Historians digging for hard evidence of Fleet Street censoring actuality at the bidding of Downing Street will have missed out if they gave up before the 15th par of the spread headlined, THE DAY MAJOR TRIED IT ON WITH SUN GIRL.
For there lay a remarkable admission.
That headline could have run a decade earlier. But a "highly alarmed" No.10 had intervened to emasculate what would have been the first piece to inform the public of the true nature of John Major.
The veil was now lifted on a 1991 interview the then Prime Minister gave then Sun Woman editor Caroline Graham. He had "flirted outrageously" and "commented on her lovely legs and then singled out her ankles for special appreciation".
Under a NO, SLIME MINISTER strapline and alongside a picture of a grinning Major with blonde Graham "wearing a micro-skirt which rode up to reveal her thighs," the 2002 Sun exhumed the 1991 episode.
Graham had been gobsmacked by Major’s flirtatiousness. "He had twinkling, mischievous eyes and was very tactile. When I shook hands he cupped mine in both his, and held on to me for quite some time while gazing straight into my eyes."
And so on until, after 14 pars (and 11 years) The Sun was revealing how it came to censor Graham’s piece: "Major’s press secretary Gus O’Donnell pleaded with us to tone down references to the flirting, and in a spirit of goodwill towards the new Premier we agreed. Passages referring to Major’s comments about Caroline’s legs – and other saucy asides – were left out."
Current editor David Yelland showed commendable candour in conceding: "If the interview had been published in full, the world might have been better prepared for the revelations of Major as a love cheat."
The Sun noted that the then editor told Graham she "was mad for saying Major was sexy and a flirt." We are not told whether the then editor acquainted Graham with the fact that her story had been discussed with Downing Street, who had "begged us not to spill the beans.".
And who was the then editor? Why, Kelvin MacKenzie, that legendary raiser of fingers to the Establishment and its spin serpents. Much good may all this do his chances of topping the British Journalism Review/Press Gazette poll for the Greatest Editor Of All Time.