Don't be beastly to boasters. Who hasn’t put 'Nobel Prize for Physics' on their CV when it was only a GCSE in cookery?

White lies: No one likes the boasts of the office executive who recalls tales of exotic professions and adventurous assignments

White lies: No one likes the boasts of the office executive who recalls tales of exotic professions and adventurous assignments

Few of us had much time for the boastful young executive who arrived at the office where I worked in the early Nineties, and immediately began throwing his weight about. We soon had him marked down as a bit of a Walter Mitty, since he would preface almost everything he said with an implausible claim about his glamorous past.

‘In my days as a TV presenter in the States . . .’; ‘When I was training to be a pilot . . .’; ‘During my time as a lobbyist at the White House . . .’; ‘When I was working undercover in Moscow . . .’ You get  the picture.

As a rule, we pretended to believe him because, dammit, we were British — and it’s frightfully embarrassing to call a chap a liar to his face (particularly if the chap happens to be an executive, with the power to make trouble for you).

But I’ll never forget the morning when a friend at the desk next to mine broke the unwritten code and gave him his crushing comeuppance.

The young tyrant came swaggering over to rebuke my colleague over something he had written, beginning his tirade with the words: ‘When I was practising at the criminal Bar . . .’

This was one claim too many for my friend, who interrupted him: ‘So you were a barrister, too, were you?’ Pause. ‘I don’t believe you.’

Breaking the awful silence that followed, the fantasist tried to brazen it out. ‘Really?’ he said. ‘Well, you’re quite free to check.’

And oh, dear, my friend did just that. Very unBritish of him. He picked up the telephone, rang the Bar Council — and established within a couple of minutes that nobody bearing the young executive’s name had been called to the Bar since the early Forties, long before the braggart was born.

Enough to say that my friend never had any trouble from him again.

As for me, sitting at the next desk, pretending to be deeply absorbed in that morning’s edition of Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates, I was surprised to feel a powerful pang of sympathy for the bragging Tigger who had been so humiliatingly unbounced.

Embarrassing: New CEO of Yahoo! Scott Thompson has been accused of lying on his CV

Embarrassing: New CEO of Yahoo! Scott Thompson has been accused of lying on his CV

Something of that same feeling swept over me this week when I read about Scott Thompson, the new chief executive of the mighty internet search engine, Yahoo!, who stands accused by an investor of lying on his CV when he applied for the job.

The charge laid against him is that he claimed to have a degree in computer science from Stonehill College, near Boston, as well as his degree in accountancy. As the inquisitive Yahoo! shareholder has discovered, this is highly improbable, since Stonehill didn’t offer degrees in computer science when Mr Thompson was there.

Facing calls for his head, after just five months in the job, the chief executive says he is sorry — although you will notice that he chooses a form of words, reminiscent of Tony Blair at his most slippery, which stops just short of admitting that he told a lie.

‘I want you to know,’ he tells his 14,000 staff, as they hug their sides with mirth, ‘how deeply I regret how this issue has affected the company and all of you.’

He’s sorry about ‘this issue’, you see. Not ‘my whopper’.

True, his fellow directors of Yahoo! say they are standing by him. But I reckon they don’t much help his cause when they attribute the entry on his CV to an ‘inadvertent error’.

You can just hear the cynical laughter ringing through cyberspace and the business world. Easy mistake to make, eh? Which of us hasn’t put ‘Nobel Prize for Physics’ on our CV, when we meant to write ‘GCSE in home economics’? It’s the sort of thing that could happen to any of us, if we allow our concentration to slip. Ho, ho.

So should Mr Thompson stay or should he go? A tricky one, that.

In my more solemn moments, I recognise that lying is an extremely serious matter — and, of course, trustworthiness is an essential quality in the leader of a large corporation. I can also see that falsely claiming an academic qualification is an offence against every graduate who has put in years of hard slog to earn a degree.

But then I find myself thinking that to err is human, to forgive divine. If he’s good at his job, as the Yahoo! board seems to believe, it probably makes no difference whether he has a degree in computing or not. And now that he’s given us all a good laugh at his expense, he is likely to think twice before telling any more whoppers.

Forgivable sin: Is lying on your CV all that bad? If you are good at your job, why does it matter?

Forgivable sin: Is lying on your CV all that bad? If you are good at your job, why does it matter?

But no, we mustn’t be soft. The clincher must surely be that, thanks to internet search engines, it’s incredibly easy these days to check people’s qualifications, or to look up which courses are offered by which colleges. So if Mr Thompson is too damn stupid to realise this, he is almost certainly too stupid to be chief executive of . . . an internet search engine.

Of course, he is far from alone in standing accused of having over-embellished a CV — and I’m not thinking only of the famous ones, such as Lee McQueen, one-time winner of Lord Sugar’s The Apprentice, Jeffrey Archer, the novelist and jailbird, or Alison Ryan, the PR boss of Manchester United, whose glittering first-class degree from Cambridge turned out to be a drab second, like mine.

Indeed, not so long ago I came across a CV drawn up by one of my sons, who had inadvertently left it in the printer at home. I was astonished to see, under the heading ‘Advertising Industry’, that he’d had what sounded like a high-powered job, ‘liaising between a theatrical production company and the general public’. This was a post (and I’m quoting from unreliable memory) in which he had apparently ‘developed keen social interaction skills’ and ‘acquired deep insights into sharp-end promotion and marketing techniques’.

Over-embellished: Apprentice winner Lee McQueen famously fibbed on his CV

Over-embellished: Apprentice winner Lee McQueen famously fibbed on his CV

The mystery cleared when I remembered he’d earned beer money in the summer holiday by handing out flyers to passers-by on the streets of Edinburgh, advertising shows of the festival fringe. His CV wasn’t exactly a lie — no more so, anyway, than those fancy menus that promise ‘succulent torpedoes of finely chopped and seasoned pork, pan-fried and served with a puree of freshly gathered Maris Pipers’, when what they mean is bangers and mash. But it was hardly the unadorned truth, either.

Not that I blame my son. At school, he and the rest of his generation had lessons in bigging themselves up in this ridiculous way, whether on their CVs or the Personal Statements they had to submit to their universities. I just feel sorry for the employers and admissions tutors who have to wade through oceans of this tosh, having their intelligence insulted by every exaggerated boast.

But I mustn’t feel smug. For how many of us, even of my sainted generation, can claim that we stick religiously to the unvarnished truth when we’re describing our experiences and accomplishments to others?

Shamefully few, if a survey in yesterday’s paper is to be believed. Indeed, more than 70 per cent of us, finds Lindeman’s Wine and Book Club, falsely claim that we’ve read standard classics in an attempt to seem more cultured than we are.

Men are the worst fibbers, finds the poll, with a quarter admitting they’ve lied in order to impress a woman. Meanwhile, the books most lied about tend to be those that have been made into films or TV series, with the top five among them being: Pride And Prejudice, The Lord Of The Rings, Jane Eyre, Tess Of The d’Urbervilles and The Hobbit.

Guilty as charged, your honour. In my time, I’m sure I’ve discussed all five on the list, with a great show of erudition. Yet there is one of them that I know with certainty I’ve never read.

Mind you, I’m not saying which one it is. And the beauty of it is that, even with the help of the mighty Yahoo!, you have absolutely no way of checking.