Author Archive

Life imitates Peter Simple – again

October 17, 2011 Leave a comment
Baker and her sculptures

Sharon Baker: The hype also rises

From today’s preposterous column by the Telegraph’s resident arty-farter, Rupert Christiansen:

Sharon Baker lives up to her surname. She cooks up marvels in her kitchen in suburban Epsom, sculpting dough like wet plaster. For the Experimental Food Society’s banquet next week, she will produce hundreds of bread rolls, cast from the hand of the survivalist television presenter Ray Mears.

Christiansen murmers approvingly: “Sharon showed me the prototype: the impression of wrinkled skin on the crust is quite uncanny.”

Of course, as with most “artists” these days, Baker  intends to follow her muse into unexpected, unexplored quarters, beyond mere loafing around with bread:

I don’t want to make art out of things that will last for ever. I prefer materials which, like human beings, have their life and then degenerate and die. And if I get bored with bread, I’m going to move on to jelly, icing sugar and toffee.

Well, unexplored except by Michael Wharton. This from his brilliant Peter Simple column Way of the World column, also published in the Daily Telegraph, in 1965 (!):

Over the cultural horizon of Britain, now the cynosure of the world, rises a new star (writes art-critic Neville Dreadberg). He is bearded, stocky, 27-year-old Neville Dreadberg, who has exploded into success – personal, social and financial – as current rave of the pop art “scenes” with his show of “structural” stale confectionery sculpture at the Kevin Blatsch Gallery.

The first artist to explore the inwardness – and the essential anguish, loneliness and non-communication – of cream buns, eclairs, custard tarts, liquorice all-sorts, chocolate caramels and similar artefacts, Dreadberg is a man of the avant garde with fingers deep in many different pies.

Perhaps the owners of the Telegraph, the mysterious Barclay Twins, may care to reflect – while stroking their equally mysterious twin white persian cats in their mysterious Channel Island castle hideaway, Brecqhou – that their no doubt highly-paid arts correspondent is merely recycling stuff that appeared in one of the papers they own 45 years ago.

They could alert the Telegraph’s editor, Tony Gallagher, but I would warn them that such action is bootless. The man’s a boofhead (© Nick Farr-Jones).

Cabinet reshuffle – Hey, nonny, nonny!

October 16, 2011 Leave a comment
The Charlbury Morris Dancers

The Charlbury Morris Dancers: A major precedent

Today’s Sunday Telegraph reports:

[Mr Cameron’s reshuffle] was so rushed that [he] promoted ministers from a railway platform surrounded by morris dancers.”

This strikes me as the really important precedent that this Coalition government can offer to generations to come. Instead of bland statements of who’s-in,who’s-out, who’s-sideways written in wince-making politicese, why not rejoice in such announcements and use them to promote those ancient customs of the English, the Northern Irish and the noble Welsh* that the rising brain-numbing American scum-tide of movies, computer games and rap threatens to overwhelm?

The Charlbury Morris Dancers are a first step, and a good one. And I’m sure they deserve the extra income. But why stop there?

Cabinet changes involving LibDem members of the Coalition should be showcased with Dan Leno-style clog dancers accompanied by mass ranks of fiddlers.

Those involving MPs from shipping or fishing port constituencies such as Southhampton, Liverpool, or Portishead could be announced to rollicking sea shanties with jolly jack tars performing the hornpipe.

Similarly, if a little-known MP from the Ridings gets promoted to the heady ranks of Assistant Deputy Under-secretary to the Minister of Scary Monsters (aka the Department of Health), surely such an elevation deserves the “tele-bite” of a spookily emphemeral Kate Bush figure swirling around singing, “It’s meeeea!! Kath-eeaa! Come home!”?

And the resignation – or, better still, sacking – of a detested, incompetent Energy Minister could only be enhanced by a Colliery Brass Band’s triumphant rendition of Gracie Fields’ classic Sally.

I consider this a really important way in which Cameron can make his mark as a Prime Minister of substance in these desperate times. I shall email him immediately. Though I don’t hold out much hope. He never listens to a word I say. Matthew d’Ancona seems to be the only one he listens to these days.

