Axe grinder 17.02.06

Why Melanie didn't make cut at Speccie

AS Matthew d'Ancona — Dankie to friends — cracks open the Diet Coke to celebrate his appointment as new editor of The Spectator, spare a thought for Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips.

I learn that Phillips was desperately keen to get the job and formally applied for the position.

She is now said to be "terribly upset" that Andrew Neil and Aidan Barclay did not consider her qualified for the role. A source close to Neil tells Axegrinder: "Melanie might have wanted the job but she was never in the running." Interesting gal, Phillips.

Before joining the right-wing Mail in 2001, she was a left-winger for The Guardian and The Observer.

She is also the author of The Ascent of Woman and (the nattily-titled) The Sex-Change Society: Feminised Britain and the Neutered Male — neither book, I suppose, can be found on Andrew Neil's bedside table.

Phillips is perfectly charming but not to everyone's taste. Some consider her hard work. Should anyone be wondering where she might have taken the Speccie had she landed the job, I refer you to her New Statesman article in 2000, which gives you a measure of the woman.

Entitled "Why I am a progressive", she wrote: "…We need a liberal, not a libertarian, social order with deeper values than contract and other criteria for progress than material advances.

Moral restraint is the glue that provides social cohesion.

Liberty is not achieved but threatened by the relativistic pursuit of autonomy and rights. The task for progressives is to defend liberal democracy. That means, paradoxically, using conservative weapons. The old enemy which brought liberalism…"

She's a tad more high-brow than Boris Johnson, in other words.

Mr Sunshine gives little to smile about

HOW WILL staff morale fare at the Sunday Telegraph as Dankie steps down as deputy editor and is replaced by Richard Ellis?

Ellis is known (though not to his face) as Mr Sunshine because he is so miserable. He is not popular.

"He has two friends on the paper," I am told. "One is Andy Alderson [chief reporter] and the other is Nick Donaldson [art director]. Oh, and there's a third — Jackie Fuller [Focus editor]."

But remember, Ellis has been appointed a mere acting deputy, rather than a fully-fledged, made-up member of Sarah Sands's mafia.

There are two obvious reasons for giving him the prefix "acting": 1. The Sunday Telegraph intends to save a bit of money before officially promoting him in a few months' time.

2. The position of deputy will be offered to someone else.

Mirror mates wish Seymour happy hunting

DAVID Seymour's departure as political editor of The Mirror group was marred slightly by his vicious interview with Horse & Hound in which he took a swipe at the paper's anti-hunting stance.

In the magazine Seymour outed himself as having "come to understand what hunting is all about". He said: "More and more statistics are showing that people are coming out in favour of hunting or that they just don't care either way — it's fantastic…"

His words left Mirror colleagues mystified.

They had always assumed — incorrectly, of course — that he was behind all those hard-hitting leader columns which had savaged "toffs on horses".

At Seymour's leaving do at Davy's wine bar in Canary Wharf, he was presented with a tabloid-sized farewell card. On the front was a snap of Seymour's body Photoshopped onto a rocking horse.

Alongside the picture were the words: "Seymour fox off." Make of that what you will.

Oborne happy to scotch tales of ‘depression'

RUMOURS sweep round that Speccie political columnist Peter Oborne is "deeply depressed". He was, according to the gossip, begging to be hired to do the Sunday Telegraph's political column after Dankie's departure.

However, as Dankie is being retained to continue the column it is said to have dampened Oborne's spirits. But when I call to inquire about the accuracy of the tittle-tattle, Oborne denies it all and seems his usual upbeat self. "It's utter bollocks," he tells me.

Of Dankie, his new editor at the Speccie, Oborne says: "I'm pretty relaxed about it. He's a very reassuring choice considering that some of the names going around caused serious concern among the staff."

Blues abound as masthead is back in black

STICKING with the Sunday Telegraph (someone has to)… The paper's masthead has reverted to black after a flirtation with blue.

One staffer was heard asking another: "I wonder when the next redesign will be?"

To which another replied: "Or will she get sacked first?" Not a nice way to talk about your editor.

Meanwhile, Murdoch McLennan, chief executive of the Telegraph group, has been telling friends (of Axegrinder): "I don't know what to do with the Sunday."

‘Start sewing' colleagues tell Dankie

ANNOUNCING Dankie's appointment as editor of The Spectator, the mag's chief executive Andrew Neil said: "… We concluded that Matthew was the best qualified to build on the superb legacy of Boris Johnson."

The "we" in question is presumably Neil and his boss Aidan (son of Sir Dave) Barclay.

The final shortlist for the job came down to two names: Sunday Telegraph deputy editor Dankie and Quentin Letts, the Daily Mail's political sketch writer and theatre critic.

Neil wanted Letts as editor. Barclay favoured Dankie.

When Letts withdrew his name because he was worried about Neil's editorial interference, it left just one man standing… Dankie.

Speccie staff, in general, are pleased with the choice. Though there are fears that Dankie "might be too compliant, a bit dull".

"He's wonderful company on a oneto- one basis but he is a bit of an Establishment man and we don't know whether he will be prepared to upset the Establishment," says one Speccie writer.

"His role model should be Dominic Lawson rather than Boris.

"Dominic was always stitching up friends in high places. Matt will have to get out the needle and thread."

You know that you're getting old when...

IS IT just Axegrinder, or are newspaper columnists getting younger? The Daily Telegraph this week ran a picture byline of a hack called Dominic White, writing from Barcelona about telecoms.

From the look of him, he's barely old enough to own a mobile.

Starman holds breath to be ebay rock star

DAILY Mail astrologer Jonathan Cainer will be intrigued by this… Dave Nicholson — the man who sells Cainer's serialisation rights — is reaching for the stars by managing a York rock band called Ryan Shirlow and The Bloody Marys.

