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‘Pussygate’ proves we have lost our innocence

It is now known that a major new crisis is about to engulf the BBC. A producer has been suspended. There are threats of sackings. Unions are involved. According to the chorus of critics of the Corporation, who are ever on hand to make things worse, the latest revelations reveal a profound moral and managerial crisis within the corporation. The story that has caused the rumpus is undeniably shocking, but it must be told. There was this cat. It was to be part of the presentation team on the children's series Blue Peter. Some foolhardy idiot at the BBC came up with the reckless idea of inviting the programme's young viewers to select a name for it. This is where it gets ugly. The name the children came up with is so utterly inappropriate that the production team were unable even to consider it. The BBC says that the name...

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The rich still try to buy their way in to heaven

For a true appreciation of the delicate balance which exists between contemporary wealth, conscience and poverty, the best place to start is at a prominent charity dinner and auction. At these fashionable events, various key players in the great soap opera of contemporary life are brought together. The majority of guests will be people on mind-boggling salaries but there will also be a healthy smattering of good-egg celebrities (actors, models, TV presenters), there to show their caring sides. Glamorous PR folk will be circulating, socially lubricating, while a few media types will be on hand to ensure that no good deed goes unreported. At a certain point in proceedings, the better-known bleeding-heart celebrities will earn their charity stripes by saying a few platitudinous words, perhaps offering some small personal item to be auctioned later. Just when you think it could not get any worse, Lord Archer will appear on stage...

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Capitalism v conservation: there’s only one winner

Wildness is quite the thing right now. On TV, suburban makeover shows have been supplanted by a new, hairier kind of fantasy in which man – represented by Ray Mears, Bear Grylls or Bruce Parry – pitches his wits against nature. Meanwhile, in the bookshops, the needs of armchair adventurers are being answered by two new books, Roger Deakin's Wildwood and Robert Macfarlane's The Wild Places, both of which are selling briskly. The demand for what are know as "Survive in the Wild" weekends has never been higher. Yet by a process which is now so familiar that it should have formal title – the Hypocritical Paradox, perhaps – fantasy and reality are moving in diametrically opposite directions. The more we dream about wildness, the more we allow it to be gobbled up by development and human greed. That great admirer of nature, the American billionaire Donald Trump, has recently...

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Why this couple are an example to us all

In these property-obsessed days, it's refreshing to hear of those few brave people who have not been caught up with homes, houses and domestic life. In Norfolk, a local council has been worrying over the past two years about a group of travellers who had set up home without the required planning permission. Last week, quite unexpectedly, the problem was solved. Tired of dealing with officialdom, the travellers hit the road. Apparently, they preferred to be on the move anyway. With a similarly brave sense of independence, an elderly couple have recently been explaining to bewildered journalists why, in spite of owning a flat, they have elected to live over the past 22 years in Travelodge Hotels. "There is always something going on outside our window," David Davidson has said. "Our room looks out to the car park and a busy slip road where lorries pass by through the night."...

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We should all cherish Ann Widdecombe

Ten years after the car crash in Paris that opened the floodgates of public emotion, the crying game is still playing well in politics and in the media. Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, was tearful when interviewed following the shooting of Rhys Jones, an event which also made the BBC newsreader Fiona Bruce cry when she first heard about it. These displays of public emotion, whether they occur in front of the camera or are recalled later in an interview, now follow a definite pattern: tears first and then, shoulders squared, a return to work. Image-wise, a useful double whammy of sensitivity and professionalism is provided. In a country where blubbing has become confused with sincerity, it takes a brave person to make the case for remaining dry-eyed. Not for the first time in recent years, that person has turned out to be Ann Widdecombe. It was inappropriate for the...

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England’s green and adolescent land

Few subjects provide the English with quite so much guilty fascination as that of Englishness. Convinced that we are enigmatic and widely misunderstood by less psychologically complex nations, we tend to be boastfully modest about our national character, forever drawing attention to how self-effacing we are. Oliver James has put us on the couch, travel writers from Bryson to Theroux have roamed about, searching – often in vain – for our alleged charm. Jeremy Paxman investigated Englishness in book form, and now Andrew Marr is having a go on the radio. Sound-bite insights from the usual suspects (A A Gill, P D James, E T Cetera) are corralled into a neat, mildly amusing theory. The first in the series concluded that the English used modesty as a mechanism of self-defence. As the programme's central joke (that Boris Johnson is a modern version of Miss Marple) was repeated for the third...

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Why do we not revolt against the City fat cats?

This Sunday, at one of the great events in East Anglia's social calendar, the Waveney Greenpeace Fair, a Benedictine monk will dress in a recycled habit and, in a booth made of old doors, will hear the confessions of those who have sinned against the environment. "There is a huge amount of greed in the West," Dom Anthony Sutch has explained. "We have to be aware of the consequences of how we live." Around the country, there will doubtless be other, rather smarter, parties, held by some of the company directors and senior executives who, it has been revealed, have enjoyed a record payout, both in salaries (up 37 per cent, about 10 times the national average) and bonuses (up 24 per cent to £26.4bn). The greed of the financial world apparently concerns the Church rather less than that shown by people who fail to compost adequately. But Father Sutch...

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We need a change of climate at the BBC

Wearing its title of the nation's public service broadcaster like a badge of virtue and honour, the BBC likes to clear its schedules now and then for an exciting celebrity-strewn day of concern, comedy and music. At first, children in need were the great cause, then Third World poverty. Now climate change is the latest focus of the Corporation's caring attentions. On the face of it, to object to any of these great on-air festivals of niceness, as the editor of Newsnight, Peter Barron, has just done in Edinburgh, is to take grumpiness to a new extreme. What harm can possibly be done by a Red Nose Day, a Feed the World extravaganza, or an all-day Live Earth concert? Awareness is raised, money made for good causes, the famous have a chance to "give something back" in a gratifyingly public way, politicians are called to account in a gentle and...

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A crossroads is no place to make a home

In Peter Tinniswood's peerless comedy of northern life, I Didn't Know You Cared, it was at about this time of the year when Carter Brandon, a lugubrious young romantic, sat with his Uncle Mort watching the swallows as they gathered on the telephone wires. Soon, Carter said, the swallows would be taking off and flying south to sunnier climes. "Lucky devils," said Uncle Mort. Then in the spring, said Carter, they would gather once more and fly all the way back here. "Bloody fools," said Uncle Mort. Humans have been coming and going, too. For the past month, it has seemed as if the focal point of the national news has been the country's airports. First there was the annual holiday scramble, and then a week-long demonstration at Heathrow to remind us that the Government's plan to double air passengers at what was already Europe's busiest airport by far was...

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Death isn’t a date to put in your diary

For a few of us, the description of Lord Deedes's final hours and days, affectionately described in the press, will have made rather chilling reading. He "bravely struggled to write his last column as he lay on his death bed", reported the Sunday Telegraph. "Despite being desperately ill, bedridden and 94 years old, Lord Deedes - Bill Deedes to everyone who knew him - was halfway through his weekly article on Wednesday when he became too weak to continue." He died two days later, on the day his column had been due to appear. It was wildly, heroically professional, of course, but some may wonder whether, after nine decades of an extraordinary life, Deedes was right to spend his last few ounces of energy squeezing out one final opinion, worrying whether his opening paragraph was snappy enough, checking the word count on his laptop. As what Henry James called "the...

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