Watching brief - Amanda Platell gets within 20 feet of Alastair
Alastair Campbell, while facing MPs, carried a pin to push into his hand when he felt he might lose
Two disgraced communications chiefs stepped into the world spotlight last week screaming their innocence. Saddam Hussein's Comical Ali said he had never meant to lie; he was just passing on information given to him by his masters. Meanwhile, Tony Blair's Cynical Ali was singing from the same hymn book.
First, we had the select committee, then the select audience of Channel 4, two masterful and premeditated performances by the master of spin. Campbell's storming of the Channel 4 news studio was as dramatic as it was misjudged. Physicians may be able to heal themselves, but spin-doctors can't.
Not since Peter Mandelson toured the studios protesting his innocence just hours before he was forced to resign for a second time have we seen such desperate attempts by a new Labour luminary to save his skin. I was less than 20 feet away, in the Five News studio at the ITN building on Gray's Inn Road, that Friday night when it happened. An assistant called Channel 4 at about 7.05pm to say Campbell was on his way.
No member of the government, however senior, would have such audacity. Within minutes, a wild-eyed Campbell was on the set, facing up to Jon Snow. The BBC's political editor, Andrew Marr, was right when he said Campbell's performance was jaw-dropping. That was the only sound you could hear as he raged around the building: the jaws of very experienced television executives dropping to the ground.
One told me he could not remember a single occasion when a politician had arrived unannounced and hijacked a live television show. If a minister had done the same thing, Campbell would have destroyed him.
In the end, there was no comfort of camaraderie, even from the left. The Guardian accused Campbell of starting a phoney war to obscure the ugly truth - that the Prime Minister had exaggerated the case for a real war. The Mirror asked, "Just how dodgy is the sexy dossier?", and answered that for the 45-minute threat, the African uranium, the missing WMDs, the deadly build-up, there was "no evidence found". The Independent concluded that the BBC "furore stirred up by Mr Campbell" could not obfuscate "the suggestion that Mr Blair sent British troops to die on the basis of a lie".
Perhaps the most damning of all pieces was written by Simon Walters in the Mail on Sunday, in which he recounted that the bully-boy tactics used by Campbell were exactly those deployed against him during the Black Rod scandal - first "the big lie", then Campbell's favourite tactic of denying an allegation that has never been made.
Who can forget the image, described in the Observer, of Campbell in the select committee, pushing a pin into his hand when he was in danger of losing control? Since when have honest men needed to draw blood to tell the truth?
In some dark recesses of the Tory party - we're talking the booths at Simpson's restaurant - the faithful are struggling to find the answer to their improved poll ratings. The latest idea is that it is down to the Denis Bounce, the death of a great marriage, a reminder of all that is fine about family values. Whatever you think of the Thatchers' politics, you can't take love away from them.
Simon Heffer's piece in the Mail recounted a lifetime of mutual devotion most sparely and, as a result, all the more movingly. "Like his wife, he was nearly killed in the Brighton bomb blast . . . the experience brought them still closer together, with the normally unsentimental Denis presenting her with a watch afterwards accompanied by a note that read 'every minute is precious'." Indeed.
The Sunday Telegraph had it both ways, with Thatcher's long-time PA Cynthia Crawford giving a very British and restrained account of the last moments of his life. "She was holding Denis's hand when he died. There were no final words." Then in the op-ed pages, Helen Osborne lamented the death of a "shared life" - hers with the playwright John - imagining what it will be like for Margaret Thatcher to lose her "golden thread". On reading this, I found myself with one of those bits of dust in my eye that my mum always used to get when we were watching It's a Wonderful Life.
Catherine Zeta-Jones is writing a book on how to be a wonderful mother. I hope marrying a multimillionaire sex addict who is old enough to be almost anyone's father will not feature in her tips. You have to ask yourself, as she clearly hasn't, what a woman who says in court that a million is nothing to her can teach us about parenting?
Perhaps she sought advice from that other well-known salt-of-the-earth Brit, Prince Charles. The Prince has just released his own sexed-up dossier - how to be a single dad on just £10m a year.
If they didn't pretend so much to be like us, we would dislike them less.