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Toby Young on being interviewed by Joan Bakewell about porn. “It was like being interviewed about pornography by my Mum“. Pretty funny, in an excruciating way.

Date: Thu, 21 Jun 2001 15:47:22 -0000
From: “Martin Adamson” (spam-protected)
To: (spam-protected)
Subject: Not fortean, but pretty funny

From The Spectator, 23 June 2001

Mum’s the word

Toby Young

Gore Vidal said there are two things in life you should never turn down: the opportunity to have sex and the chance to appear on
television. Consequently, when a researcher from the Beeb called and asked whether I’d like to be interviewed by Joan Bakewell for her forthcoming series, I immediately said yes. Apart from everything else, it would give me a chance to meet the thinking man’s crumpet in the flesh. It was only later, when I had time for reflection, that I thought this might have been a bit rash. You see, the subject she wanted to talk to me about was pornography.

I wrote about my interest in porn for The Spectator not long ago but Boris thought the article was ‘a bit racy’ for Speccie readers. It was about the trauma of having to part with my collection of X-rated videos when I moved back to London from New York last year. To be fair to Boris, he told me later that he thought he’d made the wrong decision but by that time it was too late — I’d already flogged the piece to GQ. (If anyone would like to see it, you can contact me at (spam-protected) and I’ll email you a copy.) Anyway, this article was read by one of Joan Bakewell’s minions and that’s why I got the call.

I realised I’d made a terrible mistake when the researcher rang back and asked if I’d be prepared to play Joan Bakewell one of my ‘favourite tapes’ on camera. Certainly not, I told him. In any case, I’d left all my tapes in New York. Nevertheless, any hopes I had of passing myself as a disinterested journalist were dashed. Clearly, I was being interviewed in my capacity as a ‘user’, not an impartial observer. I suddenly got paranoid about how they were going to bill me when my bald head first appeared on screen. ‘Toby Young, pornography addict’? ‘Toby Young, compulsive masturbator’? ‘Toby “Wanker” Young’? Unfortunately, it was too late to back out now.

‘So, Toby,’ Bakewell began, when the cameras started rolling, ‘when did you first develop your lifelong passion for pornography?’

I was stymied. My plan had been to appear as smooth and debonair as possible in the hope of seeming completely unembarrassed. It was being filmed at my bedsit in Shepherd’s Bush and I had a copy of Philip Larkin’s letters at my feet, ready to flick to his dispatch to Robert Conquest in which he talks about his visit to a Soho sex shop. ‘You see, Joan. Plenty of respectable people like porn.’ However, I immediately flushed crimson.

‘Er, well, er, I’m not sure, er . . . .’

‘I have to say, Toby, I just can’t see the point of it,’ Bakewell continued. ‘To me, it’s just like watching little bits of gristle. Why d’you find it so . . . compelling?’

As I struggled to answer this, I could see the cameraman darting about in front of me, getting the close-ups he’d been instructed to get by the director: quivering lower lip, shaking hands, rapidly blinking eyes. This was turning into a nightmare.

‘C-c-c-could I please have a glass of water?’ I stammered. ‘My mouth’s suddenly gone dry.’

The whole experience was like being interviewed about pornography by my Mum. Indeed, Joan Bakewell was actually a contemporary of my mother’s at Cambridge. It wasn’t her intention to embarrass me — she seemed genuinely puzzled by what an obviously intelligent chap like me saw in this filth — but I felt exactly like I did when my Mum discovered a pile of Playboys under my bed when I was aged 14.

The low point came during a discussion about who pornography is for.

Joan: ‘I gather from talking to pornographers that these films are
very popular with modern couples. Apparently, after they’ve put the kids to bed, they open a bottle of Chardonnay, sit down on the sofa and watch one of these tapes together.’

Me: ‘That’s all bullshit, Joan. The fact is, the main market for porn
is sad, lonely, loveless men, men who can’t get women.’

Joan: ‘Is that you, Toby?’

Me (Spluttering): ‘Er, no, no, of course not. I mean, not any more. I’m about to get married. My interest in pornography was just a phase.’

Joan: ‘A phase? Come on.’

At this point, the cameraman swivelled round to get a close-up of my television and the videotapes scattered in front of it on the floor, before swinging back to get a shot of me sitting on my sofa looking shifty.

Me: ‘No, really.’ (Pause.) ‘A 20-year phase.’

After this ordeal, I can say with some confidence that there is an exception to Gore Vidal’s rule. Have as much sex as you like and appear on television as often as you can, but for God’s sake don’t agree to talk about anything of a sexual nature on television, particularly with someone who reminds you of your Mum. Sorry, Joan. But it’s difficult to appear like a thinking man when you’re talking about crumpet.