The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Monday, July 16, 2007

Most British readers will already be aware of the controversy which has raged over the decision of the legendary American recording artist Prince to give away a copy of the newspaper The Mail On Sunday free with his new album, Planet Earth. The star has in turn argued, probably rightly, that in an age of increased competition from the internet, newspapers have to find different ways of communicating with their existing readers as well as finding new ones; and besides, the still considerable financial and business resources of Associated Newspapers have managed to cut Prince’s overhead costs to such a stunning degree that Planet Earth is retailing for a record low price of £1.40. “That’s a good 59p less than you’d expect to pay for a near mint copy of Sign ‘O’ The Times in the Putney branch of the Trinity Hospice Charity Shop,” the singer quipped. There has been added controversy, however, that the album will only be available to buy for one day. Already the legend, 49, has been accused of trying to hype his way into the charts. Commented one senior industry spokesman, “Just because John Otway did it doesn’t mean the floodgates should open for every Tom, Dick and Victor who hasn’t had a hit for the last fifteen years.”

Casper Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the 49-year-old editor of rival publication Observer Music Monthly, expressed outrage at what he describes as the star’s “unreasonable attitude towards the press. Just because the Mail topped our offer doesn’t mean Prince should have gone with them. What’s wrong with our magazine? Why, this month we have a cover story on somebody impersonating Elvis had he lived to be…um, researchers?…72 as well as a feature on pop group impersonators and lots of dead people. How up to the minute is that?”

But does the legendary newspaper live up to all these expectations? Or is this simply a desperate, last-ditch move on the part of an ailing, ageing journal to retain its dwindling base of fans? Here we provide our exclusive, never-to-be-repeated review of today’s legendary team-up.

When Time Out remarked that “The Mail On Sunday is Right,” they spoke for masses of readers who considered the newspaper to be an increasingly anachronistic representation of the conservative – both with a small and a capital “c” – Middle England readership which forms its demographic base. After all, with Labour now in power for over a decade, the newspaper has sometimes seemed as marooned as, some say, The Guardian would have been in 1983.

The first surprise on scanning today’s unprecedented free edition, therefore, is that the Mail’s writers seem to have gradually “crossed the floor” to support Gordon Brown’s “New” Labour! The front page headline of ‘GONZO’ BBC HITS BROWN breaks several crucial barriers for the Mail – can you imagine a Hunter S Thompson reference getting on the front page in the days of, say, George Gale? – in that it attacks the BBC, not for the customary reasons of favouring the political Left, but for manipulating news footage to suggest a bias towards Conservative leader David Cameron. Two more pages inside the newspaper gives details of the supposed falsifications on the part of upcoming thrusting Thatcherkid television personality Jamie Campbell.

As one delves further into the paper there are other indications that the Tories are no longer the Mail’s party of choice; on page 17 we read of how the Tory election candidate for the upcoming Ealing Southall by-election donated £4800 to Labour last month, even attending one of their fundraising functions. Two pages later, Cameron’s new shadow minister for ‘community cohesion’ is attacked for publishing two separate sets of 2005 election leaflets, one aimed at Muslims and the other at whites. Despite changes in political allegiance, it would appear that the Mail’s attitude towards Asians in politics has remained steadfast; no doubt a comfort to its older readers in, say, Crinkley Bottom (Upper) as they read the two detailed pages of reportage describing how Afghan refugees are paid £200 per day “to pose as Taliban.”

Otherwise the paper settles comfortably in the ever-competitive world of celebrity news updates. On page 3, Hugh Grant and Jemima Khan are seen in the same photograph in Paris. Page 7 finds ex-Arsenal star Thierry Henry turning up alone at a “star wedding.” Four pages later Victoria Beckham is wearing a pink frock with a matching pink handbag, above a noticeably smaller item about the slaughter of a Stars In Their Eyes contestant and her family. Overleaf Carole Caplin, posing smugly in a grey suit, “paints a devastating portrait of Alastair Campbell” which from the accompanying evidence is so realistic that it is practically a photograph. It is extraordinarily generous for the Mail to give so much space to this fulsome account by Mail On Sunday columnist Carole Caplin.

