By Quentin Letts
Pied him! A great British tradition of custard pie hurling was maintained when old man Murdoch nearly took one in the hooter near the end of his long interrogation by MPs.
Some parts of the world will regard this with stern disapproval but must we be entirely po-faced? A billionaire media mogul, most powerful fella in the world, appeared in the public assembly of our ancient, satirical isles and found himself under attack by – a creamy plate full.
Worse things happen at sea.
Great dive: Wendi Murdoch sitting behind her husband leaps forward making a swing for the attacker, splattering him with his own shaving foam pie before he is escorted away by police
His assailant, a scruffy chap in lumberjack shirt, had not reckoned with Wendi Deng, the third Mrs Murdoch.
She was sitting behind her husband throughout the hearing, maintaining the elegant poise of a Cathay Pacific stewardess. From side to side did she lean her long hair, lean-necked, devotion in fuchsia. Then, in the last dibs, cometh the pieman.
With reactions which would not have disgraced the Chinese secret service, Mrs Murdoch flew to her husband’s defence. Kung fu! Hnawww! She leapt into action, right claw coming down hard in the direction of Matey in the lumberjack shirt.
TV footage afterwards showed the bloke nursing his head, spattered by his own pie. He was lucky not to have been karate-chopped in two.
‘Oh no!’ cried a female MP who had been speaking at the time. ‘Outrage!’ shouted another. The room was cleared, sitting suspended. The slapstick attack certainly distracted attention from what had been a drawn-out – and yet still memorable – hearing of the Culture Select Committee.
Mr Murdoch appeared alongside one of his sons, James. Last time I saw James was at 10 Downing Street on Tony Blair’s last day as Prime Minister. Murdoch fils had a tight-zipped hairdo, calcium-rich fingernails, tanned hands and an executive manner. He spoke in a hybrid accent camp with Californian uplift. It was a cross between Kermit the frog and the Radio 2 disc jockey Paul Gambaccini.
The younger Murdoch tried to protect his father and led the case for the defence.
Rupert touched the lad’s left arm and said: ‘This is the most humble day of my life.’
With that he leaned back, tortoise eyes closing together behind his faintly smudged spectacles. He swallowed, lizardish, sitting at a slight angle, as though not entirely part of this awkward occasion.
At the start of the meeting Murdoch pere did not seem entirely with it. He had difficulty understanding some of the MPs’ questions, in the case of Jim Sheridan (Paisley & Renfrewshire N) because he was having trouble picking up a thick Scots accent. Mr Sheridan gave up, saying: ‘It doesn’t matter.’
The two MPs most successful at extracting material from the octogenarian were Tom Watson (Lab, West Brom E) and Damian Collins (Con, Folkestone & Hythe). Mr Watson was exquisitely polite but firm. His questions accentuated an impression that Rupert was doddery. Mr Collins got Rupert on to some personal stuff about his father, to a point he was almost maudlin. We also learned how amazingly close Mr Murdoch had been to Gordon Brown. ‘Our children played together. I felt he had great values,’ said Mr Murdoch about Labour’s Mr Brown.
Before the storm: James Murdoch tried to protect his father during the grilling from MPs
James Murdoch really did seem very American. Clever tactic, perhaps. He was extravagantly well-washed in that business-school, yuppie way. He kept finding different ways of saying that he did not know the full details of what the MPs were asking him. ‘I have no knowledge of that,’ he said. ‘I cannot answer the specifics of that question.’
Other phrases included ‘not to my knowledge’ and ‘I cannot speak to other individuals’ knowledge’. He spoke about ‘The Company’ repeatedly. His father spoke of its ‘Divisions’, like a five-star general.
James Murdoch also said ‘proactively’, ‘the financial quantum’ and ‘the quantum of danger’, which could be the title of a Dick Francis thriller.
When he meant ‘denial’ he said ‘pushback’. At which point the pieman threw himself into the mix and black belt Deng showed us an altogether more exciting, visceral ‘pushback’. Ouch.