In the 1970s, there was a big difference between bullies and cry-babies. Your mum would have preferred you to hang around with the latter, but sometimes the former had a twisted charisma so strong that you found yourself joining in the taunts of ‘Onion Head! ’ at some poor unfortunate creature sporting a cranium of a somewhat allium caste. After a bit, of course, if you had anything about you, you realized what a knob you were being and went off to sample the more solitary, civilized pleasures of shoplifting and reading Oscar Wilde with the bedroom curtains closed. But you could be certain, as you festered in your pilfered Chelsea Girl vest, that bullies were bullies and cry-babies were cry-babies and never the twain would meet.
Fast forward some four decades and things are not so simple. This is the age of the Cry-Bully, a hideous hybrid of victim and victor, weeper and walloper. They are everywhere, these duplicit Pushmi-Pullyus of the personal and the political, from Celebrity Big Brother to the frontline of Islamism. Jeremy Clarkson is a prime cry bully, punching a producer and then whining in The Sunday Times about ‘losing my baby’ (The baby being Top Gear). Perez Hilton, recently of the CBB house, is a good example too, screaming abuse at his wretched room-mates until they snapped and hit back, at which point he would dissolve in floods of tears and flee to the Diary Room to claim that he felt ‘unsafe’. Stephen Fry is one, forever banging on about his own mental fragility yet mocking Stephen Hawking’s voice at a recent awards ceremony.
Esther Rantzen — an anti-bullying campaigner — strikes me as another. An otherwise anodyne interviewer recently felt moved to ask her if she was a bully, due to her reputation as an over-bossy boss during her That ’s Life heyday and the rather vile reports of her yelling out ‘My husband’s ex-wife ’ during a trivia quiz at a TV bash – the question being ‘What burnt in Richmond?’, the locality in which the woman whose husband she took had recently been cremated.