The Grey Cardigan 12.05.06

A FORMER colleague of mine, who rose to the heights before crashing and burning, had very firm views on newspaper awards.

"They are elitist, superficial, meaningless, lacking in context, judged by simpletons, commercially exploitative and less important in the grand scale of things than a half-decent page-27 nib." Pause. "Until you win one…"

I tended to agree with him, although it's always nice for a young reporter to feel that his or her work is being recognised. Thus it was with some anticipation that I learned that this very column had itself been nominated for a gong at the 2006 PPA awards.

The excitement was shortlived.

Ignominy lurked around the corner.

I was beaten, dear reader, by a GP from Sunderland and a man from Farmers Weekly. I ask you , Farmers fucking Weekly… they don't even know what to do with their own apostrophe.

STILL, WE battle on. Much is made of the way journalists are portrayed by the makers of television drama programmes. We are drawn, almost without exception, as liars, cheats, dissemblers and rogues. We obey no rules and are strangers to any concept of ethical behaviour.

While the lack of basic knowledge of our craft on the part of scriptwriters is woeful, I've come to accept this gross calumny, confident in the belief that things couldn't get any worse. And then I watched the first episode of a new BBC series about the legal profession in Manchester, called New Street Law, in which a shabby character played by John Thomson phones up a friend on a local paper and offers to pen a restaurant review.

The negotiated fee? A not inconsiderable £250. No, really. So if anyone happens to know the telephone number of the Didsbury Times, perhaps they could pass it on to me?

ARE WE really worried about the phenomenon of "dumbing down"?

I ask because back in January I lambasted theguardian for nicking an old Loaded favourite and running a Crisp World Cup. You know the thing: you start with 32 varieties and drunkenly taste-test them down to an eventual winner.

Surprise, surprise — the idea has resurfaced. So which august journal has now embraced this staple of laddism? Step forward, Country Life magazine, spiritual home of the Girls in Pearls. Although to be fair, they did espouse Walker's cheese and onion in favour of 32 posh bags of "kettle chips".

I WAS round at a friend's house the other night when a programme about the exploits of the British paparazzi appeared on BBC1. The lady of the house sat and tutted as various celebrities were monstered outside restaurants and homes.

"It's outrageous," she said. "Why should people be treated like that?"

I kept my own counsel, having earlier spotted a pile of Hello! and OK! magazines by the side of the couch.

A FRISSON of fear runs through the Evening Beast newsroom as the jungle drums bring news of Birmingham's latest expenses crackdown — actually getting in touch with the "contacts" named on swindle sheets as having been entertained at company expense.

There is a serious side to this. Plenty of people talk to us in confidence, albeit over the lunchtime special at Luigi's. Will they really welcome a phone call to their workplace from a bean-counter seeking to establish if it was one or two bottles of Lambrini that were actually consumed?

"Are you worried," I ask Tommy Cockles, a senior snapper with legendary skills in the black arts of expense-claiming.

"Not at all," he replies. "If they're going to get in touch with some of my alleged contacts, they're going to need a fucking ouija board."

You can contact me, should you be minded, at thegreycardigan@gmail.com

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