01/08/2012 Newsnight


Analysis of the 'unsuitable level of force' used by police in a death-in-custody case, profit and the NHS, Gore Vidal is remembered, plus an Olympics round-up. With Kirsty Wark.

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Here comes Wiggins? He bags gold as he has the Midas touch on day five


of the Olympics. The SAS author Gore Vidal has died at the age of


46. We ask Eric Jong about his writings, feuds and view of


American politics. So I thrust myself into the campaign with no


money, our system is totally corrupt, we have to find about a


million dollars if you want to get collected. I couldn't find a


million dollars, but I got half a million votes.


Good evening. Sean Rigg was a 40- year-old talented artist and mu


significant. But he also suffered from skitsfreenia. He died in a


cage at Brixton Police Station in August 2 -- schizophrenia, he died


in a age at Brixton Police Station. What happened in the last hour of


his life has always been in unclear. Today an inquiry found the police


had used an unsuitable level of force against him. The coroner said


there was an absence of leadership from those who should have been


looking after him. Newsnight's report on the Rigg's family


campaign featured on Newsnight earlier this year. But so far no


police officer has been charged with the death.


We followed the story from the beginning.


He was full of life, he was adventurous, and he was such a


creative guy. He was an extraordinary person. He had a lot


to live for. It was August 2008 when Sean, their son and brother,


died. Every day since, his family have struggled, amid a police and


legal system, seemingly stacked against them. Sean was trying to


get on with his life, despite a mental illness. He wrote about his


life, and he wrote about it in lyrics and music. It is very sad.


Sean Rigg died here, in the cage of the back yard of Brixton Police


Station. His treatment, and neglect, at the hands of the police, were,


in the words of today's inquest jury, "more than minimally to


blame". Police CCTV shows him in white trousers being led from a


police van. He was dying as these CCTV pictures were taken. As he


gets to the cage, a camera, inside the station, shows him collapsed.


What happened here, and the events that led Sean Rigg to be brought to


the back yard of this Police Station to die, has raised serious


questions about the kofpb duct of the police, the Independent Police


Complaints Commisssion, and the -- the conduct of the police and the


Independent Police Complaints Commisssion. It has taken Sean


Rigg's family four years and today's verdict to get answers. The


inquest jury was highly critical of the mental health service's ined


adequate care of Sean Rigg, and theerm damning of the failings of


the police. They say the police use of unsuitable force, and their


absence of care, contributed to Sean Rigg's death. His family


agreed. If the south London and Maudsley Trust had done their job


properly, and provided the care and help that Sean urgently needed, he


would be alive today. If the police had not ignored repeated 999 calls,


from the hostel, and taken Sean to the hospital, as they should have


done, he would have been alive today. I'm just calling for those


officers to be fired, they should not be able to stay in their jobs.


# No no Sean Rigg would rap about the mental illness he had generally


overcome. In 2008 he stopped taking his medication. Staff at the hostel


where he lived, staff at the hostel wanted the healthcare team to


intervene, they didn't. The staff desperately wanted to get him help,


they could see he was in deep psychosis. The mental healthcare


team told the hostel to call the police. There was no a protocol


between the mental healthcare and the police, where this should have


been in hand. The hostel called the police four times, and were told


The jury were horrified, you know, the gasps in the court. One of the


jurors actually asked that particular witness if he was still


in his job, after that. She appeared to be horrified when he


said he was. The striking thing about this case, is that right from


the start, the jury of ordinary citizens, multiracial, six black


and five white, seemed to understand the most complex and


important issues. They got it. Frequently exercising their right


to ask questions about any apparent inconsistencies of the testimony of


the police and other witnesses. Eventually, after a taxi driver


called to say a man, apparently with mental health problems,


striped to the waist, was practising Karate moves, a police


patrol chased Sean Rigg outside a block of flats. When the police


finally caught up with Sean Rigg, they claimed in testimony it had


taken only seconds to restrain him. But photographs taken by a


neighbour four minutes apart, showed that wasn't true. The jury


concluded the police had spent eight minutes unnecessarily


restraining Sean Rigg with unsuitable force.


He was prone throughout. Sean Rigg, handcuffed, was put on the floor in


the back of a police van. With his condition following restraint


deteriorating, he was taken, not to hospital, but to Brixton Police


Station. He was then left, in the van, for over ten minutes.


