BBC BLOGS - Magazine Monitor

Archives for October 5, 2008 - October 11, 2008

10 things we didn't know last week

17:04 UK time, Friday, 10 October 2008

10_cars203.jpgSnippets from the week's news, sliced, diced and processed for your convenience.

1. Goats wear condoms.
More details

2. Big Lebowski fanatics call themselves "achievers".
More details

3. And the f-word is used 281 times in the film.

4. Sarah Palin is 10th cousin to Princess Diana.
More details (Daily Mail)

5. The word "unbepissed" means "not being urinated on".
More details

6. Contrary to myth, the suicide rate in New York in the month following the Wall Street Crash in 1929 was lower than normal.
More details

7. The phrase "dead cat bounce" means a brief rally in the price of falling stock.
More details

8. Scottish poet Robert Burns was Bob Dylan's muse.
More details

9. The annual cost of forest loss is more than the amount being lost in the banking crisis.
More details

10. Two New Testament books were left out of the modern Bible.
More details

Seen 10 things? Send us a picture to use next week. Thanks to Natalie Johnson from Loughborough for this week's picture of 10 toy cars.

Your Letters

17:01 UK time, Friday, 10 October 2008

Re Tattoo gay men, clergyman writes. In my experience, we often already have them. However, it's most decent of the Rev Mullen to propose an idea to assist our instinctive gaydar abilities.
Jamie Wright, Brixton, UK

Thanks to a link to the online vault in Banking on gold, I've spent most of the past two days intently tracking the price of the free gram of gold they gave me for registering... So far I've made 12p profit.
Martin, Liverpool, United Kingdom

Re the photos of traders in London. Anyone else notice not one but two telephone cords? I haven't seen one of those for ages.
Carol, Portugal

I wonder if this short news item might be a contender in the "most bizarre last sentence" category?
Pete Hoyle, Edinburgh

I was pleased to see "spanghew" among the 50 favourite words. A related word is "spang-tade" - "a deadly trick played upon the poor toad". Perhaps we should campaign for spang-tade to be banned.
Rob Foreman, London, UK

Ben and Owain (Thursday letters). A couple of points on long scale numbering (i.e a billion is a million million) - firstly both systems are as logical as each other, in fact I think the short scale makes more sense (add three zeros every time you go up a name, easy). Secondly, the UK hasn't officially used the long scale since 1974, a while ago now. Thirdly, being a billionaire is still pretty exciting even if it's only 1000 million.
Mike, Bristol

I love Ben Goudie's almost Daily Mail-esque letter. We've used the "American number-naming tradition" since at least the mid-1970s. Is he aware we've stopped using Fahrenheit and come off the Gold Standard too?
Bear, Bristol

Was it unusually hot in the hospital ward, or is what the woman in this story is wearing the normal, rather revealing hospital attire for new mothers in the UK?
Johan van Slooten, Urk, The Netherlands

Re the quote of the day, the lady is sadly mistaken: celibacy doesn't make you live longer, it just makes it feel that way.
Baz, Norwich

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but surely this would have started ringing alarm bells for those with accounts in Iceland - Ex-Kitten Katona is made bankrupt.
Martin Hollywood, Luxembourg

Kudos for the Spinal Tap reference on the 7 days quiz. It's the only thing I've read this morning which has made me smile. Tin-foil wrapped cucumber anyone?
Nick, Belfast

Sorry to correct you Paper Monitor, but the Times has been giving away the CDs during this week only. A few weeks ago they were giving away a wonderful collection of Hitchcock films. Maybe they're going through the generations?
PS, Newcastle, England

Honestly. I get more embarrassed every day by the junk that we have to explain to visitors.
Jon, expat
Monitor note: We suspect this is a misdirected caption entry, but surely it has wider applications.

Caption Competition

13:36 UK time, Friday, 10 October 2008


Winning entries in the caption competition.


This week, staff at the new Saatchi Gallery chat next to an art installation called Ash Head by Zhang Huan. But what's being said?

The competition is now closed. Full rules can be seen here [PDF].

Thanks to all who entered. The prize of a small amount of kudos to the following:

6. Johnny Pixels
Essentially the difference between modern art and rubbish is if it'll fit in a wheelie bin or not.

5. Rob Falconer
"Look, I'm sorry, Deborah, but it was the only way we could get it into the van."

4. stigmondo
"A skateboarding dog? How could you top that?"

