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Charles Moore

Some Jewish friends recently asked me: ‘What is Good Friday?’ At first, they said, they had thought it was so called because of the peace agreement signed in Northern Ireland in 1998. Then they had learnt that it was a Christian thing, but they weren’t sure what. They wanted to know why it was ‘Good’. This put me to the test. You cannot explain anything about Christianity without paradox. It was Good, I hazarded, because it was bad: Jesus had to die to rise. My friends were scrupulously polite, but I thought I detected increasing perplexity. Many films of Christ’s Passion have been made, but all from a more or less Christian point of view. The film I should love to see would be one made through the eyes of a practising Jew. It was a Jewish (and Roman) sequence of events, after all, and in the holy city of the Jews. It is the story of the death of a Jew, yet one who has undergone what might be called the biggest cultural appropriation in history. Why did Jesus’s claims prompt such triumph, outrage and cruelty in that city that Passover? I am grateful to Bishop James Jones for repeating a point once made to him by the late chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks. In Sacks’s view, the three most extraordinary words Jesus ever spoke were, ‘But I say’ (Matthew, 5:22, and subsequently). Apparently no rabbinic literature speaks of scripture and tradition thus. They were utterly radical words. What did they start?

L ike most viewers, I was deeply impressed by the unselfishness of the words of the Princess of Wales in her sudden broadcast on Friday night. Her first thought was of gratitude for the public’s messages of support. Her last was for all those dealing with a cancer diagnosis – ‘You are not alone.’ In between, she apologised for not having been able to speak earlier, thanked her doctors and nurses for their care and her husband and family for their love. She spoke of having had to choose the best moment to tell her children. She did what she could to reassure the public – ‘I am well.’ She regretted not being able to do the public work which brought her ‘great joy’. In speaking of her own need for time and space, Kate showed no self-pity, but simply stated the hard reality which will be familiar to anyone undergoing chemotherapy. She made no special claims for herself, except the need for the privacy which, because of her role, is so difficult to protect. It was all so brave and touching, the more so because it was very slightly amateurish in production values and delivery. Anything less like a conversation with Oprah Winfrey would be hard to imagine. Having watched twice, I compared its reporting on different television channels. ITV was fine, with even Robert Peston respectful. To my pleased surprise, Channel 4 did well with an interview with the ITN veteran Stewart Purvis, thoughtful and well judged. The BBC, whose special position is supposed to make it the royal broadcaster, was the worst. Daniela Relph said this was ‘an unstable time for the monarchy’. Mark Easton claimed the monarchy had suffered ‘a huge blow’. Actually, the monarchy is secure, with a clear line of succession. The illnesses of the King and his daughter-inlaw are sad and worrying for everyone but raise no constitutional or political issues at all. Easton spoke of ‘a family riven by scandal and quarrel’, yet neither scandal nor quarrel is relevant here. The BBC even seemed to blame the Palace because, until the broadcast: ‘The vacuum of information had led to frenzied speculation.’ There had been ‘very little to go on’, complained Sophie Raworth. Yet the Princess’s broadcast had just explained why, particularly given the needs of her children, she could not have fed the media maw. It was the BBC (along with many other media) which had let the conspiracists and gossips of social media set the pace of news.

I like this tweet from Caroline Glick on Gaza, but ostensibly about something else – as sharp a satire as Swift’s ‘Modest Proposal’ on Ireland, but roughly 99 per cent shorter: ‘The attack on Russia is a terrible tragedy. But we need to understand the context. And the most important thing is to reach a ceasefire and provide humanitarian aid to the gunmen.’

B elatedly exercising every columnist’s sacred right to an opinion about membership of the Garrick Club, I must confess to some sympathy with the feminist critique. In the Guardian, Gaby Hinsliff explains that such club membership is not just a matter of relaxation: ‘All professional watering holes end up blurring the line between work and pleasure, so it beggars belief that connections are not made, favours not exchanged, old school ties not strengthened in the easy familiarity of a club, even if openly doing business is frowned on.’ It does. They are. Unknowingly, she has put her finger on why, when kind people have asked me to put my name forward for the Garrick, I have always declined, well-run and friendly though the place is. I do not disapprove of all that networking. It happens wherever men – and even women – of the same trade gather, and always will, even if every single club were abolished by Sir Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner. It is just that, when in my club, I want to be at peace, not to spend my evening, or even my lunchtime, joining others in speculating who might be the next features editor of the Observer or chief executive of Ofcom.

A s is well known, much of the Garrick’s prosperity derives from the rights to Winnie-the-Pooh bequeathed to it by A.A. Milne. I suspect the club takes its tone from its benefactor’s work. With the possible exception of some of Rabbit’s friends and relations, there is only one female character in the Pooh stories – the mother of Roo. The obvious answer is for Gaby Hinsliff and friends to set up their own rival establishment, called the Kanga.

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the spectator | 30 march 2024 | www.spectator.co.uk

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