If Sean was well, he should have stepped out the van like any other


prisoner, and walked straight into the custody suite. He couldn't do


that, without aid from the police. When he was eventually removed from


the van, and brought to the few steps, he was on the floor. At one


point they tried to stand him up, claiming in evidence he was


presenting a hazard to officers, who could have tripped over his


body. One officer, standing over Mr Rigg, said he hoped he hasn't got


anything, he had his blood on him. And then added, oh Christ, he's


faking it. It is a catalogue of errors, that any ordinary human


being person wouldn't commit. If somebody is dying at your feet, the


first thing you are going to do is stoop down. But the officers, as


what came out in the evidence on the CCTV, were just standing, and


saying there is nothing wrong with Sean, or he was sleeping. One of


the officers thought he was mute. It was very alarming to sit and


hear these things in the inquest about our brother. What, faking it?


They were saying he was faking and pretending to be unconscious.


Pretending to fit. They basically ignored a dying man. It took 20


minutes for the station doctor to be called. They came back on their


blues and twos, why did it take 20 minutes to bring the doctor, when


Sean was breathless, that was one of the juror's questions to the


doctor. What about the IPPC? What about them, they are completely


useless. The case has become a cause he is will he be bre, the


Rigg family said from the start they were let down by the IPC, who


waited months to question officers. The Campaign Group say Sean Rigg's


death is one too many. We can't have any more deaths like this, I


have seen a pattern, historically, of young black men, with mental


health problems, and other people with mental health problems, dying


around the country, in similar circumstances. We are not going to


take this any more. It is not fair, and we want to, we want justice.


Not just for Sean, but others. Rigg, a physically fit 40-year-old


died in Brixton Police Station four years ago. His family say they want


the Crown Prosecution Service to act. We have the Assistant


Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police with us, we will talk to him


shortly first Sean Rigg's brother and sister are here. You have had a


very long battle to reach even the inquest, four years. What did you


make of the result today? Well, the result just told us what we already


knew. But the fact that 11 ordinary men and women came to the same


conclusion as us, we didn't know them, they had looked at six weeks


of evidence, and seen police lie under oath. Looked at all the


evidence, and basically found that the police failed and neglected


Sean. What did you say? Pretty much the same, for the last four years,


this has been our life, basically, and we have become investigators


ourselves. We spent many hours going through CCTV and waiting for


this day for the inquest to come. We are pleased with the verdict


that the jury had. What do you want to happen now? What we would like


is a file to be pass today the Crown Prosecution Service, we


believe there is enough evidence for these officers to be prosecuted.


We are thinking in the interests of justice and the interests of the


public, this must happen. Even discipline rees within the


Metropolitan Police? Most -- disciplinies within the


Metropolitan Police? Most definitely. If the file is passed


to the CPS and there is no action, would you consider private


prosecution? Absolutely. We are willing to do whatever it takes to


bring these officers to justice. think his blood is calling out from


the ground, we can't fail him any more. What do you feel about the


actions of the Met, do you feel let down by them, do you feel they have


done as much as they could? Absolutely not. Throughout the


inquest, evidence came out on how they willfully, in my opinion,


neglected my brother, they knew he was ill and dying, in fact. They


did nothing to help him. Thank you very much. Assistant Commissioner


Simon Burn is here to give the first interview on the issue today.


What do you say to the Rigg family? Firstly, I'm saddened, and it is a


very serious issue for the Met, I'm troubled. This is the first


opportunity to apologise for the death of Sean. This has been an


awful burden for the family for four years, there is nothing I can


do to put that right in the immediacy of the moment. We are


here to learn lessons and reassure you and other people watching and


listening in London and beyond, that we have learned lessons and we


will change what we do. We will go through this piece by piece. Let's


talk about the 999 calls, five increasingly frantic 999 calls,


from the hostel, from the support hostel, over three hours, and the


police did not respond. Is that entirely unacceptable? This is, we


hold our hands out, how we managed the calls over three hours, we got


that wrong. As your reporter said, and repeat elsewhere, it set in


train a course of events that tragically led to the death. That


is the first part of the events, and as I understand it, there is no


disciplinary on those people taking the 99 calls, surely unacceptable?