3. grazvalentine
"Something beginning with A H ? And is it in the room?"

2. SeanieSmith
"I've just called Heathrow and no sign of the rest of it."

1. nick_fowler
"Maybe nobody will notice, Deirdre."

Paper Monitor

11:31 UK time, Friday, 10 October 2008


A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

It's Friday and two media giants are slugging it out in the battle for weekend readers.

They have chosen their weapons and they are...

...Sarah Jessica Parker and Echo and the Bunnymen.

In the Daily Mail corner, there's nattily-dressed New Yorker SJP, trained by veteran Paul Dacre.

And in the Times Corner, seasoned coach Rupert Murdoch is pep-talking scruffy Scousers Ian McCulloch and the boys.

It's the latest round in giveaways, a subject oft-debated in these pages in the past.

When the Mail lands on doormats on Saturday, nestled between its pages will be Honeymoon in Vegas, starring SJP and Nicolas Cage (who may have been getting a little confused during filming - last time in Vegas drunk and sad, this time romantic and happy).

But buyers of the Times tomorrow will have to traipse to WHSmith or send off a form in order to receive Echo's offering Ocean Rain.

It's hardly a fair fight under these terms but may the best musician / actress win.

Interestingly, the Times has been mining the rich tradition of 80s indie bands in the last few weeks. Previous to Echo, New Order and The Jesus and Mary Chain have been subject to the same giveaway.

Is this a nod to the radical youth of its 30- and 40-something readers?

The Mail has also chosen to reheat the 80s in its CD covermounts in recent weeks but has gone for safer, less political singers - Paul Young, Haircut 100 etc

If other newspapers were to give away CDs or DVDs this weekend, what should they be and why? Tell us using the comments form below.

Friday's Quote of the Day

09:55 UK time, Friday, 10 October 2008

See the Quote of the Day every morning on the Magazine index.

"I imagine there is a lot of hassle involved and I have always been busy doing other things" - 105-year-old virgin Clara Meadmore on a life without sex

Celebrating her 105th, Miss Meadmore listed her three secrets to a long life - plenty of walking, the odd glass of wine and no sex.
(More details - the Daily Telegraph)

Your Letters

18:21 UK time, Thursday, 9 October 2008

It seems that live text commentary, a technique used to great effect in reporting football scores and the like, is creeping into other news areas, with the unfolding financial crisis being reported as a liveblog. Can we expect to see Lawro's predictions on the next bank to fail? And what other developing crises will be given the live text treatment in future - armed sieges? Earthquakes? Military stand-offs?
Tim Barrow, London, UK

Am I to take it, then, that a milliard (which is to say a thousand million) is now being termed a billion in accordance with the American number-naming tradition? I remember when billions were colossal, a million million apiece, and the notion of being (for instance) a billionaire was thus fantastically exciting. How times have changed!
Ben Goudie, Leeds, UK

Regarding PM's comment on the "Indie" patronising its readership by stating 500 thousand million, they are of course quite correct in the traditional British (and in fact logical) system of numbering, which means that a billion is a million million, making the number quoted a piffling 1/2 billion pounds. Hardly worth worrying about really...
Owain Davies, Burgess Hill, UK

Re the US debt clock running out of zeros. The story says that they will add 2 zeroes to take it from a capacity of a trillion to a quadrillion. Surely 2 zeroes would only allow the clock to go to 999 trillion. Sorry to be a pedant.
Dave, London

May I commend "Colony abuse victims cash ruling" to the all-noun headline judges?
Helen, Cambridge

Re Crunch Creep, you say that "Sales of maternity dresses are up because we are getting more frisky in hard times." . But might it just be because "The British are turning to cake to cheer themselves up in the face of mounting gloom"
Ian, South London

I read that more middle-class shoppers are going to Poundland. So when are we getting the chance to open an account with Poundlandsbanki?
Rob Falconer, Llandough, Wales

Nominative Determinism in full force! The healer in Devon accused of inappropriately touching his clients is called Mr. Hands.
Mike Harper, Devon, UK

We're all doomed! How to make statistics on a graph look really, really bad.
Stuart, Croydon

"A great book minus a plot = just words." Well Martin, that's true unless you're James Joyce and then for some reason it means you're a genius.
Kipson, Norwich, UK

In the US, there is a TV commercial running for the fast food restaurant Arby's. In it, one man makes a bet that if he can't get a meal for under $5, he will marry a goat. In the final scene he is sitting at a table wearing a tux next to a goat wearing a white veil. I am convinced the writer of this commercial is an avid reader of the BBC News website. Perhaps a little too avid...
Beverly, Michgan, US

Paper Monitor

12:02 UK time, Thursday, 9 October 2008

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

Without patronising your readership, how much IS £500bn?

