Axe grinder 12.05.06

Adair on campaign trail… in Bayswater

AHEAD of last week's local elections, the Evening Standard's assistant editor, Hugh Dougherty, had the task of turning the capital's freelance hacks into a regiment of news gatherers who could file the results.

"Your role will be absolutely crucial," wrote Dougherty in an email which had the feel of an officer addressing the troops minutes before battle. "As you can imagine, this is a big organisational task for the paper, meaning you will have to follow a very precise brief to the letter to make sure nothing goes wrong."

Then Dougherty adopted the tone of a kind adult talking to a five-year-old child. Journalists would have "to be at the count in time for the results", he wrote, and for hacks who tried to phone through the results there was this reassurance: "If you cannot get through, don't worry, they are likely to be busy."

But the best bit was Dougherty's example of the filing system: "BAYSWATER J Adair (C), G Adams (LD), R Sands (Ind) etc." Yes, he managed to transplant a small piece of Ulster into central London…

McNiffe too big to bother with Spike

OVER in Dublin, the Spike column in Ireland on Sunday continues its obsession with Irish Sun editor Mike McNiffe and his deputy, Craig Mackenzie.

The pair of ex-Mirror chums have been the subject of sustained sniping for the past six months. Indeed McNiffe has featured 19 times since he took over at the red-top last November.

Surely, it couldn't be anything to do with the fact that Spike himself, Paul Drury, had applied for the Sun job. And didn't get it.

In fact, he didn't even get called for interview. So badly did he want the hot seat, that he approached Mackenzie, then a consultant to the paper, to apply on his behalf. Mackenzie politely declined.

Drury is now in charge of news at the recently launched Irish Daily Mail, known as Guantanamo Bay, but continues to write the Spike for IoS.

McNiffe and Mackenzie make a change from Drury's usual targets — the Irish Independent group, from where he made a sad farewell several years ago.

Luckily, the ‘Indo' gave him IR£250k to soften the blow.

Funny, he never mentioned why he "left" the Indo in his letter to Rebekah Wade last year.

McNiffe and Mackenzie are being urged to publish Drury's letter of application — or at least fax it to Martin "Jurassic" Clarke, his boss at Associated.

But both have refused to take the bait. McNiffe, who at 6ft 4ins, towers over Drury, simply says: ‘I don't get into rows with small fellas — it's not fair on them."

Field returns to pastures old

STILL stunned by his dramatic ejection from the editor's chair at the National Enquirer, risotto-loving Paul Field seems to have found a job back in Britain.

I learn that Field is currently negotiating a deal to become associate editor at The People, where he has previously worked. It's all meant to be hush-hush so keep it to yourselves please.

So well hidden he's vanished

MIDDLE England is being bombarded with Daily Telegraph flyers which carry a word or two from acting editor, John Bryant.

Please buy my newspaper, is the gist of Bryant's message. And his sales pitch includes the line that he is "excited about our hidden gems". These gems include: "Tom Utley's Friday column provides intelligent comment on today's issues."

The phrase Trade Descriptions Act springs to mind. Utley is such a well hidden gem that Telegraph readers will have to buy the Daily Mail (where he is orrf to) in order to read his intelligent comment.

Poor show on guessing game

THE well-paid cabal of lobby journalists spectacularly failed to cover themselves in glory with their predictions of Tony Blair's Cabinet reshuffle.

Several political editors made the schoolboy error of trying to guess the outcome in last Friday's papers — the very day of the PM's shake-up.

The Sun's political editor, George Pascoe-Watson, trumpeted "high-flyer" David Miliband's move to take over John Prescott's department.

In fact, Miliband was shunted across to Margaret Beckett's old job at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

The Daily Mail's supremo, Ben Brogan, said "dramatic changes" could include moves for Patricia Hewitt and John Hutton. Both stayed put.

At the Daily Mirror, divine political editor Oonagh Blackman gazed into her crystal ball and said Geoff Hoon "indicated he was expecting promotion".

Just hours later, "Buff" Hoon was humiliatingly demoted to Europe Minister.

Prezza bashing is party pooper

ON the day of the local elections, the Daily Mirror's "10 reasons to vote Labour" caused — unintentional — laughter in the Commons.

Backbenchers were amused because it was the Mirror, of course, that helped to obliterate the party's chances by breaking the story of Prezza's affair with secretary/diarist Tracey Temple.

Observed one Labour MP: "It's a bit like the assassin phoning for an ambulance."

