The MT Diary: Howard Davies

Howard Davies on the Leveson Inquiry, Americanisms and the French slant on history.

by Howard Davies
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

So here is the problem. Anyone aged under 25 now begins half of their sentences with the word 'So'. So why has this happened? Is it an American import, or was it a little-noticed clause in the Coalition agreement? So irritating is the habit that I find it hard to listen to what follows.

Now that I have drawn your attention to it, I am sure you will discover that I'm right. So far, so good. Another technique I can adopt is to do it myself to show I can be down with the kids. So I may insert 'so' sentences into this diary on an alternate basis. But the chances are you will find it as annoying as I do. So I will stop.

What will the Beeb do when the Leveson hearings stop? There's never been daytime TV like it. A succession of strange creatures have paraded before the amazed public, blinking in the daylight after decades in the moral darkness of the tabloid newsroom.

What old-fashioned workplaces newspapers turn out to be. Witness after witness has spoken of the autocracy of the all-powerful editor, of a culture of aggression and intimidation and foul language. Editors seem to behave like celebrity chefs, barking four-letter words at underlings and trying to make them cry.

In any grown-up company in the UK, if the board discovered that there was a subsidiary where the boss's word was law, where a macho culture reigned, and where no-one dared to stand up and challenge authority for fear of the sack, that would quickly be identified as an urgent case for change. The risks of things going wrong in such an environment are just too high. And, whaddaya know, they did go wrong, in a big way. Maybe received management wisdom has something going for it after all.

Surprisingly, the most abject performance came from James Harding, the editor of the Times, who admitted that one of his journalists had hacked into emails, that the paper had misled a judge by saying he hadn't, and that he didn't know the Times was in court on the subject because he hadn't bothered to read an email from his lawyer. Taxi for Mr Harding, I fear. Indeed, he ought to order one for himself.

There are no taxis on Tresco, one of the Scilly Isles. In fact, there are no cars at all: the family that owns the island doesn't approve. One arrives on an elderly helicopter from Penzance, after an overnight train trip on an even more elderly sleeper. Platform 1 at Paddington has a Platform 93/4 air about it at 11.45pm, when a refurbished 57 Class diesel coughs and splutters its way out at the head of four sleeping cars last refreshed in 1983.

The friendly attendants give you a cup of tea and a bacon butty around Truro and the train connects with a helicopter in Penzance, about half a mile away. All very convenient. So, clearly, it cannot last. The trains have a 'heritage' feel about them and the heliport has been sold to Sainsbury's. The choppers will have to surf over to Newquay, where there is plenty of parking, we are told. The sleeper won't connect, and the flight length will be roughly doubled. That's how the climate change challenge is being met by the Green Coalition.

Paris in the great freeze had a lot to be said for it, unless you planned to watch a rugby match, of course. The Champ de Mars was particularly pretty in the snow. But it was brass monkey weather (or un temps de singe en cuivre jaune, as the French don't say) so one needed to take refuge in well-heated museums from time to time.

That was our excuse to go and have a look at Napoleon - just to make sure he is dead, you understand (looking at Sarkozy, one sometimes wonders). The enormous porphyry tomb looked undisturbed - no evidence of a second coming - so we trotted round the army museum in Les Invalides, which comes as a free extra.

You can learn a lot about British history there - for example, that Trafalgar was so insignificant as not to be worth a mention in a review of Napoleon's career; or that Wellington's role in the Peninsular War was not material.

But let's be fair. Every country likes to present its own perspective on its glorious past. We, for example, like to pretend that El Alamein was a British triumph, and never mention the crucial role played by the Free French forces. I found that out only recently in the de Gaulle museum in his home village, Colombey-les-DeuxEglises. It wasn't something my dad, who was there, ever mentioned. But actually, if you look up a few sources, it turns out they have a point.

As one edges into the Freedom Pass stage of life, birthdays assume lesser significance. Indeed, the temptation to let one or two slip by unnoticed is quite strong. But we would not be human if we did not care just a little about who remembers, and when.

This year, it was nice to find that the people who cared most, and sent an e-card right on midnight, were the staff of the W hotel in Hong Kong. They could hardly contain themselves. They were 'thrilled and excited' about the whole thing - and it was 7am in Hong Kong, not an easy time of day to get excited.

The management and staff of the Shangri-La in Guilin took a more measured approach, wishing me all the best for the coming year, but not betraying their personal feelings. I appreciated their reticence. Maybe they cracked open a bottle of Maotai, but that was left to my imagination. Silence, however, from the Penzance sleeper. That must mean something.

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