Axe Grinder 09.06.06

Ex-Sun editors in Tesco spat — Kelvin tells the 'hole' story

WHAT news of that ambitious, recently appointed Sun columnist, a certain Kelvin MacKenzie?

In his column last week, there was a hole in the page. MacKenzie told readers that he had written an item about Tesco, but it was vetoed by editor Rebekah Wade. Hence the hole.

When MacKenzie later appeared on Nick Ferrari's LBC radio show, he was asked to give a bit more detail.

At first, he refused. But eventually he gave in to Ferrari's persistence and explained that his vetoed item was a monumental slagging off of Tesco's PR.

Of course, it is former Sun editor David Yelland who now handles publicity for the supermarket chain.

Publicly, Wade is saying that she had to do the corporate thing, which meant ditching the anti-Yelland piece.

However, I am told that privately she would have enjoyed giving her predecessor Yelland a bit of a pasting.

Meanwhile, an insight into MacKenzie's feelings for Yelland comes from an impeccable source: "When David was editor he was always inviting Kelvin for lunch and then cancelling at the last minute. Kelvin thought that was the height of rudeness."

Telly critic's view becomes limited…

THE SUN'S telly critic Ally Ross is paid a fortune to sit at home and dissect TV excreta.

In fact, the highly witty writer has made such a nice bundle that he has just bought a new apartment, overlooking the Thames and not far from Wapping HQ.

Alas, his happiness faded when he read the lease. Ross has now discovered that he is not allowed to put up a Sky dish because such things are deemed "ugly" and "offensive".

If Ross is unable to watch Rupert Murdoch's TV channels, how on earth will he manage?

… and so does Patience's paper review

THE newspaper reviews of Sunday Telegraph editor Patience Wheatcroft are becoming something of a legend at the BBC.

She appears determined to flout the convention that paper reviewers are supposed to comment on a broad range of titles — not just their own.

Patience started her latest outing on Andy Marr's Sunday AM show by talking up The Sunday Telegraph's splash.

Not content with that, she later referred to a mind-numbingly dull story in her paper about computers in the NHS.

Even fellow paper reviewer Matthew Parris, doubtless petrified of incurring Wheatcroft's wrath, felt obliged to highlight yet another Sunday Tel story.

When Wheatcroft finally moved on from promoting The Sunday Telegraph she was keen to talk up a story that was in Scotland on Sunday. Annoyingly, she

didn't have time to tell viewers that Scotland on Sunday is owned by Dave and Fred Barclay, the twin knights who also own the Telegraph Group and therefore pay her salary.

A task for a slow news day

A SLY little attack on the media by Thatcherite Tory peer Lord (Michael)

Forsyth.

In the House of Lords he suggests that newspapers and broadcasters be charged extra for Freedom of Information requests, on the grounds that they are simply "journalists looking for stories on a slow news day".

Next time there's a slow news day, perhaps we should all investigate Lord Forsyth and his widespread business interests, if only to show he has nothing to hide.

That's news to me, says Straw

THE cabal of lobby journalists who work for Sunday papers have come up with an inventive way of coping with a slow news week at Westminster when the MPs are on holiday.

Their cunning, but slightly obvious, plan involves all picking the same Cabinet minister and announcing that he's after John Prescott's job as deputy Labour leader. Sunday Telegraph political editor Patrick Hennessy announced that Leader of the Commons Jack Straw was the "surprise runner" to take over from Prezza last Sunday.

But this was no shock to the News of the World's political editor Ian Kirby who also "revealed" that Straw was to "throw his hat in the ring". Over at The Mail on Sunday, political hack Jonathan Oliver said his paper had "learned" that Straw was "keen to stand".

At The Sunday Times, political editor David "Crackers" Cracknell climbed on the bandwagon and said Straw "planned to join the battle" for the number two job.

The only person genuinely surprised by his decision to enter the race was apparently Straw himself, according to pals of the former foreign secretary.

Speech needed some subbing

THERE'S MORE to report on the Queen's opening of the Fleet Street exhibition at the British Library.

That's the opening where she was greeted by nervous Daily Mail features writer Paul Harris, saying "Hi!" and almost trying to give Her Majesty the high five.

Now I learn that Telegraph hacks are giggling about their paper's coverage of the event.

The Telegraph report featured not only a photograph of HM meeting the Telegraph's chief suit Murdoch MacLennan, but also quoted admiringly from a speech MacLennan delivered in front of the monarch.

