It would be fair to say that I'm only truly happy when I feel like I'm in tune with, and noticing the same trends as, Private Eye
. Well this is one of those times.
Like a helluva lot of people, I've been enjoying the Ricky Gervais, Steve Merchant, and Karl Pilkington podcasts hosted on the Guardian website. They're very funny, quite simply, and I'm pleased that they've somehow become a global phenomenon. Without wanting to draw for my 'I saw him first' card - and yet still managing to do so anyway - I've been a fan of Gervais on t'radio since he started out as a guest on Clare Sturgess' XFM show many, many years ago; he is an instinctively funny guy. He and Merchant also created The Office, the single greatest TV programme since sliced sun-dried tomato foccacia. And now they've broken the 'World Record' for podcast downloads
(a somewhat disingenuous notion, given that podcasts are pretty new entities), as pictured. So what's the problem?
(1) The problem with the Gervais podcast is, firstly, that out of nowhere they started running in-show adverts a few weeks ago - a horrendous disruption of an otherwise seamless half an hour of comedy - and from this point forward the shows will no longer be free to download
. That'll be £4.50 a month to you
Sir. Does it cost a lot of money to host such an insanely popular podcast? Yes. Is the fee only going to be used to cover costs? Yes. But I'm afraid that's still not good enough. At the very least they should commit to abandoning the in-show advertising (is that money just covering costs as well?). I'd also like to know how much money Gervais and Merchant have made from indirect sales of Extras and The Office dvds, or indeed from direct sales - they shamelessly plug their wares most weeks.
(2) The problem is also with the podcasts' hosts and sponsors, The Guardian
, which is where Private Eye comes in. The latter's superb 'Hackwatch' column this fortnight (the Valentine's TB-GB issue) covers The Guardian's dizzy descent from clarion-calling liberal paper of record to shallow, marketing-obsessed occupier of the centre-ground. P.E. highlights eleven different examples of unambiguous plugs for the Gervais podcast and the Guardian website masquerading as news items
in the paper; there are probably more. The apex of this came on 7 February with a large front-page photo of Gervais and a page 3 article detailing the aforementioned 'World Record' 'ceremony'. As always P.E. hits the nail right on the head, recounting that Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, was, in pre-Berliner days,
fond of invoking a line from (Guardian founder) CP Scott: "The editor and the business manager should march hand in hand..." He didn't mention the rest of the quote: "...the first , it should be well understood, just an inch or so in advance." Or, as it now appears, the other way round.
If you see my faith in all things good and decent lying about, hang onto it for me will you?