Farewell then, Sir Norman (aged 56 and three-quarters) ‘So as George Dixon used to do – he used to sign off by giving a cheery smile and a salute – I’ll do that now and look forward to your questions’. Top cop’s right arm sweeps out so that the fingertips of his straightened hand can come back in and graze his eyebrow. In the YouTube clip, the camera closes on him holding the familiar gesture. Introducing an online Q&A session with the Bradford contingent of the Police and Communities Acting Together scheme (ePACT), which took place in 2011, West Yorkshire chief constable Sir Norman Bettison adopted the mannerisms of PC George Dixon, UK television’s first fictional policeman. Sir Norman took us back to his own boyhood, in the days of chip butties and cup cakes for Saturday tea, when, pre-Dr Who,Dixon of Dock Green was the best thing on and there were only two channels to choose from, anyway. Despite receding hair and a mouth thinned out by 40 years of tight-lipped policing, the chief constable wants us to know he’s the same Yorkshire lad who looked up to George Dixon from his parents’ through-lounge in Rotherham, and policing is not much changed neither. That flat accent (‘water’ rhymes with ‘matter’), as if Dixon himself had re-appeared in a Hovis advert. Boots on the streets, Dixon-Hovis insists, that’s what counts, same as always. Bettison, for it is he, means the size 9s of a cheery constable. But Yorkshire folk remember the jackboots of an occupying army during the miners’ strike of 1984-5, aka the English Civil War. Liverpool FC supporters won’t forget the same approach being applied to them at Hillsborough in April 1989, resulting in the death of 96 fans. They hardly need reminding that it was Bettison who led the police propaganda campaign in the wake of this disaster. But there will be no more salutes from Sir Norman. Earlier in the week he said ‘vale’ instead, and resigned his post with pension still intact. A local boy who made his way through the ranks – this chief petty officer has outlived his usefulness, along with his style of command.
Andrew Mitchell and The Wrong Note ‘I’m now going to go in and get on with my work’. A week after the incident in Downing Street which prompted Plebgate, Government chief whip Andrew Mitchell MP sought to sign off on the whole sorry business. Approaching his office, he addressed the ensuing company of journalists and camera operators, repeating for their benefit his personal apology to the police officers concerned. As Mitchell finished making his statement and moved across the wide Whitehall pavement towards his office, he hoped he had done enough to remove himself from the news agenda. But the grain of his voice didn’t make for an easy escape. It was most noticeable in that last sentence, after he had completed the scripted apology: the how-now-brown-cow vowels; mouth shaped in a choirboy’s ‘o’; purity of tone. Having shown you people around, the Captain of School seemed to be saying, I must now go to the Pavilion and get on with the Game. Good of you to come and visit, his tousled hair appeared to add. It wasn’t yer actual Hooray stuff (in any case, BoJo shows this is passable as long as you make a point of hamming it up). Simply something extra in his voice: surplus and virtuous. Spoken in all sincerity, most likely; but hard to credit when so many are feeling pinched and grubby, or said to be. Schooled at Rugby, the Royal Tank Regiment and Jesus College, Cambridge, Andrew Mitchell gave voice to British authority, the way it used to sound. Sounding like that in 2012 he was always going to have to resign.
Deborah Glass, Independent Police Complaints Commission Wide-eyed through rimless glasses, high-vaulted eyebrows drawn into a look of continual surprise. But the default expression – Shock! Horror! – of Deborah Glass, deputy-chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, is offset by the calm authority of her voice, as she reads a lengthy statement on the Commission’s new inquiry into the Hillsborough disaster of 1989. The biggest ever inquiry into police activity. Begin by reviewing 450 000 pages of documentation. Precise, deliberate diction of someone accustomed to high stakes: Glass worked in Zurich as an investment banker, before becoming a financial regulator, and, latterly, police complaints commissioner. Occasionally the sandpaper sound of her Australian upbringing (Monash U, LLB 1982, couldn’t wait to get away from her first job as a solicitor in Melbourne), but hardly enough even to call it a twang. Earrings and a pearl necklace above an oddly informal white top (bunching up beneath her linen jacket, more T-shirt than blouse). Fine hair (needs volume) and a wonky parting; but the heavy metal coiffure favoured by many professional women, would only have done her a disservice. Here, we are told, and we can see and hear it for ourselves, is human frailty tempered by due process. A personal, personable metaphor for the painstaking work of the IPCC, allegedly.