£19,230 for each British taxpayer - Daily Telegraph

£16,000 for each British taxpayer - Daily Mail

£20,000 for each British taxpayer - the Sun

At about £2.4m per packed Tube carriage of people - Metro

"347 years of war in Iraq... three-year income tax break for everyone in the UK... free meals for every pupil for 250 years, 110,000 more police officers... 1,080,000 miles of stacked pound coins" - the Daily Mirror

"£500 thousand million, or £500,000,000,000" - the Independent. Hold on, WITHOUT patronising your readership.

Meanwhile, on to some light relief with Caitlin Moran in the Times, something of an oracle when it comes to pop culture.

Paper Monitor, not being four, nor 14, nor any age in between, is almost wholly innocent of High School Musical. Nor could it identify a tune from this mega-franchise if the entire soundtrack was played at full volume through a mobile phone at the back of a bus. Like that will happen.

But it bows before the mighty Moran. If she says High School Musical rocks, then what time is it? It's time to rock on.

Critics may carp that it is "calculating and saccharine... demographically representative... like a full-length Benetton ad," says Moran. But she believes it is far more subversive and culturally aware than its given credit for.

"[O]ne of the most cheering aspects of High School Musical... is just how much emphasis is put on inclusivity and tolerance. The interesting, quirky, creative outsiders always triumph. The fat kids can really bust a move."

She also waxes lyrical about its "upbeat yet yearning power ballads" - downloaded for her own listening pleasure, not just her children's - and its handsome star Zac Efron. It's here the column veers towards an 18 certificate rather than a family-friendly U.

"I think about his future career a great deal. I want to see him in a remake of Grease... I want to see him singing Hakuna Matata from The Lion King, naked; but that's by the by."

Caitlin, that thought - you said it out loud.

Crunch Creep

10:20 UK time, Thursday, 9 October 2008

Strange, tangential and often unlikely events laid at the door of the credit crunch.

Sales of computer games consoles have doubled in the past year from 8.8 million to 17.3 million. More details (Evening Standard)

Sales of maternity dresses are up because we are getting more frisky in hard times.
More details (The Sun)

Coffee beans and coffee-making machines are in demand. More details (Daily Mail)

The difficult economic times could trigger a rise in cases of mental illness. More details (Mirror)

Billionaire Roman Abramovich postpones his wedding because "now is not a good time to party". More details (The Sun)

The British are turning to cake to cheer themselves up in the face of mounting gloom.

Identity fraudsters are switching tactics to beat the credit crunch - targeting existing bank accounts instead of using fake identities to open new ones. More details (BBC News)

The financial crisis is good for Ryanair. More details (Daily Mail)

More middle class shoppers are going to Poundland. More details (The Independent)

More students are working part-time. More details (Mail)

Thursday's Quote of the Day

09:32 UK time, Thursday, 9 October 2008

"I've been shoved aside" - New Labour luvvie Mick Hucknall on life under Gordon Brown

A public outpouring of sympathy may be notable by its absence, but what better barometer our times than this quip from the fast-living frontman of Simply Red.

Your Letters

16:05 UK time, Wednesday, 8 October 2008

From IOC to examine Beijing dope tests, we learn that there is a store of eight-year-old urine samples. Now there's a warehouse job you'd keep quiet about.
Francis, St Albans

Landsbanki has let me down. So I'll have to rely on Mumsbanki and Dadsbanki. I thank you.
Michael Hall, Croydon, UK

Well, Tim from Oxford (Tuesday letters) it seems it was four letters about icebergs. So what does that make you? Are you studying statistics at Oxford? If not, perhaps you should.
Fran, Brill

What happens to the Cactus Kid if the car stops suddenly and the airbag deploys? I take it he'll also never be used to advertise water beds?
Nigel Macarthur, London, England

I hate to bring up nominative determinism again, but Michael Gove's surname just works perfectly (The man who reads dictionaries).
Martin Hollywood, Luxembourg

Re The man who reads dictionaries: "And I think everything you find in a great book you would find in a great dictionary, except for the plot". A great book minus a plot = just words. I suppose he is right in that case.
Martin, Bristol, UK

