Can readers be magicked into star columnists?

Columnists have to be the class acts of journalism. Charismatic, challenging. Witty, wise. Ingenious, informed. Above all, quotable: echoed by White Van Man rather than echoing him.

Which is why readers are hooked by such as Richard Littlejohn, Libby Purves, Allison Pearson and Victor Lewis-Smith. If not such as Boy George and Kilroy.

True stars make it look easy. True stars are rare. The Daily Mirror has turned to the graveyard to resurrect a Cassandra column (which could maybe do with a little more help). The Sun has introduced Fleet Street’s youngest columnist, Emma Jones, 27 (who could maybe do with a little less help).

Over at Express HQ there is a belief that star quality writing can be magicked out of non-journalists by a monster as-seen-on-TV byline. It gets worse. The search is now on for "The Voice of the Express" from among its readers. It is as though Sven-GÅ¡ran were inviting some bloke in the crowd to come and take the penalties.

We have seen the first of these wannabes competing for a £50,000 Express contract. None presents a serious threat to the Vanessa Feltz column.

Indeed, its high favour in-house has secured her an invitation to join the editors on the judging panel. Her advice to wannabes: "You need broad shoulders." (Had she taken it herself, she would have been spared rejection when she tried do the Mirrors for invasion of privacy.)

Entries from a response described as fantastic have been as unremarkable as readers’ letters. We are in for more every Thursday until November, when anyone with 10p can join a phone-in jury for this caper labelled "Pen Idol".

As well as winning a second prize of £10,000 and six of £2,500, runners-up will be presented with a framed certificate by Richard Desmond.

Is any entry worth its space, let alone the glory of donning the mantle of the Express greats: Jean Rook, George Gale, Jon Akass and Peter Hitchens? (And of course Paul Johnson, though he gave up his column because his dinner-party guests seemed to have dropped the ever-evolving Express.)

Wannabe Adrian Dutch, 37, from London, managed a 17-line sentence. Christine Thompson, 45, and Bernie Kanapka, 54, both from Essex, could have done with a syntax surgeon. Along with Dominic Grace, 36, from Leeds, their banal comments from the sidelines of life all begged the same question: Who cares?

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