Second-rate rant against the mediocre

Have you ever thought how dreadful it would be to live in a meritocracy? To know that everyone in positions of power and authority, and all those at the head of their professions, were there because of undisputed and demonstrable excellence?

It would be insufferable on three counts. First, we would be denied one of life’s greatest pleasures, namely ridiculing those above us. Secondly, we would be denied the yeast of mediocrity in high places. Thirdly, and most entertaining of all, we would be deprived of the joy of observing second-raters who have convinced themselves that they owe their position not to luck, contacts, boot-licking or bribery, or a combination of all four, but to genuine excellence.

Just imagine, in a meritocracy there would be no Anna Ford. Or at any rate, no Anna Ford with a voice to launch “an astonishing broadside at the leading figures in British television” all of whom, deliciously, happen to be second-raters too.

BBC director-general John Birt is dismissed by Ms Ford in a single word – “pathetic”. Well, who’s going to argue with that? Nor does she think much of Sir Robin Day, the self-styled grand inquisitor who undoubtedly has a high opinion of himself. Forgetting that he had himself been an ITN newscaster for no better reason than that he wore a bow tie, he dared to inform Ms Ford that she owed her big break on News at Ten only because men lusted after her.

“Silly old fool. I pushed him into a rose bush for that.” One assumes that was an immediate reaction rather than a planned revenge executed at a later date, in which case Sir Robin’s ungallant assertion must have been made in the great outdoors, possibly at a garden party. Was this a case of in vino veritas, or was the grand inquisitor completely sober at the time and simply being nasty? Or, since he is known to have his own lustful side, was that his idea of a chat-up line? We shall never know. It would, however, have been worth the price of admission to see the silly old fool melt backwards into a hybrid tea.

If the incident did indeed take place at a party of some sort, Ms Ford cannot have been drinking at the time. Either that, or her glass was empty. Otherwise she would surely have tipped its contents over Day’s head rather than dumped him in the shrubbery, since that is her preferred form of riposte. Jonathan Aitken was famously doused in Chardonnay by Ms Ford after he had fired her from the awful TVam, an assault which she recalls with satisfaction. “I consider that good taste rather than bad temper,” she says.

Michael Parkinson, who writes well but is a poor broadcaster, takes himself far too seriously, bridles at the slightest criticism, and cannot conceal a splendidly second-rate mind, said he would resign his position at TVam as a noble gesture of solidarity with Ms Ford. “Then,” she says, “he was offered a job on the board and stayed. Amazing!”

David Frost, a stunningly successful mediocrity, rang her that night and said, “Good news – they’re not firing me.” All the men in the company, with the exception of Robert Kee, were pathetic, she adds, and “can take a running jump”.

Desmond Wilcox, too, could take a jump of some sorts were it not that he is currently in hospital recovering from a heart attack. He gave Ms Ford her first big chance in television but is execrated by her as a vulgarian whose documentary making consisted of displaying other people’s traumas as entertainment. Who can gainsay that? Wilcox comes across as a dreadfully sentimental and mawkish cove, a kind of cross between journalist Godfrey Wynne and Mrs Miniver, whose broadcasting style leaves the viewer feeling like a patient subjected to an interminable glucose drip. He does, however, have a sense of humour. He married Esther Rantzen.

In his opinion Ms Ford has no sense of humour at all. Sadly, he is probably right. Were she blessed with the ability to enjoy a joke, she would relish her position as a celebrity famed for no more than her ability to read an autocue in a strangely husky voice devoid of expression. As it is, she takes herself terribly seriously and insists that we admire her for qualities she has yet to evince.

Her well-aimed broadsides are both entertaining and true. But that they are directed at men alone is, to use a favourite adjective of hers, pathetic. She cannot possibly have spent all these years in broadcasting, a world increasingly populated by women, without encountering a single female second-rater to keep her company. Of such, however, we hear nothing. Are all the women in television victims, as she is? Have they all been recruited and promoted by half-witted men and paid large sums of money as a kind of insult to their essentially feminine integrity? Are they all undervalued for their brains and overvalued for their bodies? Are there enough rose bushes and vats of Chardonnay to go round?

If only Ms Ford had a sense of humour she would rejoice in the fun of being second-rate and getting away with it, and in having the opportunity to rub shoulders daily with other egomaniacal second-raters. I should know. I’m a second-rater myself.

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