John Bercow’s departure as Speaker might finally see respect return says FREDERICK FORSYTH


BACK in the days of Thatcher when the idea of televising the House of Commons was broached, we were told that actually seeing our Lower House at work would increase our appreciation of their wisdom and dignity.

Oh yeah? Nowadays we switch over from re-runs of Fred Karno’s Army to Westminster without noticing the change of channel. But it is getting better. Last week saw the departure, dripping with self-esteem, of the Speaker John Bercow. Now if we had Sir Lindsay Hoyle in that chair, with buckled shoes and wig (after all, the clerks wear them) some of the old respect might return along with the old impartiality.

As one who has travelled very widely, I have considerable awareness of the respect foreign nations used to have for our democratic process. It goes without saying that Her Majesty retains it but when our media refer to the House of Clowns how can we prevent foreigners from agreeing with them?

Some say the young generation does not care a damn for tradition. Not true. Look at the rapt faces when the Guards march past in full fig, above, or when the Spitfires roll overhead on Battle of Britain Day.

Our young (barring the Corbynite Left) have as much appreciation of our traditions and pageantry as the rest of us.

THERE is an aspect to journalism that has long puzzled me. As this profession is my once-a-week reason for being on Planet Earth, I had better be a bit careful here. But the mystery remains.

Theatre critics, despite a free ticket, can mercilessly pan a production and still be invited to the next play or musical by the same outfit.

Their right to review highly critically seems unchallengeable. But have you ever read a caustic review of a resort or hotel by a travel writer? Every place visited by critics of holiday destinations seems to be another paradise.

Book reviewers can slag off a new novel without remorse, even though their copy is free from the publisher but every new car on the market, lent free to the motoring correspondent, is a rolling dream.

A few restaurant critics pay their own tab and can tell their readers the cuisine was awful but others get a free meal and yet still say the eatery serves junk. There is absolutely no sycophancy in food reviews. But there is plenty in fashion coverage. Rare indeed is the review of a new line that does not tell us this clashing assemblage of curtain material that no sane woman would ever dream of wearing is not the product of a rare and beautiful talent.

In TV “game” shows the sycophancy is ladled on with a trowel and is often seriously emetic. The poor mutt from outside showbiz is really there for ritual humiliation.

Years ago we had the stocks and pillory to do this. Nowadays we have the low-IQ TV quiz in which the carefully-selected numpties pose no threat to the luvvies in charge. Showbiz is rife with luvviedom, with enough syrup flowing to drown the “celebs” on display. But TV critics retain their independence from this cloying sorority. So why do motoring correspondents always praise their test drives? Nothing effeminate about them.

Maybe they are in some covert brotherhood with the manufacturers. But even the Austin Allegro got good reviews on its launch day.

(A brief anecdote. The late Sir Denis Thatcher once did a test drive of a new Leyland car in front of the media. It was his wife’s idea to boost foreign sales. So good old Denis got behind the wheel, press cameras flashing, and drove off down Whitehall. After 100 yards he lost control and drove into the wall.

He protested there was some woman in the back no one had told him about. It turned out to be a recorded voice reminding him to put his seat belt on. He needed several tinctures to recover.) There must be a reason why some commercial ventures seem to be criticism-immune while others are torn to pieces by hostile reviewers, but I have not cracked it.

On a personal note I very rarely review books, apart from non-fiction and a novel that I think is excellent and the author of which I know. If I cannot praise, I desist.

Writers are fragile souls and a newcomer really does not need an older author to tell thousands of potential buyers not to bother.

So I suppose I am part of this shady world after all.

But the most fawning sycophancy by commentators is in sport. This is because the British obsession with sport is now total.

To criticise a British performance or performer is like slagging off God in the Vatican. So every time we lose, it is never because our players were not good enough or made mistakes but only because they lacked the luck. Thus the pundits sit around the TV studio and talk absolute rubbish.


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