Saturday, 15 January 2011


This has been deja vu week. An MP faces prison because he fiddled his expenses. Fifty years ago when I was a reporter on the Daily Mirror I lost count of the times when at the end of a successful story the news desk told me: “The editor says well done and stick an extra fifty miles on your petrol expenses.” When I became night news editor I was told I would get a guaranteed fiver a week on expenses because I was already getting paid at night news editor level.

We all loved it when the Telegraph exposed the false expenses that were being fiddled by the MPs. They protested in vain that they had been told to inflate their expenses because the voters would not countenance pay rises. Yet it seems to me that a party leader who encourages false accounting is just as guilty as the person who makes the claim.
As if feeling sorry for MPs were not enough, I even feel sorry for bankers. I spent a lifetime fighting bank managers. A Midland Bank manager told me: “Hamlet was Shakespeare's greatest tragedy as you are the Midland Bank's.” Nonetheless, I do not see why the banks should not be allowed to spend their own money in ANY way they wish. Bonuses are paid to investment bankers out of the many millions of pounds of business they bring to this country. They are paid with money on which tax has been paid by the bank. The bankers who receive bonuses also pay tax on them and go on to spend the money on things which carry 20 per cent VAT.
I feel it isn't fair that I don't get a massive bonus too. I am all for giving bankers a thrashing. But why does no one complain about the exorbitant wages of footballers?

Or indeed editors. Not heard much criticism of greedy journalists from the Daily Mail at the news that its editor-in-chief Paul Dacre cemented his position as the UK’s top paid national newspaper editor by taking home a total of £2.8m for the year ending the beginning of October. Dacre was rewarded with a 70 per cent pay increase as Associated's Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday titles achieved record profits and new highs in terms of market share over the previous year.

The total of £2.8m comes from fees and salary totalling £1.6m; £127,000 in cash allowances; £25,000 in benefits in kind; and a £1m bonus paid in cash and shares. Do I see a glasshouse looming high?
Things could be worse. We could be living in southern Ireland. Gerry Kerrigan wrote in the Irish Independent: ”We accept as normal things that once we would have denounced as outrageous. Last Wednesday, for example, our EU 'partners' borrowed €5bn on our behalf. At an interest rate of 2.59 per cent. And next Tuesday, they will pass the money to our Mr Lenihan. And they'll charge us interest at 5.515 per cent.

“Our 'partners' will make a profit of almost 3 per cent on the €5bn (and all the other billions they'll borrow to lend to us). In fact, they'll make more from the deal than the moneylenders from whom the €5bn is coming. This is called a 'bailout'. Gee, thanks, 'partners'. Every hard-working citizen paying income tax, every unemployed citizen paying VAT on a pair of socks or a sliced pan, will pay for this 'bailout' right into the next generation and beyond.“
The victory this week of Miriam O'Reilly, the Countrywide presenter, brought back the worst time in my life. I was sacked by BBC Wales two weeks after I had been awarded a golden microphone for my services to broadcasting. I took BBC Wales to a race tribunal. I claimed I was sacked because I was English, though there were undercurrents of ageism. A new editor had vowed he ”wasn’t going to have those old bastards working on Radio Wales”. It was small consolation that both the editor and the Controller lost their jobs a matter of weeks after the Corporation settled out of court.
I was born to broadcast. As an 18-year-old soldier I wrote news bulletins and made programmes on the British Forces Network with Cliff Michelmore and Raymond Baxter. They went on to dazzling BBC stardom.

It took me rather longer but I made it in the end and when I sat for the first time in an unattended studio I knew I had come home. In a funny sort of way that was the day my life began. The moment before you go on air the quality of silence in your earphones changes and becomes more intense. That is when what is wrongly assumed to be panic sets in. It is an adrenalin rush marshalling your body to be ready. In that moment I came alive for the first time.

Broadcasting is like drinking champagne. The blood races, the spirits soar. Concentration is honed, wit polished. Your nerves scream but with your first words comes a feeling of peace and content. I imagine pilots get the same feeling as they climb above the clouds. You discover a country of which you are king.

The adrenalin stays in you. When I was broadcasting I had an audience worldwide of 26 million and out of the studio I wrote books and newspaper columns, restaurant and book reviews. I was a theatre critic and an after dinner speaker.

When it ended on February 1, 1999, my creative life ended with it. I became a zombie. I loved my home on Anglesey but when the opportunity came I left without a moment's regret. Nothing seemed to matter any more. There were no highs or lows. The tragedy is that it still doesn't. Miss O'Reilly will be offered the choice of a huge sum in compensation or a return to broadcasting. I hope she chooses broadcasting.


Looking into the relationship between skin hue and perceived attractiveness, researchers at St. Andrew’s and Bristol universities found that people with a yellow hue to their skin were judged healthier and more attractive. They also found that carotenoids (yellow pigments) found in some fruits and vegetables are responsible for producing the yellow hue of people’s skin. (News item)

I will stay ugly and pale-faced. When I was young the Government claimed that eating carrots made our night fighter pilots able to see in the dark. I ate a bagful of carrots after black-out, opened the back door, went out into the night and bumped into the dustbin. Turned out there was a glut of carrots but I never forgave Churchill.