It has been a good few weeks for Max Clifford, Britain’s new face of morality. With the quiet, caring authority of a bishop, he has presided over the difficult case of Alfie, the 13-year-old boy who may or may not have fathered a baby. At the other end of the life’s spectrum, he has, as he puts it, been “looking after” Jade Goody as she prepares to die.
When not busy doing good works, Max has been talking to the press. In these pages, he was this week described as functioning in the “the wasteland between public merit and clandestine vice”. In one warmly affectionate newspaper profile, the writer confessed, “Damn it, you can’t help liking him.”
Of course not. One of the many illusions which surround Max Clifford is that he is reviled in liberal media circles. In fact, he is adored, although it has become traditional for those interviewing him to express surprise, as the man from the New Statesman did, at what a “nice chap” he is, and how “committed to public service”.
Here is a genuine oddity. We live in an age of cynicism, particularly about PR, yet Clifford’s flattering presentation of himself is accepted without question. His career is a testament to the serious money to be made out of titillating the public. In the past, sex was his most profitable product – the bonking nanny, the innocent Page 3 girl seduced by a married footballer. Recently our voyeurism has taken a more tearful, moralistic turn. David Mellor has been replaced by Gary Glitter, Antonia de Sancha by Jade Goody.
Creepily, Clifford has managed throughout his career to portray himself as a humble yet saintly Robin Hood figure. Those were not sex stories he was selling: he merely believed in standing up for the underdog. His motivation was never money but a sincere belief that those in public life should be held to account. No interview with Clifford is complete without reference to his support for the Labour Party or to his good works on behalf of charity. Once asked whether he could have been a politician, he modestly replied that he was not ruthless or corrupt enough.
He is, in fact, the perfect, living embodiment of contemporary hypocrisy. The world in which he operates in revolves around manipulation. He knows a lot about people in the public eye. When it comes to celebrity sin, he is the witchfinder-general in the “court of public opinion”, a concept shamefully endorsed by Harriet Harman this week, always taking care to be on the populist side.
Sometimes, he says, he can persuade a newspaper to drop one a story in exchange for another. He will help with journalists’ careers, in return for favours: “I’ll find them a job or I’ll come up with something that means they won’t lose their job.” Clifford moulds the news to the shape which suits his interests, and then presents himself as the champion of common sense and morality.
A dab hand at ingratiating himself to the media with fake modesty and apparent candour – journalists are famously vulnerable to flattery from those with power in the media – he emerges from every story, however grubby and seedy, looking as immaculate and unstained as ever.
Clifford has made a good living out of human weakness down the years and is clearly proficient at his job, but there is one of his much-spun stories which should be resisted at all costs – that of Max Clifford, the decent public servant.
Satire is alive and well – on Twitter
Satire can be such a complex business that sometimes one needs a codebook to differentiate between the acceptably barbed and the merely silly. The veteran humorist John O’Farrell has haughtily rebuked a woman called Lisa Valentine for impersonating David Tennant on the Twitter social network. Satire “needs to be aimed at the powerful and pompous,” O’Farrell said.
Valentine’s joke was, in fact, an excellent one. Sending out Twitter messages under the name of THE David Tennant, she had the actor, ridiculing his Doctor Who successor, being close friends with Paul Daniels and writing a book called “David Tennant, Bigger on the Inside”.
Satire? Of course. Even when told it was a trick, Tennant’s fans twittered on. Some actually wanted Lisa Valentine’s autograph; being an impersonator had made her semi-famous herself. O’Farrell is quite wrong. This excellent Twitter joke (possibly the only Twitter joke) is not at the expense of Tennant but of his celebrity-struck fans – and of powerful, pompous satirists.
Get ready for a fine period piece…
For a man, the fascination that women have for their bodies is one of life’s little mysteries. Who would have thought that a series of musings about vaginas would turn into a theatrical event as universal and loved in its own way as An Inspector Calls or Run For Your Wife?
Those who enjoyed The Vagina Monologues, right, are in for another treat. Just published in America, My Little Red Book is a collection of reminiscences by women about their first period, collected by Rachel Kauder Nalebuff when she was 18.
Here, surely, is one of this year’s literary successes. A website has been established for readers to contribute their own period pieces. A stage adaptation must be on its way.