Farewell to the unloveliest newspaper

The <em>Sport</em> and <em>Sunday Sport</em> have gone under, taking their torrent of nipples and ma

Daily Sport

Farewell, then, to the unloveliest newspaper that ever lived, the wretchedly tacky ejaculation of juvenile chortling and tits that was the Sport and Sunday Sport.

Goodbye to the avalanche of breasts. Goodbye to the nipple count. Goodbye to the simian dribbling over bits of people's bodies. Goodbye, too, to the comedy anti-news news articles, which once upon a time jarred against their tabloid competitors, but seem pretty half-hearted compared to the kind of made-up crap we have to put up with now. World War 2 Bomber Found on Moon. Hitler Was a Woman. Bus At North Pole. Oh, how we laughed. But we're not laughing now.

There were slightly less chucklesome things in the Sport down the years, mind you. The court reports about sexual crimes, written in slightly unpleasant amounts of detail, sat in disturbingly close proximity to pictures of half-naked women, there to help you masturbate yourself into a coma. Perhaps it was all just a lot of harmless fun and I am a humourless wretch; I don't know. I just know that it doesn't seem quite so hilarious, in retrospect.

I suppose as someone who calls himself a journalist, I'm meant to be saddened by the departure of another national publication. And I'm not saying I don't understand how devastating it must be for people who have worked hard and who are now out of a job; I feel as sorry for them as I would for anyone flung on to the scrapheap at a moment's notice. But these newspapers were a cavalcade of cheap and nasty tat demeaning news-stands up and down the land by being placed next to real newspapers. For those who worked there, I'm sorry for you, but, on the other hand: welcome to the clean world.

What went wrong to kill off the Sport and Sunday Sport? I suppose the ready availability of porn on the web is the biggest factor. Why go and buy a newspaper for softcore smut when you can access a world of unimaginable filth catering for any kind of taste with the click of a mouse or using your mobile phone? It seems a bit archaic to go into a newsagent and embarrass yourself in the hope of giving your solo sex fun a few go-faster stripes, when you might as well just fire up the laptop and knock yourself out. When you're only flogging your papers on the promise of more boobs than the page threes elsewhere, with only a few ropey articles constituting the "news", you're putting yourself in a vulnerable position. And so it's proved.

At the paper shop on Sunday, there was just a gap where the Sunday Sport used to be, a void in the plastic display, the absence of a gaudy front page with an upskirt photo of a minor celebrity bending over and some paparazzo stuffing a camera into her arse. That wasn't there. And things already looked brighter because of it.

One down, several more to go. But judging by the eagerness with which the Daily Star on Sunday welcomed readers of the Sunday Sport, someone somewhere still reckons there's a market for it. Time will tell if they're right.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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If only I could wangle a job in the John Lewis menswear department I’d get to say, “Suits you, sir”

I’m afraid I am going to have to stick to writing.

So now that I have made the news public that I am even deeper in the soup than I was when I started this column, various people – in fact, a far greater number than I had dared hope would – have expressed their support. Most notable, as far as I can tell, was Philip Pullman’s. That was decent of him. But the good wishes of people less in the public eye are just as warming to the heart.

Meanwhile, the question is still nagging away at me: what are you going to do now? This was the question my mother’s sisters would always ask her when a show she was in closed, and my gig might have been running for almost as long as The Mousetrap but hitherto the parallels with entertainment had eluded me.

“That’s show business,” she said to me, and for some reason that, too, is a useful comment. (I once saw a picture of a fairly well-known writer for page and screen dressed up, for a fancy-dress party, as a hot dog. The caption ran: “What? And give up show business?”)

Anyway, the funds dwindle, although I am busy enough to find that time does not weigh too heavily on my hands. The problem is that this work has either already been paid for or else is some way off being paid for, if ever, and there is little fat in the bank account. So I am intrigued when word reaches me, via the Estranged Wife, that another family member, who perhaps would prefer not to be identified, suggests that I retrain as a member of the shopfloor staff in the menswear department of John Lewis.

At first I thought something had gone wrong with my hearing. But the E W continued. The person who had made the suggestion had gone on to say that I was fairly dapper, could talk posh, and had the bearing, when it suited me, of a gentleman.

I have now thought rather a lot about this idea and I must admit that it has enormous appeal. I can just see myself. “Not the checked jacket, sir. It does not become sir. May I suggest the heather-mixture with the faint red stripe?”

In the hallowed portals of Jean Louis (to be said in a French accent), as I have learned to call it, my silver locks would add an air of gravitas, instead of being a sign of superannuation, and an invitation to scorn. I would also get an enormous amount of amusement from saying “Walk this way” and “Suits you, sir”.

Then there are the considerable benefits of working for the John Lewis Partnership itself. There is the famed annual bonus; a pension; a discount after three months’ employment; paid holiday leave; et cetera, et cetera, not to mention the camaraderie of my fellow workers. I have worked too long alone, and spend too much time writing in bed, nude, surrounded by empty packets of Frazzles and Dinky Deckers. (For those who are unfamiliar with the latter, a Dinky Decker is a miniature version of a Double Decker, which comes in a bag, cunningly placed by the tills of Sainsbury’s Locals, which is usually priced at a very competitive £1.)

I do some research. I learn from an independent website that a retail sales assistant can expect to make £7.91 an hour on average. This is somewhat less than what is considered the living wage in London, but maybe this is accounted for in the John Lewis flagship store in Oxford Street. It is, though, a full 6p an hour more than the living wage in the rest of the land. Let the good times roll!

At which point a sudden panic assails me: what if employment at that store is only granted to those of long and proven service? God, they might send me out to Brent Cross or somewhere. I don’t think I could stand that. I remember when Brent Cross Shopping Centre opened and thought to myself, even as a child, that this was my idea of hell. (It still is, though my concept of hell has broadened to include Westfield in Shepherd’s Bush.)

But, alas, I fear this tempting change of career is not to be. For one thing, I am probably too old to train now. By the time I will have been taught to everyone’s satisfaction how to operate a till or measure an inside leg, I will be only a few months, if that, from retirement age, and I doubt that even so liberal an employer as John Lewis would be willing to invest in someone so close to the finish line.

Also, I have a nasty feeling that it’s not all heather-mixture suits with (or without) the faint red stripe these days. The public demands other, less tasteful apparel.

So I’m afraid I am going to have to stick to writing.

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

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