Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

Ronald Reagan has been kindly treated in death by those who so constantly opposed him in life. But the kindness itself acts as a sort of smothering of his achievement. Thus Gavin Hewitt (BBC) told us that his popularity had 'nothing to do with his polities', but with his geniality and optimism. It is perfectly true that the great actor presented a sunny character to the world, but that character chimed with his politics, and no modern American politician has been so consistent and serious in his political opinions. Reagan's optimism was rooted in his understanding of what freedom can do. His toughness was similarly related to his beliefs. We were told by Bridget Kendall (BBC) that he produced détente with the Soviet Union, 'even though he called it the Evil Empire'. Not 'even though', but 'because'. It was only when the Russians at last understood that the United States had the will to beat them and to summon up their subject peoples against them that they knew the game was up.

I think I may be under arrest. On almost my final day as editor of the Daily Telegraph in October last year, we published an article about Jean Peyrelevade, the former chairman of Crédit Lyonnais. What it said need not concern us here, but M. Peyrelevade does not like it. Under the British system, he would simply sue. His country being France, however, the state gets involved. Libel there is a criminal matter and the judge (there is, under the Napoleonic dispensation, no jury) pronounces guilt, and can decide both the punishment for the perpetrator and compensation for the victim. As editor, I come first in the 'responsabilité pénale dite "en cascade" ', and before he gets going with the substance of the case the judge can summon me over in person merely to stand before him and say that I am who I am (or, in this case, who I was). No doubt if I refused to attend, they could come after me with a European Arrest Warrant. I am assured that I shall be allowed to return, but since my knowledge of French justice is based on A Tale of Two Cities, I fear I may be 'buried alive' for 18 years like M. Manette. I travel next week. Is it au revoir or adieu"?

Michael Frayn has a writer in one of his fictions always inventing blurbs, first lines, characters, etc., for novels he will never write. I share this weakness, and apply it to films as well. I am currently not working, if you see what I mean, on a film along the lines of Austin Powers or Johnny English. Its hero is called either Forwood Slash or Brent Crude.

Like some Victorian prude unable to utter the word 'bottom', the BBC cannot bring itself to say 'terrorist'. It has decided that it is a loaded word, implying hostility to the person so described. This policy produced tragicomedy this week. Terrorists in Saudi Arabia shot and killed a BBC cameraman, Simon Cumbers, and wounded its security correspondent, Frank Gardner. The BBC's director of news, Richard Sambrook, appeared on his own channels and said that the deed had been done by 'militants'. But the world is full of people who are militant on all sorts of subject - punctuation, speed cameras, live animal exports - who would not dream of killing people. Militancy does not necessarily seek to justify murder: terrorism always does. …

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