Tag Archives: media

Casual cocaine-snorting in the 1980s…

In the 1980s, people would stick their nose in if asked…

Someone said to me that, today, she does not know anyone in the media who takes cocaine.

I suspect she should go out and meet more people.

But I remember… I guess it was in the 1980s sometime… I had an interview for a project…

I guess it must have been for a contract as a Researcher at a successful independent TV production company…

The owner of the company sat at one side of a desk and I sat facing her. She did not impress me because she seemed a bit uninterested in the whole process as if it were just a necessary but dull chore she had to go through. As, indeed, it was.

About a third of the way through the interview, she took out some cocaine and offered me some.

“Thanks,” I said, shaking my head politely. “I don’t.”

So she put some in a line on the desktop in front of her, made a tube of paper and snorted it while continuing with her explanation of what the upcoming TV programmes were about and how the company was organised. 

I didn’t get the job. 

I do not think she was doing the coke thing as a test for me to see my reaction.

I think it was just a perfectly normal, casual thing to do like (in those days) smoking a cigarette or sipping some tea.

We had never met before.

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Edinburgh Fringe: Networking with the media + a comic is threatened with rape

At The Grouchy Club yesterday: a bad selfie of Coptick and me

Seen and heard at the increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club

Yesterday afternoon at the increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club, I said:

“Performers at the Edinburgh Fringe get worried about the number of bums on seats and I don’t think performers should come to the Fringe thinking about audiences; they should come thinking about the media. If you get a full house, the word-of-mouth from that is not going to let you fill the O2 Arena. But, if you get a review in the Guardian or spotted by a TV producer that might get you part of the way. It’s all about self-promotion, not bums-on-seats.”

Comedian Matt Price had a question about ‘networking’ at the Fringe.

“How,” he asked, “do you do it without looking like a dick?”

“Oh, you can’t do it without looking like a dick,” said doyenne of comedy critics Kate Copstick. “one of the things you need to know about most of the people who are doing most of the networking – I would say 85% of the media people who are up here can do nothing for you. They are Muppets and low-grade grist to the media mill.

“They could go back and say: Oh! I saw this amAZing guy. He should have a TV series! and, even if they say that, it can only go so high and someone will say Who’s he with? or Is he a black lesbian? – They have quota as for everything and they are in thrall to a lot of the big managements.

“Everybody is terrified to fail in television, because you don’t get that many chances. There are a very small number of people who make the decisions and there’s a awful lot of people who are pretending they make the decisions. They generally – I say maybe 85% – have no imagination or creativity whatsoever. And, unless you are like something that is already out there…”

Matt Price & Martha McBrier

Matt Price with his ‘missus’ Martha McBrier

“But,” said Matt, “we’re not inspired, as comedians and performers, by following convention. There must be a way of doing it by being progressively better. I am basically just a fat bloke from Cornwall whose missus is probably more talented than he is.”

“The important thing,” said Copstick, “is that you are a fat bloke from Cornwall who did a brilliant show last year and so, in people’s minds, you’re a terrific comic and I’m interested to see what you’re doing this year.

“If you really wanted to whore yourself around to the media circus, you could style yourself as ‘The new Johnny Vegas’. You’re big, you could be all over the place, you could drink too much…

“The networking that is important at the Fringe is networking with other comics, with people who book live gigs and with other creative people. The leap between performing live in a tiny room on the Fringe and your own series on the telly is exactly the same size as it ever has been. But there are now thousands of pointless people with media badges swanning around getting freebies and pretending they’re important.”

Matt Price, though, had another reason for coming to The Grouchy Club yesterday.

“I didn’t really want to come here and speak to you,” he said, “but I thought Oh, it’s raining and it’s been on my mind and I figured Well, if I can talk about this to anyone, it’s the fearsome Kate Copstick.

“Something happened yesterday: an incident that really shook me. I wrote a blog about it but then I thought I’m not going to put it online because, if I do, people might say Oh, Matt Price is just playing the PR game.

