Friday, November 25, 2011
I've been following the televised proceedings of the Leveson Enquiry on media ethics with interest. Let's be honest, it is truly compelling. Gripping, horrifying details, lies and persecution by tabloid journalists and paparazzi, and I for one will be hoping that at least a part of this particular Augean Stables might be slightly less mucky at the end of it all. In my own defence I haven't bought a tabloid for years though in the past I confess I have been occasionally seduced into purchasing one by the offer of a free DVD. Not any more.
More than that, it's got me thinking about my father, his newspaper habits, and the man he was. He died thirteen years ago, and I have a sense that I'm getting to know him better in death than I ever did in life. Maybe distance lends perspective to the distorted view that we both had of the other.
News and newspapers mattered to him. He would have been dumbstruck by this past week's happenings. His aim at all times was to do the right thing and he was honest and upright to a fault. Born in 1911, he missed being an Edwardian by a whisker and in truth was born in another world, the pre-World War I world, and he carried it with him into old age. He was conservative - with a small c - and a polite, reserved man who was surprisingly individualistic given his deep respect for authority figures. He loathed tribalism above all else and couldn't bear Mrs Thatcher for that reason. At election time he always voted. He would never give away who he had voted for; it was private, nobody else's business, like sex and religion. All he would say was that he had voted for all three major parties at different times. He loved walking, particularly walking in the countryside on his own. He didn't join clubs, and although he had been part of the D-Day invasion in 1945 he never participated in reunions or commemorative visits to the Normandy beaches. Couldn't stand that sort of thing.
Every morning except Sunday the paper boy delivered a copy of the Daily Telegraph. On Sundays he relaxed an iota and the Sunday Express arrived on the doormat (in its broadsheet days - he wouldn't have had it in the house today). He read them in detail over breakfast, and then at points during the day he adjourned with the paper to the lounge and tackled the crossword. Occasionally he finished it. The Telegraph crossword was no pushover. To quote Wikipedia:
During the Second World War, The Daily Telegraph covertly helped in the recruitment of code-breakers for Bletchley Park. The ability to solve The Telegraph's crossword in under 12 minutes was considered a recruitment test. The newspaper was asked to organise a crossword competition, after which each of the successful participants was contacted and asked if they would be prepared to undertake "a particular type of work as a contribution to the war effort".
Towards the end of his life, from 1990 or so, he cancelled both papers. Lost interest. Then his memory started to fail badly and he slid into a gentle form of dementia. He transferred his allegiance to televised cricket and snooker and that's what he stayed with till his death.
Like him, nobody knows how I vote but I always do. I love walking on my own. I don't join things. I hate tribal thinking. These days I get my news from TV news channels or online and the only newspaper I buy is the local paper. I'm part of the problem, I suppose. Lower revenues for national newspapers means dumbing down in a frantic chase for circulation. In whatever form newspapers survive I hope Leveson can come up with something better than what we have now, something that preserves freedom of speech but allows easy access to redress for inaccurate and needlessly intrusive reporting.
And in some respects I quite like being like my dad.