50% sawdust: Giles Coren reveals how the column sausage gets made. Guess what? It's tasteless...

I listened to his podcast so you didn't have to; that's got to be worth a paid subscription, right?

If Marie Antoinette had a podcast, I suspect the French revolution would have rolled around even faster:

“So I said to Louis.. didn’t I Louis?”

“You did…”

“… I said, why can’t they eat brioche? And now a word from our sponsor, Neuhaus, maker of fine powdered wigs…”

I haven’t just discovered that Giles Coren and Esther Walker have a podcast. I was dimly aware of its existence in the same way you acknowledge a pain in your ankle that flares up whenever it rains.

Trawling through The Times earlier, I encountered an advert inserted into Coren’s latest piece (sounds painful) that entreated me to

“Hear how this column was created”.

Being both a media masochist and committed to writing about this stuff so you don’t have to directly dirty your mind with it, I tuned in.

The premise of Giles Coren has no idea — I’m not sure why Esther isn’t deemed worthy of a title spot — is that the married couple convene around their kitchen table, with a producer sitting in, to decide what Giles will write about next.

Where Beckett taught us about existential emptiness, Pinter about violence and the destructive power of silence, and Sarah Kane about the relationship between brutality and beauty, Giles Coren has no idea elevates banality to an artform.

What you hear is a man so in love with his own jokes he’d indulge in bigamy if they somehow took human form being indulged by a woman who is obviously used to laughing at bad impressions and self-satisfied quips so much that it has become automatic. This may be a familiar scenario to… well… just about any woman who has relationships with men.

The first topic up for discussion by the Coren brains trust is a story from The Daily Mail about research that claims slow-talking is a surefire indicator of lying:

When someone tells a lie it is possible to catch them out - as they are more likely to speak slowly and put less emphasis in the middle of words, according to a study.

Researchers from Sorbonne University conducted a series of experiments designed to understand how we decide, based on voice alone, whether a speaker is honest.

Giles takes the opportunity to have a moan about the listeners — plural?! — of his radio show and the podcast who complain about his gabbling style of broadcasting:

All I want to do is say, ‘Screw you,” to commentators on this podcast and my radio show.

[puts on old person voice] ‘He talks much to fast. I’ve turned my hearing aid to full volume and I’ve told everyone else in the old people’s home to be quiet, but I still can’t make out a word he’s saying, he talks much too fast… these slow ponderous broadcasters, they’re the ones… Boris Johnson talks really slowly because he’s lying to us.

His idea is to turn the idea of speed talking as sign of truthfulness into a piece of columnular theatrics:

I could write a piece in which I don’t put any spaces in… and then as I start to lie, I could space the words out more.

Spoiler 1: This does not make it into the column.

Next up, Walker and Coren swim around in a pond full of puns after reading a piece about fish names being changed to make them more appealing to consumers:

Fancy a spider crab salad for lunch? Or megrim and chips? Would it sound more appetising if you were offered Cornish king crab or Cornish sole? Cornish fishermen struggling to sell their catches to their normal customers abroad are certainly hoping so. The Cornish Fish Producers Organisation (CFPO) is planning to rebrand the two species after market research showed that this would persuade more British consumers to buy them instead of what it called the “usual suspects” of cod, haddock and tuna.

The podcast discussion swims in circles for a long time, before Giles concludes:

“The reason that English people don’t buy fish is that they don’t like fish… [At this point he goes into an appalling impression of a Cornish fisherman].

After a series of increasingly puerile jokes about what various fish used to be called (“the penis fish” among them), Giles gets an opportunity to discuss how people fail to appreciate his brilliance:

I wrote a review of a Jewish restaurant the other day and the Jewish community went mental, tonto, when I wrote, ‘The Gefilte fish was terrible…as it should be.’ Which I thought was a very subtle joke.

Spoiler 2: The renamed fish do not leap into the column.

The final potential column topic of the episode is Princess Anne’s living room. Giles introduces this story by saying:

This didn’t make it into The Times… Princess Anne’s living room… she and Mark Phillips or whoever she’s married to…

Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips divorced in 1992.

Esther explains that the extremely brown living room is “posh because it’s got Princess Anne in it…” before going on to make the extremely dubious claim that “the Royal Family are always extremely aware they are incredibly expensive. They always try to save money wherever they can.”

Prince Charles has his favourite furniture transported between his houses ahead of him so he’s always surrounded by the same stuff. He once had a footman who folded his toiler paper. Very frugal.

And Giles’ incredible column idea for this one?

I could compare our front room to hers.

Again the conversation fizzles out with Esther and Giles discussing various posh people they know and which of them has the most ‘intimidating’ downstairs loo.

Spoiler 3: Princess Anne doesn’t make the cut for the column.

After all that, what did Coren end up wittering about in this week’s dispatch?

Holidays, the KPMG boss who got bounced for telling staff to “stop moaning” (surprise, surprise Giles is on his side), and a raspberry for commenters who criticised his previous piece on plans for Britain to open a new coal mine.

So while the podcast didn’t deliver on its promise to reveal how the topics in the finished column got there, it did reveal quite a lot about Coren and The Times’ general contempt for readers.

It’s Gerald Ratner journalism. But while Ratner’s famous comment — “People say,’ How can you sell this for such a low price?’ I say, ‘Because it’s total crap.’ — lost his company £500 million in value, Coren’s stock never seems to dip. Having no idea and being proud of it is his profitable party trick.


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