Magazine article The Spectator


Magazine article The Spectator


Article excerpt

A sorry tale

Sir: If Michael Vestey had bothered to ask me, he might have written a more accurate piece than the farrago he produced last week (`You may be experiencing some interference', 5 December).

It is untrue that Richard Ayre visited me `that night and discussed the apology that should be delivered'. The letter to Peter Mandelson was my own idea, and the first that Richard Ayre knew of it was when I told him the next day. It was not delivered `early in the morning'. It was not 'a grovelling note of apology': I did not think I had anything to apologise for.

If he had called me, I could have explained all this to Mr Vestey. I would also have told him of my personal belief that people's private lives are their own affair, unless they either make them public property or the private life affects how they do their job.

I expect that, in the finest BBC tradition, Michael Vestey had to hand in his reporter's stopwatch when he retired a few years ago. I didn't know they'd taken his phone as well.

Jeremy Paxman Newsnight,

BBC Television Centre, Wood Lane, London W12

Sir: On the evening when Michael Vestey puts me in the Newsnight studio telling Jeremy Paxman to drop a grovelling note to Peter Mandelson, I was actually at home. I watched Newsnight and did not talk to anyone about it until the next day. Whatever Jeremy wrote, he did it unprompted by me or anyone else so far as I know. Anyone who knows and admires him as I do will find the suggestion that it was a 'grovel' laughable.

As for whether I was `acting on the orders of . . . Sir John Birt', I wasn't acting for anyone. Damn it, I wasn't even acting! Sir John has never spoken to me about the Newsnight incident, nor have I heard from him about it directly or indirectly. Sorry to disappoint.

Richard Ayre BBC News, Television Centre, Wood Lane, London W12

Michael Vestey writes: I must accept Richard Ayre's statement that he was not in the Newsnight studio on the night of the Paxman-Parris interview, despite information I had to the contrary, as well as that contained in Mr Paxman's letter. Following his example I might even hand in a note of apology on his doorstep. However, Mr Ayre's letter thickens the plot. It is a pity he fails to elaborate on the precise circumstances of Mr Paxman's letter to Peter Mandelson and the memo he composed with Anne Sloman banning any mention of Peter Mandelson's name in the news coverage of the incident. I, too, find it hard to imagine Jeremy Paxman grovelling, but this is the impression given by the whole absurd affair. I agree entirely with Mr Paxman's view that people's private lives are their own affair, but in his questioning of Matthew Parris he invited his interviewee to name Cabinet ministers who were homosexual, thus sparking the controversy about Mandelson.

Incidentally, I was too young to retire from the BBC. I left it voluntarily to do other things, and after the way in which this incident has been handled I am very glad I did so.


Sir: On the question of whether Wilson framed Wigg by inducing the police to arrest him on a false charge of kerb-crawling, I must reiterate that Lord Wigg told me many times that he believed it was so. I found it hard to believe, but the police were unable to produce any witnesses or any other evidence, and were irrationally hostile to him.

Wigg's executor, Roy Roebuck, suggests (Letters, 28 November) that Joe Haines is wrong in alleging that Wilson put pressure on Wigg to make him remove criticisms of Lady Falkender from the autobiography which Wigg published in 1972. Haines erred in giving the publication date as 1974, but was otherwise entirely accurate.

These are the facts as given to me by Wigg and as I recorded them at the time:

After he had completed the MS, Wigg sold it to the Thomson Organisation which was to serialise it in the Sunday Times. After Lord Thomson had been approached by lawyers acting for Wilson and Marcia, Wigg was asked to make certain cuts on legal grounds. …

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