Cowgate_Edinburgh

Cowgate, near where it happened, last night

“I was walking along Cowgate yesterday. It was about 11.30 at night near (a particular nightclub). There were two bouncers in the doorway and this big guy and I know when people are coked-up. When you’re a comedian, you know about that. And this guy said something to me and I said: Sorry mate?

“He said: I want your phone number. Kiss me.

“He looked quite aggressive and then he said: Shake my hand.

I thought: OK, he’s made some kind of sexual advance, but I can still shake his hand because I have no problem with my sexuality and I’ll just walk on my way. But he grabbed my hand and nearly ripped my arm off and then said: I’ll fuckin’ rape you, you cunt! I bet you’d like my cock up your arse, you bastard!

“I said: No, mate, I really wouldn’t. But thankyou. And I walked away.

“The bouncers obviously heard all this. The guy was in the doorway. I thought: Are you a thug? Are you a criminal?

“I phoned my missus and she was upset and I went back to my Edinburgh flat and Claire (Smith, the Scotsman journalist who rents him a room during the Fringe) gave me a whisky and I went to bed.

“I didn’t have any adrenaline in me until today and what really got me was not the incident but when Claire said: Welcome to the sisterhood. This is what women have had to put up with over the years.

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Is the comedy business more important to the UK than the financial industry?

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

Dr Brett Mills, ‘Principal Investigator'

Dr Brett Mills, ‘Principal Investigator’ of comedy

Yesterday, the Daily Telegraph reported that the UK’s creative industries generate £36 billion per year for the economy and employ 1.5 million people. The Chancellor, George Osborne, called them “massively important”. So why does no-one take comedy seriously?

The English Arts Council will not give grants to comedians staging shows at the Edinburgh Fringe, because they do not consider comedy to be an art.

But, last year, the University of East Anglia (UEA) got a £300,000 grant for a three-year study into “the nature of creativity within the British television comedy industry by exploring the working practices of industry professionals, and the industrial, institutional and policy contexts that shape and inform what they do.”

The study is called Make Me Laugh. It started in January 2012 and ends in December 2014. The ‘Principal Investigator’ is Dr Brett Mills. He is Head of the UEA’s School of Film, Television and Media Studies and I chatted to him a couple of days ago.

“We’re working with loads of writers, producers and commissioners,” he told me, “following comedy projects from initial idea through to broadcast or, as is often the case, non-broadcast and abandonment and resignation and unhappiness. We’re trying to look at what makes creativity – however you define that – happen and what are the things that get in its way.”

“You’ve done previous studies of comedy,” I said. “Isn’t this just a way to get another £300,000?”

“The first project was about £4,000,” laughed Brett. “and I just interviewed people, but interviewing individuals doesn’t give you a sense of relationships and networks, the development of a project and how things change over time. One other problem was that, when I asked people how decisions were made, the answer I tended to get was Gut instinct and, to a researcher, that’s utterly useless. The aim of this project is to try to unpick that.”

Not for television research

Not for UK television research purposes

“Have you read Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman?” I asked.

“Very deliberately no,” said Brett.

“Why?”

“Because,” explained Brett, “it’s one of those books everyone says you have to read – and because there is a split in academic terms between Film Studies and Television Studies. The set of approaches you would use in Film Studies would use that book. The set of approaches you would use in Television Studies would be totally different in academic terms.”

“Mmmm,” I said, “You know the often misunderstood quote about Nobody knows anything...?”

“Yeah,” said Brett wearily.

“…which” I continued, “basically means that creativity is an art not a science. Aren’t you trying to make it a science?”

“A gut instinct, in a way,” said Brett, “is just an internalised set of things you have learned. In most industries, you develop a gut instinct.”

“So is creating and commissioning TV shows a science or an art?” I asked.

