, you don’t.

It doesn’t matter if it’s fiction or non-fiction.

Fiction sells better than non-fiction, but it is even more difficult to get published. Almost bloody impossible, in fact.

Either way, the best thing to do is this…

You need to write a one or two page outline synopsis of what will be in the book – beginning to end – so the publisher knows what he/she is actually going to get.

And write perhaps a 20-page extract. This does not have to be the first 20 pages, but it might as well be. The reason for providing this extract is twofold. It shows the publisher that you can write. And it shows them the style your book will be written in – the same facts can be written a million different ways. An extract gives them a feel for the suggested book’s style.

Plus you need to include a biography of yourself – maybe half a page.

You are a good prospect if you are young (ie under 30), attractive and already have some track record in some creative area. And it helps massively if you can speak fluently. Being dead is not a good selling point if you are trying to get a publishing deal unless you are Jane Austen or George Orwell.

I know someone who was a ‘reader’ for Penguin Books. He was given a translation of a Japanese novel which Penguin had been offered. After reading it with growing excitement, his report to Penguin said that it was the most brilliant novel he had ever read and they would be mad not to publish it.

They told him: “We are not going to publish it.”

The author had, unwisely, just died and would be unable to do any publicity for the book.

Publishers want someone, preferably attractive and certainly alive, who can do publicity interviews for the book and who is ideally young enough to provide them with maybe 40 more years of books. They seldom want a one-off wonder unless you have an absolutely cracking story like being held as a sex slave for 14 years by Prince Philip in a secret cellar under Buckingham Palace or cutting off your own leg with a fish knife while being held hostage by Saddam Hussein in a Paris brothel.

When you have your idea, outline, biography and extract together, you should then go to a bookshop and see which publishers are selling the type of book you want to write and approach them one by one, having looked in a copy of the annual Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook which gives contact names, addresses and publishing requirements.

One thing you do not do is this…

You do NOT write the book first and then approach a publisher.

You want to screw an Advance out of them.

That way, even if the thing sells no copies, you have earned something for your talent, time and heartache.

If you approach a publisher with a completed book you cannot, by definition, get any Advance from them to tide you over while you write the book. You would have worked for perhaps two years for no money and you may have written what publishers don’t want.

Also, publishers like to feel they are controlling the creative process. Most publishers I have encountered are wannabe writers who cannot actually write creatively themselves, so they want to write and/or re-write through you while getting cultural kudos with their friends at dinner parties in Islington.

Never believe that publishers know anything about creative writing. If they did, they would be writing books themselves.

Those who can, do.

Those who can’t, publish…

…and try to interfere with your writing to give themselves a creative hard-on.

The thing to remember is that, up to the point of signing the contract, they can cast you aside and they have all the power. But, after signing the contract, you have most of the power. Under a standard publishing contract, they control the cover, but they cannot change a single comma of the text without your permission and it is unlikely (unless your book is utter shit) that they will throw away the Advance they have paid you. So listen to their advice but stick to your creative guns if you disagree.

If (just to use round numbers) you get a £9,000 advance, you would normally be paid £3,000 on signing the contract. You then have to write the entire book with no more money coming in. You then get £3,000 on delivery of an acceptable final manuscript. And you then have to wait for 6-9 months and get £3,000 on publication. So any ‘Advance’ tends to mean you only get one third up-front in advance of writing the book.

The thing to remember is that it highly unlikely you will make any significant money from your book. Literally hundreds of books are spewing into existence every month to try to find space on the same limited shelves. It is like playing the Edinburgh Fringe. You are unlikely to get noticed and it is like standing in a cold shower tearing up £50 notes. In the case of writing a book, these are the £50 notes you could have earned by stacking shelves in a supermarket rather than starving in a small room earning no money while you toil away at your creative keyboard.

If your book is a paperback, you are likely to get a royalty of only 7.5% of the cover price. So, if your book sells for £10, you get 75p per copy sold. Roughly.

I believe most books sell well under 10,000 copies in the British Isles and fail to make a profit. Publishers live on their rare big buck-earners.

When approaching a publisher nowadays, you also have to take into consideration the new phenomenon of eBooks. Random House recently signed a big deal with Apple to put their back catalogue and future publications onto iBooks.

