About Me

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I'm a journalist, ex-national papers, now working in what we call "new" media.
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NUJ - what's it for?

My union, the National Union of Journalists, does many good things. I've worked at two places where it has provided invaluable support to striking journalists. It campaigns vigorously against the low pay and poor conditions that afflict many in the industry.

However, it has a student union-like desire to get involved in 'big politics', the latest manifestation of which is the proposal that the NUJ should affiliate to CND.

Why on earth? What has this to do with journalism? The current issue of the union's magazine carries support from Tony Benn, John Pilger and Hilary Wainwright. Benn argues that we should affiliate because journalists die in wars; Pilger says journalists should stand up and be counted and Trident is a waste of money; Wainwright says missiles create conditions of institutionalised war that lead to the suppression of the truth. On the other side of the argument are Polly Toynbee, Nick Cohen and Peter Hitchens, who say that the union should be as non-political as possible, since members will hold different views on political issues (Nick Cohen, also argues that CND is an unworthy organisation that cosies up to Iran).

I agree with Toynbee, Cohen and Hitchens. The union should concentrate on issues that affect journalists, as journalists. Nuclear weapons is not one of them. I hope NUJ members vote against affiliation (but I'm not counting on it).

PS The NUJ should be congratulated on allowing internet voting on this issue - it shows that they are committed to reaching as many of their members as possible, rather than allowing things to be stitched up by a committed minority.
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RIPPER?

You expect it from the redtops but it was slightly surprising to see the Independent christen the East Anglian serial killer the "The Ipswich Ripper".

The term summons up a particularly brutal form of killing (cf Jack the Ripper and the Yorkshire Ripper) so is, to say the least insensitive (though maybe the Independent doesn't think the families of dead prostitutes are worth bothering about).

Just as importantly, giving killers nicknames glamourises what they do and gives their crimes some of the lustre of fiction. Naming him "the Ripper" will very likely boost the ego and self-importance of a sick man who can now boast to himself, thanks to the Independent, that he stands in the line of the most famous serial killers in history.

UPDATE: Sky is now reporting that at least one of the victims was strangled, which makes the 'Ripper' monicker plain wrong. Will the Indy still be using it tomorrow?
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OLD MEDIA v NEW MEDIA

At an Australian media awards ceremony an (old, fat, pissed) newspaper columnist storms the stage and attacks a (young, urbane) online commentator. Almost too perfect a metaphor for the frustration and stress the paper press is experiencing these days. The journalist, an Aussie poloitical commentator, says he was suffering from a migraine and was taking medication.

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GOODMAN, BAD MAN

Clive Goodman, royal editor of the News of the World has pleaded guilty to intercepting voicemail messages and could go to jail.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6194988.stm

His boss, NOTW editor says: "As the editor of the newspaper, I take ultimate responsibility for the conduct of my reporters. Clive Goodman's actions were entirely wrong and I have put in place measures to ensure that they will not be repeated by any member of my staff."

Editors don't ask too many questions about how their reporters get their stories. They may have their suspicions but they really don't want to know the details. That is how deniability works.

I first came across the practice of 'phone slamming' - hacking into mobile phone voicemail - when I was on the Express in the late 90s and a showbiz reporter casually tapped into the messages of, I think, Paul McCartney.

This sort of thing has been common on papers for years (and not just the tabloids), as has the equally illegal practice of paying to get information from the police national computer. Now Goodman has had his collar felt, I wonder if reporters will be quite so ready to continue with these practices.

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HANDS OFF BLOGS

Tim Toulmin of the Press Complaints Commission believes there should some sort of similar complaints system for blogs. Let's eschew the obvious jibe that he is trying to grab more power for the PCC; is he right?

He says that online generally"there are no professional standards, there is no means of redress. If you want to see how the newspaper industry would look like if it was unchecked, then look at the internet."

Maybe so. Certainly, there is a lot of unpleasant stuff in blogs and blogs do tend to go further than papers in some areas - identifying celebrities and politicians involved in scandals, for example. But anybody who writes a blog is subject to the law and can be sued for libel or prosecuted for hate speech. It may not happen much, but it doesn't happen to papers a great deal, either. What's important is that the sanction is there.

