Class conscious

In the Guardian, Stephen Fry describes the Daily Mail as symbolising "bourgeois fear". "Someone should write a book," he suggests, "about how uniquely wrong the Daily Mail is on everything."

Well, that person won't be me. I have a soft spot for the paper's editor, Paul Dacre, who used to open doors for me - literally, I mean, not, sadly, career-wise - when I worked under him on the Evening Standard. What I really like about the Mail, though, is that it pays around £600 for 1,000 words.

That said, everything I've ever written for the Mail has not been used, which bothers me because I've studied its style and ethos in detail. It's a woman's paper, of course, so if you're writing about a man for the Mail, you concentrate on his wife. Humour is more or less banned, except in the case of Keith Waterhouse. The word "remarkable" is a favourite with Dacre, as is the word "brilliant".

Every article that appears in the Daily Mail is described, by the Daily Mail itself, as "brilliant". And question marks are essential, as in "Just how much longer are we going to put up with . . . ?"

The querulous tone, and the habit of referring to the liberal Establishment as some distant, nebulous "they", suggests that here is the voice of the disenfranchised little man, the humble citizen who normally keeps himself to himself but has been goaded beyond restraint by the latest outbreak of bare breasts on Channel 5.

Certainly, the jobs advertised in the paper are usually at middle management level. The Mail also carries a sprawling section, full of puzzles and quizzes, the title of which, "Coffee break", implies that it's aimed at the oppressed paper shuffler. Generally speaking, it's a fair bet that if you're standing at a bus stop next to a person who keeps saying chirpy, lower-middle-class things such as "we've plumped for the Isle of Wight again this year!", there'll be a Mail somewhere about their person.

Yet the paradox is that this paper, which masquerades as the voice of mild-mannered, insignificant people, is the most powerful one in the country. So I say to Stephen Fry: don't mess with the Mail; keep your admittedly very amusing remarks to yourself.

This article first appeared in the 16 October 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Interview - Lord Woolf