Friday, April 25, 2008

Must write to the Times about it

Don’t bother. It won’t get published unless a) you are an MP, bishop or one of the remaining peers with access to the House of Lords, b) you are exercising what amounts to a right of reply on behalf of an organisation that has been offended, whether justifiably or not, by an article or another letter or c) you have a singularly unoriginal contribution to make to some ‘educated classes’ discussion on unwelcome Americanisms or alternatives to the cuckoo as the first sign of spring and the bottom right hand corner is short of even these makeweights.

I suppose a hundred years ago writers of letters to the Times were mostly known to each other and were using its pages almost like groups of a like mind use blogs today. They would write from the Athenaeum or even the Albermarle in the knowledge that by the time the next day’s pre-luncheon whisky came round (the post was quick enough in those days not to need email) their views would be known to everyone that mattered. The letters editor needed only a copy of Debrett or Burke to decide who to leave out and could probably rely on the subject matter being confined to hunting, military strategy and the iniquity of any kind of social reform.

If I ran the paper I would instruct the letters editor that first of all he would see no letter until a minion had separated its text from its writer’s name and address, leaving only a reference number to enable the two halves to be reunited in the event of publication. He would then judge the texts on merit, topicality and originality alone. The trouble is the present incumbent (is that a tautology? – answer no when incumbent is used as a noun, I’ve just looked it up) either has little good material to work with or is in thrall to categories a, b and c above. I do my best to supply him (sorry, him/her) with appropriate topical, pithy missives but with no recognition to date. Meanwhile the most awful drivel continues to get published, particularly under heading c. I sometimes wonder if the letters go via the BBC first.

My most recent efforts were first to suggest that we should adopt a national oath of allegiance before one is foisted on us by the EU (too subversive I suppose) and then to point out that Roy Hattersley had misinterpreted Chesterton’s poem The Secret People by suggesting that the reason the English have not yet roused themselves and made themselves heard was because of their innate English reserve and modesty. I said that the real reason is that we are slow to come to the boil but the time might be coming near. Hattersley’s craven effort was in an article for which he was presumably paid, adding to my ire.

However one man hit the jackpot recently, a reverend whose letter about how certain Muslim countries prohibit the import of Christian material was printed on successive days. He deserved it. I expect him to make bishop any day.

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