Tag Archives: General Election

Who are the British? Or are they at all?

Nigel Farage (left), comic Al Murray (centre) & Thanet South winner, Conservative Craig Mackinley

Nigel Farage (left), comic Al Murray (centre) & Thanet South winner, Conservative Craig Mackinley

During last night’s General Election coverage – with the Scottish National Party effectively wiping out the other three parties in Scotland, Labour just-about holding the North of England and the Conservatives (except in London) dominating the South – someone on BBC TV talked about a three-colour layered cake of a nation. Yellow at the top, red in the middle and blue at the bottom.

The line between red and blue is somewhat skewed by Wales being red, but it is a fairly good image.

The result of the 2015 Election

The constituency result of the 2015 Election

I think to people outside the UK – particularly to people who have always referred to the UK as “England” – the extent to which the UK is and always has been a hotchpotch has never been realised.

My blog yesterday headed Maybe the Scottish Nationalists should move the border south into England? was about nationality.

Five years ago – in November 2010 – I wrote a blog headed The British have always been a violent race 

That was about what the people on the island of Britain – England, Scotland, Wales – were arguably like, not about the individual nations.

There were a couple of interesting comments about that November 2010 blog – one made in June 2013 and one made in October 2014 – and, yesterday, an unknown (to me) person called Dean replied to both of those comments. Below I reprint the comments and Dean’s responses as an interesting insight into some people’s thinking, which is perhaps relevant in view of the strong support the UK Independence Party got in yesterday’s election.

I have to say I think some of Dean’s facts are a tad suspect – and I think he confuses “British” with “English” – but his views are interesting.

The Union flag without the Scottish St Andrew element in it

The Union flag without the Scottish St Andrew element in it


COMMENT BY RONNIE (June 2013)

I think all Germanic countries are more violent than Southern European countries. It’s strange because they tend to be richer and more successful than the Southern European countries. There is a big drinking culture and that only makes things worse. England is worse than other Germanic countries like Germany and Holland when it comes to violent behaviour. There is a big difference here between working class and middle class people. The working classes are often undereducated and this leads to poverty, child pregnancy, unemployment which in turn leads to frustration and violence.

RESPONSE TO THAT COMMENT BY DEAN (May 2015)

England is not a Germanic country in the very least… England is a pre-Celtic origin country. Germanic invaders had little impact there unlike the myth usually tell us… Germanics like Dutch or German are cold with the outsider but gregarious with their family and close friends…They are direct, can appear rude as being too direct but are in reality very honest and civilized people, who rarely will fight. They have respect for human beings and love to discuss like civilized humans.

Britons like to cheat… They are polite, which means they always will show you fake acceptance… but they do nothing else but backstab you… The Brits are not direct people… and that can grow a big bad enviroment… People don’t really know how to communicate in England… so every frustration comes in form of physical aggression. Brits love to fight and have no sense of human aesthetics or style.

Dutch, Germans, Swedish, Danish, Norwegians, etc – true Germanic people – are very civilized people. They can be colder but once you get to know them well they will accept you and they will be honest to you; they have sense of human aesthetics; they like to appreciate human life and love to look good.

Britons are animals. They don’t care about people but only about their own instincts.


COMMENT BY ALAN (October 2014)

Britain is made up of 3 countries: England, Scotland and Wales. The Scottish and Welsh are Celtic and the English are Germanic. The Welsh are the native Britons, the Scottish are Gaels and Picts from Ireland and the English are Anglo-Saxons. Britain has always been a violent place, its culture is based on violence.

RESPONSE TO THAT COMMENT BY DEAN (May 2015)

English origins aren’t Germanic. English look the same as Irish or Scottish. The Anglo-Saxon impact in England was tiny. Most English roots (as much as 80%) come from pre-Germanic/pre-Celtic inhabitants, which were of neolithic origin.

That’s why there are so few natural blonde and Nordic/Germanic looking people in England or the UK compared to Scandinavia, Holland or Germany. Most Brits have dark hair, pale skin and hazel eyes and their stature is mediocre at best.

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Maybe the Scottish Nationalists should move the border south into England?

