MUD, MUD, INGLORIOUS MUD

The damage that was done is a very modern kind of damage in that it will never go away now; it can’t when so many have a permanent foot in the parallel universe of cyberspace, where rumours and conspiracy theories are immortal. That Great British bastion of ineptitude, the Metropolitan Police Force (let’s not be nice to them by using their preferred ‘Service’ suffix), has suffered a humiliating admission of failure by paying out an estimated £100,000 in compensation to Lord Bramall and the family of the late Leon Brittan. It’s a small portion of the £2.5 million Operation Midland actually cost. The former head of the British Army is in his 90s now, but at least he has lived to see the Met pay towards his legal fees; the former Home Secretary died with false allegations hovering over his coffin.

Normandy veteran Bramall suffered the indignity of a police raid on his home in 2014, executed by 20 officers exhibiting the tact and sensitivity for which the Met is renowned; and whilst Bramall was last year the ‘beneficiary’ of a public apology from then-Met Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe, his wife died before his name was cleared – another blameless victim of a witch-hunt going to her grave bereft of justice. The third target of the accusations emanating from the odious fantasist still only known as ‘Nick’ was the ex-Tory MP Harvey Proctor; Proctor may be financially ruined from refusing to accept compensation accompanied by a gagging order, but he has to be admired for his tenacious determination to clear his name by not shying away from speaking out; his own legal battle against the Met is ongoing.

The shameful sham of Operation Midland, which was activated on the strength of one disturbed individual’s tall tales of Westminster VIP paedophile rings in the 70s and 80s, was the discredited fishing party promoted as ‘credible and true’ during its lifetime. That the accused were all public figures of relatively respectable reputations (certainly in the area under the seedy spotlight) added spice to the tabloid mix, but it was hardly unique at the moment of its inception. There are plenty out there who never qualified as public figures, men whose lives are in tatters thanks to similar accusations that haven’t received the damning critiques Midland inspired from broadsheet columnists, ones that contributed towards its merciful demise.

‘Nick’ is now being investigated for perverting the course of justice, though the willingness of the Met to give credence to his allegations in the first place continues to ask questions of their own credibility. The stealthy politicisation of the police across the country in recent years is naturally more prominent when it comes to the clout of the force policing the capital, despite the eagerness of some provincial forces to give the Met a run for its money; but the way in which the Met publicised the Gospel according to ‘Nick’, as though any doubts surrounding his allegations simply didn’t exist, was a glaring example of how our law enforcers were prepared to overlook inconsistencies in his stories as long as those stories fitted the post-Savile narrative, which they did.

‘Nick’ was portrayed as a classic Victim when there was an abundance of them being given airtime they neither warranted nor deserved without thorough investigation beforehand. The false allegations that wrecked the career of silent movie star Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle almost a century ago remain a stain on his name, so it doesn’t require much foresight to reckon anyone researching the lives and careers of Bramall, Brittan and Proctor a hundred years from now will probably be directed towards ‘child sex abuse allegations’, whichever medium they’ll be using by then.

In the here and now, the fact the Met eventually publicly accepted there were no grounds for suspicion re the aforementioned trio may bring a crumb of comfort to those still alive, but online it’s a different matter altogether. Some of the more fanciful rumours surrounding deceased public figures that have never even reached the Operation Midland level now have a vintage of around a decade, and the number of cyber ghouls desperate to believe the worst of these stories, no matter how ludicrous, hasn’t diminished. No compensation pay-out, however large, can change the sticky constitution of online mud.


EX-DIRECTORY

Poor old JR Hartley would probably be beside himself. It was announced yesterday that the Yellow Pages will become a solely online service as of January 2019; the final print edition will be delivered to doorsteps in Brighton that very month, coincidentally the same town to first receive the publication way back in 1966. It now follows the Thomson Local to the print graveyard, which disappeared from doorsteps in 2013.

Although the very first UK phone directory appeared as far back as 1880, it only contained residential addresses lucky enough to possess one of the newfangled communication devices – all 248 of them; to discover the telephone number, one had to call the operator. Remarkably, it took almost ninety years before businesses began to be included in the annual GPO book; to distinguish commercial listings from private ones, the new classified section that debuted in the Brighton edition of 1966 had its pages coloured yellow. In 1973, the yellow section arrived as a nationwide separate publication in its own right, and thus an essential addition to the phone-owning British household was born, along with a TV jingle advising viewers to let their fingers do the walking.

If its arrival might appear a tad belated, it’s worth remembering how many homes were still without a telephone in 1973 – giving a neighbour’s number to a relative for emergencies was a common practice at the time; the fact it could take the GPO as long as six months to install one when it could do so due to its absolute monopoly of the industry also played its part. As objects, telephone directories (which even used to be fixtures of phone boxes until vandalism curtailed their presence) had distinctive designs; at one time, the GPO model would feature a pencil drawing of a landmark building relevant to the locality on its cover, eventually replaced by photographs when the publication acquired a glossy facelift in the 80s.

In strictly landline days, the Yellow Pages and traditional telephone directory could appear to be both the most boring books ever to cross the household threshold or an invaluable fountain of information that can now be located with a few cursory clicks. And that’s undoubtedly the reason why the print edition of the Yellow Pages is poised to vanish for good. The 1980s was the last real hurrah for the old-school directories, with the Thomson Local (and its memorable black cat symbol) joining the other two freebies on the eve of deregulation. But in the same way the rapidly ubiquitous status of the mobile rendered the old-fashioned public call box redundant, the telephone directories were gradually usurped by the online search.

Although the now-shrunken Yellow Pages has continued to mysteriously land on the doorstep as though deposited there by Father Christmas, I confess the last few editions I’ve received remain wrapped in the cellophane they were delivered in. Like that sorry tin of Bird’s Custard Powder at the back of the kitchen cupboard, one always feels it’s worth having them in the house, even if they serve no purpose these days other than to collect dust. And that’s all they’ll do from now onwards.

© The Editor

2 thoughts on “MUD, MUD, INGLORIOUS MUD

  1. On Mud . . .
    I have no evidence that those men were involved in anything nefarious and it appears that the Met didn’t have any either.
    The exposure of their investigation inevitably leads many to speculate that ‘there’s no smoke without fire’ and others will suggest that ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’. Thus, guilty or innocent, some implied mud will stick.
    Whether the Met Plod will learn from the experience remains to be seen, the monetary costs of compensation count for nothing in the Met’s vast budget, only firing incompetent officers, without pension, would have any impact and history suggests that ain’t going to happen.

    On Directories . . .
    Their loss may have more impact than imagined.
    Many decades ago, I played league table-tennis and some ‘away’ games were played against the GPO’s Teams (I said it was decades ago), based at their Social Club in the vast attic of the city-centre GPO depot.
    To sub-divide this space between table-tennis, snooker, lounge, bar areas etc., they had created solid walls consisting entirely of surplus telephone directories in their hundreds, piled floor to ceiling, with small gaps for access. How would they manage now?

    As an aside, I often wonder about the bloke who bought the very first telephone – the ultimate ‘early adopter’, as he had absolutely no-one with whom to communicate. He would have been a gift to double-glazing salesmen every day.

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    1. Thinking about it, several copies of the Yellow Pages used to form a good solid base for the speakers attached to my…erm…’hi-fi unit’. Can’t do that with a bloody website!

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