Magazine article The Spectator

The Day Lord Rees-Mogg Made Me Want to Cry out in Pain

Magazine article The Spectator

The Day Lord Rees-Mogg Made Me Want to Cry out in Pain

Article excerpt

MEDIA STUDIES

If William Rees-Mogg had a fan club, I would be its president. I would lick envelopes for him and update his website, which would no doubt be full of his latest geopolitical prognostications. I would arrange coach parties of the faithful so that we could travel down to Somerset and glimpse him as he paced his grounds. I would organise seminars in which various `Mogg experts' could unveil their latest theories about his work. There is virtually nothing I would not do for him.

Almost my first act on a Monday morning is to read his column in the Times. It is invariably a pleasure. William Rees-Mogg is an old-fashioned essayist who can turn to almost any subject under the sun, and write with knowledge and authority. This Monday, however, I was stopped in my tracks. His entire column was devoted to David Beckham. But it was not an ironic or a critical piece. Lord Rees-Mogg was disturbed by the prospect that Beckham might be leaving our shores for Real Madrid. It was `the great topic of the day'. Beckham had `exceptional gifts of being able to personify the Zeitgeist'. He drew a picture of a house in Cornwall in which various members of his family had passed the weekend discussing the possible consequences of Beckham going. He even compared Sir Alex Ferguson, Beckham's manager, to Claudius, and Beckham to Hamlet, though the comparison did not entirely work since Sir Alex has not married Beckham's mother. His conclusion was that if Beckham does go, England `will lose a much-loved hero'.

All this was written in Lord Rees-Mogg's customary lapidary prose. My first thought was that it was a thin day for news, and that forgivably he had seized the only ball he could see and had run with it with plausible competence. Columnists have to write columns whatever the circumstances. I sometimes awake with a start in the middle of the night recollecting a column I once wrote about Germaine Greer's poodles. But, as I reflected, it began to dawn on me that this was not a cynical exercise. Lord Rees-Mogg really had convinced himself that David Beckham not only is a proper subject for his consideration but also is deservedly an important part of our culture. And it occurred to me that this was a point in the development - one might say the decline -- of modern Britain, a crossing of some important boundary which should be marked.

Some readers may remember a previous occasion on which William Rees-Mogg memorably dilated on popular culture. In June 1967 Mick Jagger and Keith Richards received prison sentences and fines for the possession for cannabis. The Rolling Stones were then feared by respectable people rather as the wilder 'rappers' may be today. William Rees-Mogg, only recently installed as editor of the Times, devoted a leading article to the case, using Pope's `Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?' as the headline. It argued that Mick Jagger, whatever his shortcomings, had `received a more severe sentence than would have been thought proper for any purely anonymous young man'. Subsequently Lord Stow Hill, a former Labour home secretary, Father Thomas Corbishly, a leading English Jesuit, Dr John Robinson, suffragan Bishop of Woolwich, and William Rees-Mogg interviewed Jagger for Granada Television in the garden of the Lord Lieutenant of Essex. …

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