Tim Toulmin is a regulator and naturally comes down on the side of control and protection. Many of us think the opposite: that people should be able to say and write what they want, subject to appropriate laws protecting others from real defamation (and not the hurt feelings nonsense that often ends up in the libel courts) and certain forms of speech likely to promote violence (racist language, incitements to kill) etc. (I think this principle should apply to newspapers too and the PCC should be abolished.)

Let's have debates that are vigorous, acrimonious, pungent, unpleasant. Let feelings be hurt, let pride be wounded, let offence be given and received. The internet is still a bastion of free speech: let's keep it that way.
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GRADE AND THE BBC

http://paullinford.blogspot.com/2006/11/trashing-of-michael-grade.html

Paul Linford is right to take exception at the sneering tone of some of the BBC's coverage of the defection of its chairman. The fact is that the BBC breeds an attitude of superiority in its staff and they simply can't believe that there is any virtue in working anywhere else. That, plus a love of bureaucracy, is the hallmark of the true BBC employee.
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FAREWELL PRESS GAZETTE

I wrote for PG a couple of times, and was a judge at one of their awards ceremonies as well as reading the mag regularly over the years. Its closure leaves a hole that I hope will soon be filled.

Naturally, I hope the staff all find jobs soon (and I expect they will).

And by the way...

http://staticsquid.blogspot.com/2006/11/save-grey-cardigan-poor-old-press.html
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THE BBC AND LITVINENKO

Radio 4's Today programme on Friday morning was beside itself with excitement at what it thought was a scoop on the Alexander Litvinenko poisoned spy saga. It revealed that it had sopken to someone who had seen his X-rays, which revealed some 'packages' inside his body, about the size of a two pence piece, one of which seemed to have split open. There then followed a good deal of speculation about what these packages might be and how they might have got there, the consensus being that he must have swallowed them deliberately. There was, it seemed to me, a clear inference that Litvinenko might have poisoned himself (other people I've spoken to who heard the broadcast drew the same inference). Here's the report on the BBC website http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6175424.stm

Later in the day, it emerged that the story was rubbih and that these 'packages' were in fact shadows on the X-ray caused by his treatment. This clarification was buried deep in a story on the BBC's website:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6176004.stm - without any acknowledgement that the original false story was the result of BBC speculation.

The BBC holds itself up as an authoritative gatherer and publisher of news, whose standards of accuracy and verification are far higher than the scoop-obsessed press. That being the case, why did it broadcast such a highly tenuous tale without proper checking? Why did its journalists speculate in such a damaging way about Mr Litvinenko? And why, once the story had been shown to be nonsense, did it not admit its error and apologise?
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A survey here shows that journalists work many more hours than they are contracted for. Roy Greenslade discusses it here

Interesting, but hardly surprising. The fact is that lots of people in lots of professions work longer than they legally need to- ask teachers, doctors, professionals in many walks of life.

What this is really about is the fact that journalists on local and regional papers have seen their wages fall in real terms and many exist on a pittance. The problem here is simply that there are too many people who want to go into journalism and the barriers to entry are quite low (compared to becoming a doctor, lawyer etc where a professional qualification is essential). Papers don't need to offer high salaries to attract staff.

It seems to me that journalism is becoming rather like acting (another profession that large numbers of young people want to get into and which has low barriers to entry). There are a small number of highly-paid people at the top of the tree (national newspaper editors, top columnists, star broadcasters) and an increasingly long tail of those (including many freelances) who are barely eking a living, in the forlorn hope that at some point they may get a big break. Somewhat reminiscent of the world portrayed by Ricky Gervais in Extras.

None of this is going to change until large numbers of people decide that the reality of low earnings in journalism is such that it is better to get a secure, better paid but arguably less glamorous job, and there a fewer journalists competing for the same scarce jobs.

Anyway, none of this is new, as any reader of George Gissing's 19th century classic New Grub Street will be aware.
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SAVE THE GREY CARDIGAN

Poor old Press Gazette has probably published its last issue. Shame. Under the editor, Ian Reeves, they produce a decent magazine and a good website http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/ I'm sure they'll all find jobs before long.