Nicola Sturgeon: the most trusted party leader in England

Nicola Sturgeon: the UK party leader who is most trusted by English voters

There is a General Election in the UK today.

Last night, I overheard a conversation at St Pancras station.

“Why do you vote for the Conservative Party?” one man said.

“I could never vote for the Labour Party,” said the other man, “because socialism isn’t a political philosophy; it’s a religion. You have to believe that, if you follow the true path and all the rules of the religion, then all the wrongs of the world will be solved like the wave of a magic wand.”

“But,” said the first man, “Labour is not a socialist party any more.”

Who knows what the result of the Election will be?

The polls say a hung Parliament.

Personally, I suspect there will have to be a second Election this year.

I have jokingly said to people in the last week that, if the SNP had put up candidates in England, there would have been a landslide for them, given that the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon is (according to polls) by far the most trusted party leader among English voters.

Welcome to Scotland - but maybe the border might move?

Welcome to Scotland – but maybe the border might move?

But, in all seriousness, I do idly wonder what would have happened if the SNP had put up candidates in Berwick-upon-Tweed, Carlisle and Newcastle.

In 2008, an apparently very well conducted ITV poll showed that a large majority of people living in Berwick-upon-Tweed wanted the town to be in Scotland not England.

When I was there a few years ago, the streets had Scottish banks, Scottish gas, Scottish electricity and the predominant currency used in shops seemed to be Scottish not English bank notes.

Admittedly there is ‘a bit of previous’ with Berwick see-sawing between the two countries in the past.

The Danelaw and Northumberland held power in 878

Danelaw and Northumberland held power in 878

But my local optician, a clear-sighted man, comes from Carlisle and he told me there was quite strong support – even if only theoretical – for Carlisle too being in Scotland not England.

With Newcastle and Geordieland in general, it would be more interesting. That area is almost defiantly proud of its separateness from the English South and it could be argued it is far closer culturally to Scotland than to Anglo-Saxon England.

Historically, in Britain, the north was Scandinavian; the south was Anglo-Saxon German. Although the Normans too, of course, were Scandinavian.

Northumberland originally stretched from Edinburgh down through Newcastle and south of Durham. The Danelaw took in a very large swathe of what is now England.

King Canute's domains in 1016_1035

King Canute’s watery domains in 1016-1035 included England

There has been an awful lot of talk about how the Labour Party could come second in this election and still gain power – with SNP support. There has been almost nothing about what would happen if you removed Scotland from the figures entirely.

As I understand it, if Scotland gained independence, the Labour Party would never again be likely to get power in what was left of the UK because, by removing Scotland’s 59 seats, Labour’s voting numbers would be scuppered.

There is an interesting scenario that the Labour Party would have to woo the SNP to gain and maintain power but, in thus gaining power, it would destroy itself.

Meanwhile, for no particular reason, here on YouTube is the result of the 1992 General Election vote in Greenwich. Comedian Malcolm Hardee stood in the election solely to get a free mailout publicising himself and his Up The Creek Club to 10,000 people which would normally have cost him over £3,000 in postage alone. All he did was lose his £500 deposit.

He is standing behind the right shoulder of the Electoral Officer who announces the result.

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How Left Wing TV writers won an election for Margaret Thatcher, the godmother of UK alternative comedy

The new ITV series Newzoids starts tonight. A satirical programme about politicians, performed by puppets. (Not too far removed from real life, then.)

“It sounds just like Spitting Image,” I suggested yesterday to Dave Cohen, who is one of the writers on Newzoids. Dave is also the man who originally created the oft-used saying Comedy is the new rock ’n’ roll.

“W-e-e-e-e-l-l,” said Dave, “That’s the first thing people compare it to.”

“How far ahead is Newzoids recorded?” I asked.

Dave Cohen, the man behind television's political laughter

Dave Cohen, the man behind television’s political laughter

“Like Spitting Image,” Dave said, “over a long period of time. I’ve been doing mainly songs for it. And the odd sketch.

“The songs have to be done quite a long time in advance.

“We were doing music at the start of the year – January/February.

“Most of the show has been made and I think they have a 2 or 3 minute window to add things.”

“That’s very dodgy during a General Election campaign,” I suggested.

