HE WON’T THANK ME FOR SAYING SO but Andrew Neil, the ultra-Thatcherite former Sunday Times editor who is now the BBC’s flagship political presenter, has ‘done a Kelvin Mackenzie’.
He has banned the Co-op from advertising ‘forever’ in The Spectator, the political magazine of which he is chairman, in a row over editorial freedom.
The original fall-out was all a bit ‘handbags at dawn’: a pressure group called Stop Funding Hate whose aim is to stop companies advertising in publications which (in their opinion) “use fear and division to sell more papers” tweeted that the Co-op should stop advertising in The Speccy, calling it “a magazine notorious for transphobia & ‘anti-Muslim propaganda’.
Meekly, the Co-op’s Twitter account promised to instruct its media buyers to no longer use the 192-year-old right-wing magazine. And that’s where the handbags started to fly. . .
Andrew tweeted: “No need to bother, Co-op. As of today you are henceforth banned from advertising in The Spectator, in perpetuity.
“We will not have companies like yours use their financial might to try to influence our editorial content, which is entirely a matter for the editor.” He gets like that, does Andrew: likes a bit of bombast and can hand out a kicking as well as take one.
I know. I have been on the receiving end: when he edited The Sunday Times and I the Daily Mirror back in the 1990s I wrecked a Tory conference and scooped his paper’s £250,000 exclusive buy-up of the Thatcher memoirs and he was not best pleased, as he made clear in a shouting match with me in earshot of millions of Radio Four Today programme listeners.
His spat with the Co-op will blow over, just as did our contretemps over Thatcher’s not-very-memorable memoirs; editors full of righteous indignation behave like rutting stags and there is no newspaperman with a fuller-blown set of antlers than the infamous Kelvin Mackenzie, who has had his own run-ins with both Neil and me over the years. Which is why I chuckle when I recall the day Mackenzie banned a Sun reader “from ever again buying my newspaper!”
Why? When journalists at the Sun went on strike during the Falklands War in 1982 I and six or seven other senior editorial executives managed to keep the UK’s most popular paper publishing as a matter of national necessity, despite the exhausting pressure.
Naturally, the skeleton staff often missed its deadlines and when a belligerent reader rang from somewhere in Somerset effin’ and jeffin’ about his paper being delivered late three days running he gave Mackenzie’s secretary such an earful that she burst into tears.
Kelvin in turn grabbed the phone and gave the reader the sort of eff-packed pep talk he usually reserved for his staff and ended his tirade by telling the bemused reader: “You are henceforth BANNED from ever buying the Sun again. EVER!”
The stunned silence around the newsroom that followed the editor’s earful was eventually broken by the plaintive ringing of the editor’s secretary’s telephone.
“It’s the wife of the reader you just banned, Kelvin,” shouted Rosanne across the now-stilled newsroom as she held the receiver aloft. “She wants to know if SHE’S banned, too!”
That’s Sun readers for you!
Has Boris invented
the political ‘W-turn’?
THREE POLITICAL QUESTIONS for the powers that be: 1) Does that king of the reverse ferret, Boris Johnson (about-turns on A- level grading, local lockdowns and mask-wearing among many recent changes of mind), realise that Margaret Thatcher wasn’t issuing a command when she said “U-turn if you want to. . ? 2) A BBC ‘insider’ claimed last week that achieving political balance in radio and TV comedy shows wasn’t possible “because right-wing comedians are not funny enough”. Haven’t they tried the Cabinet? 3) Can you guess my suggestion for an anthem to replace Rule, Britannia! at the Last Night of the Proms? The piece I favour begins by asking four questions, the answer to each of which is quite certainly ‘no’. . . and which I will share with you at the end of this column.
Wailing at a wall
of indifference. . .
MY FORMER LONDON AGENT JON ROSEMAN and I don’t meet much any more. Why would we? I’m in Crookham, Northumberland and he inhabits Grossetto in Italy. And neither of us earns a penny any more.
But when we do meet we raise a glass and solemnly intone, “L’Chaim! Next year, please God, in Jerusalem!” I don’t know why, other than he’s Jewish; it’s just a thing we do.
Anyway, Roseman tells great stories from his days as a video producer for the top names in rock and his years as an agent to some of the household names in radio and television. It’s given him enough dark material for an autobiography (From Here to Obscurity, would you believe?) and he’s never short of a yarn. Here’s one he told me the last time we spoke; I think you’ll like it.
A female CNN journalist heard about a very old Jewish man who had been going to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem to pray, twice a day, every day, for a long, long time.
To check it out, she went to the Wall, and there he was, walking slowly up to the holy site.
She watched him pray, and after about 45 minutes, when he turned to leave, using a cane and moving very slowly, she approached him for an interview.
“Pardon me Sir, I’m Rebecca Smith from CNN. What’s your name?
“Morris Feinberg,” he replied.
“Sir, how long have you been coming to the Wailing Wall to pray?”
“For about 60 years.”
“Sixty years! That’s amazing! What do you pray for?”
“I pray for peace between the Christians, Jews and the Muslims. I pray for all the wars and all the hatred to stop.”
” And I pray for all our children to grow up safely as responsible adults, and to love their fellow man.”
“And how do you feel, after doing this for 60 years?”
“It’s like talking to a f*****g brick wall!”
Four questions that
could close a Promenade season
IF THE POWER OF PUBLIC OPINION can reverse a trivial decision like banning pissed Proms flag-wavers from singing Rule, Britannia! why can’t it do something useful and prevent the Foreign Office ‘swallowing’ the Department for International Development, a genuine world-beater when it comes to reducing Third World poverty?
Still, if we must sing something self-laudatory as we wrap up another season of Promenade concerts might I suggest Hubert Parry’s wonderful anthem Jerusalem (lyrics by William Blake) celebrating a quite different politically radical tradition in English history?
Parry, a peaceable man who survived the first world war only to die in the Spanish flu pandemic, composed Jerusalem for – and awarded copyright to – the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies.
And those four questions, to which the answer is most certainly ‘no’?
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountain green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?
And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among those dark satanic mills?