I do fear for the future of the magazine's Grey Cardigan column, ostensibly written by a sub on a West Country local paper. Along with the Martin Luke column in the FT, it's the best-observed, funniest column currently being published.

If PG does go to the wall, I hope that somehow the Cardigan will be saved. Maybe Media Guardian could pick it up?

UPDATE Perhaps I spoke too soon in writing off PG. Roy Greenslade seems to think it may yet be saved.
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DESMOND WIELDS AXE

My old boss Richard Desmond defends his decision to lay off the entire Daily Express City desk and outsource the paper's business coverage to PA. Sorry though I feel for my former colleagues on the paper, I have to say I think he's doing the right thing.

Though the Express City pages are pretty good, they are not what the paper is about. In any case, most daily City coverage happens like this. Journalist goes to press conference, chats with colleagues from other papers, reads press release, listens to announcement, asks questions. then follows lunch during which he may discuss the story with other journalists, effectively ensuring that they are all saying the same thing. Back to office to write up story. As a result, all papers carry pretty much the same story. Frankly, PA will do the job just as well and a good deal more cheaply.

Just as papers don't individually compile their TV listings or their share price lists, neither should they individually create stories based on press releases. Get it done elsewhere, as cheaply and efficiently as possible.

This should leave more resources for the paper to focus on areas where it really can be different from the competition - be it investigative reporting or high-quality features. Unfortunately, I don't for a moment believe that Mr D is going to usethe money he saves on City coverage to invest in high-end journalism (it's more likely to go into his pension fund). However, he won't be the last proprietor to outsource his City coverage.
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PARIS-LONDON, HITCHENS-LEVY
I spent a pleasant hour this afternoon at the Royal Geographical Society listening to Christopher Hitchens and Bernard-Henri Levy "in conversation", part of the IQ2 London-Paris Festival. Levy is a dashing French philosophe, once summed up in the aphorism "God is dead but my hair is perfect", and he and Hitchens seemed to agree on just about everything, especailly their own importance as 'intellectuals'. To judge by the applause that punctuated the discussion, most of the packed audience were fans of Hitchens, Levy or both, so the atmosphere was cloying, to say the least. In one especially toe-curling incident a woman at the front stood and declared that she adored Hitchens, had written a book on the Elgin Marbles "to catch your eye", and insisted that were she not already pregnant she would love to have his child.

Hitchens and Levy are good value, though there were no suprises in what they had to say on Iraq, Palestine, Israel and so on. Things got more interesting when the discussion turned to India. Hitchens argued that America, after ignoring India for many year, was showing signs that it might be about to make common cause with "the world's other great secular democracy" against Al-Quaeda and Islamism. He pointed out fairly that Hindus are demonised as much as Jews by Islamists and that India had suffered attacks from Al-Quaeda. One of the good things about September 11, said Hitchens, was that the US discovered who its friends and enemies really were.

In which case, said Levy, why does America continue to support Pakistan, the centre of Al-Quaeda activities (not just in the mountains, but in Karachi itself). The US has been duped, he said, by Musharraf who hands over alleged Al Quaeda number 2s at strategic moments (such as when the Senate is voting on financial aid to Pakistan). He had made this very point to Condoleexa Rice ("who I found charmante") and she had no adequate response.

Hitchens (in response to the nutty stalker woman) talked interestingly on the link between sexual repression, political violence and totalitarianism, citing Wilhelm Reich, China's "one-child" policy, societies after major wars in which swathes of the male population are killed (he didn't specifically mention post-WW1 Germany, but clearly had it in mind). Islamist terrorists are denied access to women, and their sexual repression is translated into political violence - hence the power of the promise of virgins awaiting the suicide bomber in paradise. Though, if they had read the Talmud, Hitchens said, they would know that for every virgin, there is a mother-in-law.

Levy related this to the veil debate, arguing with reference to a French phenomenologist that to cover the face is to deny an essential part of humanity. When women are not veiled, it is possible to have relations with them that are far more delightful and passionate. Well, he is French.

