Perhaps the one redeeming feature of Freddie Starr’s hurried exit from “I’m A Celebrity...Get Me out of Here” is that this time television viewers saw for their own eyes what the comedian had eaten.

In contrast to the Sun’s infamous front page in 1986 – “Freddie Starr ate my hamster” – this week’s headline, “Freddie Starr ate my camel” was based on fact rather than the fiction of much show biz news.

Starr had to pull out of the programme after collapsing following a Bushtucker Trial in which, according to the Daily Star, he chomped on “turkey testicles, mice tails, camel’s feet, a rotten egg and a pig’s anus.”

Headline writers were in ecstasy but the Sun’s “Freddie Starr ate my camel” did have the edge on the Daily Star’s “Freddie Starr stuffed by turkey.”

Nonetheless newspaper readers of today do need reminding that the unforgettable front page about Starr eating a hamster was a testament to the opportunism of the then editor of the Sun Kelvin MacKenzie and the publicist Max Clifford.

In my opinion it also marked the moment when a generation of tabloid journalists began to make their names fabricating sensational stories. 

No longer do such tales have to be properly sourced with quotations from named individuals. Once I see those three all-important words – “an onlooker said” – I know I will not disappointed and that I should have some sympathy for the reporter who must have been desperate to manufacture a comment from an eye-witness.

But “an onlooker said” has become nothing more than a cheap device for churning out the stereotype quotes which have become a cliché in celebrity journalism.  A pocket book full of suitable one-liners allows carte blanche when it comes to dreaming up the best possible story line.

Max Clifford revealed his role in concocting the headline “Freddie Starr ate my hamster” in his autobiography Max Clifford Read All About It.  On condition of anonymity, he was happy to give the story line the credence which Kelvin MacKenzie required. He gave a graphic description of his modus operandi: “I was pulling off all kinds of nonsense but that was the first one that publicly put me apart from other PRs.”

He enlarged on the “game” that he played when interview for the Channel 4 programme, 100 Worst Britons: “I have been as creative and as economical with the truth as most journalists and politicians are...I have been lucky and I intend to get away with it for as long as I can.”

My fear is that we do have a generation of reporters who think nothing of manufacturing quotes and fabricating stories.  Entertaining though much of this copy might be, the growth in un-attributed quotes and stories based wholly on anonymous sources has spread like a cancer, eating away at the probity of British journalism.

Among the worst offenders are royalty, show business, sports and of course politics. At Westminster, the “onlooker” is given far greater status. You all know the drill: “A Downing Street insider said this...a Cabinet source said that...a ministerial aide reveal this...a top civil servant confirmed that” – and so it goes on, every “source” imaginable except the source of the quote.