Peter Rhodes on beating flu, tape-recording stars and yuletide yobbery in EastEnders

Read the latest column from Peter Rhodes.

Guaranteed to fight flu (AMA)
Guaranteed to fight flu (AMA)

In the 5.30am headlines, Radio 4 announced that EastEnders' Barbara Windsor one of Britain's “best-loved” stars had died. By 6am, she was one of Britain's “most popular” stars. Rightly so. We do not appreciate being told whom we love.

Come to think of it, is there anything loveable about EastEnders, that depressing tale of the unhappiest square in London? Another Eastenders Christmas is upon us. Do not expect comfort and joy.

The Government's chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance says Britons may still be wearing face masks next winter. So what's the problem? Masking-up in winter was standard anti-infection practice in the Far East long before Covid-19 came along. If you doubt its efficacy, especially when combined with hand-washing and social distancing, look at this year's figures for influenza in the southern hemisphere which has already had its winter flu season - or rather, hasn't.

Australia has had its mildest flu season on record. In New Zealand, one flu screening operation failed to find a single case. In South Africa a health official told BBC Future his nation “just didn't have a flu season this year.” When we fight Covid we also fight flu. And if we've got half a brain we'll all mask up next winter and every winter to come.

BBC Future? No, I hadn't heard of it either. Apparently it's a branch of BBC News and its mission statement is: “We believe in truth, facts, and science.” It sounds like something from the BBC-spoof comedy, W1A, possibly dreamed up by the Director of Better.

Sometimes the Beeb is quite beyond parody. BBC Future's website proclaims it is the proud recipient of the Lovie Award for best writing. Seriously.

Whoever dreamed up the idea of a working meal? Chatting idly over lunch or dinner is fine but negotiating, asking and answering queries and taking notes is a nightmare. Do you answer the questions and watch your meal go cold, or finish that last mouthful and forget what the question was? If Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen couldn't sort out Brexit in a purpose-built conference centre, whoever imagined they could do it while guzzling scallops?

Years ago I worked with a showbiz writer who was due to interview Jacqueline Bisset over lunch in a smart hotel and knew that, as he'd be taking a constant shorthand note, he wouldn't enjoy the meal. So he wired himself for sound, with a tape-recorder in his pocket and the microphone taped to his left wrist. The actress knew what was happening and she and my colleague enjoyed their lunch.

Back at the office, disaster. As he played back the tape, we could dimly discern a deep male voice (his) and a high female voice (hers). But their words were entirely drowned out by a staccato, insistent tic-tic-tic. He had successfully recorded an hour of his own wristwatch.

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