“Well,” said Dave, “I’m surprised four episodes are going out before the election because, all the years I’ve worked on topical shows and at the BBC, there was always this absolute decree that you must be equally rude about everybody. But maybe, because it’s ITV…”

Spitting Image,” I said, “transmitted an episode on Election night, but only immediately after the polls closed. Margaret Thatcher singing Tomorrow Belongs To Me

“That was actually from another episode,” said Dave.

“But very effective,” I said, ignoring my mistake.

“A lot of people,” said Dave, “thought Spitting Image won the election for the Tories in 1992. Which was a paradox. Everybody who was writing for Spitting Image hated the Tories. I’d say most people who write and perform comedy in general are Left-ish or Left or very Left. The BBC are always moaning that they’re desperate to get Right Wing people on quiz shows. I think I agree – and I am not Right Wing myself – but the trouble is finding them. There are not that many.”

“You have scripted for Have I Got News For You,” I prompted.

“God, yes,” said Dave. “Over the years, I’ve written for William Hague, Robin Cook, Neil Kinnock – that was the worst one ever. He guest-hosted.”

“Why was he a nightmare?” I asked.

“When you have some professional comedian like Jo Brand or Lee Mack hosting the show, they’ll say OK, give that line to me; I’ll do it my way, and you trust that. But, when Neil Kinnock says: It’s OK. Don’t worry. I’ll sort it out… Apparently he wouldn’t do any of the script in rehearsal either. I went to the recording and it was an absolute nightmare, really.”

Neil Kinnock: Have I got a loser for you?

Neil Kinnock: Have I got a loser for you?

“Did he look good on transmission?” I asked. “I sat through one recording of Have I Got News For You and it was two-and-a-half hours of recording for a half-hour show.”

“All I can say,” said Dave, “is that Neil Kinnock looked relatively better in the half hour edit.”

“Getting back,” I said, “to Spitting Image – with Left-leaning writers influencing the result of the 1992 Election, which the Conservative Party won…”

“Well,” said Dave, “there was all this slagging-off the Tories, as you’d expect but, when it came to Labour, there was maybe more anger because Labour were so crap – they were not criticising the poll tax or the Tory cuts and Neil Kinnock was being a bit useless. And that anger also seemed to hit a chord with voters who, even if they hated the Tories, thought: At least they’re better than Labour.”

“Well,” I suggested, “on Spitting Image, Neil Kinnock’s character was a floundering Welsh windbag. Margaret Thatcher was very strong in her male business suit. And Norman Tebbit in his leather jacket looked really aggressive – I guess he was supposed to be a devilish-type figure – but, as a result, he actually came across as a strong politician.”

“Well,” said Dave, “Johnny Speight created Alf Garnett (the central right wing character in Till Death Us Do Part) as a monster and the worse he made him the more loveable he became to the audience. People were saying: Oh, Alf Garnett? We love Alf Garnett! Alf Garnett for Prime Minister! That was another thing with Spitting Image – However hard they made Tebbit and Thatcher, people just went: Hahha! Look at the funny monsters!

“I always,” I said, “thought Alf Garnett was very complicated because, if you agreed with his views, you agreed with his views and the young git sitting on the sofa (his Left Wing son-in-law, played by Tony Booth, father of future Prime Minister Tony Blair’s wife Cherie) was just some young idiot. There was nothing to change your existing views. And I always thought, in reality, Alf Garnett would have been a Labour voter: a real dyed-in-the-wool working class conservative-with-a-small-c Labour voter.”

There is a clip of Till Death Us Do Part on YouTube.

“Well, this is an interesting area,” said Dave. “There was this myth at the time that people who voted Labour could not be racists or sexists. And that’s sort-of mostly true now but certainly, in my experience in my stand-up comedy years, there was then a lot of sexism on the circuit.”

I said: “I think dyed-in-the-wool Labour voters over a certain age are very conservative with a small c.”

“I think where Labour is losing votes to UKIP in this election,” said Dave, “it’s where those type of attitudes still persist. In cosmopolitan places like London and Manchester, even people who aren’t satisfied with Labour are not going to UKIP whereas, in some of the places where things haven’t changed so much and people are more dyed-in-the-wool and there are older people in older communities, they’re the ones who are going to UKIP.”

