Axe grinder 31.03.06

Hit the road Mac

KELVIN MacKenzie, the former Sun editor turned mini media tycoon, has quietly been divorced by his wife on the grounds of his adultery, I learn.

Or, in Sun-speak, he’s "fessed up to playin’ away".

MacKenzie, who recently lost £1.5m when publisher Highbury House crashed, had been married for 38 years to Jacqueline.

This week she was granted a quickie decree nisi in the London Divorce Court because of her husband’s admitted adultery last August. Court papers said that MacKenzie, 60, had agreed to pay £750 to his wife as a contribution towards costs.

Theirs was never the strongest of marriages.

While MacKenzie built up his career and became one of media’s best-known names, Mrs M was rarely brought out for public occasions.

Would it be unfair, I don’t know, to say that he was one of those husbands who put his wife under a pedestal?

There was added strain back in the late ’90s when MacKenzie was caught by The Mail on Sunday sharing a Barbados "love nest" with a News International secretary called Joanna Duckworth (yup, 20 years his junior).

More recently, he has lived the life of a young and energetic bachelor. Pretty 30-somethings swarm to him, bees to the moneypot.

Fleet Street jokers say MacKenzie once told Jacqueline that a good husband is like a fine wine: he gets better with age. The next day she locked him in the cellar.

Standard adds childminding to its skillset

PLEASED to see the Evening Standard is pioneering new ways to cosy up to senior figures in the Labour Party.

The London paper has been looking after the 15-year-old daughter of Mike O’Brien, who is not only Labour MP for Warwickshire North, but also the man who holds the mighty position of solicitor general.

I learn that the young lass landed a spot of work experience via Jason Beattie who, as the Standard’s chief political reporter, must surely know O’Brien.

Indeed, in his role as chief babysitter, Beattie has been regularly phoning the newsdesk from the Commons just to check that Ms O’Brien is being well looked after.

She has been whisked off on celebrity interviews and has been privy to a unique glimpse of how journalists go about getting their stories. No doubt dad will be itching to hear all the gossip from Associated.

As solicitor general, O’Brien is the person who ticks off newspapers when they have breached injunctions and been silly. Anyone who thinks that he must now be indebted to the Standard clearly does not understand that solicitor generals are seriously impartial people and have far too much integrity to climb into bed with the babysitter.

Bogus bonus keeps Ferg on his toes

AS COST-CUTTING continues at The Sun, deputy editor Bogus Shanahan is doing well as slasher-in-chief.

Bogus has decreed that foreign trips must be authorised by editor Rebekah Wade. And if hacks are so cavalier with their money as to buy newspapers outside the office then they will not be allowed to claim the cost on exes.

As he continues to boost News International’s profits, it can only be a question of time before Bogus catches up with the staff journalist who has been claiming £500 every week to write a column for the paper.

That’s £26k a year on top of a sixfigure salary. Outrageous, isn’t it? After all, aren’t journalists supposed to write for their paper as a matter of course?

Who is this staffer who has the cheek to charge extra for writing? That’s right.

It’s none other than Bogus — the man who recently picked up 500 smackers in return for writing a rant accusing Tessa Jowell of being greedy.

Heffer shows a mean streak towards Lewis

SLICK Telegraph City editor Will Lewis, who seems to do almost more work planning the paper’s move to Victoria than actually running his (not entirely impressive) pages, is often written up as a near certainty to edit The Daily Telegraph once caretaker manager John Bryant leaves the scene.

Well, maybe. But Lewis will not get the job without some brisk opposition.

Axegrinder hears that rightwing columnist Simon Heffer, for one, is of two views: that he himself would be an excellent choice for editor; and that Lewis is, to quote one friend of Heffer, a "long streak of piss".

Is Heffer’s alleged view shared by his new friend Guy Black, the PR man who is such a confidante of Telegraph chief executive Murdoch Maclennan? There is surely enough material here for at least five podcasts.

Times looks to Old Etonian to woo Cameron

COULD Westminster be about to see the departure of another long-serving political editor? Trevor Kavanagh at The Sun and Michael White at The Guardian have already accepted comfortable berths as commentators and left the daily grind at the Commons to their deputies.

Now, I hear that major changes could be afoot at The Times where the paper’s political editor, Phil Webster, has been in place for more than a decade.

The word at Wapping is that the paper’s former chief political correspondent, Roland Watson, who has recently returned from the Washington office, is being lined up for the top job.

Watson is currently "parked" at HQ among the lunch club, otherwise known as the leader writers, until the sports-loving Webster can be persuaded to move on, according to my spies.

"Webster is seen as too close to the Blairites at Number 10," whispers my mole. "Roland went to Eton — just like David Cameron. He’s seen as someone who will be able to get on well with the Tories as well as Labour.

"The view among the execs has been that the exclusives the paper has broken recently have just been handouts from Number 10 and they want to shake things up a bit."

The Times’s Brussels correspondent Anthony Browne — a thorn in the side of Government ministers — is also rumoured to be in the frame for a job swap with the paper’s chief political correspondent, David Charter.

Indy schoolboy error gives kids a buzz

BOSSES at The Independent must be delighted at the last-minute decision of staff to call off a strike that threatened to disrupt the paper’s Budget coverage.

One person less than impressed with editor Simon Kelner’s Budget supplement last week was teacher Ralph Surman, who was used as a case study.

Unfortunately, the Indy managed to print his mobile phone number and the number of the school in Nottingham where he works at the top of the copy.

The error was rectified for later editions of the paper — but possibly not in time to stop Mr Surman’s pupils getting hold of his number.

Thomson finds business post hard to figure

MEANWHILE, Times editor Robert Thomson is scratching his head over an array of potential successors to departing business editor Patience Wheatcroft, who will be the new editor at The Sunday Telegraph.

It seems he is dithering between either appointing a "figurehead" boss with a deputy who will do all the real work, or just settling for a proper business editor who knows the job.

The two top candidates for the figurehead post are the impeccably connected columnist Camilla Cavendish and foreign editor Bronwen Maddox.

But if Thommo decides to appoint a worker bee, then the favoured choices include three of the existing business team — Robert Cole, Suzy Jagger and Patrick Hosking.

Stories for sale scandal leaves staff on edge

STAFF at Canary Wharf are distinctly twitchy following the furore over Press Gazette’s revelation last week that two staff were allegedly involved in a "stories for sale" racket.

The Daily Mirror’s Paul Gallagher and The People’s veteran hack, David Brown, were fingered, as an immediate inquiry got under way.

But it appears they might not be the only ones facing the wrath of the execs.

Axegrinder understands that several hacks at Trinity Mirror’s national titles have flogged off tales that their bosses have deemed unworthy of the paper.

Indy bosses find Nissé just ain’t worth it

ONE OF the reasons that bosses at the Indy caved in over the threatened strike on Budget day was the fear that City editor Jason Nissé would be among the refuseniks, according to his fellow business hacks.

Must have been infuriating for bosses to hear that Nissé was off to head up Barclays PR team as soon as the industrial action was called off.

A man caught between Brillo and the Brute

BURLY Bruce Anderson uses his Independent column to suck up relentlessly to Tory leader David Cameron.

He has yet to refer to Cameron in public, however, as "The Young Master" — the phrase Anderson was heard using about HM Leader of the Opposition in a conversation with one of his Travellers’ Club cronies the other day.

On that very subject, there is also word that Anderson has been writing policy memos to Cameron.

"The Brute" is a good deal more complimentary about Cameron than he is about another figure in the brave new Tory era — Spectator editor Matthew d’Ancona. In the Indy last week, Anderson took a deft swipe at his "friend" d’Ancona, in effect accusing him of being an establishment lackey over the Jowell affair.

D’Ancona defended himself a few days later in The Independent on Sunday, declaring his intention to "nurture mischief".

This from perhaps the least mischievous editor on Fleet Street. He certainly doesn’t sound very mischievous about his boss, Andrew Neil.

"I like him! I admire him!" d’Ancona is quoted as saying. Good to see that Brillo inspires such fear in his supposedly independent new employee.

Redundant but indispensable

LEGENDARY newsdesk secretary Pat Wykes has received unexpected confirmation of her indispensability six weeks after she was made redundant in The Mail on Sunday’s latest editorial cull.

The popular "Mrs Fixit" — a veteran of the House of Commons, the Daily Mirror and The MoS — was enjoying a farewell lunch with former colleagues at a posh Kensington eaterie the other day when she received an urgent message from a junior secretary on the MoS Live mag.

The harassed girl had been lumbered with an exorbitant bill for a recent trip by social affairs correspondent Jo Knowsley to Africa.

The newly tightened budgets were going to be unbalanced by the unexpected expenditure and the desperate caller needed the wise counsel of the experienced Pat to "square things away".

Nobody had told her that Pat Wykes was no longer on staff, nor that, ironically, the need to make funds available to the newly launched Live was the main reason for Pat’s sudden departure after 10 years.

Meanwhile, freelances are up in arms over the inability of the MoS newsdesk to pay them, since a succession of Australian temps seem unable to keep up with the payments system set up by… Pat Wykes!

The curse of the Kennedys strikes again

AT LEAST one lobby journalist, it appears, is still crying into his beer following the departure of Charles Kennedy as Lib Dem leader.

Rumours abound in the press gallery that one politico was penning a biography of Kennedy at the time of his shock departure and knew of the treatment he was secretly getting for his addiction.

But it appears the broadsheet hack was reluctant to share this bombshell information with the bosses paying his salary while he scribbled away on the book.

The story was eventually broken by ITN after some interesting tales about the Lib Dems emerged in The Times.

"The author grudgingly gave out some details eventually," says my mole. "But it was pretty embarrassing, as he appeared to be sitting on a belter of a story."

This television business can be a real strain

THE BBC’s new business editor, Robert Peston, appears to be struggling after making the switch to broadcasting from the more leisurely pace of The Sunday Telegraph.

Colleagues at the Beeb whisper that Peston is being lined up for another bout of TV training after his woeful performance during the corporation’s Budget coverage last week.

Insiders say that Peston’s clipped tones and laid-back style are a far cry from his predecessor Jeff Randall, who made a far more successful transfer from print to broadcasting.

To add to Peston’s woes, some BBC radio producers seem keen to call up Randall for a punditry slot on their shows rather than rely on his efforts.

A career at the Daily Mail — in a nutshell

HIGH DRAMA during lunch, as female lobby journalists entertained (well, that’s what it says on their exes)

home secretary Charles Clarke.

Halfway through the meal, Daily Mail political journalist Jane Merrick, who suffers from a nut allergy, inadvertently inhaled a whiff of almond or pistachio and had to be carted off to hospital for emergency treatment.

As the blotchy hackette was helped out of the Baltic restaurant in south London, the remaining ladies and the lardy politician looked on in horror.

One of the journalists asked: "How can she have a nut allergy? She’s been dealing with the Mail newsdesk for years."

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