I'm not a man much given to hero worship. I have people I admire and whose work has inspired me. I could rattle off a long list of people who I hold up so they catch the light and sit bathed in a slightly angelic glow. Does that make them my heroes? Perhaps it does, though I've never really seen myself as a person who has 'heroes'. When I see celebrity in the flesh, I've always been a person who tends to give a shrug my shoulders and walk on, even if they're people I like. I see them as just human beings and I'd never want to impose myself on them nor demean myself by being 'fan like' in my admiration. It was good to meet Steadman on that day when I'd travelled to London to see his exhibition not knowing he was going to be there. Yet I was so conflicted. I didn't want to stand in line to meet him because I don't do that kind of thing. Yet fate had placed him in the same room as me on the one day in about ten years that I was actually in London. How could I not meet him and make a bit of a fool of myself? So, it was good to meet him but I really didn't meet him. I was presented to him and, in that sense, I think I lost something that day.
The reason I'm talking about this is that I realised today that many of the people I most admire in life are journalists and, if you count cartoonists as journalists (and I think you should), then they're probably entirely journalists. It means that I have a raised awareness of journalists and I have a respect for their kind. To be a journalist is to be one of the good people in the world. It's to be among the ranks of people who give my life meaning. It means being among that gifted literati that includes P.J. O'Rourke, Andrew Neil, Ann Treneman, John Simpson, Jon Ronson, Mathew Parris, Tim Marshall, Bryan Appleyard, Henry Porter...
It means that it's always a bit of a shock when I realise that many journalists are not P.J. O'Rourke or Jon Ronson. Many journalists are complete clowns.
I'm taking about this because I got an email this morning from the BBC.
That, in itself, is not unusual. I occasionally get emails from the BBC but never from the BBC departments from whom I'd actually welcome emails. I never get emails that begin 'We read your article on X and wondered if you'd like to write something about Y'. The emails I always get begin the same way and always involve the words 'Richard Madeley'.
This morning's email came from one of the BBC's regional radio stations. I won't name them because I don't want to shame them. The email was bright and familiar. It asked me if I wanted to appear on one of a regional breakfast show talking about niche societies.
The 'journalist' had discovered 'The Richard Madeley Appreciation Society' and assumed that it was a society dedicated to the UK's Richard Madeley fans. They wanted me to talk about my devotion to Richard Madeley.
Now, if you're new to my blog and don't know who I am, I should explain. I once wrote a website called 'The Richard Madeley Appreciation Society'. I began it in a pique of self-hatred. I'd sold my first novel to a company which was bought by Harper Collins and part of the purchase involved the cancellation all their forthcoming books including my own. At this time, Richard and Judy were the nation's arbitrators of what constitutes literature. I, on the other hand, was a prolific writer, cancelled author who had countless degrees in English Lit and felt that the world was slowly going insane. So I spoofed Richard Madeley, thinking I'd be spoofing celebrity and publishing.
The only joke I had initially was that the real 'Richard Madeley' had launched a blog and given it the humble title of 'Appreciation Society'. This was in the days before Twitter and before celebrity spoofs were as rampant as they are now. I was one of the first people, I guess, to create a fake Twitter account and I tweeted as @richardmadeley for a long time. I gave up once the real Richard Madeley took to Twitter and the game lost its spark. I stopped updating the blog for a variety of reasons, primarily because it was my most popular blog and also because I'd moved on to other projects.
Primarily, I felt a great sense of failure that everything I did as 'Richard Madeley' was hailed as funny and hilarious. Everything I did as myself was passed over. It taught me a hard lesson about celebrity and how the context of celebrity fools us all into attributing quality to work.
The great literary critic I.A. Richards famously used to make his students read poetry from which the author's name had been removed. It was a simple trick yet groundbreaking and became a new form of literary criticism (so called Practical Criticism), which attempted to judge the words on the page instead of the preconceived notions of quality that are passed on via the name of a famously lauded author.
The argument is simple. You see the name Coleridge or Shelley at the top of a sonnet and you read it with a certain detached admiration. If you don't like it, you think it's a problem with your thought processes. You don't ever consider that it might simply be a bad poem. Strip away the name of the author and, hopefully, you judge it as a poem.
'The Richard Madeley Appreciation Society' is probably a bad poem with a 'great' name attached. If my writing or cartooning or humour meant anything, it wouldn't be here on a barely read blog. It would be between the covers of books in bookshops, the pages of newspapers and magazines. All I know is that this morning's email makes me revisit all these long forgotten thought processes. I get annoyed and so depressed that of all the things that I've done in my life, my only success comes because of a man who really did nothing on TV other than talk to other celebrities.
It's why I've been so perverse in my approach to my work, believing that the quality of the work should be judged and not the name of the author. It's why I stupidly wrote 'Second Class Male' under a pseudonym, thinking I was following in the footsteps of the great Henry Root. I never put my name first when perhaps I should. Perhaps names are more important than I've ever realised. Perhaps I should have mine at the top of the blog. At least it gives people an identity on which to hang all judgments good or bad.