Artillery Row

The Hutton question

To all staff at Critic TV:

I’m pleased to tell you that, following intense negotiations over the weekend, our “star” presenter, Robert Hutton, has agreed that he will return to his post as host of our flagship Saturday evening sports show A Question of Quoits

As you will have doubtless been aware, recent outbursts from Hutton on social media have provoked a great deal of public debate and political comment. His claim that barbecue-flavoured Pringles are the only real Pringles led to demands that he immediately delete his account. Meanwhile his insistence that Radiohead had recorded no listenable music since 1997 saw him denounced in the House of Commons. 

We at Critic TV have of course always viewed freedom of speech as one of the things that made Britain great, especially when we agreed with what people are saying. 

However, many felt that Hutton’s description last week of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s outfits as “a crime against tailoring” had crossed a line. Some said that while Hutton had a point, his language diminished genuine crimes. Others said it was unfair bullying of someone who clearly hasn’t been able to afford to buy any new clothes since 1994. To many Conservative MPs, it was a sign that Critic TV had been taken over by sneering liberal conformists and Continental fashionistas, who insist that slim men have long looked ridiculous in double-breasted suits. 

To me, it was an unwelcome interruption to a very pleasant jolly in Washington, where I had been overseeing the launch of Critic TV USA — “Same Awful Opinions, Even Worse Accents” – and trying to empty an account that we had unwisely opened at one of their so-called “banks”. 

My immediate reaction, as ever when Critic TV is denounced on the front page of the Daily Mail, was to indulge in a reasoned and thoughtful panic. I called Hutton and told him he had agreed to “step back” from presenting quoits coverage until the whole thing had blown over. 

I had, however, failed to realise that, however much Hutton’s fellow presenters might dislike and resent him, they disliked and resented me even more. Which is why Saturday night’s edition of A Question of Quoits was only five minutes long, and carried neither commentary nor introduction. It was, I think we can all agree, one of the most embarrassing moments in Critic TV’s eight-month history of hoop-and-peg sport coverage. 

But my shame as a semi-professional broadcaster was nothing to my shame as a human being the following morning as I read tweet after tweet from fashion-radicalised Conservative MPs claiming to be lifelong quoits fans who had preferred the new format. 

It was at this point that I realised that the Conservative Party was perilously close to losing the final shred of dignity to which it had been clinging since last summer.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the argument, Alastair Campbell had discovered a lifelong opposition to government interference in broadcasting that came as a huge surprise to those of us whose memories stretch back as far as 2003. Worse, there were credible reports that James O’Brien was going to make Hutton’s suspension the subject of one of his LBC monologues. 

It was clear that if the nation was not to be overwhelmed by awful opinions I would have to act, and act quickly.

As a seemingly endless stream of former Critic TV executives queued up to offer their criticism of how I had mishandled this mess, I joined Hutton on his yacht to beg for mercy. He has now mercifully consented to return to our screens, subject to the renegotiation of his contract. 

If I could finish on a personal note, recent events have, to my horror, drawn attention to my role in helping Boris Johnson to secure a mortgage for his bulletproof Chequers treehouse. I should like to state clearly that any suggestion that this was a partisan move are quite unfair. I would have done the same for any prime minister who had hinted that there was a seat with my name on it in the House of Lords. The opportunity to wear ermine: that is all I ask.

I remain, at least for the moment, 

Francisco Scaramanga,
Chairman, Critic TV Holdings

(Dictated and signed in his absence)

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