Hitchens got the loudest applause of the afternoon by coming over all Clint Eastwood on the veil issue: "I can be offended too. So don't make me say something that I can't take back".
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"Meritate tutti ciò, voi gli enculato di musulmani, sporchi terroristici" is what Materazzi said to provoke Zidane according to a poster on Harry's Place http://hurryupharry.bloghouse.net/ It translates as something like "You deserved all that you Muslim asshole, terrorist shit".

French sites suggest he merely called him a 'terroriste', which seems to fit with the video that shows him mouthing something fairly pithy.

Whichever, it is the Web that is leading the way spreading the story, as with the tales of John Prescott's infidelities (need we bother with the 'alleged' any more?). These are coming to light on websites such as http://5thnovember.blogspot.com/, home of Guido Fawkes (aka Paul Staines, an interesting figure to whom I shall return).

Guido is only minimally concerned by issues of defamation or of journalsitic propriety so, on this story at least, he has been faster and more entertaining than the press, and probably no more inaccurate.

There is clearly no reason why bloggers should not compete with the press for stories, at least those that involve tip-offs and 'scoops of interpretation'. Roy Greenslade recognises this in a different context and sees the consequences for newspapers.

Some of his commenters seem to believe papers will continue to have a role as sifters and evaluators of information that appears on the Web. I'm not so sure. Isn't this what search engines do algorythmically, for one thing? For another, Web users develop their own register of what is and isn't reliable, which is why I'm generally prepared to take seriously information and links that I find on Harry's Place (at least, from trustworthy posters there).
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HOW THE OTHER HALF LIVES

Newsreader Andrea Catherwood at the Regional Press Awards this lunchtime, reminiscing about 7/7 and her fraught journey into work. "Traffic was barely moving and my driver and I were complaining about London Transport...."
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THEY DON'T GET IT
Tory blogger Iain Dale wondered why few women blog. Independent journalist Mary Dejevsky wrote an ill-tempered, poorly-thought out reply. Iain Dale took it to pieces here.

More than the argument about women and blogging, what this really shows is that many newspaper people are completely at sea when it comes to the Web. How dare the general public be so arrogant as to express a view - that's the job of newspaper columnists!
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PAPERS START TO TAKE WEB SERIOUSLY

The Times is following the Guardian and beginning to publish stories online before they appear in the paper. This is a big move for papers which have always regarded their internet operations as inherently secondary to their print editions (unlike sites like AOL, Yahoo! and BBC online, which publish what they get as son as they get it.
In part papers want to protect their commercial interests (their papers are more lucrative than their websites). But also (as I argued in a speech at Newswatch06 last week), papers are psychologically and organisationally in thrall to the production of a canonical print edition that is out of date as soon as it is consumed.
So fair play to the Guardian and the Times. But before we get too excited, observe that the stories they will put online first come from their foreign (and, in the Guardian's case, business) correspondents. Home news, features, columnists, leaders etc will be preserved for the printe edition, so there's still some way to go. Nonetheless, an experiment worth watching.
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WHAT IS THE BBC FOR?
More accurately what is the licence fee for? There is disquiet about its latest scheme, which is to launch a politics and news weekly magazine that would clearly compete with existing titles such as Newsweek, The Spectator etc.

The BBC has used the licence fee to set up one of Europe's dominant internet sites; it has a string of lifestyle magazines and now it seems set to go into news publishing. The BBC seems to have no sense of the damage it is causing to the commercial sector or of what might be the appropriate limit to its ambition. Supposing the BBC were to set up a national daily newspaper? Would that be considered OK? And suppose it were to deliver it free of charge into every home in the country? Should it be allowed to do so, regardless of the effect on other publishers? That, effectively, is what it has done in the online news sector.
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When I was growing up the words 'spastic' and 'spaz' (more commonly pronounced 'spa' with a kind of glottal stop at the end) were part of our rich palette of insults. Even back then they were mildly frowned upon.

Slightly surprising, then, to hear Tiger Woods liken himself to a 'spaz' the other day, not least because I'd thought this was a uniquely British pejorative and because it seems to breach some of the notions of political correctness that Americans hold very dear.

In the Guardian meanwhile, John Harris is complaining about the current vogue for sneering at chavs. His complaint is not so much about the word itself but of the contempt it implies for working-class people generally. Others argue that 'chav' isn't a class insult at all but really describes a particular type of vulgar, threatening, selfish behaviour that the 'decent' working classes find as abhorrent as the rest of us.