* Eagle-eyed readers will notice the omission of the Scottish here. Purely a deliberate error.

Open and shut case

October 16, 2011 Leave a comment

I’m glad that more than two years after I was forced to leave them, my old colleagues at my local newspaper, the Wimbledon Guardian, remember my regular advice:

Remember you can always use a picture if it helps tell readers something which is not easily told in words.

I feel in this instance they have taken my suggestion somewhat too much to heart:

Picture of open park gate with caption: "Open: The gate"

Right, got that. What's it looked like closed then?

What the Telegraph hides behind its coy dashes to spare its readers’ blushes

October 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Graham Henry outrages the Telegraph's sensibilities

An odd bit of censorship in the Telegraph’s round-up of the New Zealand-Argentina Rugby World Cup quarter-final yesterday.

Quoting All Black coach Graham Henry at the post-match press conference, the Telegraph’s Mick Cleary quotes him thusly:

We’re through to the semi-final, [I’ve] never been there before, it feels – – – – – – amazing.

Note the coy use of dashes there. What naughty word could Henry have used there? Hmmm, let’s see…six dashes…could it be the Brits’ favourite Anglo-Saxon epithet, minus the missing “g”? You know, the f-word?

Of course not. Anyone who has been to the Land of the Long White Cloud knows that the Kiwis’ swear word of choice, particularly in mixed company, is “bloody”. Indeed, it’s probably one of the few countries in the world where you also commonly hear “blimin'”. *

And ‘bloody” was of course the word Henry used – check him out here.

Quite why the Telegraph feels it needs to shelter its readers – particularly its rugby-following readers – from “bloody” in this day and age is I suppose a matter between editor Tony Gallagher and Outraged Colonel of Tunbridge Wells. But to hide it behind dashes seems akin to those Victorian matrons who (perhaps apocryphally) hid curvaceous piano legs under frilly dresses, lest the sight of them stirred unseemly lust.

* Kiwis seem to have a fondness for b-words. As well as “bastard”, the other one you’re more likely to hear there than over here is “bugger”, usually used without any sexual connotation. The online debate continues whether Edmund Hillary, on returning from the top of Everest said “We knocked the bastard off” (what was reported by Jan (née James) Morris at the time) or “We knocked the bugger off” (how teammates remembered it). Hillary himself remembers it as “bastard” in his memoirs; most Kiwis remember it as “bugger”.

10 things you probably don’t know about Steve Jobs

October 6, 2011 Leave a comment
Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs 1955-2011

1) In 1985, when he was being pushed out of Apple by CEO John Sculley, Steve Jobs was approached by NASA to be the civilian astronaut on the ill-fated Challenger mission. He baulked at the six-month training required and refused.

WWW on Steve Jobs' Next

Berners-Lee's WWW on Jobs' NeXT

2) Tim Berners-Lee developed the first WorldWideWeb browser-editor using Steve Jobs’ NeXT, the pioneering hardware/software system he developed after being booted out of Apple (the operating system which Apple later bought and which later metamorphised into OSX, which today underpins the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad etc). “This had the advantage that there were some great tools available,” Berners-Lee wrote. “[I]t was a great computing environment in general. In fact, I could do in a couple of months what would take more like a year on other platforms, because on the NeXT, a lot of it was done for me already.”

3) In 1986, Star Wars director George Lucas sold the Graphics Project Computer Division of his Lucasfilm company to Steve Jobs for $10m because he urgently needed cash to complete his latest project, Howard the Duck. He originally wanted $30m, but Jobs beat him down to $10m. Howard the Duck bombed on release and is regularly castigated as one of the worst films ever made. Jobs renamed his new CGI company Pixar, And then…

