THE ONLY WAY IS ETHICS
It’s been a bit of a rough week here in England – and that’s without the trauma of three and a half snowflakes wafting gently down from the skies, resulting in the cancellation of half the flights at the world’s busiest airport (so why would they have backup procedures, FGS?), and causing major consternation in the media insofar as winter weather choosing, for some obscure reason, to appear in winter. (Whilst when winter weather comes in summer, as is traditional round these parts, nobody is surprised whatsoever. This is Britain, for heaven’s sake).
Anyway, I’m referring to a particularly trying time for assorted members of our elite – political, sporting and royal – who have all been ‘found out’ at the same time. (It’s some sort of rare configuration in the stars, apparently – Integrity Retrograde, Heckles Rising, I think Shelley von Strudel called it).
One of the biggest stories involved Sir Fred Goodwin, former head of the Royal Bank of Scotland, the near demise of which business under his helm almost finished off the British economy once and for all (and which institution is now owned by British taxpayers, who had to bail it out at a cost of billions of pounds we won’t be seeing again). Sir Fred, a nasty piece of work by all accounts (ha!), was stripped of his knighthood a few days ago, an action which itself caused a bit of an uproar. (You can understand why – he’s obnoxious, obsessed with money and ill-equipped to do the job, with no discernible positive human qualities whatsoever – so why on earth take away his honour???) Anyway, the powers that be concluded he has brought the honours system into disrepute (bit of a puzzler that, see previous parentheses), what with him having been ennobled in 2006 for Services to Banking. (If they’d knighted him for services to Avarice, Stupidity, and Complete and Utter Ineptitude nobody would have batted an eye. Hey ho.)
His replacement, Stephen Hester, who is being paid £1.2m a year to sack thousands of the company’s employees, was forced this week by public pressure not to accept his annual bonus of £1m, which almost led to him stamping his feet and storming off in a hissy fit, but for some reason he changed his mind and is staying to ensure the bank continues in its policy of taking vast amounts of public money and not lending it to small businesses.
Meanwhile, a man who will retain his title until he dies, Prince Andrew, has been caught spending copious amounts of public funds acting as British Business Envoy, six months after he was removed from the position for lining his own pockets and upsetting swathes of foreign dignitaries with his crass stupidity and rudeness. This arduous job required him to lavish enormous wads of dosh on luxury flights, luxury hotels, and luxury erm, luxuries, and meet with convicted paedophiles and despicable despots, many of whom he entertained at Buckingham Palace. (Another cucumber sandwich, Mr Gadaffi?) None of which brings the monarchy into disrepute. Apparently.
And then there’s Chris Huhne, a Liberal Democrat Minister in the ‘Coalition Government’. (You can’t say I never write anything funny). At least he was, until he was required to resign a few days ago, thanks to an impending court case about whether he, as his ex-wife alleges, persuaded her to say she was driving when they received a speeding ticket, thus perverting the course of justice. (Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t this charge now mean he’s eligible for a Knighthood???)
Next: come on down, John Terry, erstwhile Captain of the England Football Team, who has been removed from his position by the governing body of football, the FA (many of whose executives became notorious for the habit of spending their days sleeping with a former secretary called Faria Alam, in an interesting interpretation of teamwork) prior to a court trial to decide whether he is guilty of racially abusing a black player. This action by the FA has resulted in Fabio Capello, the Italian Manager of the England football team (anyone remember Soap?) removing himself from his exalted role because he knew sweet FA about the FA’s determination on Terry.
In an interesting irony for those who like ironying (mind the buttons), the FA have appointed as interim England manager Stuart Pearce, a man who not only was himself once involved in an incident in which he was accused of racial abuse against a black player, but whose brother Dennis is a staunch member of the British National Party, about as Far Right an organization as you can get in the UK. (You can put away the irony now. Third shelf in the cupboard. Thanks.)
So, quite a week.
When I was a BBC Comedy Producer, one of the shows I was responsible for was Radio 4’s The News Quiz, in which a panel of comedians and journalists would answer questions about the week’s stories. Some of you might remember the former Chief Executive of high street cheapo jewellers Ratners, Gerald Ratner. (Look, I may not be funny, but you have to admit I’m ace at pointing out life’s numerous coincidences). In 1991 Gerald gave a speech to his shareholders at the Institute of Directors, in which he said:
We also do cut-glass sherry decanters complete with six glasses on a silver-plated tray that your butler can serve you drinks on, all for £4.95. People say, “How can you sell this for such a low price?” I say, “because it’s total crap”.
He added that some of his earings were cheaper than an M & S prawn sandwich but probably wouldn’t last as long.
For some reason that escapes me now, he was subsequently replaced as head of the company. (Prawn poisoning? Hmm. Oh well, I’m sure it will come back to me).
Naturally, this strange incident came up as a topic on the show. One of the panellists – Richard Ingrams or Ian Hislop, I think – paraphrased Ratner’s ramblings, and naturally, many jokes were forthcoming.
After the recording I edited the show to time, and it went out as usual on Saturday afternoon.
I sauntered into work on Monday morning to find a letter on my desk from one of the most expensive law firms in the country, Knothing, Butt, Pure, Arrogance. (Odd how the names always sound as if they’ve been put together as a joke, isn’t it?) The letter was astonishingly badly written, to the point that I almost wrote back offering to rewrite it for them. The gist of it (as far as it was possible to make out) was that their client, Gerald Ratner, did not say ‘all his merchandise was crap’, but that ‘the cut-glass sherry decanter and six glasses were crap’.
They threatened to sue both the BBC, for broadcasting the erroneous remarks, and me personally, as producer of the series. They also demanded that a very long-winded apology, written by them (oy veh) and included in their letter to me, be read out by the quiz chairman, Barry Took, at the beginning of every show for the rest of the series. I was ecstatic! The series had just started, and there were 11 more shows to come – think of all the fun we could have week after week with this barely coherent unwarranted grovelling!
The letter had to go to the BBC lawyers, who somehow managed to convey to me, whilst rolling around on the carpet laughing their heads off, that no apology was necessary, a prawn sandwich plainly knowing more about the law of defamation than did Knothing, Butt, Pure, Arrogance. I was crestfallen. Couldn’t I make the apology anyway? NO! came the reply. Don’t you dare!
Damn. Can’t a girl have any fun any more???
Naturally we heard nothing more about the matter. Although it could be that Gerry Rodent might well have been referred to in passing in a later edition of the show. Long time ago, can’t remember.
La la laaaa.
Anyway, the moral of the story is if you can’t be nice, if you can’t be non-racist, or desist from being rapacious, or find it impossible to keep within the law (allegedly), keep your mouth shut. And failing that, get ready for a knighthood next time Her Majesty is doling them out.