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BBC TwoNewsnight
Last Updated: Friday, 17 March 2006, 12:06 GMT
Pizza is better without cheese

By Peter Barron
Newsnight editor


    I was at a dinner the other night and met an interesting chap who'd just written a book about the history of the aphorism.

    A pizza
    We had quite a lengthy conversation about what constitutes an aphorism, as opposed to a maxim, nostrum, proverb or cliché. As he explained, an aphorism is short pithy statement attributed to one person.

    His favourite - coined by George Burns - was, "No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible". Pretty good.

    It made me think, wouldn't it be good to contribute an aphorism to the language, so here - virally - is my attempt:

    Just because things are generally done one way ... doesn't mean it's the best way to do it - that's more or less the philosophy behind what we try to do on Newsnight
    "Pizza is better without cheese." To my mind, it has - unlike the business about the snowflakes - the merit of being literally true and metaphorically valuable.

    I love cheese. But I hate the greasy, molten scab you get on top of most pizzas. To my mind a pizza should be thin and crisp, with tomato, herbs, garlic and maybe a little dried chilli. But none of Britain's numerous pizza chains offer such an option.

    So, I end up having to explain what it is I want to a waitress who looks at me as if I'm either a militant vegan or a sufferer of lactose intolerance. Then, quite often, the message doesn't get through to the chef and you're faced with the split-second choice of whether to accept the cheesy offering and try to eat it, or send it back and end up having your lunch alone when everyone else has finished, without cheese but possibly with the disgruntled waitress' saliva.

    It's a dilemma with no right answer.

    Cheese is an American affectation

    This week I was introduced to Armando Iannucci, who was being shown round the BBC newsroom by the head of TV News to absorb material for his excellent series The Thick of It.

    Armando Iannucci on Have I Got News For You
    Armando Iannucci also favours pizza without cheese, apparently
    I read somewhere that he too favours pizza without cheese, and he should know - his father used to run a pizza factory. "Cheese is an American affectation," he confirms.

    Can we really be alone in this? Time, I think, for a national debate.

    The metaphorical bit of my aphorism is simple. Just because things are generally done one way, and almost everyone accepts that's the way it's done, doesn't mean it's the best way to do it.

    That's more or less the philosophy behind what we try to do on Newsnight. As a philosophy it's not a million miles away from "think outside the box".

    The trouble with Edward de Bono's classic aphorism is that it has slipped into cliché, so remember the next time you reach for it there is an alternative.

    Broccoli won't save the planet

    It's amazing how quickly received wisdom can settle and congeal. Take our Ethical Man series. In the Guardian this week Natasha Walter, with reference to Justin Rowlatt's project scolded:

    "All the organic broccoli in the world won't be enough to save the planet."

    She assumed how Justin's project will proceed when in fact the point of what he's doing is precisely to identify the things that certainly won't save the planet and the things that might.

    Journalism, like pizza chains, loves a formula. This week we've been debating those phrases used on news programmes which really grate. "The deadly H5N1 virus" came up. It is indisputably pretty deadly, or at least, as our science editor says, highly pathogenic, but very quickly the words start to wash over you in a meaningless way, like "the radical cleric Moqtada Sadr" or in an earlier time "mainly Muslim West Beirut".

    My own pet hate is the phrase they use on BBC1 bulletins before the regional programmes, "now the news where you are", which always sounds to me like "wherever the hell you are". I'm told the problem is you can't use the form "across the country" because that alienates the Channel Islanders. But there must be a better way - perhaps you know it.


    At the same dinner I met another interesting fellow who's a Newsnight devotee and subscriber to our e-mail service.

    He had two questions. Why doesn't Jeremy Paxman write the daily e-mail like the other presenters? Answer: because Jeremy, contrary to the prevailing trend, thinks that the pre-eminent form of communication is still television and remains to be convinced otherwise.

    And who is that irritating chap who's always writing about things like the Newsnight theme tune? Ah.