“Margaret Thatcher still divides people,” I said.

“She was a brilliant politician,” said Dave. “She did do all these amazing things like the Channel Tunnel, which brought us closer to Europe. She was the first person to say climate change is happening and we’ve got to do something about it. People forget the very pragmatic side to her. But…”

“You could almost be a fan,” I laughed.

“I got utterly stitched-up by a Daily Telegraph journalist,” said Dave. “When my book How To Be Averagely Successful at Comedy came out, he interviewed me and there’s a chapter in my book in which I say that Margaret Thatcher probably did more to help alternative comedy than anyone else.

An inspiration: Margaret Thatcher

Godmother of British Comedy?

“Not just for the jokes but also by allowing people to be unemployed. She basically said: Unemployment is a price worth paying for getting rid of all our old manufacturing industries. So people of my era – I’m from Leeds but I was a journalist in South Wales – just moving to London, unemployed, only had to sign-on once a week, didn’t have to go to Job Centres, were allowed to earn a certain amount of money every week and were still allowed to sign-on as long as we declared it. You still got your housing benefit and your dole money.

“The alternative comedy clubs were starting up and The Young Ones had become famous on TV and suddenly there were loads of clubs in London and not enough comedians to play them. I was doing 3 or 4 gigs a week and being paid £20 here, £30 there. All legit and all thanks to Margaret Thatcher.

“So this journalist gave me a nice plug for my book in the Daily Telegraph but said Dave Cohen says Margaret Thatcher had a fantastic sense of humour – I didn’t say that at all!”

“People demonise her,” I said.

“Well,” said Dave. “I’ve been thinking more about how to deal with politicians, because the social media has become so polarised now – You HAVE to be one thing or another. But I think, really, you’ve got to engage seriously with people you disagree with. However much you disagree with people, you’ll always find a few things you can agree on and that’s where you have to start from, really.”

The Immigrant Diaries are coming to the South Bank soon

The Immigrant Diaries are coming to the South Bank soon

“You told me,” I said, “that you are in a storytelling show called Immigrant Diaries in two Fridays’ time at the Purcell Room on the South Bank.”

“Yes,” said Dave. “I’ll be telling the story of that fateful day in 1994 when a bunch of comedians got together when the (extreme right wing) BNP were doing very well in the Isle of Dogs – it’s in my book too.”

“I think everyone in Britain,” I said, “is a bloody immigrant except a few people in Wales who speak Welsh and ironically don’t want to be British. But then, go far enough back, everyone is an immigrant in every country.”

“I am working,” said Dave, “on a show for the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn in July – a Muslim/Jewish comedy show. The fact that Jews and Muslims can get together to create a comedy show is considered quite a shocking thing by some people. The very idea they can have a dialogue! The auditions are happening next week.”

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How Scotland could rule England + London punk rock news from Canada

The front of today’s ‘i’ newspaper

The front of today’s ‘i’ newspaper

Tonight is Hallowe’en and things are getting strange.

An IPSOS Mori poll commissioned for STV says that, on current voting intentions at next year’s General Election, the Scottish National Party would win 54 of the 59 Scots seats in the UK Parliament at Westminster.

The Labour Party would have four. The Liberal Democrats would have one. The Conservative Party would have none.

At the 2010 UK General Election, the figures were:

Conservatives – 307
Labour – 258
Liberal Democrats – 57

Given the strong possibility that the Liberal Democrat vote collapses in England and that UKIP gain a number of seats, Scotland’s votes might (as always) affect the outcome of the election and there is a very real theoretical possibility that the SNP could hold the balance of power at Westminster and/or become part of a ruling coalition in the UK. Also complicating matters, of course, are the votes for Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland and Plaid Cymru in Wales.

That is so complicated, the implications are incalculable.

If the SNP actually put up candidates in Northern England – Berwick-upon-Tweed, Carlisle and possible even the Newcastle/Tyneside area, the results there would be interesting. I seem to remember that an apparently well-conducted poll a few years ago found that the majority of voters in Berwick-upon-Tweed would prefer the town to be in Scotland not England and I understand there is at least some level of theoretical support for Carlisle to switch countries.

