Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

Breakfast with Frost (the actual breakfast, not the programme which precedes it) is usually a rather jolly affair. Uniquely in today's cost-conscious BBC -- where, if you're lucky, you'll get a plastic cup of some thin brown liquid called 'coffee' and a dusty artefact described as a 'bun' - Sir David's star status entitles him, J.-Lo. style, to accountant-mocking extravagances. Like, for example, the Great British Breakfast Fry-Up, complete with fine napery and waitresses; amazingly, for the sternly non-smoking BBC, heretical ashtrays are scattered everywhere. Sir David is partial to a breakfast cigar or two, which allows us lesser mortals to indulge in a quick drag on a fag once the great man has lit up. You often share the Frost fry-up with guests whose presence alongside your eggs, bacon and black pudding can be a mite disconcerting if you've recently insulted them in print or on air. One Sunday I forked uneasily through the scrambled eggs next to a dour-faced Andy Gilchrist of the FBU, whom I'd just described as a donkey - as in lions-led-by-- donkeys' - and lain Duncan Smith, whom I'd equally recently described as someone whose very presence `took the oxygen out of the air'. Must be something in the Frost fry-up which acts as a bromide: we're all extraordinarily nice to each other.

Last Sunday wasn't, for once, particularly joll. No smoking, for a start: to my horror, our host did not light up his usual cigar. At first I assumed that, as one of the guests was the American ambassador, David might have abstained, perhaps on the diplomatic grounds that, while most Americans thoroughly applaud the death penalty, they regard us smokers as part of the Axis of Evil - especially those who smoke US-embargoed Cuban cigars. In fact, to his mild fury, David had simply run out of the things. But the main reason for our rather downbeat state was, of course, news from the Iraqi front (in my case, particularly, news of the death of a fellow journalist, ITN's Terry Lloyd). There were only two remotely cheery figures round the table: Piers Morgan, the combative and gleeful anti-war Mirror editor, and Robin Cook, who beamed gnomically throughout, refusing to rise to Piers's boisterously blunt-- instrument attempts to get him to be rude about the 'warmongers' Blair and Bush and (in Piers's words) the 'revolting' Clare Short. The programme's military commentator, a brigadier and veteran of Gulf War I, was a little worried that he'd violated some unwritten dress code: he'd turned up in a very nice blue sweater - 'I thought, since it is a Sunday, we should dress casually' -- while everyone else was rather formally clad. I assured him that I base my sartorial decisions largely on what happens not to be in the laundry basket, or at the dry-cleaners, at that particular moment. And he did look fetchingly appropriate for a spring morning, whereas I looked as if I were a PR on my way to a junk-jewellery 'presentation' at a provincial Holiday Inn. The late American comedienne Gilda Radner was once asked about her fashion philosophy and replied, 'I base it on what doesn't itch.' I'm with her there: if it doesn't itch, doesn't show my bum and is free of moth-holes, it'll do.

Feels weird, though, to be talking about appropriate dress. I'd just come back from Kuwait; for tiresome medical reasons I'm now considered unfit for combat zones. …

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