Turtle Bunbury. Really?
Catherine Rushton, London

Re Iran unveils plan for women's car: Presumably, if a guy gets in and tries to drive it, the car simply says "Don't get me started!"
Lee Pike, Auckland, NZ

Anonymous mobile tracking reveals people who spend more time in stores spend more. How do they know? Is it just an average time calculation against store sales over a given time, or is this not as anonymous as it appears? And if you have to queue up to pay because you are buying, automatically mean you probably spend more time on average, in the store?
Robin, Herts, UK

I fear that 'Glowing' jellyfish grabs Nobel may be just the start. There is a disturbing increase in molestation of famous Swedes by hydrozoa and somebody should put a stop to it.
David Richerby, Leeds, UK

Why are all these young people not in school?
Simon H, Leighton Buzzard

I wonder if Google have registered an increase in the number of internet searches for "banana" since the Orthodox Jew/technology story was published (Tuesday letters).
Tinks, Reading

Paper Monitor

09:27 UK time, Wednesday, 8 October 2008

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

There's only one story in town and it's of huge significance to the nation.

British taxpayers are forking out for people who threaten the future of this great country.

Benefit mums.

The rest of Fleet Street might be side-tracked with some trivial banking story, but the Sun has its sights set on the real issue - that a mum of seven is being paid so much by the welfare state that she can live in a £1.2 million "mansion". It must be said that it's a not uninteresting tale - that Ealing Council is paying twice the market rate on the property because the area has been bracketed with Westminster for rent guideline purposes.

But the only hint of the bank bail-out/rescue is a tiny panel in the top-left of the Sun's front page.

Then readers have to wade through eight pages of stories far more important than the fact the British public are waking up this morning and wondering whether they are £50bn poorer.

Such weighty news as minister backs X-Factor song, Brangelina kids eat crisps and firebrand cleric weds.

The Sun's rivals with a less attuned news sense turn to the £50bn question on their front pages. And on nearly every other page too (Daily Telegraph - five pages, Times - seven, Guardian - five, Daily Mail - five).

Of course, the Daily Star carries only a coded mention of the bank rescue on the front, revealing that West Ham are suddenly in trouble because of the collapse of an Icelandic bank.

Their readers can probably work it all out anyway.

Meanwhile, Paper Monitor mused yesterday on what type of cereal Credit Crunch might be. Thomas Cogley thought it would "taste fairly boring and go soggy quite quickly", and sent this mock-up of the packet.


Wednesday's Quote of the Day

09:09 UK time, Wednesday, 8 October 2008

"John Sergeant's sturdy performance highlights one of life's great truths, that ugly men do remarkably well with the ladies" - Esther Rantzen's take on Strictly Come Dancing's unlikely hero

It's hard to get a fix on La Rantzen's ruminations on funny-looking men in the Daily Mail, and their appeal to attractive women. Is she acknowledging she is not unfunny-looking herself, or does she speak merely as a recent contestant? Either way her piece is full of gems like her description of his face as being "like a garden gnome".
More details (Daily Mail)

Your Letters

17:13 UK time, Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Re story about orthodox Jews and technology. After reading of Mike from London's research (Monday letters) on Google's "banana" results I decided to take the project one step further and Google banana in Hebrew. sure enough it returned porn.
Yoni, Tel Aviv, Israel

Mike from London has his Google set to filter search results. Trust me.
Sophie, London

Does Mike from London not realise that having his letter published will mean that his letter itself will be added to Google's index and will increase the chance of the word "banana" being associated with the words "porn" and "Mike" for many years to come.
Daren't say, UK

I'm a little bemused by a link on the Magazine: "In pictures: Voices of women in Afghanistan". What does it link to, oscilloscope readings?
Dave Edwards, Cardiff, Cymru

I think the Monitor should run some spread-betting opportunities. For example, today, I think you will get between 40 and 60 comments saying ice is less dense than water, and I think you will publish between two and four of them.
Tim, Oxford UK

In response to Chris Emms (Monday letters), the Lomonosov-Lavoisier law states that Mass cannot be created or destroyed. A fixed mass of water in its solid form (ice) has a greater volume than water in its liquid form, thus it is less dense and floats. Approx 20% of an iceberg is above the water, but water ice is only 92% of the density of liquid water, meaning that when the ice melts the liquid volume of the seas will be more than the current liquid volume plus the displacement of the ice.
Andy Porritt, Kerns, Switzerland

