21 MARCH 1987, Page 5


ABOUT 20 years ago, the Observer colour magazine published an article on show jumping. According to Richard Hall, in his forthcoming book on Tiny Rowland (My Life With Tiny, Faber, £9.95), the feature tad suggested, in passing, that teenage girls gained some sexual excitement from riding a horse. This produced a clutch of letters from anxious mothers in the Home Counties, but more significantly sent David Astor [then editor of the Observer] into a fit of indignant fury. I made a mental note to strike out the word masturbation whenever it appeared in copy.' Last Sun- day, the Observer colour supplement led with a much-illustrated feature about Cynthia Payne, the Streatham madam. The presentation of pictures, from the forthcoming film about Mrs Payne, seemed to suggest that her work was all wonderful- ly life-enhancing and cheerful (although Ian Jack's accompanying article was not so confident). It is hard to decide whether Astor's prudery or last Sunday's half- witted sentimentality is more ludicrous. Both sit strangely with the Observer's reputation as the most liberal and enlight- ened paper of our times.