Marina Hyde on Vanessa Redgrave – cruel humour

Lost in Showbiz is an enjoyable weekly column by the bright and witty Marina Hyde. It pokes fun at celebrities in an entertaining fashion and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Last Friday was an exception, when Marina took a pop at Vanessa Redgrave, who had been campaigning against the eviction of the Dale Farm travellers. While careful to say she was not casting aspersions on either the travellers’ cause or Vanessa’s motives, Marina delivered what she clearly considered a good tease. This included descriptions of Vanessa’s “agonised look”, her “Grey Cardigan of Care” and an astonishing classification of Vanessa as one of the “celebrity angels of death”. Side-splitting stuff, no doubt, if you are 12 years old!

And why say all this? Anyone who knows anything about Vanessa Redgrave – and Marina Hyde is Queen of Lost in Showbiz – will be aware that she is not a housemate on Celebrity Big Brother. Vanessa Redgrave is a great actor and a serious, sincere and selfless activist on human rights. One doesn’t need to share all her political views to accept that. For Marina to claim, albeit tongue-in-cheek, that Vanessa is bringing doom to a cause, mocks – and, more importantly, undermines – both campaigner and cause.

Marina also displays a lack of humanity. Vanessa Redgrave has recently tragically lost her daughter, Natasha, brother, Corin, and sister, Lynn. As Marina will also know – since it appeared again in the pages of her own paper last week – Corin Redgrave had campaigned passionately on behalf of the Dale Farm travellers. In 2005, while making a speech in Basildon to defend them from eviction, he suffered a massive heart attack, from which he never fully recovered. Did Marina know what she was saying when she described the grieving sister who had continued his cause as an “angel of death”?

Had her column appeared in the Mail or Express, it would be considered typical right-wing, tabloid nastiness. But, for those unfamiliar with it, Lost in Showbiz” is, in fact, a weekly feature of The Guardian. Amidst all the furore about phone-hacking, privacy invasions and the general behaviour of the tabloid press, we like to think we can expect higher standards in our broadsheets, particularly The Guardian, which is, in our view, quite simply the best. Its wit and irreverence are highly prized, but so are its integrity and humanity.

We asked Marina to retract her jibes and had a little spat with her on Twitter. Unsurprisingly, she is sticking to her guns and retorts that we are “silly”, “the context was abundantly clear”, “many public figures have experienced tragic loss but that doesn’t mean they can’t be teased about wholly unrelated matters”. On the contrary, as we explained to her, the issue is wholly related.

Marina also retorted that we were pompous – always a handy accusation in morality debates and, we admit, not without justification. However, readers of our blog will know that, even if we are a little pious (and pompous) at times, we are not without a sense of humour. Indeed, parody and spoof are our bread and butter. But this wasn’t funny, it was cheap.

We admire Marina in many ways but she should admit that she went too far. Showing lack of humanity to any individual, whoever they may be, is an affront to all of us.

Postscript, 10 September.   This  dignified response from Kika Markham, widow of Corin Redgrave, was published in Wednesday’s  Guardian .

Marina Hyde’s use of the phrase “angels of death” (Lost in Showbiz, 2 September) was crude and insensitive. Vanessa Redgrave knows a lot about angels of death from the last few years, as is well known. The fact that she is still able to fight on behalf of others should be cause for celebration. Vanessa, my husband Corin and many others have been campaigning on behalf of the Roma people since 2003. They continue to be the most persecuted peoples here and all over Europe. Most politicians remain silent. It was left to the likes of Harold Pinter, Corin Redgrave and Robin Cook to speak out against the tide. We miss them greatly.
Kika Markham



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