We have taken incertainly -- internally action against one


member of staff. There is bureaucracy around serious issues


around this issue but also for the Met, we are caught up in the


bureaucracy until we get to the end of the investigation like this.


sure they will move faster on that issue. The next issue, the police


claimed, in testimony, that they restrained Sean for a matter of


seconds. The jury, very calmly and clearly looked at the evidence and


said it was eight minutes. Why did police officers lie? I'm not here


to second guess the testimony of some of my officers, and


obviously...Tell Me how you account for the discrepancy? Again, I'm not


here to second guess what they have said. Clearly the jury, as you have


said yourself, had six weeks to carefully consider the evidence,


and they drew a different conclusion. A different conclusion,


but there is evidence, of course, that not only that different


conclusion, you it is the correct conclusion, because a neighbour


took photographs which show the restraint happened at least over


four minutes. So the officers weren't telling the truth? I fully


appreciate that. If you are trying to see it from a general


perspective, officers make snap decisions in circumstances like


this, and I'm talking in general terms, their recollection can


differ. The issue is he was restrained, and we have learned


lessons about how we restrain people in those circumstances, to


prevent a repetition of such an event. The police officers involved


claim that Sean was sitting upright in the back of the van. The jury


said not only was he on the floor, but in the foot well, in a V-shape.


You heard that he was a physically healthy young man, within an hour


of that happening he was dead. Should he have been held in the


footwell of that vn, restrained with his hands behind -- van,


restrained with his hands behind his back? If you look at the detail,


trying to imagine a situation. Our officers were presented with man


they believed, and had seen doing violence. They, would it be


reasonable to suggest that these officers, having been told that had


been all these 999 calls, that he was making Karate moves in the


street, that he was bare from the chest up, that he had come from a


hostel, that actually he was displaying evidence of mental


illness. What you can see from the sequence of events played out in


front of the jury, that so. Information conveyed to the initial


officers wasn't as good as it could have been, that led to errors in


judgment. Errors in judgments like, he's faking it? Again, I can't sit


here and account for individual officers, because they have given


their testimony on oath to an inquest, and as you have seen from


today, for example, the Independent Police Complaints Commisssion are


now reviewing what they do next. I have to cautious about what I say


so I don't corrupt a process that will follow. Something you can


certainly respond to, what the jury and coroner found, was that the


level of force was unsuitable, the length of restraint more than


minimally contributed to his death, Rushocked? I'm saddened. What I --


Are you shocked? I'm saddened, the picture of Sean lying on the floor


with officers, what we have changed, the training tells people when they


restrain people like that, they turn them on the side to prevent


suffocation, we have tried to put the wrongs right. It doesn't make


it any easier for the two people sitting opposite me hurting. We are


trying to pick up the lessons from an event four years ago. Within one


hour of Sean Rigg being picked up by the police he was dead. Yes.


the officers involved all still serving officers? They are, because,


as explained, there has been a lengthy process, that has led to


the inquest today. There will now be decisions made by other people,


which we are here to support, in terms of are there any other


further inquiries or consequences for those officers. But we have to


be bound by the judicial framework that goes with that. You are a


senior officer in the Metropolitan Police, do you believe that there


should be disciplinaries of these men, at least? Again, I'm conscious


that, to the public watching this tonight, there's probably a pretty


damning set of events. But to the family, this is the damning set of


events, without doubt, these officers failed in their duty.


Would it not be reasonable to say that both the officers and the


people that led them should face disciplinary proceedings? Not that


is something you can't discuss because of bureaucracy prior to the


inquest, these are events of prima facia, they didn't act properly?


don't want to be drawn on a snap reaction after the inquest. We will


follow up what to do next. There are other people who will take an


interest in this, like the IP CC, and the CPS. There are a lot of


death in police custody, that have never led, as I understand it, to


police officers being prosecuted. It seems a huge balance of


probability that there are some officers who should have been


prosecuted. Do you think you need to review the procedure around the


way you treat deaths in custody? There is a few things, just to try


to put the balance right. This doesn't bring Sean back. Firstly,


we have to take every case on its merits, it is easy to generalise


about a whole set of facts and figure. Secondly, the way we are


told to record deaths in police custody, covers a whole variety of


different circumstances. If I'm giving first aid to one who dies,


that is a death in police custody. If an involvement in a violent


event like Sean went through, that is a death in cuss towedy. Figure


don't tell the whole pick -- custody. Figures don't tell the


whole picture, that is day in and day out for the police officers.