That old Chinese proverb springs to mind: May you live in interesting times.

Which we do.

Following on from yesterday’s blog about Anna Smith – this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent – being attacked by a Doberman dog, more missives have arrived from Vancouver.

The Blood Bank at St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver

Anna Smith visited the Blood Bank at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver

“We were recently hit by a ‘pineapple express’,” Anna tells me. “A warm tropical storm belting up from the equator via Hawaii. Its name was Ana. It was supposed to be destructive with strong gusts. But it wasn’t that terrible after all. I was prepared to go out to my boat the night it struck to make sure it would withstand the storm. Instead I went to the doctor and to St Paul’s hospital for lab tests and a chest x ray.”

That was before the Doberman attacked her.

“My boat is pretty tough,” says Anna.

So is she, in seems.

I woke up today to this e-mail:

“It is 2.00am here. It is very warm. My window is open. The storm (Ana) is finally over. It dropped so much rain that there is barely any low tide today.

“I am still not able to walk because of my crash with the dog. I am still in my boat cradle. I like to be able to sit in bed and look at water. It is very interesting.”

Zombie Strippers lust after The Outburst

Zombie Strippers lust after Outbursts

As today is Hallowe’en, Anna sent me a poster for Zombie Strippers and told me that she had heard news of what Ian Breslin’s neo-punk group The Outbursts are doing in London.

“I have heard a rumour,” she told me, “that The Outbursts will have song sheets at their next gig, so the audience can sing along to Splashing Out (a song about wanking), Whatever Happened to Me (drugs), and Filthy Nina (the police).”

There is a video of Whatever Happened To Me on YouTube.

“Song sheets for Punk?” says Anna. “What a great idea. Finally everyone will understand the meaning of these gloriously disruptive tantrums.”

Anna used to be an exotic dancer and, according to a recent blog, may still occasionally dabble.

“Strippers are always on the lookout for good music,” she tells me. “Especially Zombie Strippers.”

Anna also seems to be branching out into music. She sent me a video of her and a lady called Natasha Nault singing.  It can be viewed online.

Anna (right) and Natasha Nault go beep

Anna Smith (right) and Natasha Nault go beep

Well, Anna admits it is less singing and more beeping. She says they made the video because they were doing their best to assist a man (who, she says, does not wish to be identified) to find his car. The unidentified man, she says, is not London-born Jian Gomeshi.

I have no idea what any of that means.

But she adds:

“We made up the beepy thing song after sitting through a seven course dinner at a downtown hotel hosted by a megalomaniac Italian construction magnate whose office decor includes photos of himself with Silvio Berlusconi. I once gave him shit about this, even though Berlusconi does have good taste in young belly dancers.

“The dessert table had its own room and the highlight of the evening was the magnate’s lengthy red-wine-fuelled stream-of-consciousness speech expressing gratitude to his employees, especially the ones who had worked twenty years without an accident.

“He also said: I would like to take this opportunity to thank Maria, who I love, because she is Greek and I am Italian.

“I was not sure who Maria was… The builders were squirming in their suits and turning away plates of giant ravioli stuffed with porcini mushrooms because they were smothered in parmesan cream sauce (the porcini mushrooms were). The builders thought the porcini mushrooms were Eggs Benedict and cried out: Take that shit away!

Anna Smith ignores the BBC in Canada

Anna sometimes lives on a boat near fish

We managed to escape just as the disco lights started flashing and narrowly avoided seeing Portuguese dancing to that song about Rasputin.

“Now I am in a panic because of Hallowe’en and having to lie so still when I want to dress up like a zombie and dance…”

Personally, I blame much of the foregoing on the lingering effects of 1970s and 1980s drug culture. But I thank the non-existent God that we live in interesting times. And I am looking forward to next year’s UK General Election.

 

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The News of the World, the Profumo Affair and the planned military coup

(This blog was later published in The Huffington Post)

I studied journalism at college – well, radio, TV and journalism.

The man in charge of the journalism part of the course was the Production Editor of the News of the World. So we got lots of good lecturers – people like Cecil King, who had created Mirror Group Newspapers and the then-all-powerful IPC.

