Thursday, 19 July 2012

An acceptable level of asterisk?

“THIS bloke came up to me and he said, ‘You…’ ”

No, I’d better leave it there – I’m going to need all the asterisks I can get a little later on. I don’t want to use them all up straight away reminiscing about Derek And Clive.

Peter Cook and Dudley Moore brought out the first and best of their three ‘Derek And Clive’ albums in 1976. It was possibly the funniest and certainly the filthiest thing the pair came up with in all their years of comedy fame.

And it seems that in all the years since, not much has really moved on. Except that swaps of all but meaningless expletives like those that had us splitting our sides in the mid-1970s seem to have moved off the comedy stage and into the courtroom. Via the football field.

No comedy act – even one as talented as Pete and Dud – could have bettered some of the exchanges repeated po-faced in Westminster Magistrates’ Court during the three days of the John Terry “racism” case.

On the field of play, most of it seems, to be honest, pretty normal stuff – though laced with the kind of language everyone knows and very few newspapers care to print.

Transferred to the starched, pompous surroundings of court they take on a more surreal, altogether more amusing quality.

So imagine m’ learned friend quizzing Terry – one man in a suit addressing another in the most serious manner: “How many times did he call you a ****?”

Or the same deeply dignified prosecutor telling the court: “The words he uttered included “**** off, **** off ... ****ing black ****, ****ing ********’ ”

I’m sorry about those asterisks. I’d go on, but frankly you’d have to imagine most of the best bits.

I’ve written before about the absurdity of the newspaper convention that makes us “cover up” rude words in this curiously coy yet suggestive manner.

What is really daft is that the one truly offensive word – the one that caused the whole silly spat to come to court and into the papers – is the one neither I nor any of the press chose to censor. The word “black”.

It’s the racist intent – or, as the court decided, the lack of racist intent – in the use of that word that made a playground exchange of insults into something for lawyers to pick apart at great length, great expense and under great public scrutiny.

Had Terry called Rio Ferdinand – as he might well – “You ******* over-paid ****” no one might ever have known.

Or had Ferdinand called Terry  “******* ugly ****”, a “******* English ****” – or even a “******* white ****” – the matter would have gone no further.

If Ferdinand really did goad Terry with the remarks about his private life, and his mother’s, that were claimed in court, I can understand the former England captain getting a bit cross.

But sticks and stones and all that. Which should apply equally to Terry’s mum and Ferdinand’s complexion.

There was nothing in the whole affair that warranted the weight of the law being brought to bear.

A simple check on who his friends are should make it immediately clear that Terry – whatever his other faults may be, and however uncouth his use of English – is no racist.

In fact, the real racism is in the reaction to what was said – the shock, or mock shock at the reference to another person’s skin-tone.

If this was a genuinely non-racist, “colour-blind” society, that reference would have no more capacity to offend than remarking on someone’s blue eyes or brown hair.

Terry and Ferdinand may do a great Derek And Clive act, but it wasn’t really funny. Not until re-staged for the magistrates.

Whether the act was worth all the public money that was spent on it is another matter.


I KNOW I’m not the first to remark on it, but let me just say: What a fabulous summer of sport.

The European football championships were just the aperitif; Wimbledon, Andy Murray and all, just the starter.

And the Olympics? They are merely the dessert – though a rich, heavy and highly anticipated one, to be sure. (Let’s just hope they don’t leave us feeling overstuffed and a bit sick.)

The real main course – the meat of the matter – is the Tour de France.

I’ve been a fan of the world’s greatest bike race since long, long before it was fashionable in this country to take an interest.

Meeting the great Belgian Eddy Merckx back in the mid-1980s, just a few years after his cycling heyday, was a career highlight for me.

Every year the Tour is one of the must-watch spectacles. Every day’s action is a race in itself, a compelling chapter in a story that develops over three weeks with its own plot twists, its own characters.

And while I’m no nationalist, it hasn’t exactly lessened the enjoyment this year to have a British rider – the immensely likeable Bradley Wiggins – cast in the leading role. Or to have the strong and gutsy Chris Froome making an impressive bid for best-supporting-actor status.

Pity, perhaps, for Mark Cavendish to be relegated this time to a lesser part. But maybe he’s just been saving his best for the Olympics.

Which could make the last course – or at least the first bite of it – jolly tasty too.

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