Sir: In his excellent article on Pope Francis (‘Pope idol’, 11 January), Luke Coppen mentions the satirical rumour that the new pontiff had abolished sin. It could never be said, however, even in a spoof, that he has abolished the Devil, whom he has named and shamed on a number of occasions. What Coppen calls ‘the cockeyed lionisation of Francis’ is surely itself a trick of the Devil: so too the ‘older son problem’ — the disgruntlement of obedient Catholics at Francis’s embrace of sinful prodigal sons and daughters. Virtue is surely its own reward, and no one who has experienced grace hankers after the fleshpots of Egypt.
Piers Paul Read
Sir: I have always liked what I know of Matthew Parris, so it is entirely without malice that I venture to link the title of his piece in the issue of 11 January (‘It’s gay men who contribute most to society’) with Mandy Rice-Davies’s comment, quoted in William Astor’s article in the same issue: ‘He would say that, wouldn’t he?’
As for the thesis itself, it may or may not be true — but it’s worth pointing out that without heterosexuals and their reproductive proclivities, there would be no society at all…
What would Jesus tweet?
Sir: I was puzzled by James Bartholomew’s comment (Diary, 4 January) that Jesus would have lost his dignity had he been reduced to condensing his great thoughts into 140 characters. I put his statement to the test, and counted the characters in three of his quotes from the King James Bible.
— It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. (111 characters; Luke 18:25)
— Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (79 characters: Matthew 11:28)
— Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence. Love others as well as you love yourself. (117 characters: Matthew 22:34)
These three Twitter compliant statements by Jesus have come down the millennia thanks to their brevity. Less really is more. Ahead of his time rather than behind ours, I think.
Mandy and mores
Sir: In the 1960s I made a film about Mandy Rice-Davies (‘Notes on a scandal’, 11 January) as a special for World in Action. It was made with her full co-operation, but was never broadcast. This was because Sidney Bernstein, then head of Granada Television, told me that the programme could not be seen by the British public as it carried the wrong message. Either Mandy had to commit suicide, or return to being a nice girl. As it was, the film showed that all a girl from a council house had to do to make a lot of money was to leave Birmingham and come and work in a London nightclub. The film would encourage young girls to follow Mandy’s example.
Naturally I was bitterly disappointed by the decision, but it shows just how much attitudes have changed over the years. Would it have been broadcast today?
Sir: How appropriate that a Labour source should, as reported by Isabel Hardman (Politics, 11 January), admit that they have a ‘sophisticated policy’ on immigration. The Shorter Oxford Dictionary defines ‘sophisticated’ as follows:
1. Mixed with some foreign substance; adulterated, not pure or genuine.
2. Altered from, deprived of, primitive simplicity or naturalness.
3. Falsified in a greater or lesser degree.
Spot on, I’d say.
Andrew W. Harvey
Your questions answered
Sir: If anybody asks me why I read The Spectator, I show them the issue dated 4 January. On one page Roger Scruton explains to me — simply, convincingly and comprehensively — why I am a conservative. On the page opposite, Hugo Rifkind asks why it is OK to eat a sheep but not to shag one. Both of these are questions to which I have long sought answers. What other publication would dare to offer reading as stimulating as this?
Farewell the trumpets
Sir: Alexander Chancellor writes of the efficiency of Evelyn Waugh’s tortoiseshell ear trumpet (Long life, 11 January). Waugh also had a brass model — clearly less efficient — which he once brandished at Ann Fleming, shouting: ‘What? What?’ This so enraged her that she took a pudding spoon and soundly rapped the horn, sending the great man’s head into a spin.
I think I shall remain faithful to my state-of-the-art Swiss electronic hearing aids.
West Byfleet, Surrey
The great Simon Hoggart
Sir: May I add my appreciation of the considerable contribution which Simon Hoggart made to the life of so many? As a commentator about the shenanigans of Westminster, he displayed an exceptional lightness of touch. As your wine correspondent, his enthusiasm led me into an overladen cellar. He will be hard to follow in both disciplines.
Godfrey Carey QC By email