Magazine article The Spectator

Beasts and Jokes

Magazine article The Spectator

Beasts and Jokes

Article excerpt

`He's a beast!' said Jeremy Paxman of Charlie Whelan, Gordon Brown's former spin doctor. At least, I think that's what he said on a telephone line to Radio Five Live's new Sunday morning magazine programme Sunday Service. Never having met Whelan I am not in a position to judge but he didn't sound very beastly. If anything Andrew Pierce of the Times was fiercer as he acted as a counter-weight to Whelan's New Labour views.

In this lively and busy programme presented by Fi Glover, Whelan and Pierce chat to each other and interview contributors. The Right/Left confrontation resembles Talk Radio's Draper and Hitchens show, which is on at the same time, but if Whelan is a beast his claws seem to have been manicured which is a shame. Now and again Pierce will throw his colourful spin-doctoring past at him, but Whelan chuckles or goes silent. Perhaps he's afraid of blurting something out that will embarrass Labour or it might be that he's not yet quite at home in a radio studio. He's becoming more of a celebrity, though, than Derek Draper who is much more voluble on air.

Whelan, it emerged, had been in Scotland last week covering the Scottish Parliament election campaign and we heard that he had met Tony Blair who was very nice to him, he said. I would like to have seen the Oscar-winning Blair smile on that occasion, I must say. A Scottish political editor was asked if he'd met Whelan and he replied that he couldn't avoid him; his visit was the highlight of the campaign. `Everyone wanted to talk to him and we felt left out,' he said. Pierce thought William Hague's best photo opportunity in Scotland had been in the shape of Amanda Platell, his new spin doctor. 'I thought her job was to get William Hague photographed,' said Whelan but Pierce replied, `No one gets photographed if they're Tory unless they're Miss Platell.'

The programme is full of jokey wheezes. The comedian Iain Lee turned the tables on companies who make us talk to answering machines and keep us waiting as we hit several keys before a human comes on the line. He rang a number of firms with various requests and put them on hold with music several times before returning to speak to them. Among his victims were British Gas, American Airlines and the BBC itself. While several receptionists waited patiently, eventually seeing the joke, it was, needless to say, the BBC which rang off almost immediately. …

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