Danny Boyle celebrated the NHS in the Olympic Opening Ceremony as a


great institution. What kind of institution can it become in the


21st century. Hinchingbrooke Hospital might hold the key. It is


the first NHS-privately run hospital, taken by the Cirle group


after it failed clinically and financially with �40 million of


death. Since then the Cambridgeshire hospital has been


transformed into a for-profit business. But solvency is a long


way off. I will speak to the chief executive in a moment. First we


have exclusive access to the hospital.


What you do when it is the hospital that's sick? Almost since it opened,


Hinchingbrooke in Cambridgeshire was in a worse state than some of


the its patients. Hinchingbrooke NHS Trust in Huntingdon has no


stars, making it, officially, one of the worst hospitals in Britain.


After a series of needless deaths two years a The Royal College of


Surgeries criticised the surgery team responsible for bowel surgery


as dysfuntional. The surgical team represented a risk to patients'


safety. Things got so bad at the hospital, some advised closing it


entirely was the only safe course of action.


Instead, they tried an experimental and radical course of treatment,


for the first time in the UK a district General Hospital was given


over to a private sector organisation to manage. Six months


on from the start that have experiment, Newsnight has been


given exclusive access to Hinchingbrooke to find out what's


changed. One of our wards here we are getting 100% satisfaction of


our patients. For that work can everybody give them a round of


applause, you know who you are. There is still a way to go.


Nevertheless, at Hinchingbrooke they are celebrating the sixth


month milestone with cupcakes. are satisfied with looking after


every single one of our patients. These partner meetings are a big


part of the turn around strategy. They are called partner meetings


because the staff now own 49% of the company. That is part of the


plan, reignighting, and then harnessing their creative


enthusiasm. Talk to your colleagues in the wards. The boss is Ali Parsa,


a charasmatic Iranian-born former engineer. What we are seeing is


look, the doctors, the nurse, the healthcare professionals, meeting


the patients every day should be running the hospitals. Their orders


shouldn't come from people in Whitehall who hardly ever meet a


patient. We are all human beings, and we react to the pressures


closest to us. But giving control to the people on the frontline, you


are empowering them to react to the pressure they see every day, which


is the demands of their patients. A good place to see how this


process works is in the kitchen. Obviously people don't come to


hospital for the food, but, if it's terrible, they can end up staying


longer. Not eating delays recovery, or, sometimes worse. At the


beginning of the year, Hinchingbrooke only had half of


patients saying they liked the food. Now that figure is over 90%.


think what is bringing passion back into the kitchen. Buying good


ingredient, making the chefs enjoy themselves. Cirle brought in a chef


to help the staff rediscover what they came to work for. We all have


been here for so long now, we all got steal. Now, it's all different.


Now it's, we're learning something new every day. When Andreas, the


Cirle chef was here, he taught us a lot.


On the wards, the food seems appreciated. Lovely. It is


absolutely gorgeous. It's all right? I have never had a dish I


haven't liked. Although some of the nurses we


spoke to suggested the more cosmopolitan bees tro-style menu


needed toning down to suit the tastes of elderly patients! The


same process that's happening in the kitchen is also taking place on


the wards. Top-down management, being res placed by far more


autonomous clinical groups. staff being -- replaced by the far


more autonomous clinical groups. The staff being involved in all


areas of patient care is so much better. Do patients notice?


patients are happier because the staff are less frustrated. It


changes behaviour, attitudes and culture. As well as trying to


devolve power downwards, the management here say they have put a


lot of effort into trying to flatten hire arkies amongst


employees. All too often things were going wron, patients were


getting hurt because junior members of staff didn't feel able to point


out problems caused by more senior members of staff.


Borrowing from research in the car industry and airlines, the hospital


brought in a policy called "Stop The Line". Anyone can challenge


anyone else without fear if they think patient safety is in jepdee.


Like the junior scrub nurse, who had to tell a senior surgeon that


he had left a squab inside a patient. Nine out of ten scrub


nurses would have said stop, while the timid and the quiet one would


have said, you know, would have been maybe a little bit shy or


intimidated with the surgeon, and say, should I say it or not. Now


that one out of ten timid nurse will be able to say, hang on, I can


also ask you to stop and do something about it.


This is not a finished product, it is still making a loss, and will do


for years. Hinchingbrooke is, say Cirle, still a long way from what a


hospital should look like. As a reference point, they are very


keen to show off their purpose- built hospital in Bath. This isn't


a General Hospital, it is much, much smaller. It doesn't have a


maternity unit, or an A&E. But the difference is still striking.


