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Cyril Smith, Morrissey and Wayne Rooney

Jonathan Schofield on national press reaction this weekend to three local figures

Written by . Published on September 6th 2010.

Cyril Smith, Morrissey and Wayne Rooney

The last few days have been all about three Greater Manchester - or Manchester based - ‘characters’.

One died, one put his foot in his mouth and the other was ‘pleasured’ in Rosso Restaurant.

The journalist failed to get a comment from anybody Chinese, whether a government representative or a private individual. This was a serious and almost pathetic omission. It appears the Guardian deem it right to take offence on behalf of others - even though it can't get a quote to say those third parties are offended.

Cyril Smith the former Rochdale MP who died on Friday, was applauded for being a ‘community MP’ and also received the privilege - if that’s what it was - of being the target of the most obvious obituary cliché of modern times.

“He was larger than life,” wrote writers and commentators, brilliantly, of the 29 stone politician in the MEN, the Independent, The Mirror, the Times, BBC online, the Sun, the Telegraph and everywhere else.

As a Rochdalian I met Cyril three times. Or rather I shook his hand and exchanged a few mumbled words – something, everybody in Rochdale during the man’s twenty year tenure as the town’s Liberal MP can say. Cyril dished me out my A-level certificates and – I think – presented my team with a football trophy.

The first time I came face to face with the big guy was when I walked from Bath to Rochdale on a charity gig with my school Latin class. This was a crazy long distance ramble of two hundred miles which enabled me to mess about with my then girlfriend in the hedgerows of at least eight different English counties – a record still I believe.

A brass band marched with us on the last leg back into Greenhill High School, my local comp. Cyril’s vast silhouette dominated the horizon. He shook our hands. Or rather my sixteen year old mitt disappeared into the largest piece of meat I’d ever seen. It was disturbing but amusing too, like the scene from the popular BBC sitcom of the time, All Creatures Great and Small, where the vet helps the farmer’s prize cow give birth by sticking his hand right in and up.

“What was Cyril like?” my mum asked later that day.

“Larger than life,” I think I replied.

The obituaries for the deceased political heavyweight (a pun not used nearly enough) were mostly written in soft-focus. They all outlined the character traits that made Rochdale very proud of Cyril. He was outspoken, stubborn, occasionally witty; he liked chips. Sterling qualities indeed and a mile away from those of creepy career politicians such as DC or the Millibands.

“The man’s put us on the map,” people would say back then (“because he’s the only person big enough to need surveying” a mate once joshed).

His decision to not support a Liberal Labour coalition (the Lib-Lab Pact) and also to openly mock the later alliance of the Liberals and the Social Democrats cast him very much in the mould of Rochdalian nineteenth century liberal and maverick radical John Bright.

Just about all the obits forgot the darker side of Cyril.

Thirty years ago Rochdale had its very own Private Eye style magazine called RAP (Rochdale Alternative Press) and they wrote about misdemeanours regarding Cyril and his time at a boy’s hostel in the town – a story never satisfactorily quashed. Cyril also actively supported Rochdale asbestos manufacturers, Turner and Newall (at the time Turner Brothers). He defended them in Parliament even when the lethal nature of asbestos became well-known, yet it took him several years to reveal he had shares in the company.

This was largely missed by the obit writers. Maybe they didn’t know about these aspects of the man’s 82 years, maybe as good members of the human race they wanted to think kindly of the deceased Cyril.

The Guardian was less kind to Manc singer/songwriter Morrissey.

Their 'Weekend' magazine featured an odd interview by Simon Armitage, ex-Waterstones Deansgate shop assistant turned poet, with his lifelong hero Morrissey. As usual the ex-Smiths lyricist and frontman used a provocative metaphor to highlight his obsession with animal welfare.

In what amounts to an aside in the interview Armitage writes: ‘And shockingly on the Chinese (Morrissey said): “Did you see the thing on the news about their treatment of animals and animal welfare? Absolutely horrific. You can’t help but feel that the Chinese are a subspecies.”

The holier-than-thou hacks at the Guardian took these forty words in the Weekend supplement and turned them into a thousand word headline article on page three of the main paper. They got a chappee at Love Music Hate Racism to be scandalised and morally affronted, and some mate of theirs who’s a music journalist to say nothing much.

The journalist, Alexandra Topping, failed to get a comment from anybody Chinese, neither a government representative nor a private individual. This was a serious and almost pathetic omission. It appears the Guardian deems it right to take offence on behalf of others - even though it can't get a quote to say those third parties are actually offended.

Yet Morrissey’s words were easy to decipher. He used extreme phrasing to highlight the specific problem of China and animal welfare. To explode it into something else, a racist comment, was cringingly small-minded and absurd: the sort of behaviour the Guardian would no doubt condemn in the News of the World.

This is part of the great Morrissey press game of course. The media interviews him, condemns him, misses his presence, interviews him again, condemns him, misses him ........and so it goes.

Wayne Rooney will almost definitely feel aggrieved about the News of the World for revealing his naughty frolics for cash with a Bolton prostitute on the premises of three Confidential advertisers, Rosso, The Lowry and Manchester235.

The worst joke doing the internet rounds is: 'Alex Ferguson had an 80's themed party for his players. Giggs arrived in a Cavalier, Scholes in a Sierra and Rooney came in an Escort.’

Ho ho. This is a story of smut and gossip, nothing else; a pub chat about how could Rooney trust a prostitute to not kiss and sell, a hair salon conversation about how awful it must be for Coleen. In other words a personal matter between a famous football player and his family gone public in the usual way.

