Alastair Stewart used the ‘angry ape’ quote from Measure for Measure during a Twitter row with a white environmentalist 18 months ago, it emerged today.
The tweet emerged after the veteran presenter was forced out of ITN last night after black Twitter user Martin Shapland complained he used the phrase towards him.
But in June 2018, Mr Stewart had used exactly the same Shakespeare quote in an exchange – this time over horsefeed and ragwort – with a white Twitter user.
Alastair Stewart, pictured in November 2018, has stepped down from his presenting role at ITN
Mr Stewart tweeted the ‘angry ape’ Shakespeare quote to environmentalist Neil Jones in 2018
He had been in a discussion with Friends of the Earth supporter Neil Jones, an environmentalist, nature enthusiast and ragwort expert from Swansea, South Wales.
Mr Stewart was responding to a tweet by Mr Jones who had said he had spent years studying ragwort and had checked his facts with data and other experts.
Mr Jones added: ‘Research says that such rational thinking and certainty is often mistaken for arrogance by people who haven’t yet studied how to be rationally certain of facts.’
But Stewart replied to Mr Jones, saying: ‘But man, proud man, Dress’d in a little brief authority, Most ignorant of what he’s most assur’d— His glassy essence—like an angry ape, Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven As makes the angels weep; who, with our spleens, Would all themselves laugh mortal.’
While a photograph of Mr Jones could not immediately be sourced, Friends of the Earth confirmed to MailOnline this morning that he was white.
Martin Shapland (pictured) was in a debate with Mr Stewart on Twitter when the veteran newsreader quoted a passage from Shakespeare that included the words ‘angry ape’
Mr Stewart’s decision to step down comes after the black Twitter user claimed he ‘called him an angry ape’ three weeks ago. Mr Shapland later branded Mr Stewart a ‘disgrace’
Supporters of Mr Stewart said he appeared to have a habit of using the phrase to make a point about those he felt were claiming to be experts in a certain field.
The Shakespeare quote at the heart of Alastair Stewart’s social media rift
In a Twitter row Mr Stewart decided to quote a short passage from Measure by Measure by William Shakespeare.
The play was written in either 1603 or 1604 and is a dark comedy about a judge, Angelo, who leads the government in Vienna while the Duke is away.
The specific part Mr Stewart tweeted is a short speech by a character called Isabella, who has come to plead with Angelo for her brother’s life after he is sentenced to die.
Angelo refuses her request, and in response to him she says: ‘But man, proud man,
‘Dress’d in a little brief authority,
‘Most ignorant of what he’s most assur’d—
‘His glassy essence—like an angry ape
‘Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
‘As makes the angels weep; who, with our spleens,
‘Would all themselves laugh mortal’
Experts say Shakespeare’s simile ‘like an angry ape’ used in Isabella’s tirade at Angelo is to show his reversion to a human being’s basic instincts such as self-preservation – rather than a racist trope.
Last night Mr Stewart, 67, said he was quitting after ‘a misjudgement which I regret’ on social media. He told friends he was ‘very sad it was ending this way’ after 40 years in the job.
Colleagues leapt to his defence, saying the broadcasting ‘legend’ had been ‘shunted out’. One insisted last night: ‘Alastair is not a racist.’
ITN said Stewart was stepping down following ‘errors of judgement in Alastair’s use of social media which breached ITN’s editorial guidelines’.
It refused to give more details but several sources said it related to a Twitter spat on January 13.
Mr Stewart and Mr Shapland were debating the Royal Family’s finances online when the news anchor cited the passage from Measure for Measure.
Describing Mr Stewart as a disgrace, Mr Shapland shared the tweet and said: ‘Just an ITV newsreader referring to me as an ape.’
In a statement, the presenter said: ‘It was a misjudgement which I regret, but it’s been a privilege to bring the news to households throughout the UK for the past 40 years.’
An ITN insider said: ‘He would have thought he was being clever and it was merely an innocent put-down. He is certainly not a racist in any way.
‘Alastair is a hugely popular figure, well liked, kind and something of an institution.
‘It is sad if he has had to go because of this. He accepts the error of judgement, but many believe that, if this was the reason he is going, it was wrong, and he will be the first man ever fired for accurately quoting Shakespeare.’
Stewart, who is married with four children, was the nation’s longest-serving male newsreader. He started on Southern Television in 1976 and joined ITN in 1980. An OBE came in 2006 for services to broadcasting.
Amid an outpouring of support last night, fellow ITV News presenter Mary Nightingale tweeted: ‘Very sad about the departure of Alastair Stewart. He was a good friend and mentor.’
News anchor Julie Etchingham tweeted: ‘So sad to learn this – we have worked on many big stories together & Al is a trusted friend and guide to many of us.’