“Well, it’s a bit of both,” Brett replied. “And, if we get into the area of whether something is ‘good’ or not, are we talking about critically acclaimed or watched by a lot of people or loved by a lot of people? Or about having a legacy and being watched 10 or 15 years later? It depends what you’re measuring.”

“Anyone who makes something VERY popular,” I suggested, “is immediately attacked as being ‘trite’ and ‘low-brow’ and ‘bland’.”

“Well” said Brett, “I don’t think anyone we’ve spoken to is embarrassed about making something popular.”

“Can your research,” I asked, “explain why Mrs Brown’s Boys is loved by audiences but hated by a lot of so-called cognoscenti in the media and the comedy industry?”

“No,” said Brett, “because that’s a different project I’d love to do, which is talking to audiences. This current project is about the process by which things come into existence. Miranda would be fascinating because there is a gender division: women love it.”

“Women of all ages?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Brett, “and, this is purely anecdotal, but it’s a kind of family thing where the women sit down to watch it and the dad leaves the room because he can’t stand it.”

“Is there statistical evidence that more women like it than men?” I asked.

“It’s probably very likely,” said Brett, “because – although these are statistics from seven or eight years ago – the vast majority of mainstream sitcoms on television are always watched by more women than men. Men Behaving Badly was watched by more women than men.”

“Doesn’t studying comedy academically make watching comedy less interesting?” I asked.

“No” said Brett, “people who read recipes like food; it doesn’t mean they start hating food. In fact, in some ways, you start appreciating it more. Even the stuff that doesn’t make me laugh I can still find fascinating.

The bare image promoting the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards

A totally irrelevant image of Malcolm Hardee

“I grew up in the 1980s with The Young Ones on TV and the Alternative Comedy people doing their stuff and Malcolm Hardee doing his stuff.

“I’m very anti this idea that the aim of academic research is about cultural hierarchies and we should only look at the best: that we should construct a ‘canon of good work’.

“That’s one of the interesting things about the department I’m in at the moment: most people are interested in the popular, the mainstream. We don’t see our job as deciding what is good culture and what is crap culture.”

“I suspect,” I said, “that the audiences who originally went to see Shakespeare’s plays went to see them as Brian Rix farces or blood-soaked splatter tragedies.”

“Exactly,” said Brett. “Most of the creators of stuff that’s held up as ‘art’ now – Shakespeare, Dickens – were unbelievably popular in their own day. It was mainstream culture. Dickens wrote serial fiction. It’s not as if he had an artistic vision. He was thinking: Oh, that character’s popular, I’ll write more of him in the next episode.

“The idea that you retrospectively construct these people as artistic visionaries and so on…  No… Shakespeare was writing for an audience. He was a populist.

“Exploring popular culture is an interesting battle, because our field – Media Studies – often gets criticised as a Mickey Mouse subject, not ‘proper’. And, by looking at popular culture, you actually feed into that prejudice… I have a colleague who does research on reality television and people do just go Oh! That’s a stupid subject! But No. We’re having to have that fight and we will man the barricades.

“This current Make Me Laugh project very definitely connects to that.

“Lots of film directors and novelists whose work is seen by far fewer people are interviewed and profiled and their views are kept for posterity. And yet you have people creating popular mainstream culture consumed by millions and millions of people and they’re going to disappear into history. Nobody’s interviewing them. Nobody’s exploring their working practices whereas any old Croatian art house film director has probably been interviewed by Sight & Sound twenty times and had five books written about him.

“I sometimes ask my students: Give me a list of film directors and they can rattle off a hundred. Then I say: Tell me a television director. And the only ones they can tell me are film directors who’ve done television. They’ll say Oh, Quentin Tarantino directed an episode of CSI didn’t he?

“They’ll know Miranda Hart herself. But the producer of Miranda? The director? No. They don’t even know their names.

“These people are creating a whole range of culture, but nobody’s heard of them. To me, that’s a real outrage. And it’s backed-up by the fact that, when you contact people, wanting to interview them, their first response is: Why would you want to talk to me?

