Diary wars no Kidding

25 Jul 2013 at 18:48

The first thing I do when reading a newspaper is claw my way to to the diary section. I have a view, which may not be entirely bollocks, is that editors are obsessed with the front page splash and the diary.

As someone who wrote a political gossip column for PUNCH for five years the golden rule is quite simple. Make a list of your proprietor’s friends and enemies and puff the former and slag off the latter. If you want to pay the bills never ever get it wrong as the P.45 is never too far away.

I used to work for Mohammed Al Fayed. And under the skilled tutelage of some seriously brilliant editors, James Steen, Dominic Midgeley and Richard Brass they drilled into me the rules of the game. I would never write a nice piece about Michael Howard. “Zee man is a crook and a liar” or my mate Neil Hamilton “a rent boy”. Nor Mick Jagger “Zis man has eyes like a frog. What does that beautiful woman Jerry Hall see in this fuckwit?”

Mr. Libel lawyer I know that that all these allegations are baseless and totally mad and they are not attributed in anyway to Mr Al Fayed.

Welcome to Fleet Street.

Similarly if I had taken the Dacre shilling I would never have the stupidly of writing a nasty piece about his mate Michael Howard. Out of the door I would have been.

Although Paul I am available.

The skill of a diary writer is the polishing of the turd. It’s all in the writing. My two favourites are Hugh Muir of the Guardian and Sebastian Shakespeare of the Standard’s Londoners Diary. Both are works of art.

To read Muir’s diary is like reading James Joyce. Beautifully written, linked, waspish and entertaining.

It is like wiping your arse with silk.

And Sebastian sits in his eyrie, looks at the depressing copy from some of the children sent off to dreary parties, spots the little nugget of gold and writes it like dream.

This is not journalism. It is an art form. From diaries you can get a real insight into the lives of our lords and masters. It is a gateway to their souls.

It is also a great way for journalists to learn their trade. Martin Ivens, Sarah Sands all started off on diaries.

Everyone has a story. Everyone has a funny quote. But most people don’t have a clue how to extract it.

And politicians, despite what they say, love the publicity.

I once wrote a piece about Stephen Byers who was then Industry Secretary. I rather cruelly said that he had a double first in toss pottery pure and applied. He spotted me at a party and came up to me. There is nothing worse than a journalist meeting his victims. My heart sank.

“Hi Jerry. Loved your piece. Let me buy you a drink and give you a story.”
That man knew how to play the game.

A different approach was adopted by Charles Clarke then a junior education minister. I really can’t remember what it was I wrote about him. It may even have been true. But he was not amused.
“Hi Jerry you lying little cunt”.

Believe it or not I rather like Charles. He was a good Home Secretary. Although a tad right wing for my taste.

But now we have a new kid on the block in the shape of Patrick Kidd. Times editor John Witherow had the good sense to reintroduce the diary. And his inspired choice was Kidd who trained (or rather lunched) under Giles Coren. If you haven’t read it yet please do. It is classy, stylish and a very good read.

This seems to have ruffled feathers at Telegraph Towers. For reasons beyond my comprehension, Tim Walker, veteran diarist, seems to have taken against Kidd and seems to miss no opportunity at having a pop. At the last count he has devoted nine paragraphs disparaging the Times Diary.

This mystifies me. Tim deals with Tatler type tales. Lots of Royality and lots of “when I spoke to Lady Chlamydia launching her new gallery promoting the works of the Honourable Tarquin de knob heir to the rampant rabbit dildo empire” sort of stuff.

It is a different market.

And before I receive a paragraph “how desperate Kidd is to get the services of failed MP Jerry Hayes to promote his lost cause” let me declare a non interest. I’ve only met Kidd once for ten minutes and the Telegraph Diary was never a topic of conversation.

But I do have an interest in good writing. And the Times Diary is a classy confection.

However let me be an honest broker. I will happily host a lunch at the Savile Club for the pair to end their differences.

Diarists should never fall out.

But I do miss writing one.