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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Friday 15th July 2005

The Sextator

"What do they put in the water over there?"

That was the most common response to the plethora of sex scandals that occurred at the Spectator last year. In the space of about nine months, a string of extra-marital affairs at the magazine led to the collapse of Rod Liddle's marriage, the sacking of Boris Johnson as a front bench Conservative spokesman and the resignation of David Blunkett as Home Secretary.

It was over the Christmas holidays that Lloyd Evans and I--we're the magazine's theatre critics--decided to write an old-fashioned bedroom farce set in the Spectator's offices. (The events unfolded as if Ray Cooney himself had written the script--all we had to do was put it all down on paper.) We had a vague idea of performing it ourselves at the magazine's summer party, but a producer read it and persuaded us that it deserved a wider audience. The upshot is that Who's The Daddy began a six-week run yesterday at the King's Head in Islington. The cast includes the Tony-Award winning actress Claudia Shear as Kimberly Quinn, Olivier-nominated Sara Crowe as Petronella Wyatt and Michelle Ryan--formerly Zoe Slater on EastEnders--as Tiffany, the office sexpot.

Lloyd and I aren't too worried about being sacked. We're confident that we'll be the beneficiaries of the same laissez-faire attitude that allowed all these extra-curricular activities to flourish in the first place. The Spectator is one of the last bastions of cavalier individualism, a chaotic haven of Bohemian self-indulgence and aristocratic broad-mindedness, and it would be totally out of character for the editor to punish us. On the contrary, we expect the entire staff to turn up and roar with laughter.

I got an inkling of just how licentious the atmosphere at the magazine could be when I gatecrashed the summer party 15 years ago. As Margaret Thatcher held court in the editor's office, surrounded by half her Cabinet, Alan Clark chatted up a pretty, 23-year-old journalist at the bottom of the garden. I ended up snogging the 17-year-old daughter of a thunderingly right wing Daily Mail columnist. When her mother caught us together in the downstairs loo she insisted that I take them both out to dinner at the Groucho Club. For a 26-year-old aspiring journalist it was an eye-opening introduction to wonderfully louche world.

One of the reasons all these illicit romances break out at the Spectator is because the champagne flows like water. Under one of the previous editors, I was summoned for an 11 o'clock meeting to discuss an impending libel suit that an article of mine had provoked. I thought it would be a very formal affair, complete with lawyers, stenographers, board members, and so forth. Instead, I was greeted politely by the editor at the door, shown into his office and immediately offered a glass of champagne. By the time I left, at around 4pm, I was completely pissed.

Another factor is the magazine's proximity to the high and mighty. Cabinet ministers, captains of industry and assorted celebrities of one kind or another are always popping into the Spectator's Doughty Street headquarters, leaving the magazine's army of gorgeous, pouting lovelies panting with excitement. As Henry Kissinger said, power is an aphrodisiac. My admiration for Rod Liddle shot up when I heard about his appearance on Question Time in February of last year. One of the producers told me that he'd brought along the magazine's 22-year-old receptionist and the two of them had made out like a couple of teenagers on the sofa of the greenroom. Apparently, Rod's fellow panellists, including the Leader of the House of Commons, the Shadow Health and Education Secretary and the Head of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, were completely flabbergasted.

Many people, particularly the wives of Spectator columnists, might not regard such behaviour as very praiseworthy. But there's something rather cool about the magazine's refusal to be cowed by the politically correct attitude to office romances that has begun to cross the Atlantic in the form of anti-harassment guidelines. These regulations, originating in pinched and hidebound American corporations, are an unwelcome development, not least because the office is such a great place to strike up relationships.

The rationale behind these rules is that female employees need protecting from predatory bosses, particularly if those bosses threaten them with dismissal if they don't go to bed with them. However, it must be possible to guard against this particular abuse without outlawing office romances altogether. What if a woman actually fancies her boss? If they're both single, is it wrong for him to sleep with her? Indeed, is it wrong even if they're both married? In my view, all the bonking that took place at the Sextator last year added to the gaiety of the nation--and Lloyd Evans and I are hoping to remind people of that over the course of the next six weeks.

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