Maybe I should get naked during the next Brexit protest, too

23 February 2019

9:00 AM

23 February 2019

9:00 AM

A choppy week sitting in for Piers Morgan again on Good Morning Britain. One nude studio guest, a sprinkling of prevaricating politicians and an interview with the delightfully direct Dolly Parton. That’s breakfast telly for you. And I love Dolly. Who doesn’t? I’ve met her a few times and she’s as sharp as a tack. Once, mid-interview, she stretched out her legs and considered her shoes. I laughed. ‘You’ve got really tiny feet, haven’t you, Dolly?’ She nodded, adjusting her embonpoint with both hands. ‘Nothing grows in the shade, honey.’

I remember my first interview with a naked person. (You don’t forget that kind of thing.) I was the local paper’s cub reporter, alone in the newsroom on the late shift, when our night receptionist’s quavering voice floated up from downstairs. ‘Richard! There’s a lady down here with no clo’es on!’ Indeed there was. It was a councillor’s wife protesting about some town hall shenanigans or other. A photographer was summoned and the story made the front page. The husband was furious and threatened to sue. That made the front page too. Easy copy; happy days. Plus ça change. Forty years on, another naked encounter. Fresh from giving John Humphrys an eyeful on Today, Remain campaigner Dr Victoria Bateman stripped off on Good Morning Britain. Viewers were limited to a (pixelated) view of Dr Bateman’s upper half but my co-presenter Kate Garraway and I had the full monty to contend with as we assumed nonchalance and chatted airily away. There were front and rear bottom displays as our guest entered and exited the studio. The floor manager discreetly placed a towel on the good doctor’s chair, which I thought was a bit OCD, but I suppose one can’t be too careful. Dr Bateman told us the stunt was to illustrate Britain’s vulnerability after leaving the EU and had nothing to do with exhibitionism. Whatever. To my surprise, I was unfazed by her impersonation of Eve. The ennui of advancing years, maybe? Terminal boredom with anything connected to Brexit? Perhaps I should have entered into the spirit of things and got my kit off, too. I bet Piers would have.

THUD. Another day, another new book thumping on to the doormat. The missus and I could build a bungalow out of books thanks to our eponymous book club. The house is crammed with them, mostly sent to us unsolicited. But I was looking forward to this one; Anita Anand’s account of the Amritsar massacre in the Punjab a century ago. More than 1,000 Indians were shot dead by British troops during 20 minutes or so of gunfire. The Patient Assassin (it could almost be a reference to Anand’s deadly politeness with callers to Radio 4’s Any Answers?, whom she smoothly but ruthlessly terminates the instant they start repeating themselves) is a jaw-dropping true story. A young low-caste orphan, Udham Singh, was badly wounded in the massacre. He survived, and swore vengeance. If revenge is a dish best served cold, Udham’s was semi-frozen by the time he eventually delivered it. Like a real-life Tom Ripley, he assumed multiple identities and bided his time. Udham travelled halfway round the world, walked calmly into the Palace of Westminster, and shot the former governor of the Punjab through the heart at point-blank range. Rough justice; brutally poetic. One of the more extreme examples in Anand’s growing portfolio of answers.

The Patient Assassin is timed to hit bookshops on the exact centenary of Amristar so obviously its publishing deadline was set in stone. By contrast, the one for my next novel is a moveable feast. So naturally I keep moving it — backwards. It’s like a mirage on the horizon, beckoning and elusive, forever shifting just out of reach. I’m reminded of the Peter Cook joke from years ago. ‘I met a man at a party and he said, “I’m writing a novel.” I said, “Really? Neither am I.”’

The so-called ‘fuck threshold’ on TV edges into prime-time. It used to be that you couldn’t say the F-word at all. Then it was just about acceptable after midnight. Now 10 p.m. seems to be the baseline. This reminds me of one of my favourite stories, about actress Anna Chancellor (‘Duckface’ in Four Weddings and a Funeral) when she appeared on This Morning. ‘Why was your character called “Duckface”?’ I innocently asked her. ‘Oh,’ she earnestly replied, ‘probably because in her back-story, you know, at uni or something, people called her fuck-face.’ It may have been 11 in the morning, but we didn’t receive a single complaint. Context is all.

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