One Telegraph writer with acquaintances at the Palace has reported back to colleagues that MacLennan's oration (thought to have been penned by PR man Guy Black) failed to excite its Royal audience.

You can see what they mean, too. The passage quoted by the Telegraph included cliches ("wax and wane" and "landmark")

and a grammatical infelicity (referring to Her Majesty, he spoke of "sharing one characteristic in common": "in common" is unnecessary).

Or, to quote a Telegraph columnist: "It could have done with some sharp editing.

A crappy casual news sub could have sorted it out. If Murdo was hoping for a knighthood he may be disappointed."

Rusbridger ignores rant

MEANWHILE, I hear that MacLennan has taken grave exception to a recent mention of him in Cristina Odone's Monday column in The Guardian's media section.

Macca sent a furious letter — a real rant, apparently — to Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger. The letter was read politely.

Yet its contents went magnificently ignored.

Double result for Rebecca against Sharon

DAVID Beckham's alleged former mistress Rebecca Loos grows more canny with each passing day.

Appearing on last week's X Factor show, Loos was verbally mauled by judge Sharon Osbourne ("Talk about going down. Have you got something stuck in the back of your throat?")

Of course, Loos could have retaliated by pointing out that Osbourne herself slept with husband Ozzie when he was still married to first wife, Thelma. But Loos refused to be bitchy, saying she would not lower herself to Osbourne's level. Her discretion had two good results.

First, it won her sympathy from the audience.

Second, it meant that once she was booted out of the contest she could cleverly raise her bank balance by lowering herself to Osbourne's level in the News of the World.

The Screws front page boomed "Exclusive: ‘Sharon slept with married man too'." Inside there was an exclusive Loos interview across a spread headlined: "Difference between me and Sharon is the guy I bedded isn't ugly!"

Edgy Lezard's class error

SOME bloke called Nicholas Lezard is trying to become the new edgy controversialist by writing raging overstatements in The Independent and The Independent on Sunday, where he is the radio critic.

This week he had a go at Etonians, saying: "I have never met an Etonian who wasn't an untrustworthy, mendacious, conniving creep."

Oh dear. Let's hope this doesn't upset one of Lezard's more influential senior officers, Sindy Comment editor James Hanning.

Who went to Eton.

Dankie like a weather vane

MEANWHILE, New Labour scribe John Rentoul describes The Spectator's editor, Matthew D'Ancona, as "the Blairite-turned-Cameroon".

Close students of D'Ancona's writing say this is not quite correct. Between being a Blairite and a Cameroon (as supporters of David Cameron are called), weather vane D'Ancona was a firm admirer of David Davis — until he realised that the shadow Home Secretary was not going to win the Tory leadership, whereupon he swiftly switched his allegiance to young David.

J H-B in plea for viewers

ALTHOUGH Julia Hartley-Brewer is employed by the Sunday Express to be a political editor and get stories, she spends a good deal of time boosting her profile on telly (she's done Question Time, Have I Got News for You and is also considered in TV to be a rent-a-quote).

Last week was her latest TV project, for BBC4, entitled Every Prime Minister Needs a Willie. It was a hastily put together (in the wake of the John Prescott shenanigans) programme about

deputy Prime Ministers through the ages.

The title comes from Margaret Thatcher's innocent comment about her own Willie, Willie Whitelaw. H-B's programme clashed with the England/ Hungary football match last Tuesday, so she sent text messages to her friends pleading that they either watch or record it.

Cruel colleagues say there would have been two more viewers at a push then.

Does Major's Willie smell a bit funny?

STICKING WITH Hartley-Brewer's programme (someone has to), I see that its pitiful publicity included a mention on former bookseller Iain Dale's blog.

Pointing out that the programme was called Every Prime Minister Needs a Willie, Dale says: "Having just announced she's pregnant, Julia should know."

Visitors to Dale's blog have left messages.

Someone called Pulsar says: "Does anyone remember the name of John Major's Willie?"

The question gets the response from John Coles (clearly not an Edwina fan): "I don't remember the name. But I understand that it smelt of Currie."

Party of the week

It was like a Sun reunion at the launch of Fleet Street royal reporting duo Phil Dampier and Ashley Walton's book, Duke of Hazard, on the wit and wisdom of the Duke of Edinburgh, at the Press House Wine Bar. Legendary Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie, his old news editor Tom Petrie, former Sun staffers Philippa Kennedy and Nick Ferrari were all there, chewing over old times along with ex-Mirror chief photographer Kent Gavin. MacKenzie summed up the evening as like "All Our Yesterdays meets the Antiques Road Show".

