The British press evidences some of the most advanced double-standards on the planet. Fortunately Private Eye (although itself no stranger to ignoring ill-doings by its ‘likes’ and to showering chronic, festering poison on its ‘dislikes’) exposes quite a few of them.
Malcolm has one particular bugbear: the asterisking of ‘forbidden’ words. When The Times reports a t***, we all get the meaning, while the Disgusteds of Tunbridge Wells have no grounds for complaint. Well, not many.
The topic was redolently illustrated by Malachy Cleary, in an article for the Irish Times earlier this year. It deserves to be given an honourable retrospective:
It’s always the footballers, isn’t it? A long time ago, in another life and another newspaper, a few of us were sitting around a table planning a piece on the trial of Leeds players Jonathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer. You remember it – a club night out gone awry, an Asian student who ended up in hospital, days upon days of court testimony filling up every page and airwave slot that was going.
To borrow a phrase John Terry employed in his statement to the FA that was read out in Westminster Magistrates Court this week, there was plenty of industrial language in the witness box. Our little round-table discussion came upon the dicey area of how to approach it. Shit or s**t? Wanker or w****r? Leeds or L***s?
Those of us who argued that we’re all grown-ups who can take a little cursing from time to time knew from pretty early on that we were onto a loser, asterisking in the wind if you will. No matter that the page was going to end up looking like the ceiling of a planetarium, there was just no way were we going to be allowed to write out the full words.
Having taken our beating, the final ignominy came when we lost the battle for just how many asterisks we would have to use in each word. The general feeling from on high was that, just to be on the safe side, we should reduce the f-word to literally that – an f and three little stars. “Oh for f**k’s sake!” grouched one of our number. “At least leave me the f**king k!”
The Guardian, bless its liberal pretensions, has no such hang-ups. And that Malachy Cleary piece reminds us how Ireland has changed since the dreary days of blue-nosed Bishop Michael Browne of Galway (of whom more in another post) .
What makes this all the more peculiar is how perverse this can become.
Having a clue
Consider one example, from the Review section of last Saturday’s Times [£] — which comes wrapped in the Weekend section, which in turn is fronted by a semi-Beckham lookalike young male apparently simulating breast-feeding. An exercise in bizarrerie, indeed.
I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue: the best of Forty Years (Preface, £20) [which] salutes that perennial Radio 4 favourite, which attracts 2.5 million listeners. Basically it’s Graeme Garden, Tim Brooke Taylor, Barry Cryer and guests performing silly tasks set by chairman Jack Dee, which usually involve ingeniously excruciating wordplay. Here are the best puns from four decades grouped together into categories from Famous First Words to Celebrity Misquotes, the Rules of Mornington Crescent to the Pensioners’ Songbook. The Chat Up Turn Downs section may prove particularly useful at this time of year. Q: “are you from Tennessee, because you’re the only ten I see?” A: “Are you from Scunthorpe?”
There’s something going on here (apart from large chunks of that ‘review’ being lifted from elsewhere). Malcolm hopes it is the creative writer trying to slip another spicy one past the prudish editorial blue pencil.