“I tell them: If you were an art house film director, you wouldn’t ask that question. You’re writing a comedy that’s watched by ten million people every week and you’re confused that I find you of interest!” That, in itself, is fascinating to me.

Dr Brett Mills’ favourite sitcom

Brett Mills’ suggestion for “the greatest sitcom ever made”

“One of the ways Britain defines its national identity is via comedy. We see that as really important. How did we define ourselves last year in the Olympic Opening Ceremony? With Mr Bean… and the Queen jumping out of a helicopter. It was comedy, comedy. comedy!

“Comedy is central to our idea of national identity and the economic value of the comedy industry is massive. Just take Mr Bean and the amount of money that’s produced around the world.

“The economic value of the comedy industry – including films, television and stand-up is absolutely massive. Yet the amount of public money that goes into theatre and opera and other cultural forms… compared to the amount that goes into, say, stand-up comedy (even though there is public money via the Licence Fee going into BBC TV) is virtually nil.

“But, then, if you talk to people in small independent production companies and suggest Shouldn’t the government be supporting you more? they tell you No! We wanna stay separate. That’s the whole point. We’re outsiders. We’re mavericks.

“The creative industries in Britain employ more people than the engineering industry and the pharmaceutical industry. The creative industries contribute more to the economy than the financial industries.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Brett firmly. “Television, film, architecture, design, music, computer games. The scale of the creative industries is absolutely massive. And it is still one of the areas where Britain is accepted internationally as a world leader.”

“So why are you not aspiring to be a television producer or commissioner?” I asked.

“Because I don’t have that gut instinct,” replied Brett. “Not at all. Not at all.”

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Jimmy Savile, Gary Glitter and Roman Polanski. Comparing artists and arses.

(This was also published by the Huffington Post)

Spice World released with scum removed

Roman Polanski?” someone said to me yesterday afternoon. “Well, he’s not as bad as Jimmy Savile, is he?”

That is like a red rag to a bull.

Was Jack The Ripper not as bad as Adolf Hitler because he did not kill as many people? You could even argue Adolf Hitler was a morally better person than the Jack The Ripper because, as far as I am aware, Hitler did not personally kill anyone during the Second World War.

It is a pointless argument.

Jimmy Savile had-it-off with more under-age girls than Roman Polanski and was apparently at-it for 50 years. Roman Polanski was only prosecuted over one girl.

But the truth is you cannot compare evil.

Most things are grey. But some things are black and white and incomparable.

I had a conversation with two other men a couple of days ago and which I started to write a blog about the next day but which I aborted because it was too dangerous…

One man was involved in the comedy business. The other had been involved in the music business. We had got talking about Gary Glitter.

When the Spice Girls’ movie Spice World was made, it included a big musical routine involving Gary Glitter. Very shortly before the film’s release, he was arrested on sex charges. He was cut out of the film because (quite rightly) it was thought to be dodgy given the movie’s target audience.

But now, in many places, several years later, his music is, in effect, banned from being played because the act of playing it – and saying his very name in the introduction – is thought to be in bad taste.

The conversation I had with the other two men revolved around Art v Scum.

Just because someone is scum does not mean they cannot create Art.

Just because they have been rightly arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned for an act of evil does not lessen the level of any Art they may have created.

I am sure all sorts of artists over the centuries have committed all sorts of morally and criminally heinous acts. But that does not mean we should not appreciate their art.

You may see where this is going and why I abandoned writing this particular blog a couple of days ago. Just by discussing it I might seem to be lessening my dislike of what the scum did. Which is not the case. But it is a danger.

Just because Gary Glitter is scum does not mean he did not create some very good pop music. Perhaps it was not high art. But it was good pop music. The fact that he was imprisoned for having pornographic images of children in Britain and committing sex crimes in Vietnam does not mean his records should be banned.

There is the fact that, if you buy his records, he will receive royalties. That is a problem, but does not affect the theoretical discussion.

