The Daily Telegraph, my newspaper of choice (it shows what a fuddy-duddy I am) is, like all the other newspapers, full of stories of human frailty. That’s why it sells. It is not as explicit as the tabloids in its pursuit of “human interest” stories – but it is still full of them.
That’s why I always read the obituaries first. Generally they are uplifting and often they are inspiring. You read about the best of human nature (such as war heroes who do amazingly courageous things and then return to working quietly in a factory for the next 50 years) before becoming absorbed in murder and mayhem in the other pages.
Earlier this week I was again buoyed up when I read the obituary of Dolores Hope, wife of the comedian Bob Hope, who has died aged 102. I learnt that they had been married for 69 years (itself an achievement) and that Dolores gave up her own promising career as a singer to create a happy family home for her husband. But what interested me particularly was the statement, “Bob Hope would try out new jokes on his wife and children, with Dolores, a devout Roman Catholic, deciding if they were suitable for a family audience.”
I loved the picture of the Hope family sitting round the kitchen table and falling about laughing at what used to be called “good clean fun”. It reminded me of another comedian I read about recently: Tommy Cooper. In an interview with Michael Deacon (yes, in the Telegraph) comedian Russ Abbot spoke with affection of his friendship with Cooper. He recalled Cooper as “one of the greats. His act was totally clean. Whether you were eight or 80 you could laugh at Tommy Cooper.” Another fine tribute and making the point that you can be genuinely funny without resorting to smut.
What has happened to our idea of humour when the deplorable and obscene interchange between Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand in October 2008 was allowed on air by the BBC? I blogged about this some time ago, saying I supported the campaign of Charles Moore, former editor of the Telegraph, who was refusing to pay his TV licence until the BBC sacked the two men. I know it is deeply unfashionable to say it, and I’ll probably be accused of Grundyism, but I approve of censorship. I don’t make a distinction between “adult” humour of the filthy kind, and what is permissible for children. Jokes that are not suitable for children’s ears are not suitable for adults’ ears either. Good old Dolores Hope; would that someone like her (preferably a woman) was employed as “Official Censor” at the BBC. They would not have to be “devout” or even a “Roman Catholic”; just someone who can tell the difference between laughter and obscenity.