Back at work [Mar. 24th, 2005|07:52 pm]
[ feels | amused and slightly worried ]

In the office in Glasgow, which is much less shiny than the London one. And it’s raining. Oh, well.

think I’d get to post this, but the story has made the Guardian and the
emails have made Popbitch and Holy Moly, so I don’t see how I can get
into trouble. This is what’s been going round the BBC about our boss
(and nobody seems to be denying it!):

—–Original Message—–
From: Jeremy Paxman
Sent: 18 January 2005 15:50
To: Anthony Massey

I’ve got to interview Mark Thompson tomorrow. Is it true that he once bit you?

—–Original Message—–
From: Anthony Massey
Sent: 23 January 2005 08:50
To: Jeremy Paxman
Subject: RE:

I didn’t reply in time, I’ve been away from the office for the last
week, and I missed the News Festival or I could have offered this from
the audience!

It is absolutely true. It was late summer or early
autumn of 1988, when he was the newly appointed editor of the Nine
O’Clock News, and I was a Home News Organiser. It was 9.15 in the
morning, in the middle of the old sixth floor newsroom. I went up to
his desk to talk about some story after the 9.00 meeting we used to
have then. I was standing next to him on his right, and he was sitting
reading his horoscope in the Daily Star (I always remember that
detail). Before I could say a word he suddenly turned, snarled, and
sank his teeth into my left upper arm (leaving marks through the shirt,
but not drawing blood). It hurt. I pulled my arm out of his jaws, like
a stick out of the jaws of a labrador. The key thing is, we didn’t have
a row first, or even speak, and I had never had any dispute with him
before. He was recently arrived in the newsroom, and I hardly knew him.
He just bit me in the arm for no reason without any warning or
preamble. I don’t think it was personal. Something turned in his brain,
and anyone who had been standing there at that moment would have been
bitten, Linda from the teabar, the BBC Chairman, Keith Graves, anyone.
It just happened to be me.

Thompson didn’t apologise or explain,
so I went to complain to my then boss, Chris Cramer. All Cramer said
was “This whole place is full of fucking headbangers”, which was a fair
point and indeed is still true, but didn’t help somehow. I wanted to
bring the whole BBC disciplinary process down on Thompson’s head, and
get the NUJ involved, but Cramer was desperate for that not to happen.
So I got sent abroad on some story for a month or so, and when I came
back it had lost momentum, and I never pursued it. Also I was on
attachment and applying for a permanent job, so I didn’t want to rock
the boat. And in those days dinosaurs ruled the earth, and it seemed
quite acceptable for senior people to bite junior colleagues. But
several times since Mark Damazer, who was one of many witnesses, has
said to me “You could have ended Mark Thompson’s career with a single
word, and you never did.” He sounded as though he wished I had, though
I thought he was meant to be a friend of Thompson’s.

stayed in the newsroom for several months until he became Editor of
Panorama, and we have met a number of times since then. But in a very
British way, neither of us has ever mentioned it. But when he became DG
several people who were in the newsroom at the time reminded me of this
incident (as if I might have forgotten it) and it went all round the
building. To my knowledge the only time it’s appeared in print was
shortly afterwards, when a brief item appeared in the Londoner’s Diary
in the Evening Standard. This was nothing whatever to do with me,
though I was not sorry to see it. My name wasn’t mentioned, which was
good. But the story did go round the world, and when I was in Kuwait
just after the end of the Gulf War in 1991, an NBC producer said “Are
you the person Mark Thompson bit?” Fame of a sort.

Now Thompson
is DG, the story is probably more valuable. The joke in the newsroom is
that if ever they make me redundant, I’ll be off to the Daily Mail or
the Sun with my arm in a sling. There are several other good Thompson
stories. I know two more. He has a bit of a reputation for mindless
violence against innocent bystanders (ask the old hands in RCR about
the strangling incident). But he’s only attacked me once.

I last
saw Thompson just after he was made DG, at the BBC News 50th
anniversary party in TC1 in May. He saw me across the room and went
white. I don’t know why. He shouldn’t be afraid of me, I don’t bite.


—–Original Message—–
From: Jeremy Paxman
Sent: 24 January 2005 14:37
To: Anthony Massey
Subject: RE:

I wish I’d got this earlier, although it would have been hard to know
precisely how to play it, I think. The bloke is quite clearly insane.

—–Original Message—–
From: Anthony Massey
Sent: 28 January 2005 08:39
To: Jeremy Paxman
Subject: RE:

certainly is. Here’s the subbed down version of the strangling story,
which I hasten to add I got at second hand and did not witness

The Nine, with Thompson editing, were leading with
the death of some famous British actor like Gielgud or Ralph
Richardson. At two minutes to nine a picture editor dubbed the obit to
get a perfect sound balance. As it was four minutes long and this was
the pre-digital age, this wasn’t very bright, and the story missed its
slot as the lead. After the Nine was over Thompson stormed down to VTs
in search of the culprit and tried to throttle him. He had both hands
round the man’s throat and had to be dragged off. All this might have
been forgotten but for the fact that the picture editor, according to
the story, had a nervous breakdown, left the BBC and never worked
again. They still talk about it in RCR.

So I got off lightly really.

—–Original Message—–
From: Jeremy Paxman
Sent: 31 January 2005 15:00
To: Anthony Massey
Subject: RE:

Bloody hell. If any of this came out, he’d be toast.

I like that Jeremy says “Gosh!” in email.

And the Guardian says there’s

second witness to the biting incident involving BBC director general
Mark Thompson has come forward corroborating news producer Anthony
Massey’s account.
Michael Sullivan, a former BBC and Sky News
correspondent, says he was in the newsroom the day Mr Thompson sunk his
teeth into the young Mr Massey’s forearm.

And according to him, it was not just a symptom of the macho atmosphere that was typical of many newsrooms at the time.

was not horse play or high-jinks. It was exactly as Massey said – after
the morning meeting, he sat down at his desk. I happened to be casually
looking in his direction – Massey was a junior at the time, working on
the input desk which organises the camera crews. Suddenly Thompson
turned on him and did exactly what Massey said and sank his teeth into

“There was no comradely, joking expression on his face,” Mr Sullivan told

His account of the incident 17 years ago tallies with Mr Massey’s colourful email recounting the incident in 1988.

Didn’t I tell you my work had gone mad? Did you believe me? Gah.

One thought on “

  1. I really like that story. Its one of my favorite New Adventure stories. Very Lovecraftian, which is why I like it.

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