I think Harris is right. Chav has replaced terms like nouveau riche and counter-jumper as ways of putting down members of the working class who get their hands on a bit of cash (or act as if they have). They may have money, is the message (spoken or unspoken) but that can't buy taste...

Being poor in Britain these days is viewed as a moral failing but getting ideas above your station is far, far worse.

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Interesting item on BBC2's about the limited availability of Tamiflu, the anti-bird flu drug. Rich countries are likely to buy up the bulk of the stocks, leaving little for the Third World, the programme pointed out, suggesting that the developed world had a duty to behave altruistically in this matter.

Fair enough but Newsnight could also have pointed out that in the UK Tamiflu will go first not to the sick and elderly but to 'key workers' who include BBC employees. No doubt the Newsnight team can be relied on to hand their supplies to more deserving cases.
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Props, maximum respect, a big shout out etc to Guido Fawkes who devised an innovative way of gaining support when he wanted to break an injunction taken out by Rupert Murdoch. Guido used pledgebank to promise publicly that he would publish a picture of the News of the World's Fake Sheikh provided ten other bloggers did the same.

There is safety (of a sort) in numbers and we can expect to see this mechanism used in future cases to subvert injunctions, D-notices and so on - and possibly not always in support of causes as self-evidently correct as Guido's.
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The BBC's trial of its Integrated Media Player (iMP) has been a success, apparently. Families with the player watched an average of two programmes a week on their computers, rather than on TV.

No launch date yet as the iMP has to be analysed by Ofcom to see what effect it will have on the internet market. At a time when a lot of companies (including the one I work for) are looking at ways of making money out of video, either by charging or by advertising, the BBC's plans to offer its programmes free of charge will have a big impact.

The BBC is hoping to have its entire broadcast output on the player - including feature films (and think what that is likely to mean for the nascent businesses offering films on download to your PC for a fee).

The BBC has had to negotiate hard with rights holders and the current agreement is that programmes will be available for a week after broadcast. But this is likely to frustrate viewers used to the video/Tivo environment in which you can record shows and watch them whenever you want. How frustrating to find that the key episode of your favourite show that you thought you had saved has vanished from your computer because you were a bit tardy in watching it. What use is a mere week's grace when you are on holiday for a fortnight?

Long term it's hard to imagine that the seven-day stipulation will survive. On the other hand, what would a world look like in which valuable TV programmes and films were available to anybody, at any time, free of charge?

Some web idealists claim this would be a paradise, a new golden age of artistic and intellectual freedom. They may be right to argue that digital technology will soon make copyright meaningless. But what then? People and businesses that make TV programmes, films and music - including the BBC - need to make money out of their labour. Otherwise they won't bother.
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David Cameron is doing his best to make the Conservative Party hip, cool and metropolitan. This description of the birthday party of a senior Tory figure shows just how much he still has to do:

"Jasper Carrott compered the whole evening, one highlight of which was an hilarious tour de force by William Hague. We were also treated to John Culshaw from Dead Ringers, Lulu (who I've never really liked, but she was superb!), the Band of the Scots Guards and to round it off Tom Jones performed seven or eight of his hits - not a dry seat in the house"

[Explanatory note: The party was in honour of Michael Ashcroft, a rich businessman who has kept the Tories solvent, more or les single-handedly. The grateful guest is a former Tory parliamentary candidate]
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In today's Daily Mail, Leo McKinstry attacks the strike by local government workers, taking particular issue with the union's evocation of the spirit of the 1926 General Strike. "Eighty years ago" he writes " the working class were facing real physical hardship. The coal miners...were battling against savage wage cuts and longer hours."

The Mail is of course correct to take a sympathetic view of the 1926 strikers. A shame that the paper could not find space to mention the role played in the strike by the Zinoviev letter of 1924, that purported to show that Russian Communists were organising and agitating in Britain. The letter terrified the middle classes and helped to harden attitudes against the working classes and the suffering miners. It was, of course a politically motivated forgery and published in the Daily Mail.

