Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The Telegraph is in danger of turning into a decent paper again - Rejoice!!

If it wasn’t for Matt’s cartoons, the fact that my wife is addicted to the crossword,and the pleasure to be derived from having a newspaper delivered to one’s door every morning, I’m not sure we’d still take the Telegraph. After all, I spend more time looking at its online edition – especially the excellent blogs section – than I do reading the physical version. And the online version is free!

There have been times over the past five years when I’ve utterly despaired of the raddled old bag. Remember the launch of a snazzed-up Sunday edition edited by some ridiculous woman who apparently walked around the office intoning the mantra, “Glam! Glam! Glam!”? Then they got rid of Mark Steyn, A.N. Wilson and Craig Brown – exactly the sort of writers who gave the paper any semblance of flavour. The quality of its Polly Filla female columnists reached a nadir with the attempt to “big up” Bryony Gordon (who, judging by her photographs, really doesn’t need much help in that direction). Then, in act of madness, it declared its support for the theory of catastrophic man-made climate change.

Due the great Nicholas Garland's age (now 76), the main political cartoon was handed over to someone called “Adam”, whose visual "jokes" are so obscure he has to explain them in an online blog. Mark Steyn was booted out the door to be replaced by Labour supporter, Mary Riddell, possibly the most witless political columnist in the history of newspapers. Sports writer Jim White was tasked with being the main funnyman – which proved utterly beyond him. Finally, last year, it fired Simon Heffer, who, admittedly, had been grumping by numbers for a while, but who, at least, was a proper Old School right-wing Powellite Tory.

By last November, I was ready to give up (I vented my spleen about it here) – but what a difference a few months can make!

Michael Deacon took over from Andrew Gimson as the  Parliamentary Sketch-Writer, they brought in Matthew Norman as their main comedy writer, their blog editor Damian Thompson took over Simon Heffer’s Saturday column, and main political commentator Peter Oborne, having spent an awfully long time finding his feet, finally relocated his mojo.

Deacon has that quality which every PSW needs above all others – he’s funny. Here he is today on a radio debate between the main London mayoral candidates:
At any moment you expected someone to yell, “Shut it, you slaaag!” Suddenly, someone more or less did. “Can you shut up so some of us can get a word in?” squeaked Miss Jones at Mr Johnson. Oh dear, thought the listener. It’ll all end in tears. Or at least those “doof, doof, doof-doof-doofa-doofa” drum noises.
The biggest scrap was over income tax. Mr Johnson accused Mr Livingstone of not having paid his fair share; Mr Livingstone accused Mr Johnson of exactly the same. “The guy’s a liar! The guy’s a barefaced liar!” spluttered Mr Johnson. Via the studio webcam we could see Mr Livingstone grinning as wickedly as a gargoyle. Mr Johnson was sitting with his back to him, like an affronted wife.
(You can read the whole thing here.) The sketch genuinely matters, because – for me at least – it's what defines a newspaper. The only time I regularly read the Daily Mail was when Andrew Alexander was its PSW - ditto The Times and Frank Johnson. When the Telegraph sketches were penned by Andrew Gimson – an amiable enough cove, but leadenly unfunny in an earnest public schoolboy sort of way – the sketch’s plodding dullness counter-acted the perfect start to the day almost invariably provided by Matt’s front page cartoon (the journalist equivalent of a heart-starter).

If the people who run the paper were hoping that getting rid of Heffer would lessen the attacks on Cameron and his unfeasibly posh chums (who no doubt despise the average middle-middle-class Telegraph reader), they must be disappointed. Grammar school product Damian Thompson evidently loathes our PM – and who can blame him?

As for Oborne, who seemed all over the place in this truly abysmal coalition government’s early days, there’s been less Foreign Office Arabist, pro-Muslim, anti-US, ant-Israel guff of late, and more of the thundering attacks on the amoral shenanigans of the political class – at which he excels.

It’s always a relief when an old friend who has changed so markedly that you can’t quite remember why you were friends with them in the first place suddenly becomes himself or herself again.


  1. A few years ago I gave up on the DT and tried the Times, but ran into a person called Mary-Ann Sieghart who gave me a nasty turn. She suffers from a condition called "prosopagnosia" [face blindness] and likes her readers to know about it [like Toby Young and his endless anecdotes about his four children]. I'd rather take the pain of Ms Gordon's endless witterings [by the way, very ungallant remark about Briony and her fuller figure]

    And Mrs Piers Morgan [forgotten name] seems to have decamped to Los Angeles [long may his career flourish]. A great improvement would be a ban on photographs of Hillary Alexander. Or just a ban on female columnists?

    But at the heart of the matter is the ownership. Who are these sinister brothers? According to Private Eye their hands are all over the DT and the Spectator? Without running the risk of getting "whacked" can you throw any light on this?

  2. As the Times now hides behind a pay-wall, I never read it (unless I'm visiting my dentist, whose charges suggest she could pay for Lupert to hand-deliver a copy every morning).

    I wouldn't draw attention to Briony Gordon's figure if the Telegraph hadn't been using a semi-profile photo of her pushing her boobs out at us for years. The other thing that worries me about the Telegraph policy on female photographs is the way that any female - queen, princess, MP, murder victim, terrorist, sunbather, husband-killer - can take up a third of the front page if they're attractive-looking. This has always struck me as extremely tasteless. (By the way, someone who works at the Telegraph tells me that Briony is actually jolly nice, which makes me feel a bit guilty.)

    I don't know if Piers Morgan's wife, Celia Walden, still writes for the paper. My eyes tend to drift past the standar Polly Filla fare.

    I think you're now pretty safe from Hilary Alexander, who appears to have "retired", but still does one or two little regular things for the paper, which I presume are safely tucked inside the fashion section, because I never see them. At least we no longer have to suffer photos of her dressed up like a four year old let loose in a theatrical costumier's.

    As I also don't wish to get "whacked", I shall remain silent about the Barclay Brothers - mainly, I'll admit, because I know sod all about them, except that they live on Sark and are weird.

  3. Celia Walden is back! And she's had a baby and is already writing about motherhood at great length. So, together with Toby Young's endless guff about his four children, this is another cross we have to bear.

    Re the Bros. Apparantly, some journalist made a vague analogy with Gilbert and George and he was inundated by an avalanche of legal threats. Yes, leave well alone.