Smart set: Kate Reardon and staff at Tatler
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Rah to the people: the mad world of Tatler brought to life

A magazine peopled almost entirely by those who think Debrett’s New Guide to Etiquette and Modern Manners is full of genuinely useful advice.

Inside Tatler
BBC2

Why has the BBC made three hour-long films about Tatler (Mondays, 9pm) the magazine for posh types? I’ve absolutely no idea. All I can tell you is that they’re appalling fun (emphasis on the appalling), being peopled almost entirely by those who think Debrett’s New Guide to Etiquette and Modern Manners is full of genuinely useful advice. “A gentleman is never rude unintentionally,” announced Kate Reardon, Tatler’s editor and self-confessed “honking great Sloane”, when asked to pick out her favourite bit of guidance from this hallowed text. One of the “incredibly controlling” things she does as editor is to give every new employee a copy of it – and no, this is not a joke. Across the office, Matthew Bell, one such recruit, confessed delightedly that, until now, he’d had no idea at all that the “smart way” to eat a pear is with a spoon.

Bell had come to Tatler from – ugh! – a newspaper, and when this documentary was made was still finding his feet. Reardon liked his suggestion for a feature that would explore the idea that the middle classes have “destroyed everything”, but she was markedly less keen on his attempt to gatecrash the Queen’s garden party. Poor Matthew. For him, humiliation was the order of the day. First, he had to admit to camera that his roots were middle class (his ma – just imagine it – is a teacher); then he had to pretend to be a waiter in order to blag his way into the party for the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition. (Though he “channelled” the thoughts of a waiter – convincing himself he was broke and genuinely in need of a shift serving canapés to Tracey Emin – alas, he was soon discovered and thrown out.) He also found himself offering to visit Switzerland, where he would be “finished off” – cue excited squawking from his colleagues.

The climax of this initiation was his appearance at Tatler’s art-themed fancy-dress party, clothed in breeches and a wig, like a chap from a Gainsborough portrait. Uh oh. I was reminded powerfully of the days when I used to believe that if I attached strips of pink loo roll to my cheeks with Vaseline, people would mistake me for Adam Ant.

The world of Tatler is a parallel universe, and you enter it at your peril. Long ago, I had an interview there myself – don’t all throw your shoes at me; I was very young, and somewhat desperate – and when the editor asked me where I was from, I unaccountably said: “Yorkshire,” hoping that she might picture Castle Howard rather than the Sheffield semi in which I was born. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job. My vowels, I expect. But doubtless they did me a favour. How would I have coped? I would have spent my days veering between coming over like Wolfie from Citizen Smith – “Power to the people!” – and trying not to collapse into hysterics.

As I watched Sophie Goodwin, the magazine’s style editor, perform an “ironic” dash around the Notting Hill branch of Poundland – “This place is completely brilliant!” she yelped, throwing a “luxury” shower cap into her loaded basket – I felt more than a touch bolshie. “I’ll give you cocktail umbrellas!” I thought. But then Christopher Biggins would hove into view – he was at the Queen’s Club polo, along with Jilly Cooper, Charlotte out of Sex and the City, and a couple called Andy and Patti Wong, who resembled waxworks – or some Scottish aristo would show us the ghastly mural he’d painted on the side of his castle, and my blood pressure would drop. How irrelevant these people are, and how batty.

Back at the office, Reardon bounced a cut-out-and-keep Kate Middleton doll on her desk happily. All, it seemed, was right in her world. Very soon, her 160,000 readers would discover that the whippet is now the “chic dog du jour”, that side-saddle racing for the ladies is making a comeback, and that while red cords are very “old country”, red wellies are definitely “new”. Nicholas Coleridge, the managing director of Condé Nast, which owns Tatler, had proclaimed himself thoroughly satisfied with her latest issue, so long as she was sure to move the cover line “Are you a slut?” just a little further away from the end of the Duchess of Cambridge’s nose. Her work, until next time, was done.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 27 November 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The rise of the insurgents

Photo: Getty
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In the race to be France's next president, keep an eye on Arnaud Montebourg

Today's Morning Call. 

Good morning. As far as the Brexit talks are concerned, the least important voters are here in Britain. Whether UK plc gets a decent Brexit deal depends a lot more on who occupies the big jobs across Europe, and how stable they feel in doing so.

