Axe grinder 10.03.06

Guardian is quiet about Rus’s friend

THE Guardian may have brought down ex-Tory Minister Jonathan Aitken after relentlessly pursing the infamous "defender of truth".

But the paper has appeared less than keen to confront Tessa Jowell’s husband, David Mills, over his murky business dealings.

Mills was quoted in The Guardian’s splash on Monday by the paper’s political editor, Patrick Wintour. But curiously, Wintour clearly could not reach Mills himself and attributed the City lawyer’s comments to a rival article in The Times.

All this is very puzzling to execs at Farringdon Road, where sources tell me that the phone lines between Mills and Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger have been buzzing.

"Alan and David are great pals. They play golf and socialise together. It’s often David who rings Alan,"

confides my source.

"It looks more than a little bizarre if Mills is being quoted elsewhere, but not in our own paper."

Meanwhile, Andrew Neil is furious at the Daily Mail’s suggestion the BBC has gone soft on the Jowell story amid fears it could jeopardise the corporation’s charter renewal.

The former Sunday Times editor, who fronts two political shows for the Beeb, is "spitting blood" at the idea he might give Jowell and her cabal an easy ride.

Lauren has blown chances with News 24

CHERIE Blair’s sister, Lauren Booth, continues to pick up lucrative journalistic gigs, criticising the Prime Minister.

She pops over from her home in France to pour bucket-loads over the Blairs in handsomely rewarded pieces for The Mail on Sunday and on regular broadcast slots.

But Lauren might find her name has been furiously scratched out of the contacts books of producers at BBC News 24.

They were distinctly unimpressed when she failed to show for a late-night and less handsomely rewarded newspaper review, according to my mole at the Beeb.

To make matters worse, the producers woke the morning after her no-show to hear a bushy-tailed Booth waxing lyrical on BBC Radio.

So did Teddy score? Well, yes — and no

THE News of the World exhibited a rare outbreak of coyness over the bedroom antics of soccer star Teddy Sheringham.

It revealed that Teddy was dating the new Miss Great Britain, Danielle Lloyd, after "making a pass" at her while judging the contest.

But "renowned marksman Teddy has yet to score", lamented the News of the Screws.

No such reticence from rivals at the Sunday Mirror, which also ran the story about unmarried Sheringham at the weekend.

"Judge Teddy takes Miss GB to beddy" screamed the headline, which left readers in no doubt about Sheringham’s strike rate.

Surely the Screws hasn’t taken its eye off the ball while it prepares for a crunch tackle with Arsenal star Ashley Cole, who is suing the paper?

Me legless? Honest Jim admits all

THERE was a particularly stressful moment the other night when Ollie Marr, the lively editor of The Observer’s Pendennis column, came face-to-face with Today presenter James Naughtie.

The pair haven’t seen each other since last November when Marr, then on The Independent’s Pandora column, came across a drunken Naughtie at a party.

Marr not only helped the BBC Radio presenter stand up, but also poured him into a taxi. Then, he promptly wrote about it in the Indy the following day.

Good old Naughtie has absolutely no concerns about being stitched up.

When they bumped into each other the other night, the conversation went like this… Naughtie: "You once printed a story about me being pissed."

Marr: "Er, yes. Sorry."

Naughtie: "Don’t apologise. I was pissed."

Investigations for Murray, but little cash

WHISPER reaches me of changes at the Sunday Express, where a new role has been found for news editor James Murray.

"Mad Dog Murray", as he’s affectionately known by colleagues, is being put in charge of "special projects".

Editor Martin Townsend reckons the move will give Murray more time to focus on longer-term investigations. But the scheme has left hacks at the paper baffled.

"The news budget is pretty tiny compared to our rivals," moans my newsroom nark. "God knows where the cash or the staff are going to come from for investigations, which are notoriously expensive."

The shake-up will see royal editor Keith Perry taking over on the newsdesk, I’m told. Let’s just hope he mugs up on 60s rock has-beens if he doesn’t want to face the wrath of Express owner and part-time drummer, Richard Desmond.

And there’s a potential bonus for the multi-millionaire’s low-paid newsroom minions. Perry’s switch to the desk will leave a vacancy covering the royals.

It won’t necessarily mean any extra cash for the new royal hack, but at least they can top up their miserable wages with a few appearances as a TV pundit.

Mail challenges red-tops in the Shafta awards

NOMINATIONS for the "Shaftas" — the awards bash for the worst showbiz stories on Fleet Street — are pouring in.

The red-tops have traditionally dominated at the ceremony for the most inaccurate and implausible tales.

But I hear that the Daily Mail is among the favourites for a trophy at the 20th anniversary of the event, which will again be hosted by Johnny Vaughan this year.

It trumpeted an exclusive last month that actress Francesca Annis had forgiven her partner of 11 years, fellow thespian Ralph Fiennes, for an alleged affair. Within hours, lawyers for Annis fired off a letter confirming she and Fiennes were to separate and started legal action against the Mail for suggesting she had forgiven him.

"It’s among several front-runners for a Shafta. But there are a lot of contenders — even from the Daily Mail," smirks a source close to the judges.

Wapping hacks can’t wait to get out of dump

IS RUPERT Murdoch thinking of cashing in on the property boom by redeveloping News International’s HQ at Fortress Wapping?

