A couple of weeks ago I promised that this column would keep a watchful eye on Rebekah Wade, the new editor of the Sun. As is so often the case, the first piece of evidence is right before our eyes, in the pages of Who's Who. But before we get on to that, let me say something about what Rebekah has done to the Sun. She has certainly livened it up - many would say coarsened it. The substantials may not have changed, but she has turned a lot of knobs and dials, and the overall effect is very different.
Rebekah's rumoured aversion to Page Three girls turns out to be a piece of old PR which no longer applies. Whereas under David Yelland's regime 'Page Three lovelies' generally had a girl-next-door look, Rebekah's are raunchier. By my calculations she has also already put near-naked women three times on the front page. We have also had Kylie Minogue in her suspender belt on the front (see my third item). On another day we were offered 'the wackiest places where we've had sex' above the front-page headline. There is simply a lot more sex about than in Yelland's day. Presumably Rebekah has an eye on the Daily Star which, though still selling less than a third as many copies as the Sun, has been putting on a lot of circulation with its diet of tit 'n' bum.
Politically, too, the Sun is not pulling its punches. David Yelland tried to be all things to all men, praising Tony Blair one day and Iain Duncan Smith the next, and then putting the boot into a junior Cabinet minister for fear of seeming too friendly towards New Labour. Rebekah has adopted a much more adversarial attitude towards the government, though she has not withdrawn the paper's support, and I don't think that she will do so in the foreseeable future. She has seized upon the issue of asylum-seekers. Leader after leader has castigated the Prime Minister for doing nothing. One front-page headline ran: 'Round 'Em Up and Kick 'Em Out'. This referred to 300 'terror suspects' rather than every asylum-seeker. Was Mr Blair's fleeting U-turn on asylum partly influenced by the Sun's aggressive new line?
And now to Rebekah. She claims in the pages of Who's Who to have studied at the Sorbonne in Paris. But did she? According to a recent piece in the Guardian by my esteemed colleague Roy Campbell-Greenslade (who is quite close to her), Rebekah was working for the News of the World at the age of 20, having previously worked for Eddie Shah and for a magazine in Paris. This would suggest that, if she did a full degree course at the Sorbonne, she enrolled at the age of 16, and left at 19.
I put two calls through to Rebekah's office to inquire how long she attended the Sorbonne, what she read there, and whether she got a degree. I have not yet received a reply. We can safely assume that she did not study at the Sorbonne in any meaningful way. I suggest that she did a six months (or shorter) cours de civilisation for foreign students which was conducted under the auspices of the Sorbonne. Iain Duncan Smith did a similar course at Perugia University, which he incorrectly claims to have attended. So Rebekah Wade has done an IDS. Is it serious? Not terribly. But perhaps it tells us something about the days in which we live that the editor of the Sun should feel obliged to claim academic credentials which she does not possess.
Some people swear by the Financial Times. They say it is what the old Times used to be. It's not, of course. I grant that the paper's foreign coverage is comprehensive. But the general range remains narrow. On Monday it did not carry an obituary of Lord Dacre, better known as Hugh Trevor-Roper. I thought to myself, as I turned the pages, that if he had been a Belgian former European commissioner in charge of fish, or the senior executive of a chemicals company, the FT would have found the space to see him off. And, blow me down, there on page 13 was a 1,200-word obituary of the 'founding father of consultancy'. That tells us everything we need to know about the newspaper's priorities.
All the other broadsheets carried decent obituaries. The one in the Times interested me particularly. I am led to understand that it was written by the distinguished Conservative historian Maurice Cowling, who was one of the leaders of a faction opposed to Hugh Trevor-Roper when he was Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge. It is not a good idea to commission enemies to write obituaries about each other. I fear the practice has become common at the Times.
The obituary strove to be just but did not quite succeed. Too much was made of Hugh Trevor-Roper's error in authenticating the forged Hitler diaries before they were published by the Sunday Times. The paper might have had the decency to record that the Times itself was intended as the vehicle for the fakes, before Rupert Murdoch changed his mind. I am also told that a reference to Mr Murdoch, quoted in William Shawcross's generally sympathetic biography of the media tycoon, was removed from the obituary, whether before or after Hugh Trevor-Roper's death I cannot say. According to Shawcross, when Murdoch was told that Hugh Trevor-Roper was having second thoughts about the diaries, he expostulated: 'F- Dacre. Publish.' This episode was touched upon in the original version of the obituary (though Mr Murdoch's name may not have been mentioned) and was taken out by a Times underling who feared the story might annoy his boss.
All in all, the Times's treatment of this great man leaves a rather nasty taste in the mouth.
This column has had occasion before to write about Kylie Minogue's bottom. It has absolutely nothing against it. Far from it. But it would be nice to get a sense of proportion. The tabloid press is obsessed with Kylie's rear end. Thousands of words and hundreds of pictures have been devoted to it. Her backside has strained the punning talents of 'red-top' headline writers ('Bot a smacker', and so on) and has stimulated competitions to find the most beautiful bottom in the world.
Now the Daily Telegraph has joined the bottom obsessives. In fact, it has scooped the red-tops. Monday's edition had a picture of Kylie by the masthead with the teaser 'Kylie's bottom line'. Inside were pictures of a Kylie lookalike showing off the star's new underwear range. One of them had the model with her bottom akimbo. On Tuesday the Sun and the Daily Star - normally the market leaders in all matters pertaining to Kylie's bottom - followed the Telegraph. 'Get into Kylie's knickers' was how Rebekah's Sun put it, with a picture of a scantily clad Kylie on its front page.
This was undoubtedly the first time the Telegraph has had a Kylie bottom scoop. A senior Telegraph executive, evidently rather pleased with herself, assures me that the paper has always been strong on underwear. I'm not so sure. I can't remember many knickers when I worked for Bill Deedes in the late Seventies. Perhaps it was Max Hastings who established the Telegraph's strong reputation in this field. Now the present regime is building on his achievement. I only have one question. Where will it all end? (No pun intended.)