But what the weekend of coverage featuring Greater Manchester, or Manchester-based, personalities shows is that the News of the World has been more honest than either the obituaries about Cyril Smith or the manufactured Morrissey story in the Guardian. The gutterpress in doing what it does - and what we expect it to do - can claim the moral highground.

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20 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

DibigoSeptember 6th 2010.

The brass Rooney went with looks like Nadia from Big Brother.

I rememberSeptember 6th 2010.

I remember RAP. Didn't they also have a cartoon of Cyril as a sort of failed superman?

NeedtoknowbasisSeptember 6th 2010.

Excellent piece. More of this please

J E SibberingSeptember 6th 2010.

Bloody hell, I googled RAP and Cyril- how on earth did those allegations get lost in the mists of time?

Be very glad he only shook yer hand, JS.

KonradSeptember 7th 2010.

The Guardian Morrissey report was shocking in its crap distortion of what Morrissey said

CPSeptember 7th 2010.

I don't think The Guardian distorted what Morrissey said, it was reported as it was said, how people chose to take it is up to them. Personally I don't think it right to call a whole nation a 'subspecies' but it must be said Moz has brought the way the Chinese treat animals to the headlines which may well have been his point.

Tyson ThebeerhoundSeptember 7th 2010.

The Daily Mirror had by far the best piece on Cyril Smith and didn't shy away from the unpleasant truths. At very best, he was a hypocrite apologist for the asbestos industry whose conduct in parliament would now be considered nothing short of fraudulent.

At worst...well he never sued or even bothered to answer the sexual accusations.

DescartesSeptember 7th 2010.

I'm always surprised when someone publicly admits to reading the Daily Mail, for the sake of my sanity I'm going to assume you picked it up on a train as a last resort read - rather than the horrific possibility you bought it and read it on purpose.

Chris Paul - Labour of LoveSeptember 7th 2010.

Don't the Cambridge House allegations (RAP and picked up in Private Eye but nowhere else) are the be all and end all on Cyril. The powers that be kicked a very large file of affidavits and witness statements into the very long grass. Possibly to do with Cyril's predecessor as MP who was Labour, as was Cyril when he allegedly transgressed. There are loads of other problems. Although the Smith Street public lavvies were not named after the Smith family they played an unfortunate part in the story of Knowl House. An affable monster with a lot to answer for. I'll be doing an alt. obit. in due course. You can search my blog for lots of Cyrilania already. http://chrispaul-labouroflove.blogspot.com

rogerrodeoSeptember 7th 2010.

the morrissey headlines were indeed nonsense. all he clearly meant was that the chinese were sub-human in the way they treat animals. in the context of the subject matter is was as racist as nelson mandela!

JohnSeptember 7th 2010.

Many years ago a local policeman told me that his colleagues in Rochdale used to regularly catch Cyril Smith 'cottaging' in the public toilets of Rochdale. He was never arrested as the police realised that it would be a career killer, particularly in a town with such a corrupt police force (see Stefan Kiszco for details)

AnonymousSeptember 7th 2010.

This 'Juci Jen' bird has slept with 13 Premiership footballers (allegedly, according to the Daily Telegraph)nearly all of whom have played for their country, so I assume more shit will hit the fan. Why did Rooney not take out a super injunction (not that I agree with them)like the rest of his low-life footie mates? It's almost as if he wanted to be found out. Anyway, we have so far; Terry, Cole, Crouch and Rooney and another three England 'stars' with super injunctions in place - seven out of eleven of the team. Make you proud does it not?

StuSeptember 7th 2010.

Morrissey must have known how sub species would look in print. I think he is a very strange person who does not live in the real world.

isabella16070September 7th 2010.

Stu, the same could be said of Mr. Rooney. At least Morrisey is, on the whole, true to his values....

John HarrisSeptember 7th 2010.

I've eaten in Rosso several times and never got a shag there. It's the same old story, favourable treatment for "celeb" customers and no thought for the ordinary punter.

David ScottSeptember 8th 2010.


Rooney and Morrissey 'We hate it when our friends become successful'

Jonathan Schofield - editorSeptember 8th 2010.

John I agree. It's one rule for the rich and one rule for the rest of us. And Rooney scored again last night as well. He has all the luck.

John HarrisSeptember 8th 2010.

Well he's not been entirely lucky - God may have blessed him with football talent, endless hookers, and cash to burn - but he's still a spud-faced scouse retard when all's said and done

Fiona jenkinsSeptember 10th 2010.

Once again, a footballer makes the headlines for dishonour, disloyalty and plain stupidity by committing adultery with a prostitute. This comes as no surprise as it is a common feature in tabloid news of late. What I do find incredibly insulting is that the owners of the restaurant Rosso, where it all took place, are boasting about increased profits since the story hit the press.
Rio Ferdinand is one of the owners and is making money from the press the restaurant is receiving. As far as I am concerned, those who profit from prostitution are called Pimps and Rio Ferdinand is no better than this for condoning such behaviour.
I have eaten at Rosso before all this happened and concluded that the restaurant had only been so successful because of its celebrity associations because the food was certainly not anything to write home about. I did intend to give them a second chance, despite the forty minute wait to be seated, however I would rather dine at a greasy spoon than give my money to somebody who is benefitting from the sex trade. I think it is appalling that the owners should condone such behaviour. It irritates me even more that both the offender (Wayne Rooney) and the pimp (Rio Ferdinand) are flying the flag for the national side.

James11364September 10th 2010.

I think super injunctions are probably dead now as the stories can be be leaked to the internet. See how ManCon treated the Cyril Smith piece. Please me lud everyone knows so just lift it so we can show the smut.
However it is interesting than ManCon is now entering the market ..a new section call 'Confidential' perhaps?

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