In a classic sketch in the ITV satire Spitting Image, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was seen dining in a restaurant with her male Cabinet colleagues. Waitress: “Would you like to order, sir?” Thatcher: “Yes. I will have the steak.” Waitress: “How would you like it?” Thatcher: “Oh, raw, please.” Waitress: “And what about the vegetables?” Thatcher, gesturing at the Cabinet: “Oh, they’ll have the same as me.”
John Whittingdale is a conundrum. A politician who can seem old beyond his 55 years, he has been in Parliament since 1992, nine years longer than David Cameron. And, although only a few years older than his boss, Whittingdale’s style and political heritage are soundly late-Thatcher era, with a voting record that is pro-fox hunting and anti-gay marriage.
Yet, the freshly minted Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport also confounds stereotypes of the shire fogey with a mild interest in Gilbert and Sullivan.
Writers of contemporary media history need to be brave. They also, of course, want to be read. Professor Jean Seaton, the official BBC historian, has a crisp style, a fine grasp of the period 1974-87 and has authored an absorbing book, with the power to annoy and stimulate debate.
As the title, Pinkoes and Traitors (taken from the Dear Bill letters of Private Eye), announces, the prose is leavened by light touches.