RICHARD ORD: Why my big fat crazy column will leave you mad for more
Attempts were once made to cancel me for the use of offending words in a column.
An over-enthusiastic subeditor back in the 1990s insisted I take out the offending word due to what she saw as an ‘obvious’ homophobic connotation.
Never, I suspect, in the history of schoolyard punishments has the ‘wedgie’ taken on such wider political concerns.
The exact details escape me, but the gist of the column involved a Tory minister who I suggested may be playing the hard man on TV because he was on the receiving end of one too many wedgies at public school and determined to take out his frustrations on the British public.
It was a joke. Wedgies and getting your head pushed down the toilet were the preserve of the working class comprehensive schoolboys. At Harrow, you probably get strung up by your cummerbund or your head held over a gushing bidet.
Yet I found myself in the newsroom explaining exactly how a wedgie worked to the irate subeditor and that, to my knowledge, there was nothing sexual about it. ‘You grab someone’s underpants and pull them up their back,’ I said, ‘If you’re strong enough, you hang the victim on a peg. It’s meant to be humiliating. Nothing more.’
From memory, I was asked to change the punishment from a wedgie to a Chinese burn to avoid any potential legal action. I stuck by my guns. Print and be damned.
We printed. Wedgie-gate was over. And the column - like 99.99% of my columns - vanished from thought within two minutes of being read. There were no legals and the matter closed.
While wedgie, I would argue, is still ‘safe’, I’m not too sure about the Chinese burn. For the record, that’s when you grab someone’s arm with two hands, then twist them in opposite directions. If done correctly, it would leave red marks on the arm.
I mention this because there’s a huge furore over Roald Dahl’s books being rewritten to remove words that might offend young ears. Words like crazy, mad and fat have gone.
Personally, I don’t give a monkeys about that. Why not bring out new more sanitised versions of books for sensitive souls? It’s clearly a marketing ploy to boost trade. They’ll probably get extra sales from people buying untouched copies to compare with the new versions.
If it is truly being done to protect the public then where will it end? George Orwell’s dystopian vision of the future is called 1984.
Surely it’ll need a rewrite to make it clear to readers that it’s not a historical work about life in the 80s but a bleak warning of how things might turn out. Perhaps, given the interference from do-gooder publishers, they may want to rename it something more appropriate. How about 2023?