4) At first, Steve Jobs had little to do with the day-to-day running of Pixar’s animation division, instead concentrating on creating the Pixar Image Computer, designed for weather, engineering, science and medical imaging. It bombed, selling fewer than 300, only 100 more than the original Wozniak-Jobs Apple I. On several occasions he even thought of flogging off the animation division, most infamously after “Black Friday” – November 19, 1993, when a calamitous screening of their work-in-progress, Toy Story, for Disney executives had Magic Kingdom executives seriously thinking of pulling the plug on the whole project. Luckily, Pixar’s in-house genius John Lasseter went away and re-thought the project. It was a huge success at pre-release screenings; Jobs took note and started to get more involved in Pixar, cannily gambling on floating the company a week after the release of Toy Story on November 22 – Thanksgiving weekend. As we know, Toy Story was the big success of 1995, guaranteeing the subsequent success of the IPO (initial public offering). Jobs held onto 80% of the shares, and virtually overnight he became a billionaire.

The original Bondi Blue iMac

iMac: What's in a name?

5) Steve Jobs hated the name “iMac” and initially rejected it when it was suggested by Ken Segall, the creative director at Apple’s ad agency, TBWA\Chiat\Day. In a 2009 interview, Segall said:

He didn’t like ‘iMac’ when he saw it. I personally liked it, so I went back again with three or four new names, but I said we still liked iMac. He said: ‘I don’t hate it this week, but I still don’t like it.’

Segall then heard from friends that Jobs was having the  name silk-screened on prototypes of the new Mac, to see how it looked:

He rejected it twice but then it just appeared on the machine. He never formally accepted it.

(To be fair to Jobs, he may not have initially liked the name iMac, but the TWBA honchos were in turn initially horrified when they first saw the bondi-blue bubble iMac. Segall says: “We were pretty shocked but we couldn’t be frank. We were guarded. We were being polite, but we were really thinking, ‘Jesus, do they know what they are doing?’ It was so radical.”)

6) Although Ridley Scott’s famous 1984 Macintosh ad is popularly believed to have been screened only once – during the Super Bowl XVIII clash between the LA Raiders and the hapless Washington Redskins – this was in fact the second time the ad had screened. It was initially aired at 1am on December 15, 1983, in Twin Falls, Idaho. With his usual marketing savvy, Steve Jobs had arranged for it to be screened on a small network at a time when hardly anyone would see it so it could be considered for that year’s ad awards. It duly won the Grand Prix at the 31st Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival in 1984.

Oddly, it almost never screened at all. While many of those who saw it loved it, one highly influential group hated it: Apple’s board of directors. After the initial screening in December 1983, board member Mike Markkula asked, “Who wants to move to find a new agency?”

The board left the decision of what to do with the commercial up to then-President John Sculley. Sculley ordered Chiat\Day to sell the air time it had bought, but the agency sold only 30 seconds of the 90 seconds it had bought, leaving just enough time for the full ad to run. An Apple VP finally gave the agency the go-ahead to run the famous 1984 spot during the Super Bowl.

7) Steve Jobs served on the Board of Directors at clothing retailer Gap from 1999 to 2002, during which time he attended only 66% of its meetings. At the same time he joined Gap’s board, Gap’s chairman Mickey Drexler joined Apple’s board. At the time, this swap was criticised by BusinessWeek, which at the time rated both companies’ boards among the “eight worst in America”. It’s not known what Jobs brought to the Gap board’s table (a move away from the company’s ubiquitous beige, perhaps?) but he must have picked up a few tips that came in handy when he opened the first Apple Stores on May 19, 2001.

9) Steve Jobs’ biological father was a Syrian Muslim immigrant to the US, Abdulfattah John Jandali, later a political science professor and even later a Nevada casino chain owner. Jandali and Jobs’ biological  mother, Joanne Simpson (née Schieble), put the infant up for adoption because, Jandali says, her parents objected to their daughter marrying an Arab. (They did marry and had one daughter, the novelist Mona Simpson). Biological father and biological son never spoke to each other, let alone met.

10) Steve Jobs dropped out of his course at Reed College, in Portland, Oregon, on December 30, 1972, after only one semester, because of the financial pressure on his parents. However, he got permission from a college official to freely audit (ie, attend without getting an assessment or grade) classes, eventually settling on one in calligraphy. He slept on the floor in friends’ rooms or in unoccupied dorm rooms and returned Coke bottles to get money for food, with his weekly treat being a free vegetarian meal at the local Hare Krishna temple. He later said: “If I had never dropped in on that single calligraphy course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts.”