George Entwistle, BBC Does he normally wear a tie? In his new job (Director General of the BBC), probably; but the tie George Entwistle’s wearing today might have been made to look like it doesn’t belong to him. Similarly the suit, which says of the wearer: he’s got one on but don’t think of him as ‘a suit’. Certainly not a pinstripe or chalk stripe, red braces and Tag Heuer ‘suit’. None of that ‘neo-liberalism’ in here, thank you. This is the present-day face of UK ‘public service’ management: spectacles which look to Europe (surely seen on Borgen last year) rather than the USA; so too, his haircut – Dutch modernist typographer, or, if you’re not attuned to such things, just plain short (but fluffy short; not even a wafer-skinned waif could describe it as bristling); ditto the management style – emphasis on procedurerather than Reithian personal authority, or equally Reithian subordination to a greater cause. (BBCprocedure now dictates that we should have access to the Director General’s written declaration of personal interests, in which he declares that he has none.) The D-G – insiders still refer to the ‘D-G’, pronounced as two long syllables to match the duration of ‘B-B-C’ (short, short, long) – is holding a press conference to announce two inquiries into the fallout from Sir Jimmy Savile (a third inquiry into sexism and harassment at the Beeb, may be announced shortly). Oddly, Entwistle appears before a blank canvas (no image projected onto it, not a BBC logo in sight); unless it’s a ploy to keep the BBC brand away from such toxicity. Tight around the mouth, during the opening section of his statement he keeps looking down, maybe at a list of keywords he’s brought with him. Perhaps not used to limelight of such intensity, after only a few weeks in the top job; or is he partly distracted by the thought of losing it, if he doesn’t succeed in getting a grip?
Georgy Porgy, all those puddings and pies are clearly taking effect. The nation’s belt-tightener-in-chief is notable for the ample girth of his neck. Haughty demeanour, Regency face (too plump for Dark Shadows, but a kiss curl would not go amiss); George Osborne MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer, right honourable lump of lah-de-dah. This year, the Conservative Party is holding its annual conference in Birmingham’s International Convention Centre. The main auditorium is Symphony Hall. Seating capacity: 2000 approx; no more than a medium-sized music venue. Even so, not every seat is occupied for the chancellor’s address, and not every occupant is wholly preoccupied by it. Symphony Hall’s owners require 30 days’ notice of pyrotechnics: no need; his speech is a damp squib. Even when the Rt Hon pauses for applause, he is not guaranteed a response. There have been occasional smatterings – half-hearted patterings petering out. At the close, the prime minister promptly stands up, ensuring others will follow. But the ovation is short-lived, all the same. The chancellor risks just one wave to Conference before exiting stage right. Pursued by doubt.
More Wallace (and Gromit) than Wolverine: wide eyed; toothy (big teeth, Prince Andrew-style), lip curled in a near-sneer that doesn’t dare – actually. Aged 42 but still the boyish sort to say ‘actually’, even if the word did not actually figure in his speech (Ed Miliband, leader’s address to the Labour Party conference, Tuesday 2nd October 2012). Actual figure of speech was ‘my story’: my exiled parents found their haven in Britain’s anti-fascist war; I myself was nurtured by ‘our country’s’ comprehensive system of education. Made me what I am today. In brief (the speech itself went on for 64 minutes), the Story of Miliband Minor is equivalent to: Harry Potter leaves Hogwarts to join the Woodcraft Folk and afterwards the Anti-Apartheid Movement, before climbing onto Uncle Gordon’s career ladder (Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband’s mentor; former UK prime minister, chancellor of the exchequer, and Labour leader). Wizard!, actually. Yes, Ed is herbivore to the core. On the other hand, during his speech there were rare moments of swarthy authority, in which the face of ‘Mr Leader’ (so called by ‘Mr Forgetful’, US presidential candidate Mitt Romney, on a visit to Britain in July), framed by a new, swept-back hairstyle (Pompadour rather than College Boy), temporarily lost its habitually pale demeanour. But to retain the idea of Mr Miliband in a position of red-blooded power, we must shut our eyes to the way he kept closing his – just for a second, as he strained to remember the words of his own life story.