    "Yes that shot was 'always' going over the bar/wide of the post." This phrase in football commentary really gets me. Of course it's "always" going over or wide because that's where it's going. I haven't seen a shot that's going wide then suddenly change direction in mid-air for no reason and go into the back of the net.
    Ashley Patton, Derry, Northern Ireland

    We always here now from politicians the phrase "Let's be absolutely clear about this", used as a punctuation in the interview which always comes across as "Okay, interviewer, you've backed me into a corner, I just have to take a breath while I remember the official line from my department which will seem even more inexplicable to the public but hopefully convince you, the interviewer, to start winding things up because, let's be clear about this, I'm going into neutral and I want my teddy."
    James de la Rue, Nottingham

    Every night I watch reports, followed by the studio newsreader saying "we are joined from the scene by our such and such correspondent for the latest update". Then follows a series of questions to the correspondent, who just gave us a full report, where we get the EXACT same information we have just heard. BBC - your viewers are not as stupid and forgetful as you obviously think we are.
    Neil Stephen, Isle of Skye

    More often heard in sports news, usually used several times by the footballer, manager or TV pundit - "at the end of the day..." makes my teeth go on edge.
    Kevin Sands, Oxford

    "Now, let's have a look at the time. It's quarter past six."
    Julian Corner, Whitby

    The word "currently". You are either going to do something, are doing something, or have done it. If you are currently doing something, it's tautology!
    Tom McKay, London

    On Channel 4 news, the main presenter will introduce, and thus utterly trump the second presenter's story. For example, "Two million pounds was stolen today - with more on that, over to whoever". Quit hogging the stories man! You've already got the main slot. It's like someone taking over your joke's punchline.
    Dave Lynch, London

    "The family made this emotional appeal." The fact that it's emotional is usually pretty obvious.
    Seamus, Middlesex

    Why was last week's snow a "weather event"?
    Phil, Edinburgh

    "All this and more - after the break." Could they for once not try to build up a break! If people actually like the show then they will be watching it anyway.
    Calum Wiggle, Keswick

    "Lessons have been learnt" is one of the most aggravating phrases ever, which is repeated every time something which should never have happened does. Nearly all the time, the same thing proceeds to happen right after "lessons being learnt". So are they ever actually learnt? I don't think so.
    Ruben Arakelyan, Ruislip

    "Starved of the oxygen of publicity" does it for me. But then I suppose that clichés are indeed the nuts and bolts of the language.
    Dermot, London

    This morning on Radio Four, I heard a warning of a "snow event".
    Mr Kirk Elder, Peebles

    "Shark infested waters" - why are the waters always "infested" with sharks? Also, there has been a "brutal murder" - do you know of any murders that are not brutal?
    Hilary Bennett, Kingston upon Thames

    "Don't go anywhere", just before a commercial break implies that the host of the television show I am watching has earned the right to tell me when I can and cannot leave my own living room. If I am planning to go out and miss the remainder of the programme then I shall. So there.
    Jim Jones, London

    "A touch of frost." Is there no other way to describe a light covering of tiny ice crystals on a cold surface? And why does every single footballer or manager from the winning side describe themselves as "delighted"? Painful.
    Carlos A Fortin, Brighton

    The most irritating expression has to be the one that late night ITV News bulletins would end with (I don't know whether they still do) - "That's it - more news later". Did viewers really need reassuring that there would be other newsworthy events in the future?
    Kris Jones, London

    The news phrase I hate is "This report from [our political correspondent etc]" or "This from..." It's so unnatural - I don't say to my wife "This statement from the bank" or "this shopping from Waitrose".
    Maurice Waite, Appleton

    "Top" - as used in inane television programmes to imply a guest is leader in their field: "top doctor", "top chef", "top expert", "top actor", etc.
    Stuart Fotheringham, Ashford

    My most hated TV News phrase has to be that, delivered by a presenter when wrapping up a two-way with a reporter, "Alright (name), thanks for that". Or, even worse, "Alright (name), for the moment - thanks for that." GGGRRRRRR!!
    Michael Williams, London

