Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

The Telegraph Group, for which I work, happens to use the same taxi firm as the BBC, and in the days when I was lucky enough to be driven to my office at Canary Wharf, I made friends with several of the firm's regular drivers. In the course of our chats I couldn't help learning something about the habits of some BBC executives - though these discreet drivers never, unfortunately, named names. Shopping trips, taking children to school, theatre outings and drives to the country were among the services provided. The drivers also spent many hours waiting for their passengers. So I wasn't all that surprised by the recent revelations of hair-raising sums - £33,000 a day, £12 million a year - spent by the BBC on taxis at taxpayers' or, in this case, taxi-payers' expense.

I often get letters from readers of the Sunday Telegraph literary pages complaining about misleading book reviews. Usually they say that a book they've bought on the strength of a favourable review was nothing like as good as our critic had made out. I have some sympathy for this, as reviewers on the whole want to be loved, like everyone else, and are rarely as harsh in print as they could be. A few days ago I received such a letter, all the way from Austria, from a man who had bought Patricia Cornwell's thriller Blow Fly because, he explained, he had trusted the words printed on the book's cover, 'A TREMENDOUS READ, SUNDAY TELEGRAPH.' Having read a few pages, however, he threw the book away: 'How can you recommend such a disgusting book? Reading it is tantamount to licking a festering sore.' Oh dear. Who had reviewed the book for us? I couldn't remember, so I looked it up. Ah yes, Antonia Fraser. She had written, 'While not for the squeamish, it is a tremendous read.'

Last week Channel 4 News included a long, specially commissioned film about the devastation caused to Iraqis by the American bombing in Fallujah. We were shown grieving mothers, homeless children, angry, impoverished men, and buildings reduced to rubble. It was very affecting. But it also made me realise that I had never, on any channel, seen a comparable film about the sufferings of the families of the many Iraqis -policemen and civilians - whose lives have been ruined by the bombings carried out by terrorists, the bombings which led directly to the attack on Fallujah in the first place.

Chris Woodhead, the combative former chief inspector of schools, who probably did more than any other person to challenge the under-achieving, anti-knowledge, child-centred teaching methods practised in most of our state schools, got no kind of honour from the Labour government when he left the job. Meanwhile his successor, Mike Tomlinson, who thought school inspections ought to happen 'with' rather than 'to' schools, and whose proposals for a diploma to replace A-levels and GCSEs are written in vacuous, aspirational, Blairite waffle, has just received a knighthood.

While on a week's holiday in Mexico recently, we were presented every morning with a free copy of the Miami Herald, Cancun edition. To my surprise - I had often heard that all but a handful of American papers were hopelessly parochial - it was a pleasure to read. It covered a wide range of news both foreign and domestic, it was well-researched, lucidly written, serious but not stodgy. Celebrities were relegated to a column near the back. Above all, it was free from all the headline-grabbing sensationalism, the distortions and the cruelty which characterise so much of our press, both tabloid and broadsheet. …

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