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Conti and Aaronovitch: a modern day version of pistols at dawn

PUBLISHED: 11:14 04 April 2008 | UPDATED: 14:55 07 September 2010

Speaking at Burgh House

Speaking at Burgh House

Jonathan Goldberg 07958 229 037

The verbal jousting between journalist David Aaronovitch and actor Tom Conti has been richly entertaining. Why wouldn t it be? When two talented, articulate people fall out so publicly, all you need do is stand back and enjoy. In case you re only just b

The verbal jousting between journalist David Aaronovitch and actor Tom Conti has been richly entertaining. Why wouldn't it be? When two talented, articulate people fall out so publicly, all you need do is stand back and enjoy.

In case you're only just back from a week's holiday at Terminal 5 and wonder what this is about, it was Mr Aaronovitch who started the war of words at a public gathering by calling Mr Conti a 'ridiculous actor - a bloody nuisance' who ran to the papers every time someone tried to interfere with his 'bloody motor car'.

Back came Mr Conti, questioning his attacker's journalistic credentials by accusing him of misrepresentation, inaccuracy and, best of all, 'emotional vomit'.

It's great stuff. One writer to this newspaper suggests that in a more chivalrous age, it's a row that could only have been settled by the employment of pistols at dawn. Maybe not: duelling etiquette had it that only 'real gentlemen' were qualified to duel. If a gentleman was insulted by a person of 'lower class', he 'would not duel him' but would 'beat him with a cane, riding crop, or whip, or have his servants do so'.

Now Mr Conti may have bona fide claims to being something of a gentleman, but Mr Aaronovitch does not. He's a journalist.

The whole affair is far too entertaining to be reduced to an argument about rights and wrongs. But if forced to take sides, I'd have to be with Mr Conti, and not just because this newspaper has also been on the wrong side of one of Mr Aaronovitch's ill-considered attacks prompted by our criticism of Camden's chaotic parking enforcement.

For starters, it's pretty daft for him to chide his rival for 'running to the newspapers' when he himself walks, runs, cycles or, for all I know, paraglides to a newspaper office on a regular basis to earn a living.

Anyway, journalists should treasure people who knock on our doors. How else would we know what is going on in the real world?

On traffic issues, Mr Conti identifies with very tangible public frustrations. Mr Aaronovitch identifies with a pie-in-the-sky, fairies-at-the-bottom-of-the-garden kind of vision in which all traffic is banned around the Heath except for ''a circular tram system all the way around, letting people get on and off where they want to - completely wonderful.'' Had I read that on Tuesday, it would have seemed like an implausible April Fool spoof.

Nor would his description of Mr Conti as 'a bloody nuisance' be recognised by the many people the local actor has helped for very many reasons and in very many ways - without ever 'running to the papers' or seeking even a sliver of public recognition.

Geoff Martin

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