The Phone Hacking inquiry: Time for Judge Judy!

October 6, 2011 1 comment

According to the Daily Telegraph, “celebrities, crime victims and others who have allegedly had their phones hacked” by journalists or agents acting for them should be filmed live if they give evidence to the inquiry into the “scandal”.

This is the idea of Lord Justice Leveson, who says he plans to have the proceedings televised.

Among the A-list witnesses are Sienna Miller, the actress whose films no-one in their right mind remembers, Hugh Grant, the well-known fellationado, J K Rowling, the author of well-known novels who wrote them in a caff or some-such (I never get much beyond that bit in profiles about her) and former Formula 1 boss Oswald Mosley, who I thought died years ago.

I’m not sure I’m in favour of this televised proceedings business, because I don’t think we do it well. Think of the Murdoch-Shaving-foam-pie-in-the-face incident. The camera angles were all wrong, the Wendy-wallop all happened in the bottom left of the screen from a reverse angle, the focus-puller had loaded the wrong lens, the wrangler was obviously off having a wrangle of his own and God knows where the best boy was.

But I guess Lord Justice Leveson wants to get down wi’ the kids and in with this YouTube action. Why he should want to do this, I don’t know, although I suspect he’s annoyed his application to Strictly Come Dancing was turned down. But I would warn him against such folly, even if his heart is broken at not getting the chance to cha-cha-cha with Edwina Currie.

If you want a showbiz show trial, you need a showbiz judge. Sorry, m’lud, you are not a showbiz judge:

The dishy Lord Justice Leveson (Credit: PA)

Now here’s a showbiz judge:


Can you imagine how much better the hacking inquiry would be if Judge Judith Sheindlin was in charge? After all, as my learned Lord has readily admitted, the whole thing is a media circus, so why not get a consummate media ringmaster (and one with legal nous to boot) to crack the whip?

“Miss Miller, if you don’ shaddup I’ll wipe the floor with yer! We follow each other?”

“Be quiet, Mr Murdoch! Are you listenin’ to me? No, you listen to me!”

“Mr Grant: beauty fades, dumb is forever!”

“Umm is not an answer!”


Don’t put yourself on the stage, Ms Trimingham

October 6, 2011 Leave a comment
Trimingham court case report

Another fine mess

Tim Worstall makes a good point about one line of defence used by Energy , Climate Change and Tidal Reversal Secretary Canute Huhne’s new partner, Carina Trimingham, in her current action against Associated Newspapers. One of her complaints is that the Daily Mail  published an “inherently private” photo of the 2007 civil partnership ceremony between Miss Trimingham and another woman, which one presumes is Julie Bennett.

Hang on, says, Timmy:

A civil partnership, as with a marriage, is a public declaration. In fact, by definition it’s a public declaration, that’s the whole point of it, to stand up and in public declare the legal relationship between the two people, in front of witnesses and all.

Quite so. Whether it’s a marriage or a civil relationship, whether it’s celebrated in a church, a temple, a “designated” place or the Drive-in Chapel of the Blessed Elvis in Las Vegas, such a union must occur in public and be witnessed to be legally binding. That’s the law. And if someone takes a photo of such an event, there ain’t much you can do about it if they flog the pic to the tabs/email it to all their mates/put it on Facebook.

It just surprises me that for a woman described as “an experienced communications consultant”, Trimingham seems deeply ignorant of Media Law 101. What doesn’t surprise me is that Huhne should thus pick up on such a woman. When you look at it, his whole career has been one “cataclysmic interference” after another.


Required reading by all journalists

September 8, 2011 1 comment

Without comment, I commend to you Mark Steyn’s piece on freedom of speech post 9/11.

