Axegrinder: 15 December 2006

Indy sex columnist misses Xmas auction

Axegrinder would rather gnaw his own arm off than pay for "dinner for three" with Independent columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.

But the dubious opportunity of an audience with the great woman is among the items on offer in the paper's charity auction for its Christmas appeal this year.

Editor-in-chief Simon Kelner offers one lucky reader the chance of lunch with "The Boss" at The Ivy (where else?).

Indeed, most of the paper's columnists are available for hire to raise money for good causes.

But there is one curious omission. There is no chance to bid for the Indy's sex and dating columnist Catherine Townsend.

According to my well-placed spies at the Independent, the foxy young writer might have created something of a dilemma at the politically correct paper.

One said: "If you're offering a night at the theatre with the theatre critic, a trip to the Pyrenees with the travel editor and a night in a restaurant with the restaurant critic, there could be some confusion about what a reader might expect from an evening with Catherine."

Interviewee is stitched up like a copper

It's a risky business going on BBC Breakfast — you can end up being branded a criminal.

On Tuesday morning the programme ran an item about preventing burglaries over Xmas and interviewed a cop and an ex-con for advice.

Unfortunately for crime prevention officer Bill Magretts, when he spoke the caption "Bob Turney, reformed burglar" was flashed up on screen.

The BBC clearly realised their mistake and put up the correct caption a few minutes later.

Red faces over BBC red button

The BBC television news coverage of the explosion at a Sussex fireworks factory last week, which killed two firefighters, suffered at the hands of captioning promoting the channel's interactive services. As the presenter delivered the news that the factory had been razed to the ground, the red button invited viewers to view the "ASHES".

Times art critic's exposé

To the mild surprise of her colleagues at The Times, art critic Rachel Campbell- Johnston revealed her past as a (semi)nude model.

Her disclosure — made, fittingly, on page three of the Murdoch title (11 December) — was in connection with an earlier Evening Standard diary piece which had revealed Cherie Blair had once posed naked for artist Euan Uglow when she was a trainee barrister.

Campbell-Johnston said she was "stripped to the waist, for three hours a day, three days a week, for nearly three months" for her stint in the artist's studio.

Her piece is accompanied by Uglow's unfinished portrait of the PM's wife.

Strangely, Campbell-Johnston's lengthy piece neglects to mention what became of her portrait — and The Times has apparently made no attempt to track it down.

Perhaps it will feature in the retrospective of Uglow's work in May this year. Axegrinder might pop along with the boys from Wapping to check.

BBC Vision of the future

Judging by the following letter in the BBC's Ariel mag, some of the Beeb's staffers still have a sense of humour over the Corporation's spending decisions.

"I see Jana Bennett, director of BBC Vision, has promised an extra £25m over two years to fund ‘blue sky' projects," writes Greg Clark of BBC Scotland.

"Bloody Norah! Is that David Attenborough going to get the entire BBC budget then?", he asks.

McLaughlin donates to The Big Issue

News reaches me of a revealing encounter between two rival editors in a Whitehall bar.

Among those who joined treasury minister Ed Balls and other political heavyweights at Westminster's Red Lion for Tribune's annual bash was The Big Issue's editor-in-chief John Bird. Predictably, the bar tab stumped up by the left-leaning paper soon ran dry thanks to the thirsty gathering in the basement bar.

But according to my spies close to Tribune's management, an undeterred Bird ordered another drink.

When asked to pay, my source claims that he replied loftily: "I haven't got any money, the editor will pay."

Tribune editor Chris McLaughlin apparently did the decent thing and graciously extended the bar tab one more time, while doubtless muttering under his breath.

Lobby hacks in poll problem

Years of accusations from MPs about their "rigged elections" appear to have finally spurred Westminster's Lobby hacks into action.

For decades, journalists were merely "nominated" to senior positions on the committees of the Lobby and the Press Gallery. But the latest elections for the 10 spots on the Gallery's committee were decided under a new "single transferable vote" contest.

"It took hours to work out the results," grumbles my source.

Bringing law to the Street

The lawyers appear to be taking over somewhat on Fleet Street.

In July, The Independent's deputy head of legal, Imogen Haddon, was named as its new managing editor, taking over from Charlie Burgess.

Now this week, Siobhain Butterworth, head of legal at The Guardian, has seen off competition from four journalist applicants to be chosen as the paper's new readers' editor — taking over from Ian Mayes.

With jobs scarce enough as it is on Fleet Street, Axe is alarmed that lawyers are now taking some of the top spots.

But then again, with top media lawyers charging up to £400 an hour, it might be rather nice for journalists if we started reversing this trend.

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