Saturday, 17 September 2011


I am indebted to Lord Trefgarne who charged the discredited Libyan Government £940,000 for offering to organise a prison break for the Lockerbie Bomber. As I twitched my way through another sleepless night I thought how much I would have liked a slice of that to sprinkle on my porridge.

Then it struck me. President Obama could use the stratagem to pay America’s debt to its landlord, China. He should put in a bill to Al Qaeda for PR services publicising its successful terrorist campaign blowing up, or down, the Twin Towers; and I am going to suggest he puts in a bit extra for frightening the world with the threat that there was another terror attack on the way. It must be the ultimate PR coup to dominate the world’s Media agenda for a week with a ten-year-old story using old pictures to illustrate it. The possibilities are endless. Think of the money we could save by cancelling the entire defence budget. For the foreseeable future we are going to be fighting an endless world war with an enemy using hand guns and dynamite, the weapons their grandfathers used on the North West Frontier in the Flashman Wars.

It will be a relief to escape from our cells in cyberspace to an earlier more less demanding age. Alas, there is little chance of that happening.

This week I have been trying to plumb the workings of the new security cards being issued all over the world to customers of the Hong Kong Bank of China. Think of it... Small, plastic electronic cards issued by whom? The Bank of China. Made in China is an oxymoron. I have drawers filled with electronic plastic gadgets made in China, none of which work.

These security cards are something again. I have ruined two cards and sent three intelligent Pakistani call service youngsters scurrying to darkened rooms where they are now making endless objects of Origami. Fitfully.

The buttons you have to press are tiny. When I eventually got the hang of it the operator made a short, formal speech of congratulation. He may even have bowed, and I swear I heard a ripple of applause go round the call centre. The main problem is racial. My friend the mathematician Garho Tong estimates that I weigh as much as the average Chinese family. In consequence mine is not the slim, tapering finger of Fu Manchu. I overwhelm Oriental press buttons, never covering fewer than two. When my moving finger writes, the buttons move on to get out of the way, the numbers on the buttons being so small. I have more cataracts than Niagara and I am deaf to the Indian calls, love or otherwise, and in consequence can’t hear what the call centre is telling me.

This week I have posted to readers with some reluctance a clever method of bypassing those charming people in far off call centres. They are not methods I would employ myself. I am a devoted admirer of these Children of the Raj.


Wales is a Limited Company run by a small group of families, however much the Welsh Government preens itself. Sinecures come in dynasties so it is no surprise to learn that Rhodri Talfan Davies has been appointed Controller BBC Wales, like his father and his grandfather before him. I worked for all three of them. I also worked for a cousin who ran the biggest publishers in the country.

Interviewing me was the first broadcasting job given to Rhodri’s father before his meteoric rise. Not an arduous job. The interview only lasted three minutes and the producer, clearly in no doubt which side of his bread sheltered the butter, insisted we have a rehearsal. When I said I had been speaking most of my life and had pretty well got the hang of it, he said, “It’s not for your benefit. If the interviewer doesn’t know what you are going to say he won’t know what to ask you next.”

Talfan had been getting work experience in Border TV where he was known as “ Gerry”. When he came to BBC Wales he was Geraint.

He brought a friend as his deputy who spent much of his time writing plays for the competition - ITV. So it was no surprise to learn that the new Talfan doesn’t even live in Wales.

Broadcasting chum Mike Flynn writes from Thailand:

“I wonder if you may have missed this milestone in Welsh media. Responding to ‘sniffy’ comments about a Talfan Davies dynasty, given that his father and grandfather both held top jobs at BBC Wales before him, Mr Davies said: “I don’t worry about it too much. Inevitably people may scratch their heads and say how is it that he can be appointed.......”

In fairness, the Talfan clan were a pleasure to work for. They didn’t interfere and spread their considerable charm where-e’er they walked, so does it matter that the BBC is a family business?

I hadn’t listened to the station for years but when I heard from Mike Flynn I tuned in. It was like listening to the Rosetta Stone. Its message hasn’t changed since grand-dad ran the shop. It is still largely a home for orphaned gramophone records. The presenters still have voices like cheap scent and the women aren’t much different either.

It’s a great puzzle. The Welsh are generally speaking the wittiest, funniest and sharpest of ‘this septic islanders’. They produce the best actors, the finest commentators and singers and the funniest writers. But even with two languages to go at, the nearest they have got to a decent programme in their broadcasting history was the wartime ”Welsh Rarebit” which cannot have taken a lot of thinking about.

The kindest thing to say about Radio Wales is that it isn’t as bad as Radio Cymru, the Welsh language barrel of laughs. Mind you, the Black Death wasn’t as bad as Radio Cymru. Its programmes, in a Welsh few of its listeners can understand, attract audiences so small it would be cheaper to send the actors round to act in their living rooms.

This is probably sour grapes because the times they are a-changing. Noel Whitcomb, the legendary Daily Mirror columnist was tested for writing ability the hard way. He was handed a clipping from the Lancet about a patient who was writing a letter in his bath with the ink bottle on the floor beside him. The soap slipped out of his hand and went scuttering along the floor. He stepped out of the bath to retrieve it, slipped on its trail and sat on the ink bottle which disappeared up the nearest orifice. Noel was told he would get a column if he could make that into a story usable in a family newspaper. My test for a column in the Sunday Pictorial was to sanitise a story about a customer who was castrated by a whore whose fees he disputed.

Johann Hari won a job as columnist on the Independent when he came down from university and wrote two features in the New Statesman. His subsequent work won him the Orwell Prize.

He has had to give it back after admitting embellishing quotations from other writer’s works, plagiarism and using a pseudonym to attack his critics.

A sackable offence ? Not really. He has been suspended for four months without pay. He will only get his job back if he takes a course (at his own expense) in journalism, including ethics, IN THE UNITED STATES - which merits a hollow laugh. He has had to promise in the meantime not to blog or tweet for the Independent.

In return he will be allowed to go back to work for the paper and the report on his conduct will not be published, as would be the case with any other miscreant.

And they say getting jobs in the Media is

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