The far-right Freedom Party in Austria may have been repudiated at the presidential level but they still retain an interest in the legislative elections (due to be held by 2018). Both Lega Nord and Five Star in Italy will hope to emerge as the governing party at the next Italian election.

Some Conservative MPs are hoping for a clean sweep for the Eurosceptic right, the better to bring the whole EU down, while others believe that the more vulnerable the EU is, the better a deal Britain will get. The reality is that a European Union fearing it is in an advanced state of decay will be less inclined, not more, to give Britain a good deal. The stronger the EU is, the better for Brexit Britain, because the less attractive the exit door looks, the less of an incentive to make an example of the UK among the EU27.

That’s one of the many forces at work in next year’s French presidential election, which yesterday saw the entry of Manuel Valls, the French Prime Minister, into the race to be the Socialist Party’s candidate.

Though his star has fallen somewhat among the general public from the days when his opposition to halal supermarkets as mayor of Evry, and his anti-Roma statements as interior minister made him one of the most popular politicians in France, a Valls candidacy, while unlikely to translate to a finish in the top two for the Socialists could peel votes away from Marine Le Pen, potentially allowing Emanuel Macron to sneak into second place.

But it’s an open question whether he will get that far. The name to remember is Arnaud Montebourg, the former minister who quit Francois Hollande’s government over its right turn in 2014. Although as  Anne-Sylvaine Chassany reports, analysts believe the Socialist party rank-and-file has moved right since Valls finished fifth out of sixth in the last primary, Montebourg’s appeal to the party’s left flank gives him a strong chance.

Does that mean it’s time to pop the champagne on the French right? Monteburg may be able to take some votes from the leftist independent, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and might do some indirect damage to the French Thatcherite Francois Fillon. His supporters will hope that his leftist economics will peel away supporters of Le Pen, too.

One thing is certain, however: while the chances of a final run-off between Le Pen and Fillon are still high,  Hollande’s resignation means that it is no longer certain that the centre and the left will not make it to that final round.

THE SOUND OF SILENCE

The government began its case at the Supreme Court yesterday, telling justices that the creation of the European Communities Act, which incorporates the European treaties into British law automatically, was designed not to create rights but to expedite the implementation of treaties, created through prerogative power. The government is arguing that Parliament, through silence, has accepted that all areas not defined as within its scope as prerogative powers. David Allen Green gives his verdict over at the FT.

MO’MENTUM, MO’PROBLEMS

The continuing acrimony in Momentum has once again burst out into the open after a fractious meeting to set the organisation’s rules and procedures, Jim Waterson reports over at BuzzFeed.  Jon Lansman, the organisation’s founder, still owns the data and has the ability to shut down the entire group, should he chose to do so, something he is being urged to do by allies. I explain the origins of the crisis here.

STOP ME IF YOU’VE HEARD THIS ONE  BEFORE

Italy’s oldest bank, Monte Paschi, may need a state bailout after its recapitalisation plan was thrown into doubt following Matteo Renzi’s resignation. Italy’s nervous bankers will wait to see if  €1bn of funds from a Qatari investment grouping will be forthcoming now that Renzi has left the scene.

BOOM BOOM

Strong growth in the services sector puts Britain on course to be the highest growing economy in the G7. But Mark Carney has warned that the “lost decade” of wage growth and the unease from the losers from globalisation must be tackled to head off the growing tide of “isolation and detachment”.

THE REPLACEMENTS

David Lidington will stand in for Theresa May, who is abroad, this week at Prime Ministers’ Questions. Emily Thornberry will stand in for Jeremy Corbyn.

QUIT PICKING ON ME!

Boris Johnson has asked Theresa May to get her speechwriters and other ministers to stop making jokes at his expense, Sam Coates reports in the Times. The gags are hurting Britain’s diplomatic standing, the Foreign Secretary argues.

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

It’s beginning to feel a bit like Christmas! And to help you on your way, here’s Anna’s top 10 recommendations for Christmassy soundtracks.

MUST READS

Ian Hislop on the age of outrage

The lesson of 2016: identity matters, even for white people, says Helen

Why I’m concerned about people’s “very real concerns” on migration

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Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.