Things can’t get much worse for Angus Deayton. Mocked in May by the tabloids for his sexual indiscretions - which ran to "a cocaine-fuelled night" with a prostitute - he had his salary halved by the BBC. Flogged again in the papers ten days ago for similar offences, he’s now about to lose his job as presenter of the TV show Have I Got News for You.
It’s a big fall for a bloke who spent 14 years in BBC comedy before he won a "most promising newcomer of the year" award. But that’s the way with celebrity witch trials - guided by tabloid morality, public opinion slays its heroes just as that lot in Salem were slain.
If it’s bad for a quiz show host, there have been others who have taken a public beating. It’s now a commonplace in newspaper circles that, between rumours of lesbianism and love children, former Blue Peter presenters aren’t worthy of a headline unless a line of coke or some sexual violence is involved.
Elsewhere, there are wheelbarrows of infamous cases, from the squalid stories which have ended Michael Barrymore’s career to the cocaine and rubber suits which once did for presenter Frank Bough. Sports stars - Stan Collymore or Ally McCoist - routinely get trashed, and up on the moral high ground, Conservative politicians at one point in the 1990s were rumbled once a week. (Former weather girl Ulrika Jonsson was a wounded party in only a select few of such cases.)
This is the peculiarly savage side of celebrity, with its vicious headlines and grotesque cartoons in which emotions become flash cards and careers are destroyed.
So, like his otherwise distinguished predecessors, Deayton has become the punchline of a joke, the subject of the satirical show he chaired, the object of derision. Not enough there to save his job.
Ah, but wait - it might be unwise to write him off just yet. After celebrity trials there’s nothing so good to read as the story of the man (or woman) who came back from dead. Who would have thought Hugh Grant would work again after he was caught by the LAPD in the warm embrace of Divine Brown? But something in that fantastically irritating "quintessential Englishness" keeps winning those Hollywood parts. Indeed, along with his quiff, that unwholesome whiff of corruption might even attract some moguls to him.
Others have tiptoed back to the top. Charlie Sheen owned up to a spend of $75,000 on Hollywood prostitutes ("high-class hookers" to readers of the National Enquirer) and an unfortunate habit in cocaine - but he’s still making out in the movies.
Rob Lowe did bad things in even better style - taking time out from a Democratic Convention in 1987 to film his encounter with two prostitutes. The "Lesbian clinch" sequence caused a certain hoo-ha at the time, but times change. The video is now included in Lowe’s filmography and its male lead is back making movies.
There’s even solace in the fate of Winona Ryder, arraigned for shoplifting but now tried in front of her Hollywood peers. She’s a talented actress (ironically, a star of the 1996 production of The Crucible) and it’s a fair bet the publicity will eventually help her career.
Before his trial by headline, Deayton said that the nadir of his career had been reached on the after-dinner speaking circuit, at less than august events such as the Heating and Ventilating Association awards dinner.
It might be a long road back in the tacky world of British celebrity, but at least Deayton can earn a living from his next witty line: "And this year’s gas-fitter of the year is ..."