The Grey Cardigan: August extract

I AM summoned (yes, summoned) to address the local branch of the Women’s Institute. So I prepare 30 minutes of the usual guff, including being sent to interview talking dogs, making dodgy expense claims and reminiscing about the ‘good old days’ when you’d have to wrestle a rival out of a telephone box to phone your copy through.

They sit through it politely enough, laughing gently in all the right places – and then come the questions.

I’m expecting a slow full toss to get things going; instead a feminine version of Freddie Flintoff decides to indulge in a spot of ‘chin music’.

‘Might you care to explain,’the quietly-spoken spinster asks, ‘why the Evening Beast exploits under-age illegal immigrants and supports the trafficking of sex slaves?”

Well, that one certainly rattles off the helmet and runs down to fine leg, I can tell you. I am momentarily taken aback, and the old girl follows up with a vicious googly: ‘I am referring, of course, to the vile small ads your so-called family publication prints every day in its classified section.”

Yes, madam. I rather thought you were. I sweat, I wriggle, I go for the default defence of not being in a position to judge which advertisers are bona fide masseurs offering genuine physiotherapy and which are brothel-keepers offering a happy finish from an Eastern European waif. I explain that we ask to see copies of relevant certificates and qualifications before accepting the ads. I don’t bother mentioning that this usually means a tattered photocopy being proffered by a big black bloke in a purple BMW convertible.

It’s no use. I’m impaled on the hat-pin of moral imperative. It is not a comfortable experience and I have never been so happy to leave a village hall since overdoing the scrumpy at the age of 12.

Back at the ranch, I bump into our managing director, the Eminence Grease, and raise the subject with him. He gives me a shit-eating grin and says: ‘No problem, Grey. We’ll ban them tomorrow. They’re only worth £60k a year. Of course, you’ll have to lose another two subs…”

And when we sit down to go through the news list, you can just guess what’s sitting there smirking at me. The duty Nervous Nigel is so pleased that he’s got a Page One banker with the tale of the parents outraged at the new massage parlour opening next door to their children’s primary school…

To find out about Grey’s war on wasteful PR, the plague of literals in the nationals, or the problem with Craig Brown, you’ll have to subscribe to Press Gazette. See the subs offer elsewhere on this site.

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