A TV documentary a couple of weeks back during BBC4’s “Italian Opera” series, taken together with a TV interview during this year’s election campaign, reminded me of the importance of the principle of “noblesse oblige”, even when applied to the aristocracy of the media world.

The recent documentary was about Luciano Pavarotti. I will declare an interest in that I once saw him live, nearly 20 years ago at Covent Garden. True, he was said to be past his electrifying best even then. True, he was in “Un Ballo in Maschera” (my favourite opera ever since), where the standout male aria is given to the baritone rather than the tenor. True, his handlers spirited him out of a back door to avoid us autograph-hunters on a cold February evening. Despite all that, we all knew that we were in the presence of greatness. Anyway, back to the TV documentary. (Not before time, I hear you cry).

A procession of notables from the musical world had extolled Pavarotti’s virtues, not only as one of the pre-eminentvoices of his or any other generation but also as probably the most successful populariser of opera. Then up came the face of Jeremy Paxman with a recording of an interview he’d done with the larger-than-life tenor, only a few years before the latter’s death. In answer to a question about when he’d retire, Pavo said that he’d sing for as long as his voice held out. He clearly didn’t believe in retirement, for which I applaud him. Then Paxman, with his trademark sneer, said, “Some people think you should have given up years ago.” To which Pavarotti, with more grace than his interviewer, replied, “Some people are probably right.” A smack in the mouth would have been an alternative response and could have been forgiven.

Journalists are paid to expose the truth from dissembling politicians and, less usefully, to puncture pomposity in celebs of all kinds. Pomposity that I hadn’t observed on the part of this rightfully celebrated guest, by the way. If the public still wanted to hear that voice, even past its best, and the singer wanted to oblige, then who was Paxo to imply that both parties should be denied their respective pleasures? This short but unpleasant interlude reminded me that it’s possible to behave like an ignorant lout, despite having the benefits of a fine mind and fine education; possible but unforgivable.

All of which led to an unconnected but satisfying episode during the election campaign. Paxman on that occasion introduced his guest as follows: “Eurfyl ap Gwilym is Chief Executive of the Principality Building Society. In that exalted position (did I detect more of the trademark Paxo sneer at this point?) he is Plaid Cymru’s economics adviser.” What followed was a delight, as the said adviser reduced Paxman to a splutter. He had contested one of Paxo’s assertions with some data, to which the interviewer responded, “I don’t have those figures in my head”.

“Well, you should have. Do your homework; you have the report there; look up the data.” Or words to that effect. At that point, to my surprise, (and maybe to his credit) Paxman did indeed start to shuffle through his papers, considerably discomfited. That discomfiture was not lost on the audience: the YouTube clip of the interview was apparently one of the most popular of the election campaign. Not the most important episode of that campaign, I know, but … hubris? Pride comes before etc? Both of the above.

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