Surveillance culture is the enemy of bizarre love triangles
The extension of information obsession to the field of intimacy ruins the mystery, poetry and suspense
Former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks and her husband Charlie arrive at the Old Bailey courthouse in London last Friday. Photograph: Reuters/Stefan Wermuth
I asked Mike Nichols, the director of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal on Broadway, why love triangles have such a mythic hold on the imagination. “We’re born in a triangle,” he said about parents and a newborn. “That’s the most important one, the triangle that determines who we are, the one that affects the other triangles that you get into in your life.”
The affair in Betrayal takes place from 1968 to 1975, but it feels like a quaint, distant world. Robert, a publisher, discovers his wife, Emma, is having an affair with his best friend, Jerry, a literary agent, when he recognises Jerry’s writing on a letter addressed to her at the American Express office in Venice.
But maybe that world isn’t so quaint. The first bombshell out of the London phone-hacking trial of flame-haired Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, a fellow editor who went on to be a spin doctor for David Cameron, is about a six-year affair prosecutors say was conducted by these two top lieutenants of Rupert Murdoch. (The prosecution contends that the affair began when both were single – although Brooks was engaged to the man who would be her first husband – and continued after they both got married.)
Their illicit relationship, too, was exposed by a letter, this one found on a Word document on Brooks’ computer and discovered by investigators in a cupboard in her London home. Prosecutor Andrew Edis read jurors part of the letter on Thursday to underscore the trusting relationship between the pair when they were editors at Murdoch tabloids, The Sun and The News of the World.
The relationship supposedly took place between 1998 and 2004, overlapping the period when the lovers are charged with engaging in a criminal conspiracy to hack the phones of celebrities, royalty and even that of an abducted and murdered teenage girl, which cruelly left her parents with the impression she might still be alive.
The prosecutor said the letter appeared to show a distraught-stricken Brooks trying to talk Coulson out of breaking off the affair.
“Most important,” Brooks wrote, “the fact is you are my very best friend, I tell you everything, I confide in you, I seek your advice, I love you, care about you, worry about you, we laugh and cry together. In fact, without our relationship in my life I’m not sure I will cope.” She continued: “The thought of finding out anything about you from someone else fills me with absolute dread.”
Tabloid editors charged with breaking the law to expose people’s most intimate secrets are now having their most intimate secrets exposed in a court of law. They didn’t just betray their mates, but fellow A-listers. They managed to have an old-fashioned private fling for years while they were using new technology to splash into print the torrid affairs of other bold-faced British names.
Instead of the “pip pip pips” Pinter writes about, the coins dropping into a phone booth for a “crafty telephone call” to make an excuse about coming home late, they had the pip pip pips of punching digits into older mobile phones to hack unsuspecting victims.
Daniel Craig, who plays Robert in Betrayal, says the play is set in a misty time when discretion still existed, a time he thinks was sexier.