Axegrinder: 2 February 2007

BBC's bottomless pit as at viewers' expense

The latest column in The Independent from ex-BBC reporter Rosie Millard will make fascinating reading for Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell.

The BBC pleaded poverty in January when it begged the Government to wring more cash out of licence-fee payers to fund its ambitious plans.

Director general Mark Thompson said a rise of three per cent over the next two years was “disappointing”. Well, Axegrinder reckons the DG was lucky the deal was agreed before former arts correspondent Millard’s column boasting about the “bottomless pit” of exes for BBC hacks popped up among Jowell’s press cuttings.

In her “Thrifty Living” column last Sunday (28 January), Millard recalls the joy of a staff job which meant she didn’t have to fill out a tax form before the 31 January deadline.

Recalling those happy days, Millard writes: “The only financial game at TV Centre was with BBC Expenses, a bottomless pit against which J Ross’s £17m looks as nothing.

“Taxis, mobile phones; it all went merrily off to Expenses. One year, I even tried (with rare failure) to claim for a leather handbag, bought to hang elegantly on my arm in Cannes.” I bet Millard’s former colleagues are thrilled at her revelations of her less than thrifty times at the Beeb.

Why The Times is known as a family paper

Quiz time: which newspaper printed the following lurid strap-line before devoting a page to dissecting the bizarre sexual fantasy?

“At Christmas, when my wife playfully wrestled with her sister, it turned me on. I told her how I felt, but she says I’m disgusting. Now I’m in the doghouse.” No, not the Daily Star or the Sunday Sport, but The Times. Okay, it was in the Sex Guidance column buried at the back of the paper’s Body and Soul section. But the salacious subject will surely have had the paper’s more delicate devotees choking on their cornflakes.

Shelley on thin ice after attack on ‘horseface’

Fleet Street’s TV critics can be a cruel bunch at the best of times.

But Jim Shelley’s savaging of Sky News presenter Kay Burley in his Mirror column resembled a piranha on heat. Shelley was deeply underwhelmed by Burley’s first performance on BBC’s Dancing On Ice which he described as watching “a load of Z-list celebrities who had no talent in their chosen careers”.

His opening gambit on Burley sets the scene: “Kay Burley, the ugly sister of the piece, whose desperation to win was so strong that it practically oozed out of the screen.” But that was just for starters. Burley is described as “horseface”, “thunder thighs” and compared to Coronation Street fish-wife Cilla Battersby-Brown.

“You can take the girl out of Wigan,” concludes Shelley in a dig at Burley’s northern roots. But Shelley had better watch out. I hear Burley’s partner George Pascoe Watson — who doubles as The Sun’s political editor — is seething over his withering review.

Grilling for Pascoe-Watson over tapping

Talking of Pascoe-Watson, the political hack sparked disbelieving guffaws from the audience when he appeared on Radio 4’s Any Questions? (26 January).

Asked about the phone-tapping scandal which saw the jailing of royal editor Clive Goodman and the departure of editor Andy Coulson at sister title The News of the World, GPW insisted the scam had “never happened” at The Sun.

To shouts from the normally mild-mannered Beeb audience of “don’t believe you”, GPW blustered: “It’s not a practice that anybody at The Sun has done, does do or would do.” Even the incredulous-sounding host Jonathan Dimbleby asked: “Ever?” A squirming GPW replied: “To my certain knowledge, that has never happened.” Phew. That’ll have convinced everyone. Axegrinder can only wonder why his rivals at Westminster have taken to referring to GPW as “George Fiasco Watson”.

Note to Sunday Telegraph: back up your claims

Downing Street has refused to give what it calls a “running commentary” on the cash-for-honours affair which has engulfed Tony Blair. It’s probably just as well — given much of the speculation on the saga by hacks claiming to have impeccable sources. One such story was The Sunday Telegraph’s claim that cops had found a handwritten note from Tony Blair among key evidence (28 January).

Unfortunately, the paper’s sources were unable to reproduce the note or, in fact, any of its contents. Number 10’s unusually forthcoming response was: “This is completely wrong. There isn’t any such document.” Guess that won’t be the one that wins scoop of the year then guys.

