Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Heffer on racial sensitivity...

There are times, I have to admit, when I begin to wonder whether the character of ‘Simon Heffer’ isn’t really an elaborate hoax. He is, after all, so fantastically unlikely. A sort of less plausible (and less enjoyable) Peter Simple. Recently Craig Brown admitted that he had secretly been writing Heffer’s columns all along. But I’m not sure. Brown is a satirist with a delicate touch – a rapier, not a bludgeon. He surely wouldn’t have blundered with a parody as grotesque as this on Saturday?

Did the Beeb need to bowdlerise Buchan?

About once a year I watch television, and this time it was the BBC’s new take on The 39 Steps. My colleague Rowan Pelling has already pointed out that Hannay lived in an Art Deco building, of which there was none in 1914. I was shocked by his wearing a white tie with a dinner jacket, which even a bounder in those days would not have done. But I also noticed how the story had been politically corrected: Buchan’s original disobliging references to “dagoes”, Jews and other foreigners having been eliminated, together with the magnificent moment when Scudder tells him, “You’re a white man!” Viewers could see the programme in low or high definition. Perhaps they could also have a channel where they could see it as the author intended.

Even Simon Heffer would not be able to combine the crashingly pompous and the racially antediluvian with quite such clunking magnificence. You can imagine a team of writers giggling as they wrote it, wondering whether this was the moment they got exposed as a hoax.

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