If you didn't know where you were, it would be very easy to get the


wrong impression about what this place is. We have got a bright and


breezy atrium, there is a chap over there playing the peeyan know.


There is beyond that a sun terrace, complete with par sols. In -- piano,


there is beyond that a sun terrace, and complete with parasols, and a


coffee shop. People sitting around reading the paper and looking


relaxed. Not what you would have in mind with a hospital catering for


mainly NHS patients. The philosophy here is simple,


reactive motivated staff treat patients better.


Happy well-fed patients heal better. Here they don't have to spend money


on things that patients don't value. They don't have to treat MSRA,


because they don't have any. Agency nurses are a rarity. That means


they can spend money on things that help patients get home quicker.


Shelagh Meldrum is both a nurse and the hospital manager.


There will be a load of people watching this who would say this


would be great, this would be fantastic, the TV, everything, it


would be fantastic if we could afford it. This has to cost more,


it has to cost more than a ward? Because we don't charge for the


telephone, and we don't charge for the television, we haven't got


someone who is part of their working life is invoicing or


working out how a payment may be made, or in fact running around


telling people not to use their own mobile phones. So I think that when


you think of the complexity of a system that is a historical system.


That is the beauty of here, we have always been able to stop and say


why, why have we always done it like that?


Cirle are clear about their ambition, British healthcare, they


say, should be a global export. Selling hospital management all


over the world. But, first, according to Ali Parsa, we need to


get over the idea that patients and profit don't mix.


The job of the company is to serve its customer, in our case, our


patients. If we do a phenomenal job at that, then we deserve to make a


surplus. You know every NHS hospital is mandated to make a


surplus. They call it a surplus, we call it a profit. The truth of the


matter is we all need to be sustainable.


At the moment, there are a long way from making a profit. The finances


at Hinchingbrooke are dire. The first jobs say Cirle is sorting out


the quality, and then worry about making it pay. They have a ten-year


contract, and we we intend to keep coming back. With me now are Ali


Parsa, the chief executive of Cirle, and Dr Lucy Reynolds from the


London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. You took it over


six months ago with a �40 million debt. You say you hope to balance


the books next year? That is a miracle? When we said we would


balance the books we didn't say we would pay back the �40 million. We


will make sure the hospital is sustainable by next year. The


hospital was projected to lose �10 million thisy, we are hoping to


bring that to a sustainable level, that it will balance the books next


year, and after that it start making a surplus. That seems like a


reasonable return for the taxpayer? Yes. But it is a little bit


difficult for me to judge those figure, because the information's


not publicly available. I know that there were turnover of �70,000 last


year, and losses of �30 something in each year. I think if you can


turn it around that fast, that is an incredible job. If you turn it


round, is it because you have concentrated on the kind of


medicine that actually is less problematic, less expensive, more


likely it lead you to profit? at all, we are delivering all the


services that the hospital has always been delivering. We are


expanding on surgery and A&E, we now see more emergency patients


than we ever did before. We are going to make this work by focusing


on the basics of giving the power to those who have the know-how. The


doctors, the nurses, the healthcare professional, who always knew how


to be best at what they. Do we are going to inject into that some


entreprenurial drive and passion, and also some expertise, as you saw


in your film, who can coach them, help them to be the best at what


they do. But the point is, the profit is the motive. You say that


the NHS hospital themselves are meant to make a surplus. But you


need to make a return for your shareholder, the partners, of the


people who work in the hospital. Your mandated to do that, that is


your primary concern. If some surgery is too problematic, if


ground-breaking stuff that often goes on at teaching hospital, is


too problematic for you, you won't do it? Profit is important for a


company to sustain it. In the same way as food, water air is important


for a human being. They can never be the meaning of life. This idea


that the profit is the only reason a company exists is just a myth. It


is not true, you talk to the best entrepeneurs in the world, they


live for the passion of building, doing something extraordinary, and


that is what my partners are planning to do. Lucy? We have a


vairlt of models around the world, -- variety of models around the


world of ways to organise healthcare. We know in comparison


to our system here, chargely publicly owned, to the system in


the states, which we are moving towards, costs 16% of GDP, we are


up to nearly 10%, it was quite a lot lower when the medics still ran


the system, before all the market reforms. From experience around the


world, we can see that systems which rely heavily on private


provision for healthcare, they have some typical problem. They tend to


develop those. Like what? Well, soaring costs, for one thing,


secondly, we typically see a breakdown of trust between doctor


and patient. If there are financial interests in that relationship of


trust, there are big problems and there are also problems which


develop with overuse of medication, and that tends to lead to


antibiotic resistance. China, in particular, has got a terrible


problem with that. Because they run a marketised healthcare system.


