Parish, Tortoise Media
Many people felt that the internet would signal the end of properly funded investigative journalism and a dumbing down of current affairs coverage more generally. The reverse has been true. Investigative journalism is far from dead and it’s possible to argue that it’s never been in a healthier state. Political coverage on the internet has expanded and improved the offerings that traditional media have felt able to publish. Podcasts have revived the long form political interview. The public have never been better served in so many ways.
‘Pariah’ is a good example of a long form documentary which would never have been made by the so-called ‘Old Media’. It’s a four episode podcast, each episode lasting between 40 and 50 minutes. In truth, the final episode could have been dropped as it contained a lot of padding, but more on that later.
The point of the podcast was to tell the story of Harvey Proctor, the former Tory MP targeted by Operation Midland. Presented by former Today Programme and Panorama editor Ceri Thomas and Panorama journalist Alistair Jackson, it’s more Radio 5 than Radio 4 in style, with the two presenters happily chatting to each other at various points. There are extensive interviews with Harvey Proctor throughout, who is very open about his background and the scandal he found himself enveloped in back in 1987, which led to him having to stand down from Parliament. He was accused of having rough gay sex with two underage rent boys. It was a classic tabloid sting. The Sunday People had paid the rent boys, who were 19, two years under the legal age of consent for gay men of 21 at the time.
Proctor was a controversial MP at the time, known for his admiration of Enoch Powell and an advocate of voluntary repatriation for immigrants.
I published Harvey Proctor’s book CREDIBLE BUT TRUE, where he talks about the scandal but this is the first time he’s talked in detail on broadcast. Ceri Thomas clearly wasn’t impressed by the book and felt there was more of the story to tell. On the latter point, he was right, mainly because as a man close to 70 in 2015 I don’t think Harvey was ready to spill all. His experience over the last six years proved to him that there were voices in the media who he could not only trust but were actively wanting to put his side of the story forward over the allegations made in Operation Midland. Just to remind you, Nick – real name Carl Beech – had accused him of all sorts of malevolence against both him and other young boys. Most of the allegations were from the outset clearly preposterous, and I said so at the time, attracting a lot of criticism for doing so. When Harvey went public with his response to the allegations at the St Ermin’s Hotel in August 2015, I interviewed him on my LBC show later that day. Harvey became quite emotional at one point, which was hardly surprising given his life had been ruined. He had lost both his job and his home, was utterly destitute and hadn’t even had his day in court. He was a broken man. I resolved to help him and started a Crowdfunding campaign which ended up raising in excess of £10,000.
The strength of the Parish podcast is that Harvey is given time to tell his story in his own words. As the series goes on, he becomes more comfortable and up-front speaking about both his early life and troubles. He is a man of his generation and doesn’t find these things easy. The final episode concentrates on his previously held views on race and immigration, which all in all felt rather unnecessary. Thomas and Jackson were just that little bit too keen to tell the listener how uncomfortable they were with those views. So what? Who cares what they thought? The podcast wasn’t there to inform us as to their views. It was fine to give the full background to the listener, but why ignore his ‘way ahead of his time’ views on the Common Market, or his campaigning on mental health. Not a mention.
But that is to carp. All in all, this podcast series is a compelling listen and if this is the sort of thing Tortoise are going to do more of, they are to be applauded.