David Leggat: England skipper eats his words

By David Leggat

Jimmey Cagney was on TV the other night. It was one of his famous films, White Heat, in which the little gangster came to an explosive end at a great height.

Popular lore has his final line in the movie, as the flames are leaping around him, as "Top of the world, Ma." In fact, what Cagney says is: "Made it Ma, top of the world."

When Ingrid Bergman persuades the piano man in Casablanca to rustle up hers and Bogey's song, she doesn't say "Play it again, Sam" as legend has it but "Play it, Sam, for old time's sake."

Not to forget Jim Lovell, commander of Apollo 13, credited with the line: "Houston, we have a problem", but who really said: "Houston, we've had a problem here."

In each case, the misquote flows better, or has a touch more zip to it, than the original.

The world is full of misquotations, or not, as the case may be. Most don't really matter; some do. Just ask England's cricket captain Michael Vaughan, who discovered this week that what he said he didn't say, he did.

Vaughan did something stupid. He was interviewed by an award-winning journalist at the Guardian newspaper.

In the lengthy article which followed, Vaughan is quoted as putting the shoe into allrounder Andrew "Freddie" Flintoff for damaging England's spirit at the World Cup in the Caribbean, particularly with what has become known as the "Fredalo" incident.

After getting hammered in a bar, Flintoff took a pedal boat for an early morning ride into the sea, before tipping out and being rescued by hotel staff.

The story quoted Vaughan using the word "Fredalo". He then emphatically denied it passed his lips. Repeatedly. He claimed he'd been "totally misquoted", perhaps looking for a soft landing at his lunch meeting with the burly Fred the next day.

He took a pop at the newspaper's version of the interview.

"I never used that word, no," he said. "Me and Freddie are good mates." Silly man.

The Guardian, one of Britain's quality newspapers, understandably unimpressed at being slagged off, put the audio of the taped interview on its website. Game, set and match.

"Fredalo" passes Vaughan's lips not once but twice. The Guardian's sports editor said "the inelegance of [Vaughan's] reversal was matched only by its inaccuracy". Ouch.

The lesson? It's hard to argue against what your ears tell you.

It's possible to mount a defence to the initial comments on Flintoff as that of a captain speaking with honesty, and Vaughan is regarded as a pretty straight shooter.

And honesty remains the best policy, despite all the spin meisters who in most walks of life will tell their charges otherwise.

But who advised Vaughan his best course of action was to deny, deny with a tape recorder hovering over their heads? They should surely be looking for new employment.

A favourite "I never said that" sports story? Brash American basketball star Charles Barkley insisted he'd been misquoted in a book. It was his autobiography.

* Hands up anyone who can remember the logo from the last three Olympic Games. Didn't think so, but there's a right old furore developing over the design for the London Games in 2012.

For starters, it cost £400,000 and petitions are roaring along to have it changed, amid claims ranging from a danger of causing epileptic seizures to it bearing too similar a resemblance to a swastika.

What does it look like? A sort of misshaped jigsaw puzzle, one of those images a shrink would hold up and say to a troubled patient: "what's this?" to which the patient replies "a butterfly".

Lord Coe, chairman of the London organising committee, described it as "edgy", claiming "we don't do bland". Which only shows he hasn't eaten English food for a while.

"Design guru" Stephen Bayley called it "a puerile mess, an artistic flop and a commercial scandal".

The happiest people out of it all? Brand consultants Wolff Olins, who've trousered the money and are filling their boots with publicity money can't buy. Ain't life grand.

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