Fancy a flutter, mate?

Several commentators have recently voiced their objections to TV advertising for on-line gambling. Predictably, the advertisers disagree.

The objectors emphasise the growing addiction among children, some of whom gamble on line through the night. The seven-digit number of such adolescent addicts is hard to believe, but then so is modernity.

Advertisers point out that they’re only allowed to run commercials after the 9 pm watershed. Moreover, they don’t encourage gambling. All they do is promote their own brand against competition.

The cinematic Cockney Ray Winstone, after informing credulous viewers that Bet365 is one big family that crosses “conninents”, even says that “we gamble wes-PON-sibly”. What more can one ask? Of course that disclaimer is a legal requirement, but, when the talented Ray says it, it appears to come from the heart.

Now I hope my libertarian friends won’t burn me in effigy if I say that I’d ban all such advertising, and not just because children become addicted. And not even because the campaign for the ban is led by Lord Chadlington, né Peter Gummer.

(I have for Peter that affectionate feeling I reserve for people who contributed to my comfortable retirement from advertising: his company bought the agency in which I was a partner.)

It’s just that I can see through the advertisers’ little tricks with ease. Of course they don’t promote gambling as such in so many words. But I’d like to know why Bet365 chose Ray Winstone as their spokesman.

Actually, I do know. Ad agencies have casting departments, and casting departments have thick books of all celebrities categorised by their credibility rating in every product category. Matching gambling to various potential spokesmen, they obviously found Ray’s credibility to be right up there.

For one thing, he’s a lovable, middle-aged bear of a man with much avuncular appeal. Then he speaks with an accent that’s more pint mug than cut crystal. This suggests that market research identified the demographics of the target audience as C to B-. If it were A to B, they’d have someone who sounds like Gary Oldman in his Churchill role.

In addition to being a wonderful actor and a genuine Cockney, Ray is what the target audience would describe as cool. That wouldn’t be the case if the spokesman were a Cockney actor mostly known for playing serial murderers.

Ray’s job isn’t only increasing his employer’s market share, but also growing the market. Encouraging the target audience to gamble, in other words. Advertisers use glamorous spokesmen because they know that this glamorises not only their product, but also what the product does.

As to the 9 pm watershed, it’s risible. First, I haven’t seen many teenagers who obediently go to bed at nine. And even those meek souls who do may well have a TV (pronounced tey-vey in this market segment) in their rooms. Also, the watershed is suspended on live sports broadcasts, mainly football.

We wouldn’t have much advertising left if such tricks of the trade were disallowed. Most advertisers use them. However, most products aren’t inherently pernicious. Though switching from one brand of toothpaste to another won’t improve anyone’s sex life, at least a toothpaste isn’t immoral in se.

Gambling is. And here again I speak from personal experience and observation.

These suffice even if we disregard the seven deadly sins, some of which a gambler commits. It’s just that anyone who has ever gambled or at least watched others do so knows that this activity encourages the worst parts and the basest passions of human nature.

Now I don’t have a gambler’s personality. My pain of losing £1,000 is much stronger than the joy of winning £1,000. Having said that, I used to bet relatively large amounts on myself in games of skill, such as the more cerebral card games, chess and tennis.

Many years ago I got interested in beating the casino at blackjack. Having played thousands of hands at home, I tried my luck a few times in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. And sure enough, working hard for several hours, I managed to convert the in-built house advantage of seven per cent to a 10 per cent advantage for myself.

That would have been most welcome had I started with a gambling capital of $100,000. However, since my capital was more in the nature of $200, the mass wasn’t worth the candle.

Later in life I went to a few race courses in Britain, mainly as client entertainment. There I played with the company’s money, which made the losses easier to bear. Perhaps because of that I won a hundred or two each time, even though I know nothing about horses.

Yet at both the casinos and race courses I indulged in my favourite pastime: watching people. That wasn’t a pretty sight: thousands of faces contorted with greed, the anguish of losing much-needed money, the ecstasy of winning large sums that will then be lost with interest. I heard shrieks, moans, weeping, hysterical laughter, sounds of triumph and devastation. It was man close to his worst.

Then again, offering or promising something for nothing inevitably corrupts both the buyer and the seller. Gambling is always corrupt – be that at a Mayfair casino or a Brixton street corner.

It’s not by chance that both Las Vegas and Atlantic City owe their prosperity to the Mafia. A casino isn’t something a Franciscan charity would want to build.

On-line gambling is a case in point. I know some accomplished poker players who have been unable to collect their winnings. And most punters don’t realise that, when they gamble on-line, they’re up against a computer, not another punter.

Incidentally, the lottery run by the biggest gambling outfit of all, the state, operates on the same principle, magnified no end. The odds of winning are much lower than at the blackjack table. Thus the lottery is a computer-calculated rip-off, or else a tax on people poor at maths.

Yet I don’t think gambling should be banned. Rousseau’s pronouncements notwithstanding, legislating the good parts of human nature isn’t the state’s job.

But preventing others from encouraging the bad parts may well fall under the state’s remit. Hence, even if the odd flutter shouldn’t be banned, ads for gambling should be. This is one of the areas in which the libertarian argument doesn’t work.