    My pet-hate TV phrase is "one of Islam's holiest shrines". When is the attack ever against "one of Islam's least holy shrines"?
    Alison Broinowski, Sydney, Australia

    It may be a grim task for a correspondent to fill the eerie silence left by the omission of the phrases "...grim task" and "...eerie silence, but banish them nonetheless.
    Roo Johnstone, Phuket

    The phrase "the news from where you are" raises a laugh in our house every night. For the next five minutes of hearing it we give updates of events in our lounge in the style of newsreaders. Sometimes it raises tears of laughter hearing such banal events spoken as if they were major news stories. You should give it a go. My son's "on the scene" live updates of visitors to the chip shop next door was particularly legendary.
    Bob Dunning, Leeds

    "Some atrocious weather on the way," repeated ad nauseum by bimbo weather presenters referring to that life blood of civilisation - rain.
    Don Curtis, Brighton

    The BBC comment I loathe most is when passing over to local news. To add insult to injury dear Huw says "Goodbye" at the end, which is ridiculous! Far better when Peter Sissons used to put it as "Now for news from across the United Kingdom" or words very much to that effect.
    Sue W, Somerset

    "And now the news wherever the hell you are" sounds pretty good to me, Mr Barron. I think you may be on to something.
    Mrs Collette Dauphinais, Thunder Bay, Ont Canada

    Frank Miles, Beckenham

    "Fair and balanced."
    Dale Penprase, Midland, MI US

    "The jury is still out."
    Russell Miller, West Wickham

    "Massive Heart Attack." Really?
    Angharad Jones, Berkeley, California (originally Ynyswen, Wales)

    "Of course, it's far too early to speculate..." This phrase tends to precede several minutes of speculation.
    Gareth Graham, Bristol

    Whenever the adverb "clearly" is used by a politician one can be certain that the opinion that follows will be dubious at best.
    Steve Langford, Seattle, Washington USA

    The TV cliche I hate is "pulled from the rubble" when someone's rescued in any disaster, from avalanches to destruction by bombs.
    Hilda Meers, Whitehills

    As an Englishman living in America, I have become accustomed to the American habit of making everything bigger or more complicated. Americans don't move, they "relocate". A simple tavern will be called "The Inn on The Park in the Square". There used to be a car company here called "Ford" - now its known everywhere as "Your Quality-plus Ford Dealer and You". "The news where you are" sounds a bit like that. What's wrong with, "Now the local News"?
    Jonathan Clifton, Riverton, New Jersey, USA

    Personally, I get very irritated by some weather-forecasters' phrases - as for instance when they talk about "more organised rain". The other day, I heard the rather odd-sounding "There's some sunny pie coming your way" - but can't say I disliked that. Quirky, though.
    Michael Simpson, Ticehurst, East Sussex

    How about: "Now here's your local news"? Too simple?
    Beth T, Corvallis, Oregon, USA

    Least favourite phrase in the news broadcasts: "[Insert name/organisation] is expected to announce [insert report/paper etc]." It's not news yet!
    J Smith, Eastleigh, Hampshire

    The word MASSIVE before either stroke or heart attack - pure Partridge.
    Tom Brooks-Pollock, London

    Just before the "now the news where you are" remark we are invariably exposed to the equally irritating "I'll be back a little later with the latest on the day's headlines". There are two points to make about this: 1) Are the news headlines really going to change within the next three or four minutes? 2) Why should those of us who have just sat through half an hour of news have to hear the same headlines repeated yet again? Solution: end of national news - cut to "local" news (in inverted commas because I live in Cumbria yet have to sit through endless stories about Manchester and Liverpool) - cut to weather - cut to trailers/next programme. If you missed the headlines, tough luck. Switch on Ceefax or use your red button!
    Chris Johnston, Ulverston, Cumbria

