Friday, 22 May 2015
I was most interested to read this book, largely because the News of the World, whatever you thought about it, was a phenomenon. I think that's the right word. There never was another paper quite like it. I used to read it regularly. Even in the fairly short time since the paper closed, at the behest of its owner, well I won't bore you with why that happened, but there was phone hacking and a whole bunch of stuff, and I suppose the brand finally became tainted, the dead-tree press has become less relevant, and less important to people's lives, and perhaps as a consequence, people have become more credulous.
My grandfather, a butcher by trade who was of Welsh heritage and worked in the Harrods food hall in the last years of his working life, used to read the Daily Mirror. He read it every day, and was highly sceptical about what he read there. He thought the government mostly lied to the people, and that most of the papers copied out their lies most of the time. He was probably right. He used to like the News of the World too, but my grandmother wouldn't have it in the house because of its raunchy content, and because she thought reading it might give my grandfather "ideas" - what sort of ideas, she never said, though my brother and I used to try and persuade her to.
My parents used to read the Daily Sketch, and later on The Times. Most of the rest of our family thought they were getting above themselves for reading the "Top People's Paper", as it styled itself at one time. My father was fairly sceptical about what he read too, but less so than my grandfather had been. He used to wonder aloud about what was "meant" by what was published. He knew there was another message there under the headlines, but he wasn't quite sure what it was. My mother very rarely commented on the news. When the Profumo affair broke I was nine years old, and my parents got their "information" about it from the newspapers they read. I remember their rather clumsy attempts to use coded language when they talked about that story in front of their children. I think they were trying to avoid one of us asking "What's a call girl?"
I read newspapers when I was younger, to my shame the Guardian at one time, poisonous racist rag that it is, and I read The Times on line sometimes now - I get bored and let my subscription lapse, and then I start again - but newspapers aren't part of my life any more. I use public transport every day, and you never see people reading newspapers on there any more. Freesheet giveaways, maybe.
Neville Thurlbeck, sometime news editor and chief reporter on the News of the World, describes the old Fleet Street and tabloid reporting as a "vanished world", and so it is. Twitter and so on have more or less put paid to it. And we are all the more gullible as a result. Retweet something when you have no idea whether it is true or not, which people do every day in their millions, and where in all that is knowledge? There used to be a saying up north "some folks'll believe owt" I think it was, perhaps regional linguists can correct me (I'm from London and the South). And so they will.
If you read this book expecting to discover the vanished dark arts of story-getting, you will be disappointed, although the blurb tells you that is just what you will get. No. It gives you background on the chasing around that goes with breaking a tabloid story, David Beckham's affairs, that sort of thing. And as such is good fun, and rather interesting. I remember a lot of stories from the NotW (I was even in one once, the headline was "Woman On Top"), and it would have been great to find out some of the back stories, but most people are more interested in David Beckham than they are in some choirmaster being caught out fiddling with a choirboy. though they shouldn't be.
Of course, there was "the one that got away". A senior politician, whose sexuality was not what he made it out to be, allegedly, but who was never exposed. If he had been, the political landscape would have been "radically altered", we are told. Well, who might THAT be, then?
I think this book is rather a valuable contribution to the history of the media. Journalists, other than very pompous ones who think themselves historians and so on, don't usually write books that make a contribution to the sum of human knowledge. This one has.