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HELEN BROWN: If only Downing Street was more like the West Wing, at least they got their money’s worth out of their briefing room

Martin Sheen in The West Wing
Martin Sheen in The West Wing

Having extracted the Michael a few columns ago from those who thought the new (ironically, mostly bright blue) White House-style briefing room at Downing Street was the answer to political life, I am now quietly gleeful.

About what? About the fact that the literally and metaphorically flagged-up Room of Doom has been reduced from a hub of communications biz and deep significance all round to hosting the odd low-level announcement from junior ministers no-one recognises.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the lectern in Downing Street’s new White-House style media briefing room.

How could they tell? I hear you cry. And only 2.6 million quid wasted. Cheap at half the price.

Not only that but the frontwoman of the proposed daily briefings (how brief is a briefing? When it’s non-existent…) has been side-lined/downgraded/re-cast as the spokesperson for the upcoming Glasgow COP26 climate summit.

Now, I am not saying that this event is not of global and almost literally world-shattering importance but it does seem somewhat of a come-down to see star political journalist Allegra Stratton, instead of becoming the CJ Cregg of our day, coming over as a less meteorologically ept version of Heather the Weather.

With the legendary CJ in mind, obviously I was not the only person to wonder dreamily why real political life could not be more like The West Wing where every President was a Jed Bartlet, every First Lady a Dr Abigail and every Communications Director looked like Rob Lowe.

Martin Sheen in the West Wing.

Perhaps that’s what you get for describing the Prime Minister, re the Jennifer Arcuri affair, as acting with “honesty and integrity” and expecting anyone else to keep a straight face.

The PM, according to Ms Stratton, may have had “no case to answer” but that case, I surmise, has now been well and truly rested, alongside Ms Stratton’s coat, in the vicinity of a very shaky hook.

Maybe she can redeem herself in Glasgow, the aptly-named “dear green place” although if we are all to follow Mr Johnson’s pricey instructions to meet his emissions reduction plans, things may well be more dear than green.

He can always send a text to that nice Dyson chap, asking him to come up with a few money-saving tips. Given the Second City of the Empire’s alleged if somewhat cliched predilection for a certain fortified beverage, it can’t take much to go from an emphasis on Buckfast to the making of a fast buck.

And another thing…

So there I was, watching daytime TV the other day.

And having exhausted, several times over, reruns of Hart to Hart, Murder She Wrote, James Martin’s Home Comforts (I wish) and Michael Portillo’s Great Railway Journeys (I know, I know), I happened across a channel I did not realise we had which was showing a programme dedicated to the late, great actor Lee Marvin.

Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood in Paint Your Wagon.

And very good it was too, with many a clip from classics of old such as The Killers, Point Blank, Cat Ballou and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, showcasing Mr Marvin’s craggy demeanour and unmistakeable gritty tones.

The late Duke of Edinburgh may have playfully accused Sir Tom Jones of gargling with pebbles, but Mr Marvin always sounded like he had consumed a combination of rubbing alcohol and volcanic gravel.

To no greater effect, it must be said, than in the film musical Paint Your Wagon, where he intoned (I will not dignify it by calling it singing although he hit more correct notes – and often, paraphrasing Eric Morecambe, in the right order – than his co-star Clint Eastwood) Wand’rin’ Star.

Pop picker peculiarities

It fair took me back to the heady days when this actually topped the charts. I even talked my dad into buying me the LP for Christmas that year which shows you the state of my mind in 1970. I still have it. Unplayed, in my defence, since about, oh, 1970…

What I did not realise however was, that in hitting No 1, Wand’rin’ Star beat, into second place, The Beatles’ Let It Be.

The Beatles in 1963.

Now, I yield to no-one in my admiration for Mr Lee Marvin but who let that be? It’s even worse than Ultravox’s Vienna being kept from chart-topping glory by Shaddap You Face, a travesty frequently cited as the nadir of pop history.

But then I unearthed further affronts to good taste when I discovered that Oasis’s 1994 Wonderwall was surpassed by Robson & Jerome, who went on, the following year, to elbow Pulp’s Common People out of contention with their version of Unchained Melody which would not, it must be said, give the Righteous Brothers any sleepless nights.

The godlike genius that is Jarvis Cocker of Pulp.

And who could possibly accept that David Bowie’s magnificent Jean Jeanie never reached its deserved heights because of bed-blocking at the top of the Hit Parade by – wait for it – Little Jimmy Osmond and Long Haired Lover from Liverpool?

Mind you, Bowie probably deserved all he got after perpetrating the atrocity that is The Laughing Gnome.

Own up, who owns this?

Then again, he might have missed a commercial trick and recovered lost ground at the zenith of the Top 10 by farming out that ditty for a cover version.

Lee Marvin sings The Laughing Gnome? There’s cred for you…

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