    Excellent column Peter. I have a suggestion, borrowed from the late, great local on-air guy, Tom Cherington. "Here is YOUR news." There - simple, non-exclusive.
    Patrick Moore, Hamilton, Canada

    Most irritating on North West tonight is Gordon Burns' opening statement: "Welcome to North West tonight, I'm Gordon Burns." Why does he have to tell us his name every time?
    Una Talbot, Wigan

    When did the word "ongoing" become such common currency that it crops up in just about every news report? What happened to "continuing"?
    Alan Knowles, Glasgow

    I get irritated when the news reader or interviewer says, at the end of whatever, "Thank you very much indeed". Why "very much indeed"? Why not just "thank you"? Isn't it just gilding the lily? Thank you very much indeed.
    Barbara MacArthur, Cardiff

    The news phrase I hate is the one used to fool us into thinking that a reporter has an intimate (or at least chummy) relationship with a world leader, ie "Kofi Annan told me this morning..." The truth is Kofi Annan told a roomful of journalists amongst whom was our friend from the BBC. If there was a personal interview with someone important you can bet your last penny we would be told about it.
    Mike Thomas, Swansea

    Any time anarchism is mentioned it is done so with the meaning of lawlessness, violence and chaos. Anarchism means without rules or without government. It is a real bastardisation of the term and takes everything away from the beauty of a truly anarchic society.
    Ben, London

    I hate the gross over-use by news presenters of the word "indeed" when thanking someone for a contribution. They use it in nearly all instances, presumably to sound extra-friendly. Instead, it should be kept for use on the rare occasions when the thanks are much more than routine, eg when someone has reported breaking news of "the beginning of the end of the world". That really would deserve a "thank you very much indeed".
    Prof Donald Read, Poulton

    I hate it when it is announced that such and such a programme is on at 10 o'clock. No AM or PM.
    David MacKinnon, Arrochar

    The one that is most irritating when used by professional interviewers and presenters is "Welcome back". It applies mainly to those working in the commercial sector but the BBC is not immune. The problem with "welcome back" is WE HAVEN'T BEEN AWAY - you have. The viewer remained static - it's the guy on the TV who departed.
    Brendan Balfe, Dublin

    "Between you and I" or "they gave you and I" or other uses of "I" when it should be "me". It's an over-correction! Is it too late to stop, or can the BBC lead the way on this? Sorry to be a grammar cop, but it hurts the ears.
    Katya, New York, New York

    "And now on BBC2 Newsnight."
    Richard Tew, Poole

    "We're almost out of time, but tell us briefly" and "We'll see you later". (How will you see me?)
    Bernard Mellor, Langley, BC, Canada

    Why is practically every initiative on crime or immigration or pollution, to name a few, always described as "tough, new measures/legislation/policy"? Drives me bonkers and has gone on for years. There, I've said it: one less reason for me to shout at the radio and TV!
    Tim, Brighton

    Since you have opened the topic up, please can we take it on to the weather forecasters who appear at the end of the news? They persist in using "(insert verb as appropriate) ... its way" to describe the movement of weather; thus "easing its way", "drifting its way" etc. Note that they usually employ a verb that needs no additional phrase and they often make the verb out of a noun. I once heard "positioning its way". While we are at it can you stop them saying "as well", as well? When they have uttered a sentence with a dying fall, they just cannot leave it be - they just have to add two more pointless little words (as well).
    Rupert Butler, Axminster Devon

    "Well..." Don't feel too bad, though. Whereas in Britain presenters start their answers to questions asked with "Well...", over here in Holland they start their answers with "Uhhh" which is repeated after every other word they utter. So never mind, Newsnight is still my favourite programme. That is, well, uhhh, amongst other excellent BBC programmes. Greetings and please keep up your high standards!
    Mrs WM de Gorter, Amstelveen, Holland

