The crucifixion of Frank Bough, or Why tabloid hacks never ever take cocaine or cheat...

And if you believe that I have a lovely bridge in London to sell you.

It’s important to know that no one who worked at The News of the World ever took cocaine, used sex workers, or cheated on their partners. No, you see, despite what you might have been told working for the tabloid was akin to being part of a monastic Murdoch order where the one religion was the truth and they would certainly never have hired and retained a retinue of morally-bankrupt bastards with the sexual predilections of alley cats and all the restraint around white powder of Pablo Escobar trapped in a snow globe.

I raise the dread name of the News of the World — not dead but reborn in the slightly more advertiser-friendly guise of the Sun on Sunday (which Murdoch opened with indecent haste) — because sadly it’s back in the public discourse with the death of Frank Bough, aged 87, who was one of the paper’s more famous victims.

Bough was really famous in 1970s and 80s Britain, as host of Grandstand, Nationwide, and the co-host of the country’s first breakfast TV show Breakfast Time, as well as the aspirational Holiday programme. That all came to a screeching halt when The News of the World revealed he had taken cocaine and visited sex workers. While the narrative in a TV drama would find him entirely cast out into the wilderness, he suffered the arguably worse fate of ending up as a presenter on LBC.

Bough’s tabloid debagging was a classic of the “build them up, break them down” genre with the public interest argument being that he had presented himself as whiter than white. The trouble is that Bough had actually just done his job which was to efficiently talk about football results and offer anodyne chat on the breakfast sofa. He was punished by The News of the World for not living that persona every moment of his life and for, shock horror, having a sexuality that was more complicated than the self-appointed bastions of morality able to cope with.

The detail of the original story that really made the hypocritical scolds of the tabloid press go wild was that Bough had worn lingerie at the sex parties he had attended. Cocaine was one thing, but lingerie!? Quizzed on the ‘scoop’ during the fall of The News of the World, Paul Connew, the paper’s former deputy editor, said, “It caused a sensation at the time, given Bough’s public image as the squeaky clean front man of breakfast and sports television.”

In 1992, the tabloids got a second hit of scandal about Bough, after he was reported to have attended “a dungeon orgy” and photographs of him leaving the flat of a sex worker who specialised in sadomasochism were published. In a TV interview, Bough said, “Everybody, when they have difficulties with their marriage or sexuality surely has the right to sort out these things in the privacy of their own home.” His resurgent career as a sports presenter ended after the second scandal.

Bough met his wife, Nesta Howells, while he was doing National Service in 1959. They remained married through the scandals and beyond.

Listening to radio packages about Frank Bough’s death, including Evan Davis quizzing Esther Rantzen about her former colleague and telling her they had to discuss the tabloid scandals, I felt sick and sad. Bough’s career was boiled down to two incidents where his private choices were presented for everyone to judge.

Bough’s own quote on the situations as well as their content and context suggested that his sexuality was more complex than his public image had implied but he was under no obligation to disclose that, and while I think taking cocaine is stupid — spending time in the music industry only strengthened my view on that one — tabloid newspaper offices run on cocaine and spite.

RIP Frank Bough. I hope you can rest easy now, far from tabloid hacks who are destined to go to the other place.