The Grey Cardigan: 27 October 2006

HERE'S a funny thing. A Palladian mansion designed by Quinlan Terry has appeared Tardis-like in the middle of the Dorset countryside. Yet, to the best of my knowledge, the planning and construction of Ferne House has never registered on the radar of the local press, despite its grand scale and greenbelt position.

Well, not in the local Northcliffe press anyway, for this is the country abode of Lord Rothermere, his wife Claudia and their four children. (There is a fifth, to whom we shall return shortly.)

I don't know if any order ever emanated from Derry Street forbidding the reporting of this very modern mansion, but I do know that local editors had it firmly in their psyche that it was a project that was never to be referred to in print. Like a wartime military base on an Ordnance Survey map, it just didn't exist.

But now it does, splashed across 12 pages of November's Vanity Fair magazine. We have pictures of Jonathan and his wife, pictures of their children, pictures of the garden, pictures of the office — altogether a curious act for a man who is painfully shy. Even stranger is writer Kate Reardon's blasé reference to the fifth Rothermere offspring, an 18-year-old son from a dalliance with a New Zealand nanny. Given that any mention of this youthful mishap has previously caused the outbreak of quite vicious newspaper wars, it's appearance here is unusual to say the least.

WITH THE worrying news about the bleak prospects of Press Gazette, I do hope that you don't consider it disloyal of me to cast an eye around the market just in case this column suddenly requires a new home.

So where shall we go? Ah, an immediate problem. The very nature of this discourse tends to eliminate those of whom I've been critical in the past year. So that's the two newspapers with proper media sections — The Guardian and The Independent — ruled out. Perhaps somewhere in Lord Dacre's empire? Perhaps not (see above).

The Barclay Brothers are reputed not to like media columns, so that's both Telegraphs and The Spectator out. News International? Well, there was that unseemly spat with the News of the World. Maybe the Express? Piss off. The Mirror is a possible, but given my potty-mouthed tendencies, I really do think I might be more at home in the Daily Star. If only I can avoid upsetting them.

I THINK we can all agree that the Daily Star's planned Muslim spoof was an utter bag of shite. Sub-Kelvin "jokes" like "Burn A Flag And Win A Corsa" and "Free Beard For Every Bomber" aren't even going to impress the arse-cleavaged builders who are the rag's prime market.

But what was the NUJ chapel doing lobbying to get the page pulled? What the fuck has it got to do with them? The last time I looked, we didn't produce newspapers by committee. Those that have tried to go down that route have lasted about as long as a newly released prisoner in a page three girl.

The editor is there to edit. The editor lives or dies by his or her own decisions. We are merely there to carry out the editor's wishes, and that's why we don't get the push every time he or she does. As one who can remember the blank comment columns of the NGA era (after the bastards had refused to typeset something with which they didn't agree) it disgusts me to see the NUJ crowing about its own bullying censorship.

NEVER UNDERESTIMATE the power of The Grey Cardigan. No sooner had I questioned the absence of Tanya "Bigfoot" Gold from the pages of the Daily Mail than she was back with a bang. Then I asked where Jan Moir, The Daily Telegraph's restaurant critic had disappeared to. As if by magic, she was back the next day in her rightful place, and then followed it up with a new half-page comment column a couple of days later.

Impressive restorative powers, I'm sure you'll agree. But whether or not I can save the career of poor Tom Utley is a moot point.

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

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