Painting censorship (PC for short)

At last there’s someone who shares my aesthetic evaluation of the Pre-Raphaelites.

Every painting produced by the Brotherhood is a sugary, pseudo-Classical, pantheistic, cloyingly sentimental exercise in artistic demagoguery as vacuous spiritually as it’s mediocre technically.

Hence it’s from the bottom of my heart that I congratulate the curators of Manchester Art Gallery for their bold decision to remove John William Waterhouse’s Hylas and the Nymphs from its walls, and postcards of the painting from its shop.

That way they declare their unwillingness to pander to English tastes starved of true native greatness and therefore ready to embrace and  overrate third-rate art. This serves as yet another reminder that the English genius finds its sublime expression in literature, not in…

Hold on a second. My wife has just indulged her rotten habit of looking over my shoulder, and she’s saying I got it all wrong. “Why don’t you read the bloody article to the end before jumping to conclusions?” she asked archly and ever so contemptuously.

My male pride badly hurt, I’ve obediently read the article to the end. And I’ve found begrudgingly she was right. So right, in fact, that I must reconsider my hastily proffered congratulations.

Curator Clare Gannaway explained that the reasons for the banishment weren’t aesthetic at all. The problem – and not just with this painting, but with the whole In Pursuit of Beauty room where it hung – isn’t artistic but existential.

She then manfully, or rather non-gender-specifically, admitted her mistake in not having done something about it sooner: “Our attention has been elsewhere… we’ve collectively forgotten to look at this space and think about it properly. We want to do something about it now because we have forgotten about it for so long.”

Now that Miss Gannaway has got around to pondering the pernicious image properly, she’s shocked by everything it shows and, above all, implies.

This and many other such paintings interpret beauty as nude female form used to entice innocent youths to their fall. That means that Waterhouse and his Victorian contemporaries committed the egregious oversight of failing to anticipate our brittle modern sensibilities.

Modern viewers are offended, or rather presumed by Miss Gannaway to be offended, by any pictorial hint at the very possibility of women shedding their clothes and trying to seduce men.

They know that every man is a crypto-raping, bum-pinching, breast-squeezing aggressor out to humiliate and dominate female victim-persons in a brazen show of sexism (accompanied by fascism, racism and homophobia).

No woman having, or about to have, sex with a man may under any circumstances be depicted as a seductress. No woman will ever display her nudity voluntarily or, God forbid, playfully. Thus any depiction of a naked woman is a violent fantasy, an extension of rape by artistic means.

This simply won’t do, will it? Of course it won’t, and, as a lifelong champion of every new-fangled moral imperative, I agree wholeheartedly. My only regret is that Miss Gannaway displayed her righteous indignation so timidly.

I have images flashing through my head of her as a present-day Girolamo Savonarola, tossing Botticelli’s paintings into his bonfire of the vanities. Even though Miss Gannaway isn’t a Dominican, and Waterhouse isn’t exactly Botticelli, his canvases would have been as vulnerable to fire.

However, as a sop to our soft liberalism, the offensive painting wasn’t destroyed. It was only exiled, and even then temporarily.

“We think it probably will return, yes, but hopefully contextualised quite differently. It is not just about that one painting, it is the whole context of the gallery,” explained Miss Gannaway, displaying an enviable knack for converting nouns into verbs and misusing ‘hopefully’.

If I weren’t so unreservedly on her side, I’d opine that no one who uses English that way is fit to pass judgement on, well, anything and certainly not on art. But as an admirer of her cause, I’d like to help with a few modest suggestions.

By way of hopefully re-contexualising, re-backdropping and re-frameworking the painting, its title should be changed. I propose Hylas Spying on Bathing Nymph Persons to Indulge His Rape Fantasies And Risk Being Dragged Before Courts. What this title loses in brevity, it gains in sensitivity to the modern ethos and Miss Gannaway’s innermost convictions.

In parallel, the room should be renamed In Pursuit of Criminal Male Dreams of Chauvinist Domination. That way, Manchester Art Gallery won’t have to hire an artist who could touch the painting up by clothing all the nymphs in sensible trouser suits, complete with ties and men’s watches.

These measures would provide a short-term solution only. Over the long haul, our museums should hopefully re-contextualise – ideally burn – all paintings depicting female nudes. All those Botticellis, Rubenses, Velazquezes, Modiglianis et al proceeded from a chauvinist male perspective that has no place in Miss Gannaway’s world, or mine.

We ought to follow the lead of American educators who’ve rid school libraries of the toxic presence of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, out of which, according to Hemingway, all American literature came.

American literature can no longer be allowed to have come from a book featuring a character called Nigger Jim. Never mind that the novel is manifestly anti-slavery – Twain should have anticipated the advent of new morality by naming his character African American Person Jim.

(Huck saying ‘Hey, African American Person Jim’ really rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?)

I’d suggest that copies of this offensive tome should be not only expunged but publicly tossed in the fire. Though perhaps not yet: this would evoke images more recent than Savonarola’s bonfire.

Anyway, Godspeed to Miss Gannaway and her Mancunian colleagues. Call me if you need someone to strike that match.