Re Comment on where the water for rising sea-levels comes from (Monday letters). You're right to say that floating ice which melts doesn't contribute to rising sea levels at all. The crucial point is that the ice on land (such as on the Antarctic land mass) does cause sea-levels to rise as it melts into the sea.
Simon Belcher, London

Chris Emms, the problem is with your claim that most of the ice is underwater. Most of the ice is actually on land, in Antarctica, Greenland, various other arctic landmasses and glaciers. The effect of sea ice melting is, as you say, fairly small, although it can still have a big effect by diluting the sea and disrupting currents. However, if all the ice on land were to melt, that would be an awful lot of water added to the oceans. For example, the Antarctic ice alone contains something like 30 million cubic kilometres of ice, which is about 3% of the volume of the Earth's oceans. A 3% rise in sea level would be something like 100m.
Rick, Didcot, UK

No doubt you will have had a flurry of letters, explaining where the water comes from to cause sea levels to rise. I must simply remark on how much I enjoy looking out for your weekly habit of publishing a letter that you know to be nonsense, just to ensure a full mailbox the next day. My favourite was from the chap a couple of weeks ago who couldn't do sums involving millions. Do you have a special name for these letters, such as "response generator" or "mail maker"?
Richard Place, Barnstaple, UK

Paper Monitor

11:41 UK time, Tuesday, 7 October 2008


A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

Forget the banking crisis, the issue affecting newspapers at the moment is the superlatives crisis.

How do you describe a catastrophic situation this week, when it could easily be eclipsed next week?

The Daily Telegraph calls yesterday "Market mayhem", while the Times go with "World takes fright". The Independent, on the other hand, goes all B-movie with its "The day that fear hit the markets". The word fear is picked out in red just in case you don't geddit.

It's thesaurus time as subs look for alternatives to "crash", "freefall", "plunge", "nosedive" and "plummet". Shares have had an encounter with a "cliff" or "precipice". For the more exotic, the current crisis is not a "crisis", it's an "imbroglio" or a "cataclysm". The sub-prime roots of the crisis have yet to be described as "Byzantine" but it's only a matter of time.

Just look at how credit crunch has come to dominate our every living, breathing moment. It's almost a year since Paper Monitor first breezily quipped that the then novel sounding credit crunch summoned thoughts of a breakfast cereal. So ubiquitous is the phrase today there's an almost unbroken tummy rumble at its constant mention. But here's a thought - if the credit crunch were a breakfast cereal, what would it look and taste like? (Answers on the back of a comments form, below, please, or illustrations - should you be feeling ambitious, to, subject title "CEREAL CRUNCH".)
Back to the papers, and for the second day, Paper Monitor must make reference to the Daily Mail's Quentin Letts' list of 50 people who have ruined Britain. Today is numbers 21 to 35 and it looks almost as if Letts is running out of villains.

Let's face it, number 28, Helen Willetts (above), the BBC weather forecaster, makes an unlikely enemy of the people. Letts rails thus: "The queen bee of the lot is a geeky-smiled creature called Helen Willetts, who parades her Chester accent with care and frowns at the tragedy of it all if she has to suggest rain is on the horizon."

Having also doled out wailing and gnashing of the teeth on such Mailite icons as Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher, one can only wonder at who will get the next dose.

Tuesday's Quote of the Day

09:56 UK time, Tuesday, 7 October 2008

"The future is brown" - Professor Steve Jones on the eventual outcome of inter-ethnic relationships in the UK

Almost everywhere inter-breeding is becoming less common, says the respected geneticist. "In Britain, one marriage in 50 or so is between members of a different ethnic group, and the country is one of the most sexually open in the world. We are mixing into a global mass."

Your Letters

17:54 UK time, Monday, 6 October 2008

Re story about orthodox Jews and technology, Chairman Moshe Weiss says that searching for "banana" in Google will bring up porn within the first few results. Purely in the interests of research, I tried this out. But after 10 pages of results, I was unable to see any links that could even be regarded as porn.
Mike, London

Re what to call a tax on sheep and cows emitting methane: how about Fiscal Anti- Ruminant Tax ?
Andrew Nicholson, Milton Keynes

In many cases the BBC report on rising sea levels. Where all the extra water is coming from has never been addressed. Please could you fully explain this as the "standard" answer of melting ice does not add up, most of the ice is underwater and has a greater mass than water itself. There is only a finite amount of water in the world.
Chris Emms, Havant