Nicholson — aka Dave Nick, the features exec who worked for The Sun, Today and the Express and also edited the Yorkshire Evening Press — is "selling"

the band on internet auction site, ebay.

The winning bidder gets Ryan and The Bloody Marys to play for a night wherever they want — in the winner's home, even. Before bidding, you are warned that the band describes its music as a mixture of punk, folk and rock.

Apparently at least 500 "music lovers" have visited the sale (ebay item number 4833230047).

At the time of going to press the auction was five days old and the highest bid was a staggering £32. The sale ends on Sunday (19 February), bringing an end to those moments of worry and tension for Nicholson.

"At one point," he says, "we had a bid for just £7 — and that was from a music fan in Inverness. That's an 800- mile round trip from York and the petrol alone would have made the band bankrupt."

Nicholson reckons the buzz has been just like life on The Sun: "Loads of bustle but, fortunately, without the bollockings."

Mail all shook up over Elvis

"THE Secrets of Elvis", screamed the Daily Mail as it urged the King's fans to buy last week's paper to read David Jones's serialisation.

Jones, we were told, had tracked down members of Presley's inner circle and "spoken to those who knew him best".

Alas, on Friday the serialisation was all shook up by a magnificent howler.

Accompanying Jones's compelling copy there was a massive picture of Elvis standing beside a man described as the singer's manager, Colonel Tom Parker.

The caption read: "The Kingmaker: Colonel Tom Parker kept a tight control on Elvis's career after they met in '55."

And the headline was far more aggressive: "The conman who killed the King."

However, the man in the picture beside Elvis was in fact Henry Lewin, a senior vice-president of the Hilton hotel group. Lewin has never previously been described as either a "conman" or a "killer".

Both Parker and Lewin had chubby faces but that's where the similarity ends. Parker always had a miserable grimace while Lewin smiled incessantly.

Life inside begins at 40 for birthday boy Hipwell

TWO nights before he was sent to jail for his part in share ramping, former Mirror City Slicker James Hipwell enjoyed Perrier with Axegrinder. He was contemplating life behind bars (the unbendable steel ones rather than those filled with birds in Fulham).

"What really bothers me is that I had been thinking about having a big party to celebrate my 40th birthday," said Hipwell, who turns 40 on Friday, 17 February. "That's not going to happen now, is it?"

Mr Justice Beatson sentenced him to six months (three suspended)

last Friday. Lawyers for Hipwell have condemned the sentence as "excessive" and have lodged an appeal.

In the meantime, Hipwell's mobile phone message optimistically tells callers: "Leave me a message and I'll call you straight back."

the 1pm girl life begins at lunchtime

CHATTING about clothes to the March issue of Red magazine, Sunday Telegraph editor Sarah Sands says: "You can't be too arty and you can't be too tarty.

"My biggest wardrobe disaster was at a meeting at The Daily Telegraph. I was wearing a wrap skirt and I was talking about Gordon Brown's budget. As I got up, my skirt fell off.

"People pretended they hadn't noticed. I've never bought a wrap skirt since."

She believes a black suit will never let you down: "If I'm ever asking for money, I wear a black suit."

THERE was considerable grumbling and groaning in the Press Gallery at Westminster after administrator Elizabeth Johnson emailed the troops: "Due to a major water leak, it has been necessary to shut off all hot water in the Palace. Please use cold water taps only. The Serjeant at Arms apologises for the inconvenience and will send out a further email when normal services are resumed."

THE Trinity Mirror-owned Liverpool Daily Post chose Valentine's Day to tell its readers the exciting news that, along with the Liverpool Echo, it will be sponsoring the European Capital of Culture 2008.

The two newspapers will pump a hefty £2m into the culture project.

Sara Wilde, Trinity Mirror North West & North Wales regional managing director, was quoted as saying: "The Liverpool Echo and Liverpool Daily Post are part of the fabric of Liverpool.

"Our papers have a heritage stretching back to 1855 and we will continue to be at the heart of the city's culture."

Heart of the city's culture, eh?

The Daily Post has cut its arts coverage dramatically, undertakes fewer arts reviews and has cut back on freelance writers (apart from those who will work for nothing).

The sponsorship comes on top of a number of redundancies at both papers.

LIFT GRINDER

The Mirror's Nick Webster brought in a brilliant scoop on 4 February which would have turned Moscow correspondents green with envy.

Under the headline "Exclusive: Why does Russia Love Stalin Now?", Webster wrote that many Russians "look back at [Stalin's] iron-fisted rule with nostalgia".

Considering Russia is in chaos "the Red Tsar's cruel reign doesn't look so bad after all".

As part of his exclusive, the reporter went to great lengths to speak to Stalin's grandson, Yevgeny Dzhugashvili, who said things like: "My grandfather did everything he could to preserve the empire… he industrialised it… he strengthened it."

Diligent Webster also managed to interview pensioner Iskra Myachina, who recalled Uncle Joe's death: "It was as if we lost the father of the family…"

Amazingly, both of these Russians had given precisely the same interviews — word for word — years earlier.

Dzhugashivili had appeared in The Scotsman on 16 January, 2003. While Myachina had spoken to BBC Moscow correspondent Steve Rosenberg and the interview appeared on the Beeb's website on 5 March, 2003.

Then there was a Russian schoolgirl called Lyuba. She was aged 16 when she was interviewed by Webster — she was the same age when she said the same words to Rosenberg three years ago.

But the Mirror man performed a miracle with his ability to get some quotes out of ex-Politburo member Alexander Yakovlev.

Yakovlev died last October. From beyond the grave he told Webster exactly what he had told the BBC way back in 2003.

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