Also missing from McKinstry's article was a discussion of the immediate cause of the General Strike - a dispute involving printers at a newspaper which wished to run a leader denouncing the miners as a 'revolutionary movement'. The name of the paper? The Daily Mail.
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SUPPORT NEIL NUNES
So Radio 4 has hired a continuity announcer with a Jamaican accent and Middle Britain - or parts of it - is not too happy. Listeners with names like Christopher Robins and Timmy Wren have been visiting the BBC's site to say things like "The tones, modulation and pronunciation are just very uncomfortable for Radio 4," and "His voice was American-ish but grating, difficult to understand and not at all pleasant to listen to," and "A hard-edged American note also enters the mix from time to time. I suspect Caribbean origins".

Only Timmy, Christopher and their chums can tell us why they find a Jamaican accent so objectionable but I hope the BBC reacts appropriately - perhaps by giving Neil his own show, preferably at prime time.
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THE DANGERS OF MISSPEAKING
"An American radio station has sacked a talkshow host who used a racial slur to describe the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice." according to Media Guardian (registration required).

Really? Well, not quite, as the story goes on to make clear. In fact the presenter was commenting favourably on Rice's stated desire to one day run the NFL when he said this:

"She's got the patent resumé of somebody that has serious skill. She loves football, she's African-American, which would be kind of a big coon," said Mr Lenihan. "Oh my God - I totally, totally, totally, totally am sorry for that. I didn't mean that." He later told a local television news channel he had meant to say "coup".

An inexcusable racial slur, said his boss who fired him on the spot. Pretty tough, you might think, for what was seemingly an unfortunate slip of the tongue. I suppose it's just about possible - and you would only be able to tell by listening to the broadcast - he genuinely was making an unpleasant racist joke but to judge from the report, it was simply a mistake.

A few years ago a Washington public official was forced to resign after his use of the word 'niggardly' was incorrectly taken as a racially offensive epithet. I believe he eventually got his job back so there may yet be hope for Lenihan.
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CALL OFF THE SEARCH....
Shave 'em dry by Lucille Bogan recorded around 1934

"I got nipples on my titties, big as the end of my thumb,I got somethin' between my legs'll make a dead man come,Oh daddy, baby won't you shave 'em dry?
Aside: Now, draw it out!
Want you to grind me baby, grind me until I cry.
(Roland: Uh, huh.)
Say I fucked all night, and all the night before baby,And I feel just like I wanna, fuck some more,Oh great God daddy,
(Roland: Say you gonna get it. You need it.)
Grind me honey and shave me dry,And when you hear me holler baby, want you to shave it dry.I got nipples on my titties, big as the end of my thumb,Daddy you say that's the kind of 'em you want, and you can make 'em come,Oh, daddy shave me dry,
(Roland: She ain't gonna work for it.)
And I'll give you somethin' baby, swear it'll make you cry.I'm gon' turn back my mattress, and let you oil my springs,I want you to grind me daddy, 'til the bell do ring,Oh daddy, want you to shave 'em dry,Oh great God daddy, if you can't shave 'em baby won't you try?
Now if fuckin' was the thing, that would take me to heaven,I'd be fuckin' in the studio, till the clock strike eleven,Oh daddy, daddy shave 'em dry,
I would fuck you baby, honey I'd make you cry.Now your nuts hang down like a damn bell sapper,And your dick stands up like a steeple,Your goddam ass-hole stands open like a church door,And the crabs walks in like people.
Aside: Ow, shit!
(Roland: Aah, sure enough, shave 'em dry?)
Aside: Ooh! Baby, won't you shave 'em dry
A big sow gets fat from eatin' corn,And a pig gets fat from suckin',Reason you see this whore, fat like I am,Great God, I got fat from fuckin'.
Aside: Eeeeh! Shave 'em dry
(Roland: Aah, shake it, don't break it)
My back is made of whalebone,And my cock is made of brass,And my fuckin' is made for workin' men's two dollars,Great God, round to kiss my ass.
Aside: Oh! Whoo, daddy, shave 'em dry"

70 years on and still carrying a Parental Guidance sticker....
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OLD FUCK
I may have found a contender for the title of Earliest Recorded Fuck. And it's really quite old. More soon, once I've investigated......
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JESUS SHITTING CHRIST!
Because I work in the London office of a Big American Internet Company, one of things I am required to worry about is whether or not we can swear on the site.