Two more pages are devoted to the arresting tale of Jack Nicholson failing to attract a seagull to his yacht with his empty pizza box. Quipped leading lifestyle guru Carole Caplin, “He’ll try it with anything that moves! Really!!” Mrs Bin Laden states that “I’m broke and need a good lawyer” as her ex-husband waxes explicitly about her organisation Satan’s Slaves. Kylie Minogue and Olivier Martinez are seen in the same photograph in Paris and have therefore had “secret Paris trysts” (it is a continuing marvel of British newspapers that they continue to use words and expressions which no one has ever used in real, breathing life, such as madcap, romp, funnyman, tryst, quizzed, quipped and bedded as an active verb. Perhaps it’s a Masonic code of recognition). On the Comments pages, Roger Graef doubts that a lying BBC will have much of a future. “Winston Churchill” gives “his own damning response” to being removed from the National Curriculum, deploying such curiously uncharacteristic expressions as “There is only one of us in heaven who can see the future, and He isn’t telling.” The paper’s editorial issues a muted damnation of political parties merging on the middle ground: “If there is no disagreement, no division, there will be less and less room for free speech and independent thought,” it muses. And less and less justification for editorials and soapbox opinion columns, it might have added; since overleaf we find Peter Hitchens, a free-speaking, independent thinker if ever there were one, and he gives a typically robust verdict on the new National Curriculum, ferociously arguing that “This system is plainly designed to create a nation of ignorant, deluded serfs, whose function is to work all day in call centres and then go out to buy Chinese-made goods until the country sinks giggling into the sea,” which seems a pretty fair assessment of the purpose of the “education” system as it has been in post-Industrial Revolution Britain (Thomas Carlyle would have identified and gone along with every word), even though it is historically the creation of the Right rather than the Left; I think Hitchens is secretly in love with us – anyone who attacks that fervently must be hiding something (and I don’t mean Christopher) – and his sense of humour is intact: “Didn’t anyone, anywhere, wonder what a bunch of bearded Muslim men wanted to do with gallons of hair bleach?” And there’s Suzanne Moore, about whom I’d forgotten some decade ago, comfortably ensconced in the Mail, avowing that “The decline in marriage is caused by the refusal of women to accept sub-standard men. Twenty quid cannot fix that.” Inflation’s a bugger, it must be said.

On pages 36-38 we read of one Willy Feilding, an “artist and raconteur” of whom I had never previously heard but who has had doubtless plenty of ribtickling tales to tell of everyone from Princess Margaret and Christine Keeler to Kate Moss and Fergie, though it is unclear whether the latter is the erstwhile Duchess of York or the Black Eyed Peas’ passport and it is equally unclear whether he has actually “bedded” any of these exalted names of days of yore. A rather more touching story appears eight pages later, that of Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, reminiscing on his 1954 conviction and imprisonment for homosexuality, a case which proved the deciding lever for the subsequent Wolfenden report and decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967. Typically, he seems to have been framed when he reported a stolen camera to the police and was promptly arrested and charged with sexual offences against one of the Boy Scouts who had temporarily set up a camp on his estate – he was acquitted but the “witch hunt” continued, and this indeed proves that little has changed; then, as now, justice and logic recklessly and happily ridden roughshod over by ravenous ministers and bureaucrats anxious to make a name for themselves. It is also entirely logical that this story should be run at length in The Mail On Sunday, recalling the paper’s highly charitable and generous attitude towards the first wave of Aids patients, and gays in general, in the early eighties.

The Review section equally leads off with a suspiciously “Lefty” article by Lib Dem MP John Hemming arguing against the Family Court system which, it would appear, arbitrarily takes young children away from their families with a view to meeting Government adoption “targets” and thus increase council revenue. Even the veteran Conservative commentator and ex-Times editor Sir William Rees-Mogg weighs in with a cautious word to Gordon Brown about ensuring that sufficient housing is built over the next quarter century to house an increasing population, including immigrants.

Consistency is happily resumed, though, with an extended remembrance of the Mail’s late gossip columnist Nigel Dempster which I am sure is ribtickling to those who wish to read it. A centrespread on Prince, written by legendary astronaut Neil Armstrong (there’s an unexpected fan), treads its water carefully. Roger Lewis, the anti-biographer of Sellers and Burgess (note: being an “anti-biographer” is no bad thing), reviews Keith Allen’s autobiography with a verve which makes me wish he had written, or will write, Allen’s definitive biography (the byline photo to my delight reveals Lewis, whose picture I had never previously seen, to resemble a cross between a young Churchill and a stouter Stuart Maconie). Craig Brown tackles the Campbell diaries and finds them a good read, though I think they’ll be a better read after Gordon Brown’s reign when all the GB entries can be reinserted; strange how the best and most telling political diaries are written by “AC” (A Clark, and now A Campbell). In her TV column Jaci Stephen proclaims “I’m a slave to Rome’s gods of lust and death”; I used cautiously to read the Mail’s Saturday supplement in newsagents to look at her hilarious soap opera updates. I wish she’d write for a paper I agreed with. Nice also to see David Bennun, of whom I have heard neither hide nor hair since the days when he routinely made me Letter Of The Week in Melody Maker, still earning a crust as the Mail’s pop critic, and he’s pretty spot on about Interpol (“If you hanker for a ruler-wielding governess of a band, then you’re probably a fan”). David Mellor will “never plump for this Tosca”; you provide the punchline of your choice.