I just respond to that. GPs in the UK are private companies. They are


private partnerships, contracted back to the Government, some GPs


make �100,000, some �250,000. But the trust between me and the GP,


between the British nation and their GP is still very high.


GPs have to make very difficult decisions about referring to


specialists and also about drug issues with the constraint of the


NHS? But they do so within a private partnership. You have to


make decisions as well, you have budget and you will have to make


those decisions as well? Everybody always uses the example of America,


it has gone bad. I have eaten in a bad restaurant there, therefore I


never go to a restaurant. We don't make those judgments all the time


in our lives. In Germany, which uses the same percentage of the GDP


as we do, more hospitals are run by the private sector than by the


public sector, and the public is extremely happy with their


healthcare system. Just because it has gone back in one place, doesn't


mean it has to go back somewhere else. Would you consider running a


big teaching hospital? We would love to run a big teaching hospital.


This is the idea that there is going to be another kind of model.


Would it be so bad to have that model? Firstly, the German system


is noticably more expensive than our's, according to the 2011.


10% of GDP? No it is up to 12%. Could you repeat your -- Could you


repeat your question? I was thinking, is it so bad, you were


talking about patient trust, and it is all about transpaorn


circumstance I looked at the franchise agreement, the whole


section of section 3, talking about franchise agreements, paying back,


incentives is redabgtive, why not make it entirely transparent and


then there will be no problem? have no problem with being


transparent. In every other part of our service, in Cirle Bath it is


all transparent, as a public company we have to be transparent.


There is rules with tendering for the public sector, it is up to the


Government to decide what they will make private or public. You would


make more public? For us to make a penny of profit in Hinchingbrooke,


we first have to save the taxpayer �230 million in the next ten years.


If somebody came to me and says the British Government is losing �170


billion a year, and you save that money and in return for that we


take 10% of that, I would love to do that deal. I have to stop you


right there. That may be a deal for the future.


In a moment a tribute to her friend Gore Vidal from the writer Eric


Jong who famously wrote something about a zip. Talking about zip,


there is this bloke that keeps turning up at all the Olympic


events, blonde, distinctive voice, a bid deshef vesseled, not in the


running for any medal, but on a day where two Olympic rowers won gold,


and Bradley Wiggins became the most decorated British olympian, how


come a man on a wire almost stole the show. What is going on?


Thankfully we got a gold. That is what everyone is saying. We are


nothing if not patient. The jokes were beginning to wear thin. It was


beginning to get a bit embarrassing, all this stuff about being gracious


house -- hosts, giving the medals away to our guests. Like London


buses they came ought, two bronze, He's everyone's favourite cycling


mod, and today Bradley Wiggins became the most celebrated British


limb I don't know when he won the time trials, it was his seventh


medal. What is the point in having seven medals if they are not the


right colour. It is just as well he did win, he said the race would be


a doddle. He shared the podium with his team-mate. It was not so good


for Louis Sanchez, who had a puncture before he started. Helen


Glover and Heather Stanning took Britain's first gold. Afterwards we


found out Heather only took up the sport four years ago, and Helen is


on a break from being a captain in the army. There was a bronze in the


swimming. Cheering them on from a great height is Boris. The London


mayor got stuck in a zip wire, after he was zipping in to


entertain the crowds. David Cameron said it had been a triumph.


He was once described as thes could car Wilde of the modern age. -- as


the Oscar Wilde of the modern age. He was an essayist writer, poll lem


sis with an acid -- poll sem cyst with an acid tongue. He had the


opening of not continuing, which he said is sometimes nobler. He died


at the ripe old age of 86, in a moment I will speak to his friend,


the writer, Eric Jong. First this.


# The shark has pretty teeth # And he shows them pearlly white


# Just the jack knife Of sight.


A narcissist is someone better looking than you are.


