Today’s Guardian (print) headline reads ‘Explosive letter lifts lid on four-year hacking cover-up‘. A letter, written four years ago, has come to light that supposedly proves Andy Coulsden was aware of phone hacking and has been for some time. Since the whole phone hacking scandal erupted I’ve thought that anyone who believed it was confined to the News of the World or that the people at the very top knew nothing about it, were frankly, being a bit naïve.
Having said that I didn’t have any hard evidence to back up this hunch… until last night. At the weekend I joined my local library, where I was thrilled to discover I could rent a plethora of 1990s murder mysteries for just £1. I thought I’d start with series 1 of Jonathan Creek, first broadcast in 1997. You may be asking, “What on earth does this have to do with phone hacking?” or you might be thinking “What or who the hell is Johnathan Creek?” I’ll get to the point but first here’s a brief synopsis of a little piece of TV history:
Johnathan Creek (played by Alan Davies) main job is planning elaborate tricks for a theatrical American magician. Fortunately he’s not very busy so when investigative journalist Maddy Magellan (played by Caroline Quentin) needs help solving a murder for her latest ‘true crime’ book Johnathan is usually on hand to help. His ‘lateral thinking’ means he can solve even the deepest of mysteries and the comedy created by the relationship between the pair makes this a very watchable series (even 14 years after it was first broadcast).
In the very first episode Maddy investigates the mysterious death of a philandering artist. As part of her investigations she hacks into the voicemail of one of the suspects. As she taps the numbers into the delightfully large 1990s plastic telephone Johnathan asks how she’s doing it. She replies that it’s easy; BTs pin numbers for voicemail boxes only range between 1 and 99 so there are only 99 different possibilities. Eventually you can get through to anyone’s mailbox.
Obviously the technology’s moved on a bit since Maddy was doing her investigating. However, the point is that if in 1997 an actor playing a journalist in a BBC sitcom was scripted to hack into peoples’ voicemails, it must have been pretty common knowledge that this kind of thing was going on. Obviously phone hacking was not confined to one or two journalists, or even one or two newspapers, and it’s clearly been going on for a lot longer than we’d like to believe. What’s more, Johnathan Creek’s proved it.