A nasty taste in the mouth

If you think you live in a free country, try eating two chocolate bars in one day, or watching ads for shower gel. The monomaniacs are hounding us once again

SBHD: If you think you live in a free country, try eating two chocolate bars in one day, or watching ads for shower gel. The monomaniacs are hounding us once again

You are, they say, what you eat. So what do you suppose constitutes the chosen diet of members of the National Food Alliance? My guess is nuts.

The NFA is yet another of the bothersome self-appointed lobbies that disfigure public life in Britain today.

I long to know what induces such rabid monomania. How can anyone become so agitated about sugary food that it becomes an obsession? What cruel accident of nature or nurture leads to the preening desire to instruct an entire population in how to run their lives?

Far more disturbing, however, is the willingness, and sometimes eagerness, of others to listen to them. I can forgive journalists for paying attention to the shrill voice of fanaticism, for my trade is known for its uncritical gullibility, particularly where statistics are concerned. And, in any case, the rantings of pressure groups often make for good copy. But politicians and senior civil servants ought to know better, for there is a substantial difference between providing a platform for cranky prejudice and embodying it in law.

Worse still, where the politicians lead, others follow. Hence the Independent Television Commission’s new rules governing the advertising of food. From now on it will not be permissible to “encourage or condone excessive consumption of any food”. Which, translated, means it’s all right to show someone enjoying one chocolate bar, but not a second.

If that makes you want to scream with anger, you are among a rapidly dwindling band of Britons who remember what it is to be free.

That the sheer impertinence of the ITC should be meekly accepted is profoundly depressing. We in Britain have become so used to being told what is good for us that we have sunk into a limp attitude of acceptance.

It is no business of the ITC to dabble in social engineering. It should restrict itself to responding to viewers’ complaints and taking action where necessary.

In this context, one longs to know more about the 199 people who complained of glimpsing a female nipple in a commercial for a shower gel. What was the composition of this group in terms of age, sex and socio-economic category? Were they more-or-less equally affected by what they saw, or was the shock, disgust or trauma so severe that in some cases counselling was required. As we shall see, the degree of hurt could be significant and costly.

The ITC’s craven obeisance to the healthy eating lobby did nothing to satisfy members of the NFA, who promptly called for a complete ban on ads for fatty and sugary foods when children are likely to be watching. Such advertisements, whined a spokesman for the NFA, make “progress towards the Government’s national dietary targets more difficult”.

If that is the case, and I doubt it, there is cause for rejoicing. What on earth does a government of a “free” people think it is up to setting dietary targets in the first place? What you or I eat is no business of this or any other administration. Anything that frustrates the ambitions of authority to prevent us enjoying a second bar of chocolate is a victory for freedom.

Thank heaven for the English rugby team. Not only did they beat the French in the most authoritative display I have seen, they also set a splendid example in the dietary department. The chef at their hotel says that, from the moment they arrive, they eat non-stop. “They have sandwiches straight away. Then dinner. Then more sandwiches. The next day they have breakfast, sandwiches, fruit, dinner, more sandwiches and fruit. It is like catering for 100 people,” he says. Favourites include toad-in-the-hole, cottage pie, Swiss roll, strawberry tart, trifle, stilton and brie.

Would such behaviour, in the expert opinion of the ITC, constitute “excessive consumption”. If so, can it be condoned? Is the English team making progress towards the Government’s national dietary targets more difficult? I do hope so.

There is, however, a darker side to this nannying, and that is that the nannied come to believe that if something goes wrong then someone else is always to blame. That a group of smokers recruited by a law firm has been granted legal aid to sue the tobacco firms is the most vivid example so far on this side of the Atlantic of an abdication of responsibility for the consequences of one’s own actions.

It is by no means fanciful to imagine that somewhere in Britain there is a six-year-old who, perhaps 20 years from now, will bring an action against the chocolate companies for their part in his failure to meet the government’s national dietary target. In fostering the belief that there is a link between public health and television advertising the ITC will have played its part in enriching the lawyers.

Which brings us back to that nipple. It ought not be difficult for a lawyer of slimy disposition and gross venality – of which there are more than a few – to satisfy a court that their client is a person so sensitive, delicate and frail as to have been seriously hurt by exposure to a nipple in its naked state.

The advertiser’s decision to break with the accepted practice that advertisements of shower gel should depict nudity through frosted and steamed glass – rendering a nipple indistinguishable from an abdomen or buttock – occasioned shock, fear and confusion. The terror of seeing the advertisement again had ruined marriages and caused one woman to miscarry. No one had warned the plaintiffs at the time of purchasing their television sets that a glimpse of the terminal point of the mammary duct was on the cards.

There is, of course, no defence. Do I hear £250,000? £500,000? No, £1m damages and an award of costs against the defendants. Going, going, gone.

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