It passed me by because I was busy participating in a traditional British lemming trundle along a motorway*, but, now I have had a chance to catch up with it, I think I have just read John Simpson’s final serious news report. It is in many ways a frightening document; I am afraid on his behalf. Apart from the factual content that we have come to expect from the BBC even at its most feeble, it breaks metropolitan media convention in so many ways that I wonder if he composed it for a bet whilst under the influence of alcohol. Note the last-Friday-before-Christmas timestamp and wonder what kind of post-partying regrets will flicker across his face when Matthew Parris turns up on his doorstep wearing an ankle-length leather raincoat and bitchslaps Simpson with the matching gloves before agents of the W1 Stasi take him away to an “asylum” somewhere in darkest Peckham.
For Simpson to write plainly throughout was risky enough, but for him to set the mutinous title—“Saddam’s trial is not a farce“—in the simple declarative was a stroke of death-defying boldness. Once into the body of the text our dissident voice shakes the very damp course of British journalism by deploying adjectives and adverbs proportionately: the evidence against Hussein is “graphic and terrible”; the judge is “polite”. But there is something far more daring to come: in summing up, Simpson begins by threatening to reach a reasonable judgment—Barzan al-Tikriti “comes across as a brute and a bully”—and concludes by actually doing so:
“If the judge treated Saddam more roughly, he would seem like a martyr. The fact that he does not is a sign of success, not of failure. “
Once they’ve lobotomized you and let you back out into the community it’ll be some dodgy “human interest” slot for you on Radio 4, Simpson mate. You’ll be emoting breathily for housebound old dears about the “heart-wrenching dilemma facing Julie and her terminally-ill child” or the “stark contrast between the chaos of the ongoing civil war around them and the seemingly boundless warmth and generosity of the Fiskistani people themselves” with the Michael Buerks and the Feargal Keanes of this world.
Our loss will be Mrs Trellis‘s gain.
*[During every official holiday the inhabitants of this damp island take the national sport of queuing out onto tarmac, often combining it with that other native pursuit: shopping. The bastards.]