In such a world, words have no agreed meaning. “There were funky Chinamen from funky Chinatown” is legal or illegal according to whosoever happens to hear it. Indeed, in my very favorite example of this kind of thinking, the very same words can be proof of two entirely different hate crimes. Iqbal Sacranie is a Muslim of such exemplary “moderation” he’s been knighted by the Queen. The head of the Muslim Council of Britain, Sir Iqbal was interviewed on the BBC and expressed the view that homosexuality was “immoral,” was “not acceptable,” “spreads disease,” and “damaged the very foundations of society.” A gay group complained and Sir Iqbal was investigated by Scotland Yard’s “community safety unit” for “hate crimes” and “homophobia.”

Independently but simultaneously, the magazine of GALHA (the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association) called Islam a “barmy doctrine” growing “like a canker” and deeply “homophobic.” In return, the London Race Hate Crime Forum asked Scotland Yard to investigate GALHA for “Islamophobia.”

Got that? If a Muslim says that Islam is opposed to homosexuality, Scotland Yard will investigate him for homophobia; but if a gay says that Islam is opposed to homosexuality, Scotland Yard will investigate him for Islamophobia.

Actually, I will comment or, rather, I will let Confucius do it: “Above all, call everything by its correct and proper name.”

The NHS has a mush-wimp moment

September 8, 2011 Leave a comment

The Daily Mail, along with Guido Fawkes and others, is quite rightly having a lot of fun with this online NHS ad for an anaesthetist:

NHS job vacancy ad

Please ensure the rubbish is correctly placed in the right recycling box

Across the pond, the National Review has also picked up on it, with Corner blogger John Derbyshire saying it’s an example of a “newspaper editor’s worst nightmare…that his scribbled instructions to journalists (“insert usual blather abt need 2 fix schools etc …”) might end up in the finished copy.”

It’s similar to those times when a layout artist’s “Insert text here jlkjlkj ssffssd kljllkj” instruction boxes appear in the national papers: similar, but not synonymous, since news editor’s comments often betray a particular feeling on the writer’s part.

Certainly, we all know what the writer of the NHS ad thought about the “usual rubbish” regarding equal opportunities that are de rigueur in public service job ads. Not that he or she was necessarily against equal opportunities, just that, with that wise native intelligence of the average Brit, they had long realised it was a foolish, time-wasting and expensive parroting of meaningless platitudes necessary purely because politicians have decreed it so.

Fellow National Review blogger Richard Brookhiser picked up the baton and mentioned his fave example from the Boston Globe, which I’d not been aware of.

On Saturday, March 15, 1980, following a speech on the economy by President Jimmy Carter, the Globe headlined an editorial:

Boston Globe More Mush from the Wimp

The butler didn’t do it…

September 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Reginald Musgrave ponders his ritual, by Sidney Paget in The Strand magazine: Sidney was hired to illustrate the Holmes stories after the Strand's publisher drunkenly mistook him for his more famous brother, Walter

I’m watching a load of enjoyable tosh about fictional detectives and crime thrillers on ITV3: The A to Z of Crime. It’s one of those mindless portmanteau compilation programmes, though slightly classier than the sort you get on Channel 4 – you do get the actual authors (well some of them, any rate), the stars who have played the detectives on screen and even the guy who came up with DNA profiling, rather than grade Z celebs you’ve never heard of who fronted some programme no-one watched on E4. The DNA guy made the interesting point that the first time DNA profiling was used, it actually proved the suspect innocent.

But don’t you hate it when something you know and love is breezily misrepresented in these sorts of shows? For instance, under “B” they had “The Butler Did It”. Fair enough; it’s a common enough cliché when it comes to ‘tec novels. But then some ignoramus pipes up and says the first case of TBDI was The Musgrave Ritual, the classic Sherlock Holmes story that must rank with The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Speckled Band as the very best of the Holmes oeuvre.

No, No and thrice No! The point of The Musgrave Ritual is not that the butler did it (though you think he may have): in fact the butler, Richard Brunton, is the victim. He’s the one who ends up dead under the flagstones, because it was The Maid Wot Done It.

As a long term Sherlockian, just wanted to get this off my chest.

“Whose was it?”

“He who has gone.”

“Who shall have it?”

“He who will come.”…