The already dramatic testimony of Rupert Murdoch and his son James, who insisted they did not know the scope of phone hacking at their News of the World tabloid in front of Parliament in London Tuesday, took a surreal turn mid-day. Anthony Faiola reports:

On a day of reckoning for News Corp. in Britain, Rupert Murdoch, a baron of the conservative press whose media empire runs from Fox News to the saucy old tabloids of Fleet Street, put himself forward to face a nation’s fury. Murdoch repeatedly pounded his hand on a table at the select parliamentary committee hearing as he testified but appeared removed from day-to-day details of the scandal and unprepared for the almost forensic lines of questioning.

The drama in the chamber, already at a peak, took a surreal turn when a man yelled “greedy” while tossing a plate of shaving cream at the 80-year-old Murdoch, prompting his wife, Wendi Murdoch, to leap out of her chair and belt the attacker. The melee forced a temporary suspension of a session watched by millions on both sides of the Atlantic.

Before long, the hearing resumed (along with the video) but everyone asked: Who had thrown the plate? Elizabeth Flock reports:

It’s been confirmed that the attacker was Jonnie Marbles, a comedian who tweeted shortly before the incident: “It is a far better thing that I do now than I have ever done before #splat.”

Marbles has had a number of stand up comedy gigs in the U.K. during the past year. But Marbles’ blog and online bios show he’s more of an activist than comedian.

His bio on Twitvid, a Twitter video sharing service that Marbles has used to share videos of protests in the U.K., reads: “Activist, comedian, father figure and all-round nonsense. Tweeting in an impersonal capacity.”

Marbles’s blog, “Anarch*ish*” has the tag­line “Because the state’s not gonna smash itself.”

On the blog, Marbles writes that the conservative agenda “must be stopped,” describes in detail a game favored by anarchists called “Kettling,” and devotes many words to what he calls the “lies” of the British prime minister.

More recently, Marbles seemed taken by the News of the World scandal and had been tweeting about the hearing all day Tuesday.

Rupert Murdoch was just the latest in a long line of pie-throwing pranksters. Manuel Roig-Franzia and Monica Hesse report:

Pie of contempt. Pie of celebration.

Such is the muddled, mixed-up state of the world, circa 2011 — the Golden Age of the Pie as Statement.

Never before have so many pies — blueberry, apple, shaving foam, whipped cream — landed in so many unsuspecting faces for so many conflicting reasons. “I love you, man!” or “I hate the man,” all in the selfsame flick of a wrist.

Bill Gates, Sylvester Stallone, Anita Bryant, Milton Friedman, Ann Coulter and countless baseball heroes have been pied in the past few decades. And it was Rupert Murdoch’s turn Tuesday. A serial antagonist who calls himself Jonnie Marbles shmeared the media mogul with shaving cream while Murdoch testified about the ongoing phone-hacking scandal before a Parliament committee. “It is a far better thing that I do now than I have ever done before,” the marble man tweeted grandly moments before expressing his disdain more frothily.

Wait a few days and you’ll probably see more pies fly; it’s just that they might be the other kind. Some baseball player will knock a pitch out of the park to win a close game, and one of his pals will sneak up behind him with a pie tin full of shaving cream during a postgame interview. Bam. Message delivered: You rock!

Pie’s versatility will once again be confirmed.

So agile is the pie as prankster metaphor-in-action that it can be a verb or an adjective or a noun. Pie throwers talk of pieing people. And no less an authority than the relentless protester Aron Kay — perhaps the ur-pie thrower of his time — declared Tuesday that Murdoch most definitely qualifies under his “guidelines for pie-able people.”

Kay has been slinging pie since the 1970s, when pieing evolved from circus-clown shtick to protest flicks. His brag book includes a couple of Watergate conspirators, E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy; William F. Buckley Jr.; and, of course, Andy Warhol.