James Martin then. In this Asda advert. You knew it was coming, surely? No-one can get away with an advert so awkward it could only be worse if it starred Jeremy Corbyn. Not without some lunatic on the internet writing about it anyway. But the fact that it’s James Martin lends an added piquancy.
I’ve disliked James Martin for a while now. The housewife’s favourite (Martin is presumably desirable only to people whose hormones have retired to a bungalow) is a likeable enough presence when chopping up carrots or dolloping some clotted cream on a treacle tart, but he’s been on my radar for a years now for something he wrote in 2009.
Martin used to write one of the those celebrity car columns for the popular press. You know the ones – 500 words of sub-Clarkson blah about how great every single car that was delivered to my house is, nary a bad word lest I annoy the PRs and editors that actually pay me for driving cars. If you read one such car column – Richard Hammond and Chris Evans write similar columns – and base your car purchase on them you might as well walk into a showroom because you saw a nice car advert and throw wads of £50 notes at salespeople.
Martin’s petrolhead credentials were also dealt a severe blow when he attempted to enter the Mille Miglia. Rather than taking on the endurance race with an actual car, Martin turned up with a pair of leather racing gloves and a poster of a Triumph Dolomite. In fact most of the accompanying BBC documentary showed the celebrity fennel-botherer looking at an Alfa Romeo Duetto and crying.
Anyway, I digress. My chief complaint with James Martin, perhaps best known for presiding over competitors to make an omelette in 27 seconds, is one such car column where he described running some cyclist off the road for a laugh:
“God, I hate those cyclists. Every last herbal tea-drinking, Harriet Harman-voting one of them. That’s one of the reasons I live in the countryside, where birds tweet, horses roam, pigs grunt and Lycra-clad buttocks are miles away. But recently, there’s been a disturbing development.
“Each Saturday, a big black truck appears at the bottom of my road, with bikes stuck to the roof and rear. Out of it step a bunch of City-boy ponces in fluorescent Spider-Man outfits, shades, bum bags and stupid cleated shoes, who then pedal around our narrow lanes four abreast with their private parts alarmingly apparent. Do they enjoy it? They never smile. I’m sure they just come here to wind me up.
“Twenty minutes into my test drive I pulled round a leafy bend, enjoying the birdsong – and spotted those damned Spider-Man cyclists.
“Knowing they wouldn’t hear me coming, I stepped on the gas, waited until the split second before I overtook them, then gave them an almighty blast on the horn at the exact same time I passed them at speed.
“The look of sheer terror as they tottered into the hedge was the best thing I’ve ever seen in my rear-view mirror.”
To this day I’m not sure whether he meant it or not. In all likelihood James Martin has nothing against cyclists at all. There’s an even better chance that he’s a nice guy and, were you to meet him, he might cut you a slice of homemade Hunstman’s Pie and chat about sport. But if he didn’t mean it that’s even worse.
Being a cunt
Controversial opinions are very popular these days. But merely disliking cyclists is so Noughties. These days you’re not even approaching controversial unless you’re actually wishing death upon refugees – that’s the benchmark for getting a radio show or column in a national newspaper anyway. Stewart Lee once described it as ‘having controversial opinions for money’, but really that’s outdated too. ‘Being a cunt for money’ is a bit more like it.
But really these people don’t even have the balls to be cunts. If James Martin had really run some cyclists off the road for a laugh – rather than pretended to in a newspaper column – then he might qualify as a genuine cunt. But I don’t believe it for a minute. Just as I don’t believe the biggest pretend-cunts on Twitter (Piers Morgan, Tony Parsons, Toby Young, Louise Mensch, Julia Hartley-Brewer, Dan Hodges et al) are really cunts at all. They don’t have it in them to be a proper cunt like, say, Nigel Farage. They’ve simply realised there’s gold in faux-cuntishness.
Jeremy Clarkson paved the way for pretend cunthood. I have worked with people who know Clarkson and the impression I get is that he isn’t a cunt at all – his recent backing for Remain suggests that even Clarkson realised he had to row back from his professional cuntness. Perhaps a realisation overcame him that his words held power and that there was a real danger people might actually believe the dangerous things he spluttered in return for money. I’ve had the feeling for most of the last week that Boris Johnson has been coming to terms with the same realisation – that his own cunting had reaped some dire reward.
However in these strange times being a cunt, even a pretend cunt, isn’t the career-killer it used to be. To be a cunt or appear to be a cunt is, more than likely, to have a lot of followers on the internet and – in a few lucky cases – to be able to forge a career out of cuntery. It is essentially a cross between lying to people and poking them in the eye with a stick. The bigger the stick, the more you earn.
Katie Hopkins, the biggest pretend-cunt on the planet, probably wouldn’t pluck out the eyes of a crying Syrian child refugee just for the hell of it. But she’d be happy to pretend that she would, just to annoy and appal you so that the Mail On Sunday gives her some money. In a roundabout way these people attain some level of cuntdom, simply by pretending to be a cunt.
So there you have it. Much like the bloke who goes made in that episode of Colditz, simply be pretending to be mad, a pretend cunt can become a real cunt. And we’re knee-deep in cunts in Great Britain at the moment. As Jarvis Cocker says, cunts are still running the world. But they seem to lurk around every corner of social media in a country still reeling from blowing its own knees off.
I’m sure James Martin isn’t a cunt. But in pretending to be one, all those years ago, he demonstrated to the world the whole sorry, pathetic and grubby affair of being a cunt for money.