Time to curb this obsession with digging up dirt on the dead

Let us leave aside the allegations against Sir Tim Bell in an unauthorised biography by Mark Hollingsworth. Sir Tim is alive and able to defend himself.

Let us leave aside the allegations against Sir Tim Bell in an

unauthorised biography by Mark Hollingsworth. Sir Tim is alive and able

to defend himself.



Presumably, Mr Hollingsworth believes he can substantiate his

allegations and can demonstrate a public interest in his no doubt highly

commercial ’disclosures’. If not, I hope he ends up as poor as a church

mouse.



This latest Sunday newspaper ’sensation’ begs the question as to whether

Labour and its hangers-on understand what would hit them if they assumed

power on 1 May. Government in its broadest sense is fair media game as

the current Channel 4 Brass Eye series, which hoaxed me into warning

against a spoof drug, underlines. Anything goes. But that is by the

way.



What concerns me are the dead, who cannot answer back, and their

relatives.



It is now the fashion for cash-conscious writers to set out in admitted,

established, circumstantial or imagined detail, the previously

unsuspected - at least by most of us -lifestyles and foibles of the dear

departed.



Not even my former Chief Scout, Lord Baden-Powell, could escape the sex

merchants.



As I flipped through my Sunday newspapers at the weekend I found that

Dame Peggy Ashcroft was promiscuous to the point of nymphomania; that

Beatrix Potter, creator of the delightful Nutkin, boiled squirrels; and

that the dark side of Ronnie Scott, the celebrated jazz saxophonist, was

being paraded for our inspection. And all this was in just one

broadsheet.



Indeed, the Sunday Times was becoming necrophagous - feeding its readers

and shareholders on the dead.



It is a curious definition of news. But it can be justified if you

accept the self-serving claim by biogaphers and the media that knowing

the whole person, warts and all, helps us better to understand the

individual and all his or her works. No doubt someone, somewhere argues

that Schubert’s music was all the sweeter for his suffering from

syphilis. On the other hand, he might just have been an unfortunate

genius.



But what about the hurt and conceivably damage inflicted on surviving

relatives by the modern biographer? A society that had any pretensions

to being civilised would spare a thought for them and seek to protect

them. The media may not be able to libel the dead but they can besmirch

their memory to the distress of their relatives.



Frankly, I am surprised that some humanitarian body has not engaged a PR

firm to lobby -yes it’s still legal - for a 50-year rule on

money-grubbing biographic disclosures unless the subject had been open

about it, close relatives have given written consent and the author can

show an overriding public interest in blowing the lucrative gaff.



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