19 MARCH 1994, Page 8


A promising young man, but does he exist?


Give the Devil his due, it was a very good joke against the despised chattering classes when the Sunday Times managed to find a journalist called Jonathan Miller to reproduce its own standard down-market tabloid opinions as a personal column. Despite the photograph of a hungry-look- ing, curly-headed, tense young man above the byline, I am sure that many Sunday Times readers are stupid enough to have supposed that this week's column 'A good flogging will do the trick' by Jonathan Miller was written by that doyen of the chattering classes, Dr Jonathan Miller, CBE, the distinguished neuro-psychologist, wrecker of operas, one-time director of the National Theatre, member of the Arts Council, artistic director of the Old Vic, honorary member of the Royal Academy etc., etc.

If I were Dr Jonathan, I suppose I would be irritated to see my name used to advance the younger Jonathan Miller's thoughts, and even more annoyed to receive the congratulations of Sunday Times readers wherever I went.

'Flogging should certainly be adminis- tered without discrimination to women as well as men,' writes Jonathan Miller, who uses the case of a young male American arrested in Singapore for vandalism as his peg for these reflections:

He has been sentenced to six of the best, which in Singapore consists of being flogged on the buttocks with an [sic] 4 ft cane called a rotan. Most victims faint after two strokes, permanent physical scarring is normal. This has horrified the expatriate community in Singapore and even President Clinton has begged for mercy. Piffle. Singapore should let the thrashing commence and if Britain had any collective sense, we should bring the thrasher over here to teach us how it is done.

One can almost hear all those Sunday Times readers panting with excitement. 'Whipping satisfies better than almost any alternative society's right to vengeance on those who offend against it,' continues Miller in sententious mood. Finally, we have the political lesson:

John Major, in a desperate attempt to court popularity with voters who hate him, has recently joined his home secretary uttering bleats about crime and promising a 'crack- down' which will inevitably result in even more offenders being sent to prison to be buggered and corrupted at vast expense to the taxpayer. If he had guts, he'd have them thrashed and the voters would applaud.

I cannot be too censorious about young Miller; the truth is we have all been turning out variations on this sort of cab-driver drivel — in my own case for over 50 years. Perhaps, if he applies himself to the art, Mr Miller will one day be seen eating at the High Table, along with Dr Richard Little- john, Lord Wyatt of Weeford, Sir Paul Johnson and myself.

There is just one uneasiness in my mind. I have no reason to disbelieve in this hun- gry-looking Miller's existence. No doubt he is out there somewhere looking just as he looks in the photograph, possibly with a wife, children, brothers and sisters, a parent or parents who love him. No doubt he has hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affec- tions, passions. Prick him, and he will bleed. However, I will never go to Rupert Murdoch's temperance hell-hole in Wap- ping to verify his existence, and it occurs to me that he would be desperately easy to invent. It is the coincidence of his bearing the same name as Dr Jonathan Miller CBE, editor of Freud: the Man, His World, His Influence (1972) that worries me most.

Saturday's Times carried a report from Ben Macintyre in New York describing how digital computer technology could not only bring old film stars to life and create new film- _for them, or create films about historic figures, showing Winston Churchill, for instance, in flagrante delicto with Marilyn Monroe. It could also create totally synthetic actors who look, sound and move just like the real thing, and do exactly what the director wants.

The implications of this go far beyond any redundancies in the acting profession. We must remember that Murdoch, the debt-ridden foreign gambler and visionary, sits on top of all this technology as head of Fox Films. A natural philanthropist for all his unfortunate sadistic urges, he will use it to promote his crusade towards a global vil- lage inhabited by classless, prurient sadists in the Sunday Times mould. Let us examine 'It's known as "Waldegrave's gambit".' some of the ramifications of this new tech- nology in a world whose richest nation and only superpower, the Mecca towards which all modern progress turns, now counts films and television as its biggest industry after defence.

No film or television actresses might mean no sexual gossip about them to fill Mr Murdoch's newspapers. However, we are told that digital computers can create not only complete films, with actors, actresses, setting and story, but also Oscar award ceremonies at which these non-exis- tent actresses are filmed receiving awards from real-life celebrities, whether alive or dead. If all this is possible, it would be chicken-feed to invent gossip about these non-existent actors and actresses, blow-jobs in lay-bys, tragic cot-deaths and the rest of it.

The next question is whether newspaper hacks will be necessary to write these sto- ries, but I fear we are approaching the door of the locked room in Bluebeard's castle. If gossip writers are unnecessary in the digital future, what price commentators or colum- nists? Under those circumstances, it would not be at the High Table that we met, Sir Paul Johnson, Lord Wyatt of Weeford, Dr Richard Littlejohn and I, with this promis- ing young Jonathan Miller. It would be in adjacent cardboard boxes under Waterloo Bridge. If the young Jonathan Miller is no more than a digital projection, there will just be Johnson, Wyatt, Littlejohn and I, without even an empty cardboard box to memorialise our absent friend.

But I am sure he exists. I am convinced of it. My next step is to advertise for anyone with the same name as Polly Toynbee, the distinguished female thinker, to start a Polly Toynbee column in Literary Review:

Shirt-lifters? Arse bandits I call them. Hang- ing is much too good for them, if you want my far-from-humble opinion. If the Home Secretary, Mr Michael-so-called-Howard, had any guts he would arrange for them to have red-hot pokers pushed up their dainty posteriors. He wants a volunteer for the job? Polly Toynbee is my name.

And another type of offender who gets my goat is the child rapist and molester of small children. Slow castration with a blunt, rusty penknife for him. Then rats who cheat on their wives should have their manhoods cut off and be hung upside down until they bleed to death from the stump. The voters would love it.