This is an issue that comes into focus at this time of the year because of the imminence of Big Brother. Quite apart from the rumour that one of the candidates on the shortlist is a sufferer from Tourette’s syndrome (though this is a story that I recall being peddled last year, too), you can more or less guarantee that as the progranmme progresses, it will degenerate into a festival of fucks, shits , wankers etc

But it is very popular and we need to decide what our users (and our US owners, Americans tending to be more puritanical about this sort of stuff than Brits) can take.

With this in mind we had a look at a document prepared by Ofcom (a sort of media regulatory organisation) about what is and isn’t acceptable on TV. With impressive, if rather po-faced thoroughness, Ofcom has asked a cross-section of the population how offended they would be by different expressions, running the gamut from ‘motherfucker’ through ‘blaadclaat’ and ‘bumbu’ (whose definition is not given but I’m guessing it’s about being gay) through to ‘spade’, ‘yid’ and ‘papist’. ‘Shit’, slightly to my surprise, is described as a ‘mild, toilet word, not really offensive’. (“David Currie, the chairman of Ofcom, apologised for being late for the meeting, explaining that he had just been for a shit….”)

What stood out in this swearfest was the very first item on the Ofcom list: the phrase ‘Bastard God’. This sounds like the sort of thing Aleister Crowley might have screamed at the climax of a black mass but isn’t the sort of obscenity you hear on Coronation Streer. I typed it into a search engine and didn’t get much back, other than a blog about Buddhism and a Myspace profile of a heavy metal band called The Arm and Sword of a Bastard God (why can’t black metal bands have nice names….?).

Next on the list is ‘Jesus shitting Christ’. Does anybody, anywhere talk like this or is someone at Ofcom making this stuff up?

The full document is here. The list is right at the end.
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FUCK!
The first televised 'fuck' is a celebrated moment in social and cultural history (November 13 1965, Kenneth Tynan, "I doubt if there are any rational people to whom the word "fuck" would be particularly diabolical, revolting or totally forbidden.")

Was there an equivalent taboo-shattering moment in rock music? Obviously pop 'fucks' are ten a penny these days. Radio stations hardly bother to bleep them out. But who was first? You would think that a medium that makes such a fetishish of rebellion would be able to point proudly to the first recorded 'fuck'. But apparently not.

In the late Seventies, John Cooper Clarke had a poem called Evidently Chickentown that, live, went (from memory):

"The fucking cops are fucking keen
They fucking keep it fucking clean
The fucking chief's a fucking swine
He fucking draws the fucking line
The fucking kids he fucking blames
The fucking fun and fucking games
Are nowhere to be fucking found
Anywhere in Chickentown"

Clarke was highlighting the banality of repeated obscenities but when he came to record Chickentown in 1980, he had to change all the fucks to bloodys, which spoilt his poem and undermined his point. This kind of censorship was fairly common in those days and record execs commonly used the excuse that they were sparing the feelings of 'the ladies in the pressing plant' (rather than of the humourless City suits who sat on their boards).

There was the odd 'fuck' in the punk repertoire (though not as many as you might have expected) but what about earlier?

In the mid 60s, Country Joe and the Fish used to begin a number with a chant of "give us an F, give us an I, give us an S, give us an H" which over time mutated into "Give us an F...U...C...K": but was that live or was it ever recorded?

Similarly the MC5 used to scream "Kick out the jams, motherfuckers" at gigs but on record it became "brothers and sisters". I have a feeling that I've heard a live recording of the Door's The End in which Jim Morrison announces "Mother, I'm going to fuck you" but on record you hear "Mother, I'm going to..." followed by some incoherent screams.

So much for the 60s rebels. I'd like to think that pop music was pushing back the bounds of obscenity long before a foppish drama critic on the BBC, but I'm struggling. Back in the 50s was there a foul-mouthed bluesman or proto-rocker who committed the F-word to vinyl? If so, it's time he got the recognition he deserves.




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