There are the usual holidaying, gardening and sports pages – Patrick Collins also sounding Suspiciously Socialist as he blasts the Wimbledon authorities for not letting Borg present this year’s trophy to Federer (“Instead, he found himself making small talk with one (i.e. the Duke of Kent) who knows precisely how it feels to stand 23rd in line to the throne. Game, set and match to Ruritania”) – as well as financial and property supplements wherein I note that Warner are “to bow out of EMI race,” that Amanda Holden lives a very pleasant life in Richmond and that, “EastEnders gave me the money to buy here. I’m selling to revive my TV career,” says TV’s Sid Owen about a French property, though with tales of “appearing in pantomime in St Albans last Christmas,” there are probably colder, rationalist reasons for his giving up what looks like an outsized collapsible shed.

However, the highlight has always been the Letters page, largely written, if legend proves correct, by bored Mail staff. Take, for instance, this anguished contribution from one V Johnson of Leicester: “I wrote to my MP asking for the return of the death penalty, and received a letter from the Home Office saying Brussels had banned all forms of capital punishment. Our freedom has gone.” It is akin to a haiku in its poetic brevity and symmetry. Meanwhile, Jill Howick of Nottingham ate half a frog at the British Home Stores restaurant in Truro and is none too happy: “Should anything like this ever happen to me again I intend to scream loudly, alert all within earshot, faint, bang my head on the table, go to hospital, suffer flashbacks and claim huge compensation.” I don’t know how the French cope. Maybe she could do a property swap in France with TV’s (“This month I start filming a guest appearance in four episodes of The Bill, playing a drug dealer”) Sid Owen.

There are also two glossy magazine supplements. One, the women’s magazine You (“THE BEST WEEKLY GLOSSY”), has among its features, “She was a freewheeling foreign correspondent, looking for adventure in dangerous places. He was an army colonel, cool and academic.” Cue Cinema Trailer Voiceover Man, no doubt, with “WHEN THEY GOT TOGETHER, IT WAS A WAR…HE COULDN’T WIN.” On the cover actress Rosamund Pike is trying to be Merle Oberon.

Then there is LIVE ® (SEE IT ® DO IT ® SOMETHING ELSE BUT BLOKE OUT OF KEANE’S RIGHT ARM IS IN THE WAY IT), a magazine cleverly designed to resemble a failed 1985 music glossy, down to its “Alive & Kicking” cover strapline (does anyone else remember the nine issues of The Hit?), with another Bloke Out Of Keane looking scarily like shadow Tory cabinet minister Liam Fox in his sensible funeral suit. Inside, Dylan Jones doesn’t like Crocs; Jon Wilde talks to Keane about Tom “Don’t Call Me Carole” Chaplin and his battle with Drink and Drugs (the opening sentence, “Keane are about to step out on to (sic) the Isle Of Wight stage to perform in front of a rabidly excited 75,000 crowd (sic),” suggests that the legacy of post-Morley music writing has not been continued here). In the column with the excitingly original title Tracks Of My Years, Lemar says that he would like “My Way” played at his funeral. Jon Wilde does a Matt Groening PR release cut-and-paste job on The Simpsons Movie (the opening sentence, “We’ve had to wait a (sic) long time, but The Simpsons Movie is finally about to hit the big screen,” suggests that David Thomson need not yet worry). There is a Suspiciously Left-Leaning feature on Columbus, Georgia, and the continuing legacy of the KKK, and the sort of delineated and glorified adverts which give me a headache just thinking about their pseudo-dazzle. On page 58, Piers Morgan talks about what he’s been up to (“I did a photo session today with Jade Goody”). He meets Pharrell Williams in a club in Piccadilly and reminds him that they had previously met “last summer, in a lift at the Beverly Wilshire hotel in Los Angeles. We got on at the 11th floor,” before pleading with the Neptune to “pretend you remember me, it would be good for my image.” Henry Pooter lives, if not clearly.

But the last word, briskly skipping past the TravelMail pages (“An island for the beautiful people, where Adonises are two a penny” – is this Mein Kampf? No, it’s ex-Labour MP Oona King, who of all people you would have thought would, or should, have known better), the Prize Crossword (a top prize of £1500, but when you know that a million readers are just going to Google the general knowledge answers then there’s not much point), and Charlie Dimmock’s gardening column (how nice to see the Mail employing someone whom a few years ago they rubbished routinely on the basis of some admittedly tacky publicity photo shoots), must go to the admirably succinct track-by-track summary of Planet Earth by an unnamed writer. Here we learn that we can expect, amongst other delights, “A brilliant anthemic rock track,” “a fun song,” “a foot-stomping rock number,” “feelgood soul,” and, best of all, “A happy, hippy psychedelic Seventies sound.” Over-wordy bloggers take note! The Mail On Sunday’s July 15, 2007 issue represents a stunning return to form!

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