Daily Mail columnist Quentin Letts has apologised after appearing to mock BBC presenter Andrew Marr for his disability. In his latest column about rival Sunday talk shows hosted by Marr and ITV's Robert Peston, Letts referred to Marr as "Captain Hop-Along" and derided him for "throwing his arm about like a tipsy conductor", according to reports released on Monday (9 May).
Marr had a stoke in 2013 and was in hospital for two months. While returning to presenting eight months later, he still suffers the after-effects including limited mobility in one of his arms.
The BBC presenter's wife, Jackie Ashley, criticised Letts on Twitter, saying: "What a great signal to disabled people: Quentin Letts mocks my husband for being disabled following a stroke."
Media commentator for the Guardian, Roy Greenslade, branded the column "graceless" and called for Letts to apologise. The Stroke Association also attacked Letts, saying: "The devastating physical impact of a stroke is no joke.
"Sadly this demonstrates that discrimination against people with a disability still exists, and it is vital that we take a stand against it."
Letts tweeted an apology on Monday, saying: "I fear my sketch reference to the admirable Marr today was horrid. Apologies to all concerned and upset."
He added, in a statement provided to Greenslade: "Perhaps I should have been more cautious but I hope that Andrew will forgive it. He has been equally teasing about himself in my company. I admire him.
"Perhaps I should have been more diplomatic but the sort of column I write is a sketch – i.e. a verbal cartoon. Steve Bell in the Guardian, or Rowson in the Independent (RIP), can be a little brutal occasionally, too, but I would argue that it is understood as part of the territory.
"I would say that Andrew's post-stroke TV delivery has actually made him more watchable than he was beforehand. It has accentuated his explosive, emphatic manner. It has made him more unusual.
"Telly is a visual medium. It seems, to me, impossible to ignore visual mannerisms if writing a sketch about it. But your stern response makes me wonder if I erred the wrong side of the taste line."