Mott mystery as Girls Aloud teasing grows

Spare a thought for the Daily Star’s showbiz columnist Joe Mott who continues to be teased by his rivals over his Girls Aloud girlfriend Sarah Harding. The Sun used a bleary-eyed pic of Harding leaving a London club “before heading off in a taxi with a mystery man”.

“It’s fare [sub’s joke?] to say the lad must have made a lot of guys jealous,” chortles The Sun. As Axegrinder wasn’t outside the Cuckoo Club on the night in question, he has no idea if the mystery man was Mott — or whether he really was a “mystery” man.

Mott’s blog fails to enlighten, but includes the following curious paragraph: “Newsflash Hush Hush: Which two Goss girls indulged in lip-locking action together recently?” Girls, girls. Time to put the handbags down. But if you know who the alleged lip-lockers are, drop Axe a line.

Little and Large put Jones blog to shame

I fear the evangelism of Telegraph editor Will Lewis for the cyber-age doesn’t appear to be shared by all of his underlings. Some of his hacks seem to be less than keen to keep their blogs updated on The Telegraph’s much-trumpeted website. Political editor George Jones has made barely three entries since Christmas on his “Commons confidential” blog.

Perhaps his nose has been put out of joint by a new Telegraph political blog penned by the paper’s diarist Jonathan Isaby and political hack Brendan Carlin?

The prolific pair have called their blog Little and Large — for reasons perfectly obvious to anyone who knows the mischievous pair.

Waterhouse named as ideal dinner guest

VARIOUS complications surround next week’s retirement dinner for Daily Mail columnist John Edwards.

Edwards was insistent that his colleague, Keith Waterhouse (right), should be the guest of honour at the dinner, but getting him to accept the invitation has not been easy.

Waterhouse, 77, has not been the same since he and Edwards had a life-threatening lunch way back in 2005. Regular readers may recall that after the six-hour “meal” the inappropriately named Waterhouse was carried home by Edwards, who then tucked him into bed and kissed him farewell. Five hours later, Waterhouse was in an ambulance heading for Chelsea and Westminster hospital. He had tumbled out of the bed and broken his arm in the fall. Even to this day when Edwards’s name is mentioned, Waterhouse feels a stabbing pain in his humerus.

Smooth-talking Mail diarist John McEntee was given the chore of persuading Waterhouse to attend the retirement bash at Kensington Place. Waterhouse finally agreed to pitch up and enquired: “Is it black tie?” It was not. But when the comment was relayed to Edwards, he said: “That’s a great idea. Black tie, it is.” The prospect of dressing up for the occasion has irritated all of Edwards’s guests, most notably the paper’s editor, Paul Dacre. And Waterhouse is said to be “incandescent”. Although he was the one who raised the black tie subject, he is now grumbling that his dinner jacket is moth-eaten and he doesn’t know where he’ll find the energy to do up a dickie bow.

McEntree and Kay in the pink

MEANWHILE, Edwards’s retirement bash promises to be the most exhausting drinking session ever known to mankind. Mail writers John McEntee, of the Richard Kay diary, and Peter McKay (aka, Ephraim Hardcastle) are on the wagon and if either touches a drop of alcohol they face a self-imposed £10 fine. However, the pair of legendary lunchers have allowed themselves one “pink slip” — a 24-hour period during which they can quench their thirst without facing the fine.

Both men intend to use the slip at Edwards’s bash. Other guests, you have been warned.

Celebrity agent avoids airing dirty Linnen

MYSTERY surrounds the gruff celebrity agent John Noel, the man who represents not only the presenters of Big Brother, but also a smattering of the show’s contestants including Jade and Cleo.

Why, for instance, does he go by the name of John Noel when his real name is in fact John Noel Edward Linnen? A friend of the motorbike enthusiast suggests: “John probably dropped the surname because he didn’t like the idea of being called Dirty Linnen.” Mind you, a Companies House trawl reveals that the agent and Davina McCall are directors of a little business — Toyshop Productions Ltd — and he gives his name as John Edward Noel Brown Linnen. Brown Linnen? A sign, perhaps, that the otherwise grumpy Svengali possesses a hearty sense of humour.

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