Banks' Notes 16.06.06

A FUNNY thing happened to me on the way to the scaffold the other day: I DIDN'T get it in the neck! Whenever I've been summoned to Radio Five to answer charges against the media, the mob — that howling horde of hypocrites who call themselves readers, listeners and viewers — have always bayed for my blood.

But not this time. "I agree with him," said Stephen in Barnsley.

"He's absolutely right!" shouted Linda from Leeds. The clamour grew.

"She deserves everything the press dishes out," said someone from London. The ‘he' of whom they spoke was me. And ‘she'? None other than Heather Mills McCartney.

Following news of (alleged) screws splashed across last weekend's tabloids, Lady Macca seems to be about as popular as a pay cut.

Mention of her name on BBC Radio Leeds the next day brought forth more condemnation. Even Christine Hamilton, who debated "Is the Press too cruel?" with me on both stations, confessed to disliking the model whose contortions had once graphically illustrated The Joy of Love for a German audience.

My relief turned to triumph as the audience confirmed my oftenrepeated defence of the profession: that newspapers print what is of interest to their readers, as well as what it is in the reader's interest to know. And, more importantly, that two-faced HellOk! readers who castigate media intrusion and privacy invasions only do so when the victim is someone about whom they care, whatever the facts of the matter.

Back in the 1970s, when I was Daily Mirror production editor, I took a call at work from my mother, outraged by an extract we were carrying from a book by Bing Crosby's son in which he described how his father — her idol — had bullied and beaten him."But it's the son's own story, mum!" I protested. "It surely must be true."

"I don't care!" replied Wild of Warrington (at other times a wonderful woman), "I just didn't want to read all that muck!"

I HAVE attended one or two Formers' Markets recently and engaged in a series of remarkable similar diddy-di conversations. Yes, I did write Formers', not Farmers', Markets — the sort of pissy, grumbling lunches attended by former editors and former chief subs and the like where general agreement is that It Was Better In Our Day.

And diddy-di conversations? That's when the talk turns, in hushed tones, to old colleagues and the whispered question: ‘Did he die?'

Anyway, boozing with old pals reminded me that I had an email from all-time wonderwoman and former editor of the News of the World, Patsy Chapman, berating Press Gazette's delay in reporting colleagues' deaths. As PG Ombudsman (unpaid) I have forwarded Patsy's comments and hope you will find them on the letters page.

It was, in fact, my confession last week to mishandling the ‘Eric Morecambe Is Dead' splash for The Sun which prompted my former deputy to recall: "After all the kerfuffle, we waltzed off doing the ‘Bring Me Sunshine' dance and looking for an all-night Chinese… we should have been grief counsellors!"

Anyone up for a Formers' Market meeting can find me in El Vino… or drop me an email at david.banks@pressgazette.co.uk

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