Monthly Archives: March 2003

“Alastair Campbell has ordered the Whitehall press machine to get a grip of the war coverage, fearing that dramatic footage from the front line is overshadowing the overall successes of the military campaign,” notes The Independent

“Tony Blair’s powerful director of communications and strategy went “ballistic” last week as criticism of the war began to spiral. The idea that the war plan had been changed to cope with unexpected Iraqi resistance began to circulate, and there was criticism that what people had expected to be a short war would become a more protracted campaign.”

The best laid plans of mice and poodles. . .

“According to Whitehall sources, Mr Campbell ordered the MoD to ‘get the big picture out there’.”

Where, precisely? The news isn’t as easy to control as it as in the past. Those interested in something other than the specious propaganda Campbell and his ilk insist we be force-fed can always turn to. . .the net.

“On Thursday, the MoD dutifully attempted to give London-based journalists a sense of the ‘wider context’. But Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon’s appeal was quickly drowned out by a series of gaffes by Government ministers.”

Hel-lo. What’s all this then? Oh how I miss Terry-Thomas!

“First, Mr Hoon was embarrassingly forced to retract claims that the discovery of more than 100 biochemical protection suits was proof that Saddam Hussein was preparing to use weapons of mass destruction.

Then, more damagingly, the Prime Minister used a Washington press conference to erroneously claim that two British servicemen were ‘executed’ by the Iraqi regime.

Questions surfaced about the veracity of other claims made by the coalition – the injury or death of Saddam Hussein in the opening stages of the campaign, the scale of humanitarian aid getting into Iraq and the confused situation in Basra.”

Oh my. Such a run of bad luck. But surely they’re going to be sporting about it. Like Richard Attenborough while he was still an actor.

“The following day, General Sir Michael Jackson issued a stern warning to the press.

He told journalists to think about the effects of what they wrote and broadcast on the bereaved families. ‘It’s not about propaganda or spin, it is about human decency,’ he said.”

Well no. They’re more like Peter Sellers in his Boulting Brothers period.

“Turning to the reporting of the war, General Jackson urged people to set in context the significance of events shown on television. ‘They are no more than snapshots of a particular time and a particular place,’ he said. ‘They tell you very little if anything at all of the progress of the campaign at a strategic level.’ “

Has he been reading Roland Barthes?

“Downing Street admitted there were a ‘lot of challenges’ associated with the demands of 24-hour news and competition between journalists, papers and broadcasters.

Mr Campbell was fulfilling his role as head of strategic communications in handling the way the war was presented as in everything else.”

And the chief challenge, it would appear, is Getting the Press to Heel. Bad Puppies the lot of them! Likely as not to pee on the rug.

Or your leg.

The Americans are, of course, far better house-trained — like that faithful Golden Retriever Aaron Brown of CNN, or hankie-at-the-ready Tom “Greatest Generation” Brokaw of NBC.

As for the folks they’re supposed to impress — well that’s another story.

“Overheard: from the hairdresser’s in Liverpool to the foxhole in Iraq. Have you heard the one about the war? Probably. It’s bloody and nasty and not very funny, but even as the first bombs fell on Baghdad, the looming conflict was the subject of black humour, anecdotes, rumours and conspiracy theories in bars, at bus stops, in offices and at supermarket check-outs. Both here and in the Gulf, our correspondents have been able to listen in to some thoughts on the war:

Couple in a restaurant: ‘Have you seen GMTV’s war coffee table? Natasha Kaplinski is very good at pointing at Baghdad.’ “

Who said “irony” was dead? Not in the land that gave us the great Irene Handl!

“Father to 12-year-old son: ‘They bombed a bazaar in Baghdad last night. Lots of Iraqis killed.’ Son, a Newcastle fan, replies: ‘Do you think Kieron Dyer will play on the left side for England, Dad?’”

Such inattention is sure to mark you as potential cannon-fodder m’lad.

Unless you’re tapped to be the next Hugh Grant.

“At the hairdresser’s in Liverpool: ‘I don’t know nothing about this war and I don’t want to. It’s better not to know.’

Pedestrian passing anti-war poster in St Albans: ‘They’d soon be complaining if there was a terrorist attack round here.’”

One longs for the sound of “Bluebottle” screaming “Aahhh! You have deaded me!”

“At RAF Fairford last Saturday, watching a peace protest: ‘These bloody marchers: if it wasn’t the war they’d be moaning about something else.’”

Spoken like a True Neddie Seagoon.

“American woman in a smart hotel: ‘My husband’s a Republican. So he’s for war.’

Young woman on the London Underground: ‘I can’t wait for it all to be over so Danny Baker returns to BBC London in the mornings.’ “

And I can’t wait for modern science to find a way to bring Kenneth Williams back from the dead so he can star as Prime Minister Blair in “I’m Alright, Dubbya.”

“Woman with young child at bus stop: ‘I know it sounds simplistic, but just one cruise missile could probably buy us a new school.’”

Pure Lindsay Anderson, that one. With the great Mona Washbourne doing the honors.

“Soldier in Umm Qasr who has just heard Geoff Hoon’s remark that the Iraqi city is similar to Southampton: “He’s either never been to Southampton, or he’s never been to Umm Qasr.” Whereupon his colleague in arms says: ‘There’s no beer, no prostitutes and people are shooting at us. It’s more like Portsmouth.’ “

Spike Milligan of course.

“In a sports club: ‘You can’t be soft with these people. What you’ve got to do is send in the SAS and wipe the lot of them out.’ “

Lindsay Anderson again. Can’t you hear Arthur Lowe?

“Doctor in his surgery: ‘Blair’s crap, Bush is crap. They’re having this war to fool people into forgetting that. They must realise their role is to do what we want them to do.””

Ian Carmichael, of course.

“Driver of a black cab who has just been asked to go to the Foreign Office: ‘You work for the Foreign Office?’ Answer: “No.” Driver: ‘That’s good; I was going to give you an earful about the war.’ ”

We are now entering Hanif Kureshi territory.

“British soldier on the battlefield in Iraq: ‘Don’t they understand my schedule? I’ve got tickets for a Robbie Williams concert booked in August.’ “

I see Sully in this part. With Neil Jordan directing.

“From the next seat in the railway carriage: ‘Have you heard that they’re going to behead Saddam Hussein when they get hold of him? I was really shocked to find out that the Americans are going to use decapitation in this war.’ “

Peggy Ashcroft would be ideal here.

“One busy colleague to another: ‘I’ve been in and out of the office this week like a coalition marine in Umm Qasr.” Friend: “I’m working harder than a traffic cop on the Iraqi border.’ “

What’s required at this point, of course is a snappy rejoinder from Barbara Windsor. Followed by an even snappier one from Kenneth Williams.

Which only goes to show that a dead British comic has more life in him than corporate underlings who, if they’re not properly curbed will shortly make war criminals of us all.