Clearer examples are actors Wilfred Brambell and Leslie Grantham.

Homosexuality was stupidly illegal in the UK until 1967. In 1962, Wilfred Brambell (old man Steptoe in the BBC TV comedy series Steptoe and Son) was arrested in a Shepherd’s Bush toilet for “persistently importuning”, though he got a conditional discharge. Ooh missus. He died in 1985. In 2012, he was accused of abusing two boys aged aged 12-13 backstage at the Jersey Opera House in the 1970s. One of the boys was from the Haut de la Garenne children’s home, which is now surrounded by very seedy claims of child abuse, murder and torture (and which Jimmy Savile visited, though this is strangely under-played in newspaper reports).

Actor Leslie Grantham – who famously played ‘Dirty Den’ in BBC TV’s EastEnders – is a convicted murderer. In 1966, he shot and killed a German taxi driver in Osnabrück. He was convicted of murder, sentenced to life imprisonment and served ten years in jail.

Wilfred Brambell’s presumed sexual sleaziness and Leslie Grantham’s actual imprisonment for killing someone does not mean the BBC should never repeat Steptoe and Son nor old episodes of EastEnders, nor that it would be morally reprehensible to watch the Beatles’ movie A Hard Day’s Night because Wilfred Brambell plays a prominent role in it.

It does not mean that Wilfred Brambell and Leslie Grantham’s undoubtedly high acting skills should not be appreciated.

A chum of mine was recently compiling a history of glam rock for a BBC programme and was told he could not include Gary Glitter. That is a bit like not including the Rolling Stones in a history of 1960s British rock music or not including Jimmy Savile in a history of BBC disc jockeys.

Which brings us to Roman Polanski.

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I think he is scum and (figuratively speaking) his balls should be cut off and he should be thrown into a bottomless pit of dung for eternity.

He drugged, raped and buggered a 13-year-old girl.

End of.

The defence “She was not that innocent” is no defence.

In January next year, the British Film Institute starts a two-month “tribute” to Roman Polanski at the National Film Theatre in London.

I have no problem with that. I might even go to some of the movie screenings.

Dance of the Vampires, Rosemary’s Baby and Macbeth are brilliant films. Chinatown and Tess are very good – although I have also had the misfortune to sit through the unspeakably awful Pirates.

As a film-maker, Roman Polanski deserves a tribute. As a criminal on the run from justice, he deserves to be arrested and imprisoned.

Art is often created by people who are scum.

Here is the deleted scene from Spice World:

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Filed under Censorship, Movies, Sex, Television

The British upper-middle media class hates anyone who is genuinely popular

Sid Yobbo….Do they mean him?

Derek Jameson died on Wednesday. His death was reported yesterday; I suspect most people had forgotten about him.

It is Friday today; I suspect most people have forgotten about his death. Yet he was very famous. In his time. Being one of the most famous people in Britain is always just a raindrop in time on a small island at the edge of the North Atlantic Ocean.

I think, when I was at college, he may have been one of our guest lecturers. Perhaps more than once. I really can’t remember.

Yet he was editor of three national newspapers – the Daily Express, Daily Star and News of the World. Then he became a famous voice on radio, a famous face on TV, had his own series – several of ’em’… And – one of the best signs of fame for a populist personality – Private Eye created a name when they regularly lampooned him – Sid Yobbo. They called him that because of his strong Cockney accent and what were seen as his ‘down-market’ tastes.

He was the sort of person Guardian readers – and, indeed, Private Eye readers – always sneer at.

It was snobbery masquerading as… Well, it wasn’t even really bothering to masquerade as anything. It was just out-and-out snobbery. The chattering classes of Islington did not like him because he spoke with a ‘cor blimey’ accent, was someone who had the proverbial common touch, was much-loved by ‘the masses’ and did not go to Oxbridge.

I mean, my dear, he left school and went out to work at 14…!!!

On BBC Radio 4, it was once said he was “so ignorant he thought erudite was a type of glue”.

