Anthony Clavane: The tendency is to see Neil, Marr and Humphrys as grumpy old men... but it reeks of double standards

Andrew Neil was criticised over a tweet about fellow journalist Carole Cadwalladr. (Mark Bickerdike).
Andrew Neil was criticised over a tweet about fellow journalist Carole Cadwalladr. (Mark Bickerdike).
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The most heart-warming story of the week must be the one about Deke Duncan, who has been running a radio station from his garden shed in Stevenage for the past 44 years.

The 73-year-old DJ might not be a household name but he is certainly famous in his own household; his station, up until now, could only be beamed through a speaker in his 
living room to his wife Teresa. This meant that his entire audience tended to disappear whenever Teresa popped to the shops.

However, a BBC local radio station has finally come to the rescue, offering him a one-hour special. Who said dreams never come true?

Deke reminds me of Rupert Pupkin, one of Robert De Niro’s finest creations. In the film The King of Comedy, Rupert spends most of his spare time in the basement of his mother’s house chatting to cardboard cut-outs of celebrity guests. He, too, ends up fulfilling his lifetime ambition, which is to perform on a TV talk show. Although, unlike the Hertfordshire DJ, Rupert had to resort to a bit of kidnapping along the way.

It also reminds me of the strange Westminster press conference held this week by Jacob Rees-Mogg where the Old Etonian outlined his alternative vision for leaving the EU. To a half-empty room. The loneliness of the long-distance Brexiteer.

As the theme tune from Mark Radcliffe’s legendary 1990s radio show used to ask: “Is anybody out there?”

In my own case, the answer was no. When I was a lad, I used to pretend to be a sports presenter and “broadcast” shows about Leeds United from my bedroom. My mum used to think I was a tad eccentric, just as Deke, Rupert and Jacob are all deemed to be bizarre, but charming, oddities.

Which brings me to Andrew Neil. The BBC’s flagship presenter often jokes about how no-one watches his late-night political chat show This Week. So far, so self-deprecatory. On that show he often, in his admirably sharp-witted and articulate way, cuts puffed-up politicians down to size. So far, so Paxman-esque. But he overstepped the mark the other week when he tweeted an attack on fellow journalist Carole Cadwalladr, calling her a “mad cat woman” and punning that her name was “Karol Kodswallop”.

So far, so sexist.

Whatever you think of Cadwalladr – who, after all, has won many prizes for her fearless investigative journalism – questioning her sanity clearly crosses a line. As psychology author Zazie Todd says: “The stereotypical crazy cat lady is a woman who has too many cats and isn’t really taking good care of them. Her house smells, and she is a bit of a mess too.” It is a misogynistic trope in popular culture, best – or worst – exemplified by Eleanor Abernathy from The Simpsons. The BBC asked Neil to delete 
the tweet, but the damage was done.

“I’m a middle-aged woman, without children,” wrote Cadwalladr. “And this is my lot. I occupy one of the last few remaining categories of acceptable prejudice.”

Does the BBC have a woman problem? An organisation ostensibly committed to equality and diversity would surely have asked Neil to apologise.

And, indeed, Andrew Marr, who lost the plot with Labour’s Shami Chakrabarti last Sunday, jabbing his notes in her face and declaring: “Don’t try and patronise me.” Which I’ve never seen him do to any male politician.

The tendency is to dismiss the likes of Neil, Marr and John Humphrys as grumpy old men. And maybe the writing is on the wall for bad-tempered, old-school interrogators who tend to eye-roll, neigh and snort their way through interviews.

But it reeks of double standards. I am grumpy, he is eccentric – and she is a demented old spinster.

My mum, by the way, never thought I was a deluded fantasist when I pretended to be David Coleman reading out the football results to an imaginary audience.

Mind you, she began to worry when I got into punk and started to play records by Patti Smith, Siouxsie Sioux and Poly Styrene. Oh Bondage Up Yours! was a particular favourite. 
I’d like to have seen any grumpy old man 
call any of those belligerent singers a crazy cat lady.