The Grey Cardigan: 8 June 2007

WRITING COLOUR pieces is a fine art. Many try, most fail. Those who can turn it in when it matters deserve their big bucks. They put the extra in front of ordinary. They can lift a mundane inside piece onto the front page, where it lands, gentle and beautiful, almost like A BUTTERFLY OF HOPE.

Yes, folks, we’re in St Peter’s Square with Pope Benedict XVI, Team McCann and Nick Parker of The Sun. And a butterfly, which alighted momentarily on tragic mum Kate McCann. To you, a common or garden Red Admiral, but to Nick, it was ‘a symbol of the hopeful return of snatched Maddie”.

It flew away, only to return – ‘picking out Kate from the 30,000 people on the square’– and settled on her lapel. Nick then nailed the supporting quote from family friend Clarence Mitchell: ‘I almost welled up. It was as if Madeleine was with us and was a good omen.”

Well, however stomach turning – that’s the front-page splash sorted. Funnily enough, the usual fact panel that accompanies many Sun stories was missing. A shame really, because readers could have been informed how the Scots (like Mr McCann) believe that you’ll be unlucky if a butterfly lands on you, while in southern Germany some say the dead are reborn as children who fly about as butterflies. Let’s hope it wasn’t an omen after all then…

FOR ALL our sneering insouciance, occasionally a story will penetrate the emotional defences of even the most battle-hardened journalists. The saga of the missing girl is just the latest. But now, with a massive sense of relief, I can reveal that she’s been found.

Yes, Daily Mail feature writer Tanya ‘Bigfoot’Gould is alive and well and back in the pages of Middle England’s finest. One of this column’s favourites has been missing in action since the New Year, and we were getting worried that she’d been locked up for stalking Jean-Christophe Novelli or had simply wasted away while doing a first-person piece on miracle diets – unlikely, I know, but one day they’ll find one that can shift 14 stone in six months.

It turns out that our Tanya has spent the first part of the year trying very hard to get selected for Big Brother 8, undergoing auditions, role playing, interviews, psychological profiling, background checks, secretive meetings, supplying references and numbers for her employer, doctor, solicitor and accountant – a more intensive going-over than if she’d been joining MI5. Unfortunately, she fell at the final hurdle, with only a spread in the Mail to show for all that hard work.

Perhaps, she wonders, they could have sussed against all the odds that she was a journalist? Err… Tanya, love, have you ever heard of Google? You occupy most of the first 30 listings.

WHILE WE’RE talking about hardened hearts, I had a day off from the Evening Beast last Friday so spent a leisurely lunchtime in the boozer in the company of a national hack and his crime novel-writing mate.

As the foaming points of Perving Vicar (ABV 6.2%) went down, the resentment and jealousy that lurks beneath the surface of our otherwise sunny dispositions began to surface. The conversation had turned towards Alan Johnston, banged up somewhere in Gaza for the past three months. The author across the table, whose first 147 manuscripts had been rejected out of hand by assorted publishers, pondered the size of the advance poor Alan could expect for his tale upon his (hopefully) safe release: ‘He’s going to clean up, big time. I bet he’s banging out the first three chapters as we speak.”

In polite society, this would be regarded as a trifle distasteful, but, among embittered old wordsmiths, it raised nary an eyebrow. Then the national hack piled in: ‘While we’re at it,’he said, ‘what about that fucking Frank Gardner fella on the BBC? Security correspondent? Give me the internet and a wheelchair and I could do that…”

It went quiet, the silence reverberating around the pub. Soon afterwards I finished my pint and left, pocketing a book of blank receipts behind the landlord’s back on the way out.

THE LUVVIES among our theatre critics whine that they weren’t allowed to review Trevor Nunn’s new production of King Lear in Stratford until fully nine weeks into the run.

Why not? What was to stop the idle bastards buying their own tickets, wandering into the audience one night and then writing about it the following day? Absolutely nothing, beyond the disgraceful theatre conceit, nay conspiracy, that allows ordinary punters to be short-changed while a sub-standard performance limbers up.

I’ve had this nonsense before, with restaurants as well as with theatrical types. It should be simple: if you’re charging full price, then you get reviewed. Anything else is cheating the readers.

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