Well, if you will yield to preconceptions…
19 December 2007
It has been a week during which small but profoundly held beliefs have come into question. An ITN newsreader has been found sleeping rough in Brighton. That is not supposed to happen to newsreaders, least of all those who work for ITN.
With their chiselled, android features, these men seem to have been selected for their reassuring respectability, their impeccable dullness. The idea that they should end up dossing down in a doorway seems to belong to another, nastier universe.
So shocking is the news that Ed Mitchell, formerly of ITN, has been given two-page interviews in the press and was even interviewed by John Humphrys on Radio 4’s Today programme. The views of his children, his ex-wife and, most tellingly, his mother have been sought. Then, just as we were expecting an invitation for Ed to be the token hell-and-back celebrity on a reality show and to give the story a positive seasonal glow, it emerged that he had already stumbled on his road to redemption. The guest of a newspaper at a hotel, he was arrested on Sunday night after an alleged violent incident.
Meanwhile, in a different part of Celebrityville, there was another surprise. Iran is to end the ban on western pop music that came into force after the 1979 revolution with a concert in 2008 by a major rock star Chris de Burgh. Again, there is a sense of reality being shifted out of shape. The world of pop has certain unstated rules; in its way, it is profoundly conventional and snobbish. Some acts are cool, and some are not. The division between the two is as clear and unquestioned as any social system championed by the Tatler or Nancy Mitford.
It is not necessary to be a crass novelty act to be uncool. Some talented people, notably Mark Knopfler and Phil Collins, have become so obviously unfashionable as to provide instant, easy laughs for lines written by lazy sitcom writers. Whereas it is fine for the modish music-lover to admit to liking Slade, Abba or the Pet Shop Boys, only the most jejune would speak up for Knopfler or Collins.
De Burgh is as uncool as any successful rock star could be. His “Lady In Red”, a rather sweet and catchy love song, has become a byword for naff sentimentality at least among those who appear in television studios and in front of microphones. To the conventionally-minded, the idea of this floppy-haired ex-public schoolboy and his soppy songs representing the past 25 years of rock music is downright bizarre.
It is a long way from Ed Mitchell to Chris de Burgh but, in their different ways, they reveal how our largely unquestioning views are shaped and constrained by the culture in which we live. Ed Mitchell still sounds and looks like a newsreader. De Burgh sounds and looks like a poor man’s Sir Paul McCartney. In the glossy, untroubled landscape of the mediated world, these two men had their place, and it was not sleeping on a park bench or being a rock revolutionary in Tehran.
Ed Mitchell’s story turns out to be more than a feelgood tragedy with an easy moral and a happy ending. His mother, perhaps rather unkindly, has pointed out that much of the time he claimed to have been sleeping rough he had been staying with her. Eventually, she had had enough of his drinking and could not afford to keep him on her pension.
The public version of the truth is easy to assimilate and makes a neat, comforting story. But real life is messier and more interesting.
‘Tis the season to show off
“Come on, it’s Chriiiistmas,” a boorish Harry Enfield character used to say, having just perpetrated some ghastly stunt. The joke was that this time of the year represents a perfect excuse for show-offs a view rather borne out by the latest row surrounding the Christmas lights (22,000 last year) on the home of Vic Moszczynski, of Sonning, Berkshire. Vic or “Mr Christmas” as he likes to be called, has been moaning to the press that he is unable to put up a festive display because his unfortunate neighbours have complained of noise, vandalism, petty crime caused by coach-loads of visitors. This energy binge seems to have more to do with bullying exhibitionism than Mr Christmas’s seasonal goodwill.
* A recent piece about institutional dishonesty drew an interesting range of responses from readers. The Chief Constable of South Yorkshire, where a number of police officers had been dodging speeding tickets, suggested that cheating was a matter of private conscience. Institutions had little to do with it.
If such things are a matter of personal morality, what should we make of Britain’s best-paid and some would say greediest policeman?
Ian Johnston retired from Scotland Yard at the age of 60 and had hardly paused to pocket his pension of about 70,000 before taking up a job as the boss of British Transport Police, on a salary of more than 190,000 a year. Because they are separate organisations, he was on a lucrative double-bubble of pay and pension, which he cheerfully accepted. He also claimed almost 7,000 in expenses last year. This sort of thing happens all the time in private industry, explained a spokesman. Precisely.