3 January, 2013 14:10


With so many problems in the world, I thought I’d spend a few minutes dealing with one of the most serious; which is that something I wrote a few years ago for an episode of the Mark Steel Lectures, has been purloined by someone else. I wouldn’t normally take much notice, but the writer who swiped it is the TV reviewer, Victor Lewis Smith, known for being magnificently caustic in his own columns about television, including, I suppose it’s fair to add, about the Mark Steel Lectures. It’s all very flattering really, so in the spirit of literary letters between figures like George Bernard Shaw and HG Wells, I’ve sent him a message to thank him.

Dear Victor,

I would like to express my deep gratitude for your change of heart regarding my writing, which you have previously been highly critical of. It appears that now, you have not only developed an affection for the show, but you value it to the extent that you copy whole sections of it in your Christmas TV column.

I was so flattered to read the paragraph you wrote about the monarchy that went “Don’t give me that spiel about them being good for tourism. Does that means no tourists ever go to republics like France or the US? Or if they do, do they climb to the top of the Statue of Liberty, look down on Manhattan, and say: “Well, it’s a lovely view, but the lack of a monarch spoils it somehow”?”

Because this is almost an exact recital of a joke I wrote for a column in The Independent, and which I used to perform in my stand-up shows. I notice you’ve made one change, which is to substitute the Statue of Liberty for the Eiffel Tower, so I’ll bow to your superior instincts on that one. Now, instead of being forgotten, the joke has been revived for a whole new audience.

Other, less principled writers, might try to hide their attempt to use other people’s jokes by placing it in publications the original writer may not see. But you’re clearly more honest than that, and included it in the paper I write for myself.

Who knows, maybe I’ll soon have two columns in The Independent, one of which I don’t have to bother to write, but is a compilation of old pieces you’ve kindly put together yourself.

Also, I’m aware it can be harrowing to keep finding new ideas for a long running column so the temptation to use other people’s material to pad it out can be overwhelming, and as this was your second column for the paper, it’s understandable that by now you were running out of ideas.

And if you’d like to use any more of my jokes for anything else you’re doing, please let me know and I’ll see what I’ve got. Yours in appreciation,

Mark Steel