But you don’t get where he got by being ignorant nor by being unintelligent.

He was an orphan who grew up in care homes, became a Fleet Street (ie newspaper industry) messenger boy at the age of 14 and made it to the top of his very prickly tree… by which I mean it’s full of pricks.

He may have been a horrible man… or a nice man… I have no idea. But he was vilified in the minority circles of up-their-own-arse media luvvies because he was seen as ‘common’ and because what he did was read, watched, listened-to and liked by more millions than have ever heard of any Booker Prize winner.

Mad inventor John Ward, who designed and made the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award trophies, met Derek Jameson in the late 1980s.

“I appeared as a guest on one of his Jameson Tonight chat shows on Sky TV,” John told me yesterday.

“At the time, Sky had only been running a short while and Derek’s show had only been on air a matter of weeks. It was pre-recorded and then screened about an hour later.

“The show was recorded before an audience at the old Windmill Theatre, which had been turned into a television production studio and renamed Paramount City. The audience, it seemed to me, were literally ‘hooked off’ the street outside!

“When I was a guest on the show, we had the rehearsal/run through session and drifted off to have tea and biscuits before getting ready for the taping.

“Other guests on the show that night included actress Shirley Anne Field, Don King the American boxing promoter and Maria Elena Holly (Buddy’s widow). While I was waiting to follow them into Make Up, I asked Derek what the ratings for his show were. After careful consideration, he told me:

Well, as we are new ‘ere, in England, it’s not really registered ‘ere yet, cos there are not a lot of folk who’ve got SKY ‘ere so far but… I’m told we are really shit hot in Murmansk!

“He was a true down to earth trouper and I shall miss him because – unlike a lot of them – he was for real. What you saw, is what you got. R I P Derek.”

As an afterthought, John Ward added:

“One good thing about appearing on his show is that at least I can say I appeared at the Windmill…”

O quam cito transit gloria mundi

Now there’s something Derek Jameson would never have said.

But the world, as always, has turned and changed. Now we have Google Translate. But no Derek Jameson.

So it goes.

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Filed under Class, Journalism, Media, Newspapers, Radio, Television

In a brave new changing world, there is a season for killing Russian journalists

I was always crap at science in school. I used to regularly be bottom of the class in Chemistry. I once came next-to-bottom and the Chemistry master wrote on my report: “A fair attempt”. Shortly afterwards, he emigrated to New Zealand. This is absolutely true.

I was almost as bad at Physics, which I found excruciatingly dull. It was all facts and no ideas. Only much later did someone point out to me that, until relatively recently across the centuries, Physics and Philosophy were much the same thing, because Physics sets out to explain how the world works. If my Physics master at school had ‘sold’ the subject to me as that, I might have been interested.

When I was a kid, I used to think science and the Arts/showbiz were totally separate because the sort of people involved in one had a mindset totally different from the sort of people involved in the other.

Now the two have overlapped at the edges, with former D Ream keyboard-player Brian Cox (who ironically received a D grade for A-Level Mathematics) presenting serious BBC TV  science shows because he is a respected particle physicist with a professorship and is working on experiments at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.

I am going to the Royal Institution tonight, to see their Ghost of Christmas Lectures Past event which features not just scientific authors like Simon Singh but comedians including Robin Ince, Helen Keen and Helen Arney.

Which becomes relevant because, earlier this week, I was talking to Damian Counsell, one-time biomedical scientist who now builds websites (one of them for Helen Arney) and who, in another incarnation, is singer with sophisticated soul and blues band Covered.

He also built the website which Index on Censorship uses for its online news and commentary and has, more recently, been building a site for the International Federation of Journalists to store information which field workers have collected about “media conflicts” in Russia.

It includes a database of Russian journalists who have been threatened, attacked, or killed in “suspicious circumstances”.

