Crossing Timmy Mallett

Jungle warning - the 'I'm a celebrity get me out of here' participant shouldn't be crossed if my exp

It's often said that we journalists are a despicable breed. After all we murdered poor Diana. We lie at the drop of a hat and we'd sell our grandmothers to the highest bidder.

Of course it occurs to no-one that you don't go into this racket if money floats your boat. No. It's a better story if the public think we hacks are all sweaty, greedy and evil.

And it's true I've not always behaved ethically.

For example, when I was at the BBC I disgracefully tried to balance coverage of the illegal and immoral Iraq war by interviewing people who were opposed to it. I suppose that makes me a communist.

I only hope that's offset by the obsequious treatment Lexus David Cameron gets from political editor Nick Robinson.

The other occasion I erred I'm afraid I trod all over Timmy Mallett's moral compass.

A highpoint in the loveable entertainer's career was his afternoon show at BBC Three Counties Radio where he was lucky enough to be produced by my wife.

On one occasion we went out for a drink in Luton after they'd come off air and he told a very moderately amusing anecdote about fellow children's presenter Michaela Strachan. His very good friend.

It was about Strachan's reaction to a staged kidnap attempt while she was doing a hostile environment training course ahead of filming in some remote troublespot.

Apparently she screamed or fainted or got the giggles. Can't remember which.

Mysteriously this tale appeared in a Daily Telegraph diary column quoting what the Mallett had said.

And my god the wrath. No sooner had I got home that evening than the phone started ringing.

"Timmy's very angry," came a voice down the line when I answered. "Timmy's very angry."

"Oh really Timmy? Why's that," I replied, weakly leaning against the wall.

"Guess what happened to me today," went on the pint-sized funster. "I went to see my parents - my old pensioner parents - and they showed me a copy of the Daily Telegraph. What the hell's wrong with you, selling a story you'd heard sitting in a pub...

"That's a disgusting profession you're joining. Really despicable. Now I'm going to have to ring up my friend Michaela and apologise. Timmy's very, very angry."

And I have to say I did feel a bit bad about upsetting him. I'm not sure the diary story did Strachan any harm - actually it gave them both some of the publicity they so clearly crave.

But I do worry that I provided a bit of the oxygen that kept his national profile high enough to see him pop up in the outback on this year's 'I'm a celebrity'.

The gnomic pot of insufferable jollity is once again on network TV and for that I apologise to you all.

Ben Davies trained as a journalist after taking most of the 1990s off. Prior to joining the New Statesman he spent five years working as a politics reporter for the BBC News website. He lives in North London.
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Who "speaks for England" - and for that matter, what is "England"?

The Hollywood producer Sam Gold­wyn once demanded, “Let’s have some new clichés.” The Daily Mail, however, is always happiest with the old ones.

The Hollywood producer Sam Gold­wyn once demanded, “Let’s have some new clichés.” The Daily Mail, however, is always happiest with the old ones. It trotted out Leo Amery’s House of Commons call from September 1939, “Speak for England”, for the headline on a deranged leader that filled a picture-free front page on David Cameron’s “deal” to keep Britain in the EU.

Demands that somebody or other speak for England have followed thick and fast ever since Amery addressed his call to Labour’s Arthur Greenwood when Neville Chamberlain was still dithering over war with Hitler. Tory MPs shouted, “Speak for England!” when Michael Foot, the then Labour leader, rose in the Commons in 1982 after Argentina’s invasion of the Falklands. The Mail columnist Andrew Alexander called on Clare Short to “speak for England” over the Iraq War in 2003. “Can [Ed] Miliband speak for England?” Anthony Barnett asked in this very magazine in 2013. (Judging by the 2015 election result, one would say not.) “I speak for England,” claimed John Redwood last year. “Labour must speak for England,” countered Frank Field soon afterwards.

The Mail’s invocation of Amery was misconceived for two reasons. First, Amery wanted us to wage war in Europe in support of Hitler’s victims in Poland and elsewhere and in alliance with France, not to isolate ourselves from the continent. Second, “speak for England” in recent years has been used in support of “English votes for English laws”, following proposals for further devolution to Scotland. As the Mail was among the most adamant in demanding that Scots keep their noses out of English affairs, it’s a bit rich of it now to state “of course, by ‘England’. . . we mean the whole of the United Kingdom”.

 

EU immemorial

The Mail is also wrong in arguing that “we are at a crossroads in our island history”. The suggestion that the choice is between “submitting to a statist, unelected bureaucracy in Brussels” and reclaiming our ancient island liberties is pure nonsense. In the long run, withdrawing from the EU will make little difference. Levels of immigration will be determined, as they always have been, mainly by employers’ demands for labour and the difficulties of policing the borders of a country that has become a leading international transport hub. The terms on which we continue to trade with EU members will be determined largely by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels after discussions with unelected bureaucrats in London.

The British are bored by the EU and the interminable Westminster arguments. If voters support Brexit, it will probably be because they then expect to hear no more on the subject. They will be sadly mistaken. The withdrawal negotiations will take years, with the Farages and Duncan Smiths still foaming at the mouth, Cameron still claiming phoney victories and Angela Merkel, François Hollande and the dreaded Jean-Claude Juncker playing a bigger part in our lives than ever.

 

An empty cabinet

Meanwhile, one wonders what has become of Jeremy Corbyn or, indeed, the rest of the shadow cabinet. The Mail’s “speak for England” leader excoriated him for not mentioning “the Number One subject of the hour” at PM’s Questions but instead asking about a shortage of therapeutic radiographers in the NHS. In fact, the NHS’s problems – almost wholly caused by Tory “reforms” and spending cuts – would concern more people than does our future in the EU. But radiographers are hardly headline news, and Corbyn and his team seem unable to get anything into the nation’s “any other business”, never mind to the top of its agenda.

Public services deteriorate by the day, George Osborne’s fiscal plans look increasingly awry, and attempts to wring tax receipts out of big corporations appear hopelessly inadequate. Yet since Christmas I have hardly seen a shadow minister featured in the papers or spotted one on TV, except to say something about Trident, another subject that most voters don’t care about.

 

Incurable prose

According to the Guardian’s admirable but (let’s be honest) rather tedious series celeb­rating the NHS, a US health-care firm has advised investors that “privatisation of the UK marketplace . . . should create organic and de novo opportunities”. I have no idea what this means, though it sounds ominous. But I am quite certain I don’t want my local hospital or GP practice run by people who write prose like that.

 

Fashionable Foxes

My home-town football team, Leicester City, are normally so unfashionable that they’re not even fashionable in Leicester, where the smart set mostly watch the rugby union team Leicester Tigers. Even when they installed themselves near the top of the Premier League before Christmas, newspapers scarcely noticed them.

Now, with the Foxes five points clear at the top and 7-4 favourites for their first title, that mistake is corrected and the sports pages are running out of superlatives, a comparison with Barcelona being the most improbable. Even I, not a football enthusiast, have watched a few matches. If more football were played as Leicester play it – moving at speed towards their opponents’ goal rather than aimlessly weaving pretty patterns in midfield – I would watch the game more.

Nevertheless, I recall 1963, when Leicester headed the old First Division with five games to play. They picked up only one more point and finished fourth, nine points adrift of the league winners, Everton.

 

Gum unstuck

No, I don’t chew toothpaste to stop me smoking, as the last week’s column strangely suggested. I chew Nicorette gum, a reference written at some stage but somehow lost (probably by me) before it reached print.

Editor: The chief sub apologises for this mistake, which was hers

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle