Axe grinder 19.05.06

The naked truth about theatre critics

A BITCHY catfight has erupted between London theatre critics Nicholas de Jongh, of the Standard, and Mark Shenton, who reviews plays for The Stage and Sunday Express.

The two luvvies have seemingly got on well for years. But now Shenton is using a blog on the Stage website to reveal his true feelings for de Jongh.

De Jongh's custom of stripping in the stalls receives a particularly poor review from Shenton. Writing about the recent press night for Coriolanus at the Globe, the Stage critic says: "… The Globe couldn't have hoped for a more spectacularly balmy London night. So balmy, in fact, that we got the first sight of another annual London occurrence: the baring of Nicholas de Jongh's ‘too, too solid pound of flesh' body.

"He regularly likes to unbutton to the waist when the summer arrives… and sometimes has even been known to throw off his shirt entirely. There was a remarkable sight at the Playhouse Theatre in the West End three summers ago when the velvet-seated splendour of that theatre was subjected to a naked encounter with his sweaty flesh as he took his shirt off and put it under the seat."

While the show is going on, de Jongh is allegedly causing routine disturbances by "chastising fellow theatregoers, or even fellow critics (one of my colleagues was once shouted at for putting a bag beside him that interfered with de Jongh's legroom: my friend politely told him to go home and look up the ‘c' word – Courtesy). But though he regularly whispers and passes notes to his companions during performances, if you sit near him and dare to turn a page of your notebook, you get a sharp, irritated look."

Axegrinder is waiting for de Jongh to return my calls so that we can chat about it.

‘Thirst' team has a lotta bottle…

NEWSY-CELEB mag, First, held a boozy party in Covent Garden for contributors and staff last week, ahead of this week's launch.

The drinks bill was exceptional. So much so that the magazine has now acquired a new name in the office: Thirst.

… and are on top of Prezza affair scoop

MEANWHILE, advance copies of Thirst that were distributed at the party carried "the only magazine interview"

with Prezza's mistress, Tracey Temple.

Temple reflected romantically on the relationship: "I was usually on top, because of his shape, I suppose… I wore my red leather trousers for a party once and said, ‘Touch them, touch them – they're so soft'."

Interestingly, the interview was conducted not by a Thirst journalist but by Jane Johnson, editor of that other Emap mag, Closer.

You've Earned It back from the dead…

SPECCIE editor Matthew d'Ancona says he has introduced the lifestyle section, "You've Earned It", in order to grab "new" readers.

But actually how new is the supplement's title?

Way back at the turn of this century, there was an editorial meeting at Sunday Business during which publisher Andrew Neil suggested that the paper should have a lifestyle section. He even had a great title for it — "You've Earned It".

The paper's editorial team, who included Jeff Randall, were horrified by the title.

"Considering our market was made up of the wealthiest people in Britain,"

I am told, ‘You've Earned It' sounded like the sort of title you'd find in a tacky mag aimed at Glaswegian chavs."

Some six years later and Neil has finally found a home for his beloved title idea. You could say, he's earned it.

… but feeling the burn?

… TALKING of which, Andrew Neil will be saddened to learn (here) that Spectator staff have already come up with a disobliging nickname for "You've Earned It".

It is being referred to as "You've Burned It".

Stop press! A press release!

THE OBSERVER, it seems, has yet to learn the difference between an explosive "leaked letter" and a press release.

The paper gleefully splashed a "leaked letter" from Tony Blair to Home Secretary John Reid about the PM's plans to change the Human Rights Act.

Political correspondent Ned Temko and home affairs hack Jamie Doward told readers that Blair was determined

to make sure the "law abiding majority can live without fear".


Curiously, spin-doctors were so delighted at the impending coverage in the Obs that they were already alerting rivals to their press release — sorry, leaked letter — before the paper had even hit the streets.

BBC bosses go after Getreel

AWARD-WINNING investigative reporter Sally Chidzoy is being fronted up by her own bosses at the BBC after she set up a company which claims to specialise in media training, I learn.

The corporation's regulations state that "there are considerable dangers of a conflict of interest if BBC people train individuals or organisations in how to present themselves on television, radio or online". The rules stipulate: "Producers, editors and journalistic staff must obtain permission from their manager before undertaking any outside training work."

Chidzoy, who works in Cambridge for Look East, set up Getreel nearly three years ago. She is the company's creative director and her two business partners are a BBC cameraman and a former BBC employee with management skills.

It seems, however, that Getreel has never actually provided any media training. All it appears to have done is make one five-minute film about Stonehenge. In other words, it's hardly Britain's most successful business.

However, this has not stopped Chidzoy's bosses applying the heat, accusing her of a conflict of interest.

Chidzoy, who has worked for the Beeb for 20 years, sent a letter to her superiors on Monday asking to know where she stands. I am told: "Sally's company has never done any media training and even if it had done, Sally would never have got involved in that side of it. She only set up the company to make short films and is surprised by the pressure that she is being put under."

A case for the fraud squad?

LONDONER'S DIARY in the Evening Standard had a story about the transportation of precious works of art last month.

It imagined how packers dealt with Old Masters: "It seems to have been a question of enclosing them in bubblewrap, thumping the back of the airport-bound lorry, and ringing the Germans to say, ‘they're on the way'."

Ten days later, William Langley, in The Sunday Telegraph, discussed the problems of transporting precious works of art. He began his "story" with the line: "Take one Old Master, six feet of bubble wrap, a ball of string and a fat man with a van, suggesting, ‘just bung it in the back, Guv'."

In the art world, wouldn't they call that a case for the counterfeit police?

The sheets have no shame

BONO got special treatment when the U2 frontman pitched up at the Indy on Monday to edit the paper.

Tammy Stoneman, the Indy's facilities manager (no less), emailed staff telling them: "As you are probably aware, Bono will be on-site to edit the newspaper on Monday. Security will be increased for this visit so can I please request that you ensure that you have your building passes with you on Monday."

Rebellious hacks were given the stern warning: "Anyone attempting to enter the building without a pass will be delayed whilst verification is sought to prove that they have legitimate reasons to enter the building."

All very low-key, then.

A bad case of brown-nosing at the Express

THERE was clearly no evidence of proprietor interference in last weekend's Sunday Express.

On pages 56 and 57 — and under the headline "Gods of rock unite for once-in-a-lifetime gig" — the paper's editor, Martin Townsend, reviewed a charity gig.

The "Gods of rock" included Robert Plant, Greg Lake, Roger Daltrey and — hang on, who's that on the drums? — Richard Desmond!

Yup, Express owner Desmond put down his swear box to pick up the drum sticks and go on stage.

Wrote Townsend: "With Richard Desmond powering across the Ludwig Vistalite kit behind him, it was as if Billingsgate, suddenly, had become the Railway Hotel, Harrow, or any other scene of The Who's early, rampaging success."

Townsend's critique continued: "I Won't Get Fooled Again scaled similar heights, Richard Desmond providing an explosive middle-section that had Roger [Daltrey] shaking his head in amazement.

At the end Roger dropped down on his knees in front of the drum kit in an ‘I am not worthy' pose that had the drummer roaring with laughter."

"Explosive" Desmond? Never.

Just not the ticket, Janet

WAS Janet Street-Porter's performance on Never Mind the Full Stops intended to bring to mind what Kelvin MacKenzie said when she was appointed editor of The Independent on Sunday?

His cruel, but seeming prescient, dictum was: "She couldn't edit a bus ticket."

On glorious nationwide television, well BBC4 anyway, she managed to persuade fellow panellist Times columnist David Aaronovitch to agree to put an apostrophe after its, as in its'.

Any self-respecting bus ticket would turn in its grave.

Old dog learns new tricks for £1,000 a shift

WHEN the Irish Daily Mail lost its night editor, Danny Gallagher, just before the launch in February — allegedly the result of a clash with head office fireman Martin "Jurassic" Clarke — filling the gap proved problematic.

Enter Terry Shuttleworth, who had retired, at 59, as London night editor less than a year earlier. Shuttleworth took over the position for a month, living in Dublin with his wife in a home rented for them by the Mail.

Now that the month has finished, he is still working there for two days a week. The odd thing is that Shuttleworth, the rottweiler who could reduce even the strongest

Food for thought at the Indy diner

THERE'S utter relief at the Indy and Sindy, where it's been announced that the contract for the staff restaurant has been put to tender.

Managing editor's PA, Rose Urban, has emailed staff asking what they'd like to see "in our improved facility [that's Indy-speak for restaurant]".

Urban wrote: "I would be very grateful if you would email any suggestions or ideas."

But could she have anticipated the bombardment of candid emails that followed (and which have been leaked to Axegrinder)…?

From Chris Schuler, comment production (and boy, has he got some comments to make):

Suggestions? Don't get me started! The place needs to be totally Jamie Olivered! It's ludicrous that we print so much stuff in the paper about healthy eating when the food available to staff is so stodgy, fatty, and generally unhealthy – not to mention unappetising.

Cajun chicken, burgers, chips, curry, industrially-produced pies and fishcakes, more cajun chicken, more chips… I've practically given up on the canteen as there's hardly anything I want to eat.

There's far, far too much salt in all the meat dishes – they should carry a health warning. And what ghastly knacker's yard do they get the stewing beef from? It is invariably horrible – fatty, gristly and tough as old boots… I have thrown it away uneaten more than once.

I've also had to chuck away roast potatoes that were uncooked in the middle, and one colleague had to take back a portion of chicken that was pink and raw inside.

The vegetarian options can be pretty dismal, too – a pasta bake that's been kept warm too long and turned to a heavy, unappetising lump of stodge. The salad bar is reminiscent of a hotel in the old Soviet Union – hardly anything fresh and green, and too much carbohydrate (rice, pasta, beans etc) covered in gloop.

From "anonyomous":

I nearly died after eating canteen food – on more than one occassion.

I can't have dairy products, and they often tell me things are milk-free when they're not.

I just want a canteen that takes better care not to kill its customers.

From "Christina":

Hear, hear! A collapsing outpost of the former Soviet Union doesn't even begin to cover it. This canteen (which makes discarded school dinners seem positively Fat Duckesque) manages the rare feat of being both disgusting and really rather expensive.

When I asked whether the final remaining tiny crumb of some "home-made" cake was really going to be charged at the same rate as the larger slabs that had been sitting there all day, but which had now disappeared (presumably because all the hot food was inedible), a succession of grim-faced managers assured me that it would. One of them chased me out and then accused me of stealing the bottle of water I had just refilled from the fountain. I was surprised they didn't try to charge me for the air I'd been breathing by the till.

The salads, of course, are largely yesterday's discarded vegetables, coated (as Chris rightly points out) in some chemical gloop. But the hot vegetables also taste as though they've been sitting in washing-up water for a week – and are served at a temperature below lukewarm, which brings out the full glories of their sodden nastiness.

I could only marvel at the rather postive account of "The River Cafe" that appeared in the Media section the other week, among barbed comments about other newspapers' facilities. The Soviet Union sprang to mind again.

From "Nigel":

I'm a total fusspot about food, worry about all types of obscure things such as transfatty acids and the acrylamide in toast and Ryvita, however, I simply have to intervene in this canteen-slashing mood. Yes, there's too much mayo on the salads, which are variously prepared with yesterday's cold veg (pretty environmentally sound, that), a complete lack of imagination or, presumably, experience of what salads could be (take the chef to Food For Thought, Neal Street, WC1 immediately), and a fetishistic pleasure in the machine they have backstage that turns happy, balanced beetroot into lethargic purple dice that just sit around watching DVDs all day. HOWEVER, the hot food ain't that bad, izzit? I mean, I've eaten at The Guardian, The Observer, the Mirror canteen, the Indy's canteen last year before they changed chef and, most memorable of all, the City Road canteen, oh, that was YUMMY. It's a canteen, how good has it got to be? It's cheap, it's there, I've seen worse. Rather than sack the manager (footballistically speaking), shouldn't we be balancing the torrent of criticism with a … etc etc? I'll stop before you all lose the will to live, or, more importantly, before one of my colleagues mentions the home-made vegan salad I ate today.

Peace, love and lentils, Nigel

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