As a result, we got a very good insight into the real workings of the press and occasionally some great anecdotes.

One was about Rupert Murdoch’s take-over of the News of the World in 1969.

At the time, obviously, there was a lot of publicity about the re-launch of the ‘new’ Murdoch version of the paper and the News of the World’s TV ads promised one big thing – the REAL story of the 1963 Profumo Affair which had brought down Harold Macmillan’s government.

The News of the World had been a major player in the 1963 scandal and had interviewed almost everyone involved in the affair on tape at the time and had sworn affidavits from all and sundry.

But, when Rupert Murdoch took over the News of the World in 1969, he realised that, sitting in the basement in boxes of tapes and papers, there was much that had gone unpublished in 1963 – in particular about the sexual proclivities of Profumo’s wife, actress Valerie Hobson… and about exactly what type of sexual services Christine Keeler provided to Profumo (the UK’s Secretary of State for War) and to Yevgeny Ivanov, the senior naval attaché at the Soviet embassy in London.

However, when the News of the World published their ‘new’ stories about the Profumo Affair, they were just the re-heated previously-published stories. There was nothing new or earth-shattering.

Apparently this was because there had been such unrelenting legal, political and financial pressure on the News of the World that they had backed off. There were even stories of the police listening to tape recordings in one room while, next door, News of the World staffers were busily erasing parts of tapes.

I am a great fan of Doctor Who and, boy, do I wish I had a fully-functioning TARDIS so that I could come back in 100 years or 150 years and find out what had really been happening during my lifetime.

Cecil King, our occasional lecturer at college, was an interesting man because, with some good reason, he had an ego that engulfed any room he entered. Years later, it was claimed or revealed (two words that expose a gulf of possibilities) that he had, in 1968, talked to Lord Mountbatten (who was later assassinated) about the possible overthrow of Harold Wilson’s government with Mountbatten replacing the Prime Minister.

It seems to have been a relatively low-key bit of idle ego-boosting by Cecil, as opposed to the more seriously-thought-through plans for a military coup to overthrow the Wilson government in 1974-1975.

This plan for a military coup in the UK was briefly mentioned in some editions of Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times in 1987 but, I think, removed from later editions. The article does not seem to exist online at the Sunday Times, but I have the original newspaper cutting.

I did once ask the MP Dale Campbell-Savours about the ‘Cunard Affair’ – part of the plans for a military coup in the UK – as he had brought the subject up in the House of Commons. He asked me to phone him at home at the weekend, not at the House of Commons. I did. And he then told me he could not remember any details. “We were looking into a lot of things at the time,” he told me. “I can’t remember.” I always thought this was a little strange. However many murky affairs you were looking into, a planned military coup to overthrow the UK government (with a dry run during which tanks were taken to Heathrow Airport), might stick in the memory.

Only journalists or time travellers know the truth about history while it is actually happening.

The general consensus seems to be that the perceived necessity for a military coup in 1974/1975 lessened and became unnecessary when Margaret Thatcher became leader of the Conservative Party in February 1975 and subsequently won the 1979 General Election. The so-called Operation Clockwork Orange in which Margaret Thatcher’s close adviser Airey Neave (who was later assassinated) may have been involved may also have had some effect.

Clockwork Orange and the linked Colin Wallace affair, in which he was framed and imprisoned for manslaughter after he claimed the security services had tried to rig the 1974 UK General Election, surely has the makings of a feature film. A pity the title has already been used.

Conspiracies and conspiracy theories are always gripping entertainment, especially if they are real and who knows what is real?

Earlier in this blog, I specifically wrote that both Lord Mountbatten and Airey Neave were peripherally involved in political machinations and were both later assassinated.

Paranoid conspiracy theorists could have a field day with that. But, of course, they were both assassinated by Irish terrorists for reasons totally, utterly unconnected with the alleged plots: they were assassinated because they were high-profile targets.

As for other matters, I always think it is healthy to maintain a certain level of paranoia. There was a saying circulating in the 1960s: No matter how paranoid you are, they are always doing more than you think they are.

I wish I could get a time machine and go forward 100 years to see what was really happening in the world during my life.

If only.

If only.

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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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Filed under History, Newspapers, Racism, Television