My 2002 contract with Random House for the anthology Sit-Down Comedy specified a 50% royalty on any future e-book version. A fortnight ago, they sent me a letter saying they want to only pay 25% instead of 50% on any eBook version because the contracted 50% royalty rate “was arrived at before the UK eBook market had begun to develop and before the extent of our digital investment was known. Since this royalty was agreed, the eBook market has moved on greatly but, in the process, we have found that 50% of net revenues is no longer viable”.

Well, lovies, my tendency is to say, “Tough shit, life’s a bitch and a gamble, ain’t it? Don’t come whining to me if you mis-calculated your own business.”

But, with Sit-Down Comedy, in fact, it doesn’t much matter because, although the contract was with the late Malcolm Hardee and me as editors of the book, we agreed to split the royalties between ourselves and the 19 contributors to the anthology. So we are talking miniscule sums even if it sold loads.

However, I know another author whose book has been in print for quite a few  years. It may soon go out of print. Under a standard contract, if a book is out of print for two years, all rights return to the author. So, for example, Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake was out of print for two years and now 100% of all rights have reverted to me and to the estate of the late Malcolm.

However, if this other chum of mine’s book becomes an eBook, my understanding is that it will, in theory, never go out of print – the file will still be available for download from the Apple/Amazon/publisher’s computer – and so the publisher will retain the rights until 70 years after the author’s death.

If my chum, on the other hand, refuses to accept a royalty cut from 50% to 25%, then it will presumably not become an eBook, the paperback will go out of print and, two years later, 100% of all rights will revert to my chum. And there would then be the possibility of negotiating a new publishing deal or publishing via some print-on-demand operation like lulu.com

We live in interesting times and that, of course, is the ancient Chinese curse.

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The Daily Mail has its finger on the pulse of Britain – just like Margaret Thatcher did

I’ve had a good few reactions to yesterday’s blog about the Daily Mail – mostly in e-mails, a lot of them knee-jerk reactions, some vitriolic – which is good because, frankly, I had got bored with people occasionally agreeing with me. Admittedly, I did dash the blog off when I was overly-sleepy and a wee bit tetchy.

But I do think there’s an appalling knee-jerk reaction to the Daily Mail in which liberals hate – literally hate – what they perceive the paper says often without reading it or, in some cases, they do read what is written but then translate it into what they think is being said rather than what is actually being said.

One person pointed me to a particularly offensive Daily Mail headline about Muslims.

The complaint was specifically about the headline, which reads:

MUSLIM FANATIC PRISONERS TO BE ‘DE-PROGRAMMED’ USING CONTROVERSIAL TECHNIQUES TO ‘CURE’ THEM OF BELIEFS

Now – I could be wrong here but, to me – it seems impeccable straight reportage as a headline because the words ‘de-programmed’ and ‘cure’ are both in quotation marks. In Fleet Street Speak, this means a newspaper does not necessarily share or even believe what is quoted. The word ‘controversial’ is not in quotation marks. The news item which is being reported within the article might be questionable but the facts are well worth reporting.

Of course, the Daily Mail can also spout bollocks.

But I think knee-jerk liberal reaction to the Daily Mail is a bit like Gordon Brown’s reaction to Gillian Duffy, the 65 year-old Labour supporter whom he called “bigotted” during the 2010 General Election campaign when she brought up a widely-held worry about the level of Eastern European immigration into the UK. She was reflecting a widely-held concern about a genuine potential and sometimes actual problem.

Whether any newspaper is creating or reflecting a public view is a nice argument but it can certainly be argued that the Daily Mail reflects widespread public opinion on a variety of topics.

Whenever I read the Daily Mail, I’m amazed by how downmarket it is. Basically, it is as much of a tacky red-top as the Sun or the Daily Star. It’s designed to look like a quality newspaper, but it’s full of OK magazine style stories.

However, it does have and keeps its finger on the pulse of what ordinary people think to an extraordinary extent.

I remember years ago, the ‘Madam Cyn’ case in which Cynthia Payne was being prosecuted for running a brothel. I was working at Anglia TV in Norwich at the time  and, every morning, all the national papers would arrive in our office.

The other tabloids totally missed the point of the Madam Cyn case. They covered the court case as a sex story.

But the Daily Mail covered it as a quirky, near-comic tale of retired majors with gammy legs, people using luncheon vouchers to buy sex and sheer British eccentricity. And that was what, at heart, the story was. It was not a sex case, it was a Victoria Wood / Alan Bennett / Michael Palin style British comedy.

