Piers Morgan may have been the UK equivalent of a TV shock-jock, but there’s another side to him. I’ve known Piers for more than 30 years — we went to the same journalism college — and he has a large heart. Years ago Judy and I and the kids were holidaying in Florida and, unknown to us, we were papped in a hotel pool. The photos were hawked around the tabloids and I had a call from Piers, then editor of the Daily Mirror: ‘These pool snaps… I’ve bought them, exclusively.’ ‘Cheers, Piers. I thought you were a mate.’ ‘No, no — I did it as a favour. I’m suggesting I send one of our snappers to your hotel, do some properly posed holiday shots of you all, and run those instead.’ I shook my head. ‘That’d set a precedent. Every time we’re papped like this, we’d have to do similar deals. Thanks but no thanks.’ ‘Is Judy there?’ I clicked on speakerphone and Piers said: ‘Hi Jude. Listen up…’ There was an odd, metallic tinkling sound. ‘Hear that? That was me chucking those photos in my bin. They’ll never see the light of day. Enjoy the rest of your holiday.’
Piers would later be sacked from the Mirrorover those notorious faked Iraq torture photographs. Ten years on he got the chop at CNN after enraging the US gun lobby with unswerving attacks on them; now this. My analogy last week was with an F1 racing driver: Piers presents TV with his foot to the floor, going into bends at speed and skidding through the chicanes on full rubber-burning four-wheel lock. Drive a show like that and inevitably you’ll spin off the track. But he’ll be back.
Meanwhile I got the kiss of death from Paddy Power last week: the bookmakers had me as favourite to take over from Piers on Good Morning Britain, so I can say ta-ta to that. The favourite never wins. When the race was on at Radio 2 to replace Jimmy Young, Nicky Campbell was heavily touted and that scuppered his chances. Same thing happened when he was in the running to host Newsnight. The eventual winner always comes from behind. TV bosses loathe being told by the bookies who they should pick. My money’s on an all-woman lineup, with a nod to diversity. Ranvir Singh, riding high since her terrific outing on Strictly, made an impressive pairing with Susanna Reid the morning after Piers stormed off the set.The Morning Show (the US TV series starring Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon as rivalrous breakfast co-hosts) it was not.
So now we know. At least 90 per cent of women of all ages have been sexually harassed, groped, intimidated or terrified by men as they simply try to walk, jog or cycle from A to B. Until Sarah Everard’s death, we had no idea the problem was so universal. I asked my 33-year-old daughter Chloe about her experiences and was shocked to learn how many times she’s been pestered or felt threatened. She told me she never mentioned it until now because she simply accepted it as inevitable. There’s been much hand-wringing commentary but precious few practical suggestions for direct action. Well here’s mine. It’s emerged that, astonishingly, kerb-crawling is not a criminal offence. Men cannot be prosecuted for tailing women and harassing them as they walk along the pavement. So let’s make a start with that, shall we? Get kerb-crawling on the statute books with a mandatory jail sentence for offenders and the loss of their driving licence. Time for a crackdown on these creeps.
Proustian moment of the week no. 1. As a guest on a TV quiz show, the subject of the Rubik’s Cube arose. It took me back almost 40 years to my days as a reporter on Yorkshire Television. I had to cover an international university conference on the puzzle, and finished with a piece to camera where I employed the old trope of subtly replacing an unfinished cube with a completed one. Granada TV’s head of news saw it, decided I was the right person to pair with the woman presenter on his nightly regional news show, and offered me the job. The other host? Someone called Judy Finnigan. It’s totally down to Rubik that she’s my wife, I have four children and three grandchildren, and we’ve enjoyed our joint career. Kismet.
Proustian moment no. 2, and a traumatic one. My neighbour has bought a vintage Mustang and it’s taken me back to when I was seven. My father, a Ford press officer, took delivery of a Mustang due to be presented to Prince Philip. The afternoon beforehand we took a drive in it and I smuggled my cat Timmy along. Timmy threw up, copiously, all over the back seat. The stench was appalling. My dad was still cleaning up at midnight. He was incandescent for days.
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