I told you so. That Osama bin Laden would remain at large, I mean. At the beginning of 2003, I predicted this extraordinary non-event for the second consecutive year, proving that in the forecasting business I knock Old Moore into the middle of next week – or, more accurately, the middle of next year.
As always, I failed to see whistling towards me a few of the significant events that sometimes made Medialand look like Cloud-CuckooLand in the past 12 months. But then, who could have prophesied that two national newspaper editors would resign to take lesser positions on rival tabloids – Neil Wallis from The People to the deputy editorship of the News of the World and Chris Williams from the Daily Express to run the Scottish edition of the Daily Mail? Or that Alastair Campbell would resign his position as Media Torturer in Chief at 10 Downing Street to take the Murdoch shilling – or possibly more than that – for writing a sports column in The Times? Or, especially, that The Independent would produce a tabloid version of its fading broadsheet that would revitalise the paper and so put the wind up The Times that it promptly did the same? As my columnist Littlejohn might well say, you couldn’t make it up. This has not, however, deterred me once again from tryingâ€¦
What’s left of JANUARY: Bin Laden is still at large, although nervously leafing through press cuttings of Saddam Hussein’s capture. Richard Desmond, having put his proposed London evening newspaper on the back burner, puts it on the front burner again. Nick Ferrari, editor designate until deciding that running an evening newspaper might possibly inhibit his daily broadcasting activities, expresses renewed interest as long as editing doesn’t mean he has to give up his milk round. Desmond’s challenge to the Evening Standard is to be called the London Evening Pantomime and will be distributed by elves. Oh yes it will. All together now: oh no it won’tâ€¦ Hutton Inquiry report scatterguns everybody involved – but the Government is obviously to blame, agree newspapers.
FEBRUARY: Peter Cox, who when editor of the Scottish Daily Record blew an interview with Prince William by prematurely boasting about it, announces he is to get the first interview with Bin Laden. Bin Laden withdraws, claiming his privacy is being invaded. Five Live wins a Sony Award for doing more to devalue the English language than any other broadcaster.
Station adopts on-air jingle: “It was Five wot won it.” Hutton report row erupts: BBC mostly culpable, agree The Daily Telegraph and Mail.
MARCH: Rebekah Wade leaves News International to become Cherie Blair’s special adviser on hair. Rupert Murdoch reveals that Elizabeth Murdoch is to be the new editor of The Sun and another of his daughters, Grace, aged two, her deputy – “Best qualified candidates,” he says. To Richard Desmond’s fury, Chris Evans emerges as favourite to buy The Daily Telegraph – he’s more upmarket, reckons Hollinger International. The Daily Mirror dominates the British Press Awards, but Piers Morgan is unable to collect the Scoop of the Year and What the Butler Saw gongs because he is visiting his paper in hospital, where it is receiving treatment for poor circulation.
APRIL: Sudden dip in News of the World sales – Neil Wallis moves from deputy editorship to assistant night news editor of The Dandy. Five Live wins Best Dyslexic Radio Station Award. The Independent unveils A5-size edition; two weeks later The Times follows suit, claiming a great journalistic step for humankind. Hutton report row escalates: newspapers behaved improperly, claims BBC.
MAY: Alastair Campbell’s Times sports column extols the virtues of Burnley FC, plus the Government, Richard Desmond, Britney Spears, and the soothing nature of the skirl of bagpipes.
ITV announces that the main evening news will continue at 10.30pm, except on Mondays and Wednesdays, when it will be shown at 11.15pm, and alternate Thursdays, when it will go out at noon or thereabouts.
Posh and Becks are favourites to buy the Telegraph – more sophisticated than Desmond or Evans, says Hollinger.
JUNE: The Spectator is hived off from Telegraph Group when a consortium headed by Angus Deayton gains control.
Boris Johnson departs to front Have I Got News For You permanently while remaining an MP and training for the next Tour de France. Andrew Neil doubles the circulation of The Business by arranging to give it away with Richard Desmond top-shelf magazines. Hutton report row continues: BBC and newspapers the guilty parties, insists Government.
JULY: Peter Hill’s Daily Express becomes an upmarket broadsheet, concentrating on the philosophy behind reality TV and the psyche of the model Jordan, and immediately begins to close the gap with the Daily Mail. Frank Bruno is signed to read news on Five Live. Lord Conrad Black to study for priesthood; Lady Black is not best pleased.
AUGUST: It’s a wicked month.
SEPTEMBER: Following a fracas at The Observer summer party, staff announce they are to mount a challenge for Lennox Lewis’s world title. Sports pages throughout the press continue to celebrate Britain’s sole gold medal at the Athens Olympics, Nigella Lawson for the newly introduced Eggs Benedict and Spoon race – “Eggstatic! Nige was really cooking”, trumpets The Sun.
OCTOBER: The Independent launches a postage stamp-size edition; The Times promptly follows suit, claiming the greatest revolutionary step in journalism since its tabloid and A5-size initiatives. The entire cast of EastEnders is hired as voice coaches for Five Live. Hutton report chaos: Government to commission inquiry into the procedures of the inquiry.
NOVEMBER: Andrew Neil quadruples circulation of The Business by distributing it with the Argos catalogue.
Media Celebrity Who Wants to be a Millionaire? sees the Five Live team fall at the £100 hurdle when asked to select a word beginning with L that rhymes with “five”. Michael Winner wins a million, adds it to his own loose change and buys the Telegraph – “Less vulgar than Desmond, Evans and Posh and Becks,” decides Hollinger.
DECEMBER: Boris Johnson wins Pop Idol. New Year Honours include knighthoods for Ozzy Osbourne (services to reality television) and Jeremy Clarkson (services to unreality television) and a CBE for Anne Robinson (services to Anne Robinson). Anne’s ex, Charlie Wilson, the only living former editor of The Times not to have a title, is ennobled as Lord Gorbals.
Hutton Inquiry shock: Hutton himself was to blame for everything, all concerned concur.
Follow that, Old Moore. And what’s Moore, I see from an internet anagram site that I knock you and your Almanac into a cocked hat – or “hack at code” if you will – when it comes to rearranging the letters of our work into memorable phrases. “A damn oracle looms” may be an apposite anagram of Old Moore’s Almanac, but Bill Hagerty’s Almanac provides the splendid “anathema by call girls” and “carnally might as able”.
Upon which note, a belated happy new year to you all.
Bill Hagerty is editor of British Journalism Review. He’ll be back in four weeks
by Bill Hagerty