Nothing reveals character quite as reliably as the unexpected happening. BBC executives, for example, had no hesitation as to what to do recently when the presenter of Stargazing Live, Professor Brian Cox, right, asked whether he could point a Jodrell Bank radio telescope at a recently discovered planet in the hope that an alien civilisation might make contact.
They refused on the grounds that, since no one knew what might happen, it could be in breach of health and safety guidelines.
In the current climate, the last thing the corporation wants is another scandal.
The decision says everything one needs to know about the management of the BBC.
What better test of where we are than to check among our leaders and trendsetters as to how they would respond to an unexpected contact from extra-terrestrials?
David Cameron: I was absolutely appalled by these reports. I have always taken a particular interest in outer space, and I have absolutely no doubt that to have contact from what appear to be aliens is utterly unacceptable in modern Britain. I am therefore setting up an inquiry. Not just an inquiry, a public inquiry – with lawyers, glasses of water, celebrities, everything.
Not just a public inquiry, but an over-arching public inquiry. Let me be quite clear, this inquiry will be so over-arching that it will cover Mars, Pluto, Venus – everywhere.
Piers Morgan: I’ve known Al and Abi Alien for years. I think it was at a small dinner party for Hollywood A-listers, held by Brad and Angelina for Kate Middleton, that we first met.
They’re not conventionally beautiful but I told them that, because they had a great story to tell, I’d get them on my show as soon as I could. Watch this space!
Channel 4: We take a special interest in those with an interesting physical problem and we like nothing better than to show that the disfigured are people too, and often very fascinating in their admittedly weird way. Who could forget My 30-Stone Life, Freaky But Fine? We are very interested in signing up these celebrity aliens for a new documentary (Doctor, Can You Make Me Human?) which will question society’s notions of normality while creeping us all out at the same time.
Tom Watson MP: How long are we going to have to accept that people like “Professor” Brian Cox and the BBC think they have a right to bug – yes, I am brave enough to use that word – ordinary, working aliens who just happen to live on a different planet from us? I shall uncover a conspiracy within the establishment which will implicate the posh boys in Government, the media, the police, and loads of lawyers.
Who was the first person on the list to go into space? Sarah Brightman? And who was she once married to? None other than public-school Tory boy Lord Lloyd-Webber. I’m blowing the whistle on the lot.
Esther Rantzen: When I was presenting That’s Life, I’d receive letters from viewers who claimed that they had been abducted by aliens.
I thought they were simply trying to win my attention because of my global fame. Which is why I am now announcing a charity which will deal with anyone – and I mean, anyone – suffering from space-related personal problems.
I am haunted by the heart-breaking words of one of my fans. “In space,” she wrote, “no one can hear you scream.”