Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Tuesday 8th May 2018

I’M not anti-monarchy, but I find media coverage of the royals just a bit too sycophantic and sickly for my taste.

At least the latest addition to the royal family — “the firm” as they like to be known — Prince Louis Arthur Charles, did the decent thing and arrived without fuss last week, enabling the world’s press to get those pictures of his mother looking fantastic in red just hours after the birth.

The royal press pack have no choice. Waiting is the name of the game when a birth is imminent. They can sometimes be stuck outside the hospital for days on end waiting for a brief statement and to snatch pictures of visiting royals. It’s the job. They have to do it.

But what I can’t fathom is why members of the public have such fascination with the royals that they will spend days sitting out on chilly pavements just to wave a flag and catch a glimpse of one of the family. They interviewed a woman on the radio last week. She had spent several days making sure of her front row spot and thought it was perfectly reasonable, albeit she got about 30 seconds and a restricted view of Kate and her new son.

For journalists, being appointed royal correspondent must seem like the kiss of death for their careers. Right now, in newspaper offices across the land, there’s some poor soul deputed to study the young royals for tummy bumps that signal another royal pregnancy. Megan has no idea what she’s let herself in for.

Royal correspondent has got to be the worst job in reporting. Jennie Bond did it for the BBC for 14 long years and admitted she never “hit it off” with them. She was one of the most familiar faces on TV news programs, yet the Queen and Prince Philip remained aloof, as if they had no idea who she was.

Once, during a visit to South Korea, the Queen shook hands with Bond and said: “Oh, have you come here specifically?” A variant on the traditional royal standby, “have you come far?”

Jennie Bond, once she had retired from the post, was asked at literary event if she liked the royals. “Basically, no,” came the blunt reply.

Even her experiences of royal tedium did not match the misfortune of her successor, Nicholas Witchell, famously described by Prince Charles as “that awful man” while attending a photo shoot on a skiing holiday with his sons.

The Prince’s mutterings were picked up later by an astonished sound engineer. “Bloody people. I hate these people,” Charles was overheard chuntering under his breath. A spokesman later tried to mend fences, saying the Prince was simply frustrated by the attentions of the paparazzi.

However, Witchell was never forgiven for asking what, it transpired, was a question that had been approved in advance by Clarence House. The BBC was passed over in favour of rival channels for a number of subsequent royal announcements with Charles’s influence strongly suspected.

Over the years I’ve covered dozens of royal visits to this part of the world. Dashing round asking people what their brief conversation with a royal was about isn’t the easiest job. Mostly the chat has been banal, although when it comes to rural matters Prince Charles is remarkably well-briefed and knowledgeable.

But remember, when stories about the royals are reported in the papers and on the TV, some poor devil has probably been hanging around in the cold for hours, and possibly even days, just to catch a few words. The likelihood is that, despite the title of royal correspondent, they probably have no greater insight into what the royals are really like than the rest of us.

Royal correspondent. The worst job in journalism and broadcasting? Just ask Jennie Bond and Nick Witchell. I think you’ll get your answer.

LOTTERY MONEY IS OBSCENE

A TICKET-holder in the UK claimed Britain’s third largest lottery win —£121.3 million — last week, although this was small beer compared to Europe’s biggest lottery payout of £161 million in 2011.

While Government ministers are quite rightly concerned about the impact of those dreadful machines in betting shops, fixed odds betting terminals to give them their full title, does nobody think like me that lottery wins have become even more obscene? Hardly anyone goes into a betting shop these days to back horses. The machines, with their flashing lights and bells, can swallow up to £100 a time and are addictive to a certain type of player. These are not gamblers, they are losers who have an inbuilt urge to play until they are out of money.

The Government wants to reduce the amount they can play at any one time to £2. This will no doubt result in numerous shops closing, but the bookies have no excuse. They’ve known about the disquiet for a long time and failed to act.

I’ve nothing against the lottery per se as long as it’s a bit of fun with a chance to win enough readies to make life a bit more comfortable. But these massive wins are utterly wrong. Nobody needs £121 million.

The draw is back on ITV, 15 months after the BBC dropped it due to falling viewer numbers. Doing the lottery was a national event when it began back in November, 1994. The first show, hosted by Noel Edmonds, drew an audience of more than 20 million.

OK, so it has given away more than £65 billion in prizes and raised £40 billion for good causes. But the whole aim now is one big win, not giving thousands of small players a realistic hope of a windfall. Why else did they increase the numbers and up the cost of a ticket to £2?

There’s been some concern about a drop in ticket sales. I don’t need to emulate the late Stephen Hawking to work out the answer. Get back to a quid a ticket and a more even share out of prize money. And don’t get me on to scratch cards, which are the equivalent of the betting shop machines, yet have tacit state approval because the money they raise means less for the Government to provide to the good causes.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee recently criticised the “favourable” renegotiation of Camelot’s contract and unpopular tinkering with the draw. It reported that while Camelot’s profits doubled in seven years, money for good causes had risen by only two per cent.

When is someone going to bring these eye-watering multi-million prizes under control? They have nothing to do with the basic premise of a national lottery, which was to give people the chance of a decent win for small money, make it entertaining and help good causes. This is just vulgarity and greed taken to extreme levels.

WHITHER THE “BIG SOCIETY”?

THE “Big Society”. Remember that one? David Cameron’s big launch. Power to the people, help for volunteers, restoring community spirit and values.

So where did it all go? The concept of the best ideas coming from ground up rather than top down. “Giving people more power to come together to make life better,” to recall the former PM’s words.

Farmers in Eden, “hailed as heroes” for clearing snow from blocked roads, now discover they could be held responsible if working without permission and the required insurance in future.

Unfortunately Cameron reckoned without bureaucracy, quick buck lawyers for you and me, compensation culture, political correctness and a host of other reasons that all add up to a “can’t do” society.

RISING TO THE CHALLENGE

NEWCASTLE University student Jonathan Noble is reckoned to have answered the hardest question on TV’s University Challenge. Even Jeremy Paxman was moved to use the words “very impressive”.

Noble’s question was about Pascal’s Triangle, which is particularly handy for working out binomial coefficients and in calculating combinations. I’ll take their word for it. It seems unfair that the trainee teacher earned only 10 points.

I often watch University Challenge, bewildered by the teams’ youthful genius. I’m not bad at general knowledge questions on Mastermind, I even get a few right on Radio 4’s Brain of Britain. But University Challenge, that’s another thing altogether.

I can now inform readers that, in one of the final programs of the latest series, I actually got a question right. You are not dealing with an intellectual nobody here. So it was a question about Scottish football grounds, but we won’t go into that.