The love rat that dare not speak his name

THERE was a dramatic moment at the Commons on Monday. Tony Blair was addressing the Parliamentary Labour Party in a committee room, while outside a regiment of hacks lined each side of the corridor. Suddenly, John Prescott came thundering along and not a word was said by either the randy deputy PM or the scribes. Clowns to the left of him, jokers to the right and there he was, stuck in the middle…

Grauniad's great legacy lives on

HOW SAD that The Guardian's obituary of its one-time head reader, Jim Insall, should have contained a proofreading error. Somehow the paper managed to print that he served as a sergeant in west Africa and Egypt during the "way" (not war).

The minutest of errors, maybe, but perhaps a nod towards the great days when reading The Guardian provided a word puzzle in its own right.

Pimms at the Palace for the Indy royalty

LOWLY-paid staff at The Independent and Independent on Sunday will be delighted to learn (from Axegrinder — as most of them won't have been invited) that chief executive Ivan Fallon is splashing out on a glittering summer party.

Any staffers wishing to press their noses against the glass to see how the company's cash is spent should head for The Orangery at Kensington Palace on 6 June. A fitting venue for the Republicans at the Indy.

Eskimos deny CAM its ‘white ghetto' image

HATS off to CAM Magazine, a publication for Cambridge University alumni.

In its latest letters column it carries an accusation from a reader that it has "an unbelievably white ethnic bias [which] gives a depressing impression of Cambridge as a white cultural ghetto".

CAM's response? In the very same issue it carries the usual number of boring pics of white men in suits, but also features an article about the head of anthropology at the Scott Polar Research Institute — which allows it to run pictures of no fewer than 13 Eveny reindeer people from Northeast Siberia (Eskimos, as we used to call them).

That should sort out the ethnic quota for a few issues.

You know who you are — so does Carole

OVERHEARD in a lift at Mirror HQ: A gaggle of feature writers discussing their new features editor, Carole Watson, unaware that others in the lift know Watson and relayed the comments.

Come on guys — walls have ears, didn't you know?

Today's news is old news

MUCH chest-puffing from the sports reporter on Radio 4's Today programme last Monday morning. He reported the rumour that Theo Walcott was in the running for an England World Cup place, presenting this as very much his own scoop.

Er, not quite. The same story was on the back of the Daily Mail as an "exclusive" and on the back of The Independent, along with several other papers, all of them published long before the Today programme went out on air.

Either way, he's still posh

MEANWHILE, the Evening Standard's Londoner's Diary revealed that Eric Clapton's autobiography will be ghostwritten by posh Christopher Simon Sykes. "I'm hard at it," Sykes told the gossip column.

Actually he was hard at it way back in October of last year. That's when Guy Adams' Pandora column in The Independent ran a story revealing that Eric Clapton's autobiography will be ghost-written by posh Christopher Simon Sykes.

The Indy story had come from Clapton's literary agent, Ed Victor, who'd confided in Adams' then righthand man (and now editor of The Observer's Pendennis column), Ollie Marre.

There was one difference between the two accounts. Londoner's Diary considered Sykes to be "best known as author of books on the landed gentry". Adams described him as "best known for his work on grand country houses".

Drinks were on Sewards

THERE was an unfortunate moment in Le Caprice, that fashionable St James restaurant the other day. Lord Snowdon did an Amy Watts and fell down the stairs on his way to the gents.

The stumble happened during what clearly had been a most convivial lunch with an attractive blonde, who had the good manners to top up her companion's glass during their three hours at a discreet corner table.

Snowdon's companion turned out to be Lisa Sewards. She was supposed to be interviewing him for a fluffy Daily Mail feature. But she would have found herself in a hard news drama had Snowdon — who is no longer very steady on his feet, even before such lunches — ended up being taken to hospital.

Who's going to polish twins?

WITTY Sophie Brodie, editor of The Daily Telegraph's Business diary, has been anxious to tell her well-connected readers about the forthcoming Dolce Vita Ball in Monaco.

"As well as the usual over-priced dinner, billionaires, princes and showbiz bores will be treated to a yacht-based launch of Sotheby's latest venture — commissioning your own rough diamond to be polished into a jewel. A fitting parallel for certain UK tax exiles."

For any Telegraph employee, there are two UK tax exiles who immediately spring to mind — the paper's owners, Dave and Freddie Barclay. Would Brodie put them in her tray of rough diamonds?

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