To SA (Your Letters, Friday), when an employee is required to resign (often for more minor misbehaviour) he is not treated as having been fired, especially important when applying for new jobs. He might also remain entitled to benefits under his employment contract which would be unavailable to a fired employee.
David Taylor, Cambridge, UK

SA, Salford: being dismissed from some jobs - local government or the Civil Service - means you can never work in those or allied services (hospitals, prisons, etc). Resigning, albeit under duress, avoids that stigma.
Fee Lock, Hastings, East Sussex

I watched Jamie Oliver's latest programme and think that Rotherham councillors have over-reacted. I don't think it was a bad reflection of Rotherham at all, rather it showed very clearly the problems that low income families face, in terms of money and in some cases having no support to teach them healthy and often cheaper ways of cooking. The government has failed to help them, full marks to Jamie for giving it a go, and putting up with the stick.
Joanne Moores, Wimbledon

Re sports journalese. We've mentioned the cases of British players crashing out and SW19 being the abbreviation for Wimbledon, but I wonder why teams are always "rocked" by injuries to a player?
Lester Mak, London

I was interested in the story about the couple who collected rubbish to fund their honeymoon. Are the couple aware that that Tesco has now withdrawn this reward scheme, originally to have been rolled out across the country over the next two years, as so many were cutting cans into pieces to get additional unearned points (as the couple admit to doing)?
Lydia, Bracknell

"The couple... maximised their point-earning potential by cutting cans in half..." Isn't this fraud?
Claire, Watford, UK

Phyton? (Your Letters, Friday) Sounds like something that the LHC might have found, if it hadn't been turned off.
Martin Hollywood, Luxembourg

Re Porn posted on Damilola web forum. I work for a large forum software development company. Last week, forums (from several providers, including us) were targeted by spammers right across the net. The Damilola Trust should not take this personally - it affected tens of thousands of websites.
Anon, UK

With a second county in Wales considering turning off street lights to save money, Powys, the first County, is being urged to leave lights on in crime 'hotspot' areas. But won't the absence of lights create new crime 'hotspot' areas?
Lee Pike, Auckland, NZ

If only they had these earlier, it might have avoided the need for this.
Andy, Leeds, UK

Monday's Quote of the Day

11:04 UK time, Monday, 6 October 2008

"It's funny how you do get interested and excited about rubbish after a while" - Woman who earned honeymoon flight by collecting litter

John and Ann Till have the kind of steely single-minded dedication that you have to take your hat off to. They collected 60,000 pieces of rubbish, trawling the streets at night. They used the rubbish to earn 36,000 air miles which paid for a honeymoon flight back from Atlanta. Admirable.

Paper Monitor

10:56 UK time, Monday, 6 October 2008

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

What do Tim Westwood, the man who owns Starbucks, Princess Diana and Sir Jimmy Savile have in common?

No, they haven't all at some stage in their lives been vigorous exponents of the fist-bump. They are, according to Daily Mail sketch writer Quentin Letts, among the "fifty people who wrecked Britain".

At first glance, Mr Letts might want to add his maths teacher to the roll call, since despite the headline there appear only to be 20 names in this particular list.

But all becomes clear on realising this is an abridged extract from Mr Letts' new book Fifty People Who Buggered Up Britain. Yup, you read that title correctly, although Paper Monitor can't help feeling that with this in mind, the entry on Stephen Marks (number 11) - the man behind the French Connection fashion chain and all that FCUK stuff - is a little disingenuous.

"One of the most miserable, shaming, dog-dirt-nasty things about Britain today is," he writes under Marks' entry, "the coarseness of language in public".

Fair play to Letts for throwing in some curveballs, cf Princess Di (number 5), although there's more than a whiff here of mischief making.

Mail loyalists may nod sagely at the inclusion of James Callaghan (number 4) and Edward Heath (number 15), but then, at number 17, comes Margaret Thatcher. And at 18 it's housewives' favourite Alan Titchmarsh.

Just when it looks like Letts might have overstepped the mark, he lands a killer blow with this priceless deconstruction of 1960s children's' storybook favourites Topsy and Tim.

"They live in a town and lead lives of blameless, centre-Left orthodoxy. So sometimes it is Topsy who cries, sometimes wimpy Tim. Sometimes Topsy kicks a football, sometimes Tim admires a flower. Oh look, a pansy."

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