The idea of moving out of the unloved site — built to defeat the unions after the move from Fleet Street — has been floated before, but has always come to nothing.

Now, I hear the billionaire’s senior execs are thinking about speeding through a move as the property market in east London begins to take off again.

The sprawling base would be worth a fortune if redeveloped as housing. Even nearby rabbit-hutch flats are now on the market for £250,000.

Staff at The Times, The Sunday Times, The Sun and News of the World would be delighted to escape Wapping, where the few amenities nearby include a petrol station, a lap-dancing bar and a drive-in McDonald’s.

Journalists at the titles turned green with envy at news that rivals at The Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph were to move to a swish new HQ in central London.

But they remain unconvinced that a move away from Wapping is on the cards in the near future.

"I’ll believe it when I see it," says my spy deep within the Murdoch empire.

"The bosses float the idea to try to raise morale because everyone hates it here. But there’s no denying it would be a relief to finally escape from this dump."

Confusion as Tribune Foots the libel bill

RED faces at Tribune following their recent run-in with the libel team at lawyers Carter Ruck.

The Bible of the Labour left has been putting on sales under new editor Chris McLaughlin and has been a constant thorn in the side of Number 10.

But it hit trouble with an article about Westminster Council’s recently ennobled Tory leader, Sir Simon Milton.

He promptly engaged libel specialists at Carter Ruck to fight his corner and the financial clock started ticking.

Tribune was forced to launch an appeal among its subscribers — who include such luminaries as Michael Foot — to pay the bill after Milton won his case.

Off went the cheque (eventually), but it was swiftly returned to the paper’s north London offices.

"Someone put last year’s date on the cheque," admits my sheepish source. "It was just down to human error. We sent out another one with the right date on it as soon as we realised."

It pays to be political now

MUCH confusion at Westminster over who will succeed Keith Gladdis as deputy to News of the World political editor Ian Kirby.

The highly regarded Gladdis is off to head up the NoW’s operation in Manchester, leaving Kirby casting around for a number two.

At least two lobby hacks — including one from The Sun’s political team — gleefully claim to have already turned down the chance to serve under Kirby.

Others are desperately leaking the fact they are in the running for the job — even though the likely shortlist will be a small one.

Why such chaos? The canny hacks have worked out that suggesting they might be poached by a rival paper is their only chance of getting a decent pay rise.

Jones will have to cut the plugs

FORMER Evening Standard colleagues of writer Liz Jones are watching with interest her move upstairs at Associated to become the Daily Mail’s style editor.

Jones was infamous under Standard editor Veronica Wadley for puffing in her column some of the many beauty and spa treatments she famously enjoys.

PRs in the beauty industry were delighted at such unashamed promotion of their wares. But Jones may find it a different story in her new berth.

"I think she’ll find it’s a much tougher regime at the Mail," says one staffer.

"Carrying out reviews of products or places is one thing, but dropping blatant plugs into copy is very much frowned upon."

Sex writer has broader appeal than she knew

THE Independent’s statuesque ‘Sleeping Around’ columnist Catherine Townsend is being deluged by emails from readers curious about her weekly sexploits.

Her racy column has also sparked the interest of literary agents, who are considering offering the ambitious Townsend a book deal.

But it appears the young writer’s sex appeal is even broader than she had hoped.

"I get loads of emails from guys, but I’ve also had several women email me in very explicit detail about what they want to do to me in bed," laughs Townsend.

"The funny thing is that they are so much raunchier than those the men write."

the 1pm girl life begins at lunchtime

A CRACKING time was had by all at the wedding of the News of the World’s Grant Hodgson, who dodged more than his fair share of bullets in Baghdad, and Sunday Mirror writer Zoe Nauman.

But surely none could have had a better time than the tipsy Sunday paper hackette who delighted in whispering to guests: "I’m wearing no knickers!"

NEWS that Annie’s Bar at the House of Commons is to shut at the end of March has been greeted with consternation by Westminster’s thirstiest political journos.

But they are promising one last raucous night by defying the Commons authorities and staging a rowdy farewell party.

Still, shutting the bar may well improve the life expectancy of the writers and MPs who frequent the windowless room with its sloping pool table.

"Quite a few of our regulars have dropped off the perch a little prematurely," admits my source as he nurses a large scotch.

OVER drinks with my friends in publishing PR, I’m warned away from dealing with ultra-Blairite MP Eric Joyce.

The former army officer was recently sent an email flyer about a wild new intelligence book, which claims that Tony Blair was recruited by M15 in the 1980s.

A crazy idea? Well, maybe.

But the ever loyal Joyce is not one to ignore a suggestion that the PM might have been a spook.

Back comes a reply from his House of Commons computer which is more suited to the barrack-room than the officers’

mess.

"F*** Off!" says Joyce.

Much as one can admire Joyce’s unswerving loyalty to his master, my delicate friends are shocked by such unparliamentary language.

IS the Irish embassy starting to tire of the massive drinks bill run up by the bibulous hacks invited to meet the ambassador each year?

Regulars at the popular event tell me that the embassy’s shindig for journalists to mark St Patrick’s Day has been switched from the evening to a lunchtime reception.

"We’ll just drink faster," one undaunted partygoer tells me.

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