Dampier's speech was so short that Ferrari didn't have time to heckle.

Take a deep breath for story of Mary's non-journey

THIS IS fun. Mary Killen, the self-styled queen of etiquette — she's written about good manners for The Times, Telegraph and Express — failed to turn up to former Telegraph journalist Michael Kallenbach's recent party to celebrate his civil partnership.

So Killen, The Spectator's agony aunt, thought it only correct to drop him a line to explain her absence. In fact, her rambling excuse ended up as 1,200 words of scatterbrained lunacy.

Here, Axegrinder brings you the edited highlights…

Dear Michael, I was very much looking forward to your wedding and certainly did not treat the invitation in cavalier manner.

I had laid very careful plans to ensure I would be there.

Because I can't drive I had arranged to get a train up and a lift back with Jane Wharton. I was going to get the 4.53 to Paddington, but on the day [Spectator hack] Matthew Bell, who was coming to stay, rang up to tell me he had so much work to do that the first train he could get would be the 4.35 train to Pewsey arriving at 5.35.

He was taking over looking after Posy, aged 12, and was also going to drive me to the station to catch the train because I can't drive.

So I said I would arrange a taxi to pick up Matthew at 5.35 and bring him to my cottage, and after I had checked whether his dog would get on with my dog — and if not my dog would have to be driven to a dog minder in Marlborough — we would set sail again and I would catch the 7.30 train from Pewsey to Paddington.

I would pay for it by credit card with bus thrown in (unable to get cash out on credit card because do not know PIN number). All other bank accounts exhausted.

There was an added complication which was that I had no cash and so even if I could have found substitute child care, had no means of getting any cash and so could not get a taxi to Swindon.

It all seems straightforward enough. But then the drama unfolds…

At 3.50 Matthew rang from The Spectator to say he had missed the 4.35. I said, "How could you have missed it at 3.50? Just get a taxi to Paddington instead of going on public transport and you will have no problem going along the Euston Road."

Matthew said, "Yes, you're right. I'll bundle my stuff up quickly and get into a cab."

At 5.10 there's still no word from Matthew, so Killen's daughter Posy phones him…

He announced that he was still in the office.

I snatched the phone. He said, "Victoria Lane said there was no point in my going for that train because I would definitely miss it."

I said, "But why should it matter what Victoria Lane said. You've got your own brain and anyway I told you that you would definitely catch it. Have you got pin cushion syndrome or something?"

He said, "What's that?"

I said, "It's where you are so suggestible that you take the advice of the last person who has spoken to you."

And he said, "Yes, I think I have. Oh dear I'm so hopeless.

You see it took me another 10 minutes to gather together all my stuff and then Victoria said because of the Bank Holiday traffic even if I did get a taxi I still would not make the train."

By then it was too late for Matthew to get the 5.35, but then Killen had a brainwave…

I rang him back and told him to get the 6.35 arriving at 7.35 and I would just leave Posy for 20 minutes unattended and cycle to the station. He said he could not afford to get the 6.35 to Pewsey as it was an expensive train.

Matthew is feeling thirsty…

He said that, given the situation, he might as well go for a drink with Victoria Lane and catch the next cheap train, the 7.35 from Paddington to Pewsey arriving at 8.35, adding, "Why can't Posy go to Alexandra Elletson until I get there? I am sure she would drive you to the train." I was, of course, furious, but thought, actually that's not a bad idea.

Killen phones Alexandra Elletson…

She was in Salisbury at a specialist pet shop buying a fluroescent [poor spelling!] light to harden her tortoise's shell before driving on to the Strathmore Clinic in Andover to collect her tortoise who had been there for three weeks on a calcium drip because his shell was dehydrated, so would not be back in time.

Killen's "only hope" was that her husband Giles Wood would return home in time to drive her to the station in time for the 7.30 train. But…

Giles did not arrive back till 8.25. That sealed my fate. Because even if he had driven me straight away to Swindon and I had got there in time to catch the 9.11 it would not arrive in London until 10.15 so, using public transport, I would not have got to the party till 10.45, after which Jane Wharton might have already left, and due to my cash problem I might have been stranded in London.

Killen's exhausting email finally ends:

"Matthew Bell is now ashamed."

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