Within the database, there are nearly 700 names of journalists – yup, that’s 700 journalists – whose lives have been threatened, including many whose lives have ended “prematurely” – these names go back to several years after the Soviet Union gave way to an allegedly less oppressive Russia.

“Of course,” Damian told me, “these suspicious deaths aren’t all the result of hits by offended members of the Russian mafia or thugs in the pay of corrupt officials.”

He tells me there are other, more mundane causes of violent, non-accidental, deaths among journalists. And apparently there is a season for increased deaths among Russian journalists.

“In winter,” Damian says, “when the weather gets bad and journalists – who are already keen drinkers – sit indoors too long drinking still more vodka, the drunkenness can lead to bloody and fatal pub fights.”

But the main problem, of course, is not pub fights. Ironically, the main problem is increased political freedom in Russia or, at least, the perception of increased freedom.

“When people come out from under the boot of a particularly repressive regime, as the Russians have,” Damian says, “there is often what is called a ‘crisis of impunity’.

“People think they have got immediate freedom of expression. They think that they can criticise the regime and criticise powerful people with no consequences. But, of course, they can’t. So they get threatened or attacked, and, too often, if they don’t get the message, they get killed… So 700 names in a Russian database.

“There are many ways a ‘crisis of impunity’ can emerge,” he says, “and it’s difficult to predict when such a transformation will lead to such a problem and when it won’t.  Mexico does not fit this template, but is a very dangerous place to be a journalist right now. It seems likely that the ‘Arab Spring’ countries will become even more dangerous for journalists, but, oddly – despite relatively high crime rates in general – South Africa is nowhere near being one of the worst places to be a reporter.”

When I was young, scientists were scientists. Comedians were comedians. Boy band singers were boy band singers. And journalists, by and large, did not get shot.

Or it seemed that way.

O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t!

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Filed under Comedy, Newspapers, Russia, Science, Writing

Is Rupert Murdoch really any dirtier than anyone else in the British media?

The whole News International scandal has spiralled into some ridiculously insane combination of conspiracy theory and witch hunt. It has become an excuse for drooling Ed Miliband – the man with the mesmerising mouth – to get more TV airtime and to leer at the camera in an increasingly unappealing way. I seem to remember it was the Labour not the current Conservative government sucking up to Rupert Murdoch’s empire 2005-2010

I have no love for the Metropolitan Police who have been deeply corrupt since way before the Richardson Gang were ever rumoured to have a Met Assistant Commissioner in their back pocket.

But, yesterday morning, I woke up to the sound of the Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson getting attacked by former London Mayor ‘Red Ken’ Livingston because it was reported in Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times that he (Stephenson) had received five weeks of free hospitality (worth £12,000) from Champneys health spa while recovering from the removal of a pre-cancerous tumour in his leg at a time when the News of the World’s now-arrested former Deputy Editor Neil Wallis was doing PR both for the Met and Champneys.

In fact, the boss of Champneys was a personal friend of Stephenson. Why the hell would he check who handled PR for Champneys?

Perhaps the Met Commissioner should not go around accepting £12,000 gifts – even if ‘accepting gifts’ is a long-established tradition of Met officers – but the swirling implications were that it was all somehow part of the phone hacking scandal.

Then I switched on the TV to find John Whittingdale, chairman of the House of Commons’ Culture, Media and Sport Committee which is due to question former News of the World editor Rebekah née Wade now Brooks tomorrow. He was being asked if he was going to resign as chairman of the committee because flame-haired Rebekah was a Facebook Friend of his.

Hellfire! If Facebook Friends count for anything, I could never review a comedy gig and would get arrested as an accessory after the fact in many a dubious minor crime.

The fragrant Rebekah had already been arrested.

And then, yesterday afternoon, Sir Paul Stephenson resigned!

We are now at a point where the UK’s largest-selling newspaper has been closed; the UK’s most powerful newspaper executive has been arrested; the UK’s most important police officer has resigned; and there is a smell of Witch Hunt in the air.

