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Follow It is strange that the editor of Private Eye should have become one of the most morally subtle presenters on television, but true. Ian Hislop is not one of those boring people who, as they get older, go from one extreme to the other.
He has not suddenly converted from a drunken, scoffing, dissolute youth to a starchy middle-aged puritanism. He remains satirical and funny.
But he is clearly interested in the moral impulse in society, and does not dismiss it as mere hypocrisy. Gladstone watching a new patent steam feller in Hislop's approach was particularly valuable in this, the last of his series of three programmes, The Age of the Do-Gooders, because it is in relation to sex and drink that we get our easiest laughs at the expense of the Victorians.
What humbugs they all were, we say complacently. Boldly, and in the spirit of genuine inquiry so often absent from television history, Hislop decided to take them seriously. The famous test case is W E Gladstone, the dominant statesman of the 19th century, and an enthusiastic rescuer of prostitutes. Walking home from Parliament late at night, he would engage whores in conversation, sometimes even giving them a bed for the night, hearing their stories, hoping, with the help of the Scriptures, to win them for a better life.
You have only to look at pictures of Gladstone, with his masterful countenance and flashing eye, to see that he was a man with a strong sex drive. Psychologists could draw a very obvious conclusion from his passion for cutting down trees. He admitted in his own diary that his thoughts about Marian Summerhayes, a beautiful courtesan to whom he once declaimed Tennyson's The Princess for four-and-a-half hours, ''require to be limited and purged''.