    Who needs Jeremy Paxman to write the Newsnight column when we have such wit and observation in Peter Barron. For some of us overseas who would rather be in the UK the internet link with the BBC is a most welcome alternative to TV. Whilst we can watch quality BBC reports on our computers we are unfortunately, in North America, more used to watching 50" screen TVs with high definition digital broadcasts. My computer just can't compete with that. It takes more skill to put together the written word in my opinion. Keep up the good work Newsnight. Living abroad is made all the more bearable by your internet access.
    Denise Hunt, Oakville, Canada (formerly UK)

    "And now over to our correspondent" which more often than not launches into a conversation between the studio based presenter and the remote journalist rather than an uninterrupted fully formed report on the subject. I feel that it demeans the correspondent and makes it look like there were questions that only the presenter could imagine to which the correspondent has to give impromptu, possibly incomplete, answers.
    Martin Dayman, Oxford

    "Audacious robbery" used when a gang of armed violent criminals attack security guards and steal OUR money. Such criminals are merely dangerous thugs who should be incarcerated for an extremely long period of time. I would rather see the term "audacious" reserved for the truly brave and intrepid legal acts that are worthy of news coverage such as the rescue of Russian submariners trapped underwater.
    Philip Barclay, Altrincham

    The phrase Tim Henman (or Greg or Andrew) CRASHED OUT of Wimbledon (or whichever Open tournament). He lost a game!
    George Prusinski, Loughborough, Leicestershire

    "Newsnight's getting under way on BBC TWO now." Surely once in a while it could be rephrased? "If you want to watch Newsnight...
    Malcolm Hooson, Cambridge

    "From the word 'go'" - just when the hell is that? And, when they say things like "five million people a month pass through Waterloo" when I know ten of them must be me.
    Gerry Bond, Reading

    "Troops are on the ground." Can't they just "there" like everyone else?
    Ross Bellette, Christchurch, New Zealand

    The most annoying newsroom phrase is "And finally" because it never is! Even when we all thought it was finally finally, Sir Trevor showed up not five minutes later with another newsy programme. Maybe the term should be changed to "And penultimately".
    Llewellyn, Somerton, Oxfordshire

    Any phrase or sentence with word "engage" in it. Engage, as far as I'm concerned, should be restricted to gears in a car, a state of intending marriage and an occupied public convenience.
    David K, Ilford

    "Back in a little while" - implies something flexible and organic, rather than the necessary precision of returning at the exact same time, to the second, every night. "Back in a little while, with the latest headlines" - no, back with the same headlines of 25 minutes ago. "Bye for now" - would anyone dream of saying "bye" to someone they were going to meet again less than five minutes later? An alternative: "We'll now break for your local news before the closing headlines."
    Andrew Brown, Leamington Spa


    Why pizza without cheese? Italian "pizza Margherita", made with tomato and mozzarella cheese, is delicious and the most popular in Italy. Everybody loves it. And excuse, me it's not true that "Cheese is an American affectation". It's an Italian affectation, rather.
    Paolo Di Mizio, Rome, Italy

    Yes pizza is better without cheese, hence, I make my own.
    Georgia Blackwood, Birmingham

    You can keep the cheese off the dough but that still won't be a pizza. If you don't know it's a pizza - it isn't.
    Peter Farrell, Croydon

    Pizza without cheese? Never! I agree that thick, sticky, greasy cheese is anathema, but what about buffalo mozzarella? This is what pizza was invented for!
    Brian, Europe

    Absolutely a pizza should be thin and crisp, with tomato, herbs, garlic - a little dried chilli is a must and most definitely no cheese.
    Kashmir Kaur, Bingley

    I just come back from Shanghai, China. Over there, they have invented a pizza without cheese. It's getting popular.
    Alice Shay, Calgary, Canada

    Very strange. Armando Ianucci says that cheese on pizza is an "American affectation". Well, that settles it, then. Has it escaped everyone's attention that Mr Ianucci is, in fact, Scottish? This simple fact alone automatically disqualifies him from any discussion on food - he dislikes cheese on his pizza, presumably, for the simple reason that it slips off when he deep-fries it.
    Steve, Clearwater, Florida

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