It feels like Westminster politicians – recently exposed by the press in the Parliamentary Expenses Scandal – are gleefully taking their revenge while Open Season lasts. And the media are playing dog-bites-dog in the Rupert Murdoch morality stakes.

But, as someone tweeted, in the recent Twitter flurry of Shakespearean Murdoch quotes – Let he who is without PIN hack the first phone…

What and where is the line you don’t cross in journalism and PR?

The News of the World clearly crossed it.

Erasing the voicemail messages of missing (later known to be murdered) 13 year-old Milly Dowler, collecting the telephone numbers of dead British soldiers’ families, 7/7 terrorist bombing victims and so on… perhaps, in the US, even trying to get the personal phone numbers of 9/11 victims. That is not acceptable.

But presumably most people would accept phone hacking, secretly recording and secretly filming is entirely acceptable to expose some people’s criminal acts: murderers, paedophiles and fraudsters, for example.

When it comes to celebrities, it is only slightly more iffy; but most people probably reckon invasion of privacy comes with being a celeb… and they enjoy reading the resultant titillation.

So where exactly does the line lie?

It is like PR in showbusiness and the media.

Where is the line?

In the early 1970s, there was a sex-for-airplay scandal revealed by the News of the World. Janie Jones was supplying prostitutes to BBC Radio 1 DJs on behalf of record labels wanting their artists’ records to be played on air.

On BBC TV’s Top of the Pops (which had varied producers over the years) it was often assumed ‘perks’ were required if you wanted your rising but not yet mega-famous group to appear on the make-or-break chart show.

Where is the line? A gift of a bottle of booze? Supplying cocaine (or ‘flowers’, as I think many record companies called it on their lists of expenses)? Prostitutes? Blackmail?

When BBC TV, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 or Sky buy a major blockbuster movie, the distributors tend to tell them they can only have it if they also buy a bundle of less-good movies as part of the deal. That feels like good marketing by the distributors, rather than blackmail or corruption.

It is equally common for agents, managers and PR people to tell TV producers that, if they want an ‘A’ list star on their show, then they will also have to have a lesser, up-and-coming ‘D’ list starlet on the show. I think most people would accept that as a strong negotiating stance.

There is the case of a famous, high-rating TV chat show where the producer asked a PR person for major star A as a guest on the show. It would have been a coup for the show. The PR said, “Well, if you want A on the show, it would be nice if you could also put X on the show.”

X was a struggling starlet.

The chat show producer said No – because she wasn’t really right for the show and it would, in a way, have lowered the show’s perceived standard in guests.

It was then implied conversationally that “we wouldn’t want the photographs to be made public, would we?”

Every week, that particular PR person turned up at recordings of the show with different lovely girls on his arm – sometimes three girls – a blonde, a brunette and a redhead. The TV producer was a bit of a philanderer; it was for him to choose whether he wanted the blonde, the brunette or the redhead. Or two of them. Or all three. After the show, they would all go back to a London flat where there were mirrors on the walls.

Yes, indeedy…

You and I can see as clear as crystal that there were cameras behind the mirrors. The producer was obviously more of a philanderer than a great thinker.

He thought the mirrors were just sexy.

It was reminiscent of British film star Diana Dors, who used to hold orgies at her house. On  one occasion the great British comedian Bob Monkhouse ended up in bed with some girl or other and heard a rustling behind a mirror. He discovered it was Diana Dors and her chums looking on: something they liked to do.

As did the PR in this case.

Whatever the reason, X the struggling starlet did appear on the high-rating TV chat show.

Had the PR person crossed the line? Or was it just strong negotiating?

If she scratches your back, you may have to scratch mine.

It is not a lone case.

There are even rumours of a British PR person who has photos on the walls of his private office of famous people caught in flagrante.

It shows he is powerful.

The rumours run that he also has naked photos of an ex-member of the Royal Family.

True? Or just a strong negotiating position?

Where is the line?

Is Rupert Murdoch really any dirtier than anyone else in the British media?

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