Indeed, the two 1987 movies loosely based on Cynthia Payne’s life Wish You Were Here and Personal Services were both light British social comedies and the second was directed by Terry Jones of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

Cynthia Payne’s is the perfect Daily Mail story. It is more saucy than sexy and is decidedly tabloid but with a veneer that makes it seem almost genteel to Middle England. It titillated without being, in Mail terms, dirty.

Around 2004, someone I know had to have her photo taken for an interview to be published in the Daily Mail. She was told not to wear trousers for the photo-shoot as the Daily Mail “doesn’t take photos of women wearing trousers because its readers didn’t like it.”

This mightily impressed me then and it mightily impresses me now. It shows an absolutely brilliant understanding of the Daily Mail’s readership at the time (and perhaps today too).

Female Daily Mail readers probably wore trousers a lot of the time for practical reasons, but their image of womanhood was probably that ‘feminine’ women did not wear trousers and they wanted to see in the Daily Mail what they perceived as feminine women.

It would never have entered my head to be wary of photographing women in trousers (largely because the thought is politically incorrect) but it is a superb piece of commercial psychology.

In the mid-1980s, I worked on two top-rating peak-time Saturday evening ITV series: Game For a Laugh and Surprise! Surprise! There was a rule of thumb on those show. It was not a 100% rule. But it was a strong rule-of-thumb.

It was that we should not have appearing on the shows people with tattoos.

Remember this was the mid-1980s before tattoos were common.

The reason for this non-tattoo rule (as I say, it was not a ban, just a rule-of-thumb to bear in mind) was that viewers felt threatened by people who had tattoos. The mainstream, mass of peak-time viewers felt people with tattoos were down-market, aggressive and ‘different’. A tattoo said ‘prison’ and ‘crime’ to the viewers. And, though it felt a bit odd, it was I think absolutely spot-on in understanding the mass market audience for the ‘real people’ shows we were screening in which ordinary people were the stars.

Ordinary people were watching themselves on TV and they did not (at that time) see themselves as being the sort of people who would wear tattoos.

I should maybe point out that we were encouraged to actively seek out non-white participants to try to prevent the shows being filled with totally white faces.

If you want to hit the mass market, you have to know your audience.

Associated Newspapers – owners of the Daily Mail – have a near-perfect touch – they have pitched not just the Mail but Metro at exactly the right mass readership in exactly the right way. They know exactly what the people who comprise mainstream Middle England want and think. The fact that the Mail does not have big sales in Scotland is interesting.

In both those respects – they have massive appeal in Middle England but none in Scotland – they are like Margaret Thatcher. Her ‘audience appreciation index’ in England always interested me.

The backward-looking view of her is that, somehow, she was disliked by the vast majority of people at the time. That is both true and completely false.

Whenever personal popularity was measured in opinion polls, she usually came out badly. But, when she went to the electorate in a General Election, the Conservative Party got in with large majorities. I think the reason was that people felt, “Ye Gods! She is scary but, if WE feel she’s scary and is bullying us, then she’s going to scare the bejesus shit out of the French and tear the throats out of them and anyone else who might be anti-British.”

People didn’t like her. But, in large numbers, they liked her policies.

Maggie Thatcher initially won power because she read the Daily Mail and Sun and understood what their readers wanted – what Essex Man wanted – like buying their own council houses and buying shares. In later years, she lost her touch because – as she admitted in interviews – she stopped reading the tabloids in case they ‘swayed’ her from what she knew was ‘right’. So she went for the Poll Tax which (though perfectly correct logically) was not something Essex Man wanted. Even then, though, another War win and I reckon she would have romped home.

Her downfall, at the end, was that the Conservative Party got spooked and ousted her because of Poll Tax riots and bad opinion poll results. They ousted her during the first Gulf War. The irony is that, if they had not ousted her, she would probably have bullied George Bush into finishing the first Gulf War decisively by taking Baghdad and ousting Saddam Hussein. An inevitable consequence, I reckon, would have been another massive General Election win for the Conservative Party, changing the next 20+ years of British and world history.

Margaret Thatcher had and the Daily Mail – or, more correctly, its owners Associated Newspapers – have their fingers on the pulse of Britain.

Some, of course, might say “the throat”.

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