I’ve been trying my best not to say any more about the cataclysmic faecal maelstrom that is the Ross-Brand-Sachs scandal. Too much had been said about it already, and by adding to the blogosphere’s already hefty wordload on the subject I’m probably helping to validate a Daily Mail campaign and prolong the lifespan of a particularly nasty bout of mass hysteria. Only to a fairly imperceptible degree, of course, but it all adds up in the end. This one’s like a bothersome dental abscess, though. I know I shouldn’t, but I just can’t leave the bastard alone.
Truth be told, I wasn’t there at the very beginning. I first became aware of what would later be called Sachsgate whilst driving home from Kent last Saturday night and listening to The Russell Brand Show on Radio 2. By Gregorian standards that was a full calendar week after the previous show – the show – the one in which Brand and Jonathan Ross left their ill-advised messages on Andrew Sachs’ answer machine. Still, I won’t berate myself too harshly for tardiness. I might have turned up at the party late, but most of the people who subsequently complained arrived long after me.
Clare, Lily and I had gone to Hythe on Friday to visit Clare’s parents. Clare and Lily were staying there for the half term holiday, but I had to get back to Brum the next day as I couldn’t get the time off work. ‘So it goes,’ as Kurt Vonnegut used to say, at least before he died.
Anyway, after making a quick pit stop at Chorleywood to change my tyres, fix my engine and visit my old friend Nicky, I continued on to Birmingham. It was a long drive, I hadn’t stuffed enough CDs into my glove compartment to last the journey, so I put the radio on. It was the Russell Brand Show, and the first I heard about the notorious lewd answerphone message scandal was when Brand apologised for them on air.
It was the night before the story broke in the Mail on Sunday, and he must have known they were onto him because this is what he said:
‘I would like to remind the Daily Mail that whilst it is a bit bad to leave a swear word on Andrew Sachs’ answerphone, what’s worse – leaving a swear word on Andrew Sachs’ answerphone or tacitly supporting Adolf Hitler when he took charge of the Third Reich?
‘When he became chancellor in the late 1930s, the Daily Mail printed a letter from a Lord going “This Hitler might be all right”. And once old Blackshirt Oswald Mosely came to prominence in this country the Daily Mail went, “Hurrah for our blackshirted chums”.’
Although Brand’s apology was widely publicised, the links he made between the Daily Mail and fascism weren’t. It was a pretty snappy and articulate comeback, but unfortunately he wasn’t dealing with a drunken heckler at a comedy club: he was up against with an unstoppable media juggernaut with a time-honoured political stance that’s just to the right of Genghis Khan.
Of course, that doesn’t mean to say that what he said wasn’t true.
At university I read a book by Richard Griffiths called Fellow Travellers of the Right: British Enthusiasts for Nazi Germany 1933-1939. This introduced me to the whole sordid world of British upper class Nazi-sympathising twits like Daily Mail co-founder Lord Rothermere. Every time the Daily Heil launch a sanctimonious ‘moral’ campaign like this, I feel the urge to re-read it. Unfortunately, it was a library loan back then and its out of print now.
So, once again, it goes.
According to Griffiths’ book and numerous other sources, Lord Rothermere was a friend and an active supporter of both Hitler and Mussolini and, in the years leading up to the Second World War, the Daily Mail was the only British paper to consistently support the Nazi Party. According to a Guardian story published in 2005, Rothermere had written to Hitler in 1939: “My Dear Führer, I have watched with understanding and interest the progress of your great and superhuman work in regenerating your country.”
In the same year, The Indepenedent reported that “the former owner of the Daily Mail wrote to Adolf Hitler congratulating Germany on its annexation of Czechoslovakia, and urging the Führer to march into Romania, British secret service files, released by the National Archives for the first time today, reveal.
“Lord Rothermere even hired a glamorous German spy to introduce him to leading Nazi figures in the run-up to the Second World War. MI5 papers reveal how Rothermere, owner of Associated Newspapers, paid Princess Stephanie Hohenlohe-Waldenburg-Schillingfurst to further his contacts with Hitler, Goering, Goebbels and Ribbentrop. The Austrian-born princess, described as London’s leading Nazi hostess, was closely watched by the secret services after she arrived in Britain in the 1920s and began “worming her way into society circles”. (For the sake of political balance, I should also point out that the same story was reported in the Daily Telegraph)
Of course, as Russell Brand mentioned in his ‘apology’, the Daily Mail also had fascist affiliations that were a bit closer to home. In 1934, Rothermere penned an article for the Mail entitled ‘Hail to the Blackshirts’, in which he praised Oswald Mosely and his British Union of Fascists. In a contemporary article, the American news magazine Time reported:
‘Off galloped the London Daily Mail, lead horse of Lord Rothermere’s huge team of British newspapers, last week on a Fascist crusade. Pear-headed Lord Rothermere wrote the Mail’s clarion call to young Britons “to break the stranglehold which senile politicians have so long maintained on public affairs.” The man to do it. he said, is Sir Oswald Ernald Mosley, leader of Britain’s Fascist Black Shirts, a man ‘”willing to act with the same directness of purpose and energy of method as Mussolini and Hitler have displayed.” Predicted Lord Rothermere who has long felt like playing Dictator himself: ”There will be a prolonged swing either to the Right or Left. At the next vital election, Britain’s survival as a great power will depend on the existence of a well-organized party of the Right.”‘
The Daily Mail likes to present itself as the moral guardian of Middle England, but once you do a little digging you’ll soon find that this “moral guardian” has a rather shady past. Last Saturday, Russell Brand invited listeners to text in to his show saying:
‘On one hand you have upset Manuel, on the other you have millions and millions of dead people supported by a powerful media institution. It’s up to you, the listener, to decide which is worse: offending Manuel, for which I apologise, or tacitly supporting the death of millions.’
He might be paid a lot of money to be rude, obnoxious and controversial, but I think he might have a point.