The Unbearable Blueness of Peter

Brinkley and Lyall

The Unbearable Blueness of Peter

Brinkley and Lyall

The Unbearable Blueness of Peter
An email conversation about the news of the day.
Oct. 20 1998 11:19 AM

Brinkley and Lyall

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Dear Alan:

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Who is Blue Peter? And why do we care? Here's part of an answer: The British papers, which love celebrity-driven stories, are suffering from Britain's sad dearth of actual famous people. Now that Princess Diana--arguably the world's most famous celebrity--is dead, they have nothing to replace her with. They're left with second-, third-, and fourth-tier celebrities, as well as American imports (the news that Cameron Diaz apparently dumped Matt Dillon was a big story here). So the tabloids, particularly the lowest-common-denominator ones, turn to a vast stable of non-celeb celebs--aging stars of soaps like Coronation Street and EastEnders; radio "personalities," like the egregious Chris Evans, the Virgin Radio DJ who made the stupid remark about drugs at the BBC; and a woman named Emma Noble, an ex-"model" who is now engaged to former Prime Minister John Major's son and who is now pictured in various states of undress at various premieres, envelope openings, etc. It's a sign of the papers' desperation that they always use her picture, and then try to show their hip ironic detachment by referring to her as "the ubiquitous Emma Noble."

In the same vein, have you noticed the big, sober pieces on Prince Charles in the Daily Mail and the Telegraph in the last couple of days? The most startling thing about them is that--at least in the case of the Mail--they seem to have been done with Charles' full cooperation. In the old days, when Diana was around, Charles never spoke to the press, and was generally presented as a strange out-of-touch figure who talked to trees and who ruined his ex-wife's life with his philandering. Now, in part because they have no royal figures to focus on, the papers have come back around to his side. In the way these things work, he guarantees sympathetic coverage by granting them access. Note how proud the snobbish Daily Mail writer is of the fact that she had actual conversations with Prince Charles. Yesterday's pieces focused on his relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles, who's enjoying a slow public-image rehabilitation, carefully orchestrated by the Prince's people, even though the Queen apparently still hates her, considers her an adulterer, and won't go to Charles' 50th birthday party because Camilla is hosting it. It seems extraordinary to me that Charles has allowed details like that--which cast his mother in a bad light--to appear in the papers.

Do you have any interest whatsoever in royal family stories?

Best,

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Sarah

Alan Brinkley is history professor at Columbia University and author of The End of Reform: New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War. He is teaching at the University of Oxford, England, for a year. Sarah Lyall is a journalist who writes for the New York Times from London.