He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and a vicious tongue in


his head. Gore Vidal was a patrician, who saw the United


States as a flawed Republic. A fallen Rome. I remember one evening


at the White House, Jackie slyly said, oh why don't we go to the


horse show, and Jack growned. was a cousin of Jackie Kennedy, an


intimate of JFK's Camelot. The son and grandson of Washington


politicians, Vidal also stood for office himself. I ran really


because of Jack Kennedy, who was running for President. I ran for


the House. We thought we would make a difference, can you imagine how


niave we were. Blessed with good look, as he was the first to


acknowledge. -- good looks, as he was the first to acknowledge. He


had a brief acting career, and worked on the script of Ben Hur, he


saw it as a gay love story, not a view shared by its star, Charlton


Heston. The young Ronald Regan, then an actor, one went up before


Vidal for an audition, tough crowd. I was offered Regan as an actor to


play the part of a presidential candidate. I told his agent, no way,


Ronald Regan would never be convincing as a presidential


candidate. And poor Ronald Regan had to become the acting Governor


of California, and now the acting President of the U state.


reputation rests on a series of historical novels and tartly


polemically essays. Even more on his stunning poise I don't knowous


putdown and literary beef. Take this celebrated discussion with an


American writer. You can express any point of view you like. Shut up


a minute. No I won't, the answer is they were well treated by people


who ostracised them. As far as I'm concerned the only proor crypto-


Nazi I can think of is yourself. There was a feud with novelist


Norman Mailer. He's shameless in intellectual argument, he's without


character or moral foundation, or intellectual substance.


It is, in fact, the speed of the bo n moe. He knocked him on the floor,


and he says, lost for words again, Norman. Whether it has real legs,


and whether or not in 50 years time posterity will look back, I shan't


be here, but I doubt it. Naturally it is quite exciting to be here.


The mature Vidal was there as new Labour sought power in 1997. Heart-


breakingly, he was now willing to slum is on any two-bob show. What I


love has been the flip-flop of John Major, everyman, representing the


"little guy", who can make it on his own, and Labour being the party


of elitist snobs, this has been switched right round. It is


gorgeous low funny. Now from New York is the writer


Eric Jong, who was friends with Gore Vidal. Eric Jong, you have


known him for a number of years, you saw him just last year for a


final time. As a man, he was a lot of different things, wasn't he?


was an incredible kur muj I don't know, he could be very --


curmudgeon. We taught as a sem national cirriculum and had the


habit of getting up from dinner without even saying goodbye. I


admired him tremenduously as a person of letters, he tried every


form as a writer. He wrote the most marvellous essays. If you read Pink


Triangle, and Yellow Star, you understand why the fascists were


against homosexuals. He had a brilliant mind, he was almost an


18th century man. Indeed, Burr, I think, will last as a novel. His


expertise was understanding the birth of the American Republic,


which he was very close to, in a way, as an 18th century thinker.


But, also, ancient Rome. So, those were the two periods he returned to


again and again in his historical novels. I think those will last. I


really do. I know that reading an article you wrote for the Guardian,


you talked about him being quite a sad man. Tell me, you actually


brought him together with Norman Mailer after the feud, and how was


that, did he know he was going to be confronted by normian You've Got


Mail -- Norman Mailer? I had a dinner party with Susan Sontag and


others, it was a small party and amiable, it ended when Charley Rose


called and wanted them to appear on television, and they all took off


for Charley Rose, Gore always said never tun back the chance to be on


television or to have sex. He was - - turn back the chance to be on


television or to have sex. He was very funny and his mind went deep.


But he should have been born during the era of the federalist papers,


the 18th century, he should have been a contemporary of Burr. He had


that kind of mine, a polemical mind. I was going to ask about that. He


said in an interview recently, of the things he had had achieved, he


was most proud, and thought he would be remembered for his essays.


It was the way that the writer could speak directly into the


reader's ear, he was talking about reading Aristotle. Do you think now,


in this era, someone like that could flower iark, or are we down


to the -- flourish, or are we down to the 140 characters of Twitter,


are there room for essays? There will not be many characters like


Gore coming around again. First of all, our attention span has gotten


so small. Purveyors of magazines count the number of eyeballs and


page views. Articles have gotten shorter and shorter and shorter.


This is our loss, I think. We almost can't find a place to write


at length, apart from, perhaps, the Kindle, single. But we don't have


the magazines we once had, television shows rarely include


writers, even very witty writers. It is extremely sad. Our whole


culture has been dumbed down, so much that a person like Gore Vidal


might not appear on the Tonight Show. He was invited back again and


again by Johnny Carson, because he was so funny, he was so suck sibgt.


Thank you very much for joining us. Now a race through tomorrow


morning's pages, the Telegraph, the first and wonderful picture of the


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