Axe Grinder - 8 September 2006

Working for the Mail proves too woeful for Joy

THE exquisitely named diary reporter, Joy Lo Dico, has quit the Daily Mail's gossip column because she cannot "stomach" working for the paper, I am very sorry to report.

She described her moral difficulties in a resignation email to Helen Minsky, who has been editing the column during Richard Kay's summer hols. In the email, Lo Dico was at pains to point out that she did not have a problem with the diary.

"It is the paper I cannot stomach," she wrote, sadly.

"I can't bear seeing my stories voiced by the Daily Mail or making calls saying I am from that paper, and at the moment I don't want to work places that I can't square with my own conscience."

The email, which is being circulated at Associated HQ, explains: "The prospect of working for the Mail has been filling me with dread and even the pay is no salve… I don't want to make up some silly excuse about being ill… because that is plain disrespectful… I am sorry. I don't think an apology will be accepted now, but I am sorry."

But this is an email that has a delicious twist at the end: Lo Dico signs off… with an idea for a story.

"I thought it might be worth baiting Jacob Rees-Mogg about getting married in one of the most famous Protestant churches, Canterbury Cathedral, despite being of a staunch Catholic family," she writes, adding helpfully: "For a bit of colour, he has a house filled with old sporting prints on the wall and leather armchairs and musty furniture, despite being only in his mid-thirties."

It's not yet clear how upset Minsky was to receive Lo Dico's notice. But she didn't waste time getting the Rees-Mogg story into the column.

New man at Telegraph may please spooks

Con Coughlin's appointment as foreign editor of The Daily Telegraph may be greeted with satisfaction in the murkier end of Whitehall. Despite his Irish name, Coughlin has for a long time taken views shared by the British military and also by, ahem, the observational end of the Establishment.

His biography of Saddam Hussein was decidedly anti-Baathist and pro- Western and at its pre-Iraq War book launch (at the Travellers' Club, long the haunt of florid-faced ex-spies)

Coughlin closed his remarks by saying, "Gentlemen, let us meet again in Baghdad!"

So, although many of The Daily Telegraph staff may be appalled by the treatment given to ousted foreign editor Alan Philps, MI6 and Co are likely to be more than happy to see their friend Con in such an influential position.

Editor forgets to drive down memory lane

Mike Goodbun, deputy editor of Classic Cars magazine, gets in touch to say he has an axe to grind. "It seems Octane magazine editor Robert Coucher has a short (selective) memory," says Mike. "The October 2006 issue's main cover sell boasts: ‘Jaguar XJ13, first ever full test. We drive 1966 supercar'.

"Look at the May 1996 issue of Classic Cars magazine and you'll see ‘World exclusive. We drive Jaguar's XJ13' The editor of that issue? The very same Robert Coucher.

"In his editorial he said, ‘We spent a full day with the Jaguar and really got to grips with its amazing capabilities: as discerning readers you should expect no less from the best classic car magazine published."

Mike adds: "The discerning readers of Classic Cars won't have forgotten that feature, even if its then editor has…"

Sport staff shut out of birthday bash

To celebrate its 20th birthday party, the Sport is holding a glam party in London next month. However, the hacks who have made such a success of the publication are under strict instructions not to attend.

The group's executive director "Little" Richard Clayton has posted a letter on the staff notice board, informing the plebs they should not show up to the bash.

"I must emphasise that the birthday party," he writes, "is NOT a staff party but an important VIP event run by one of London's top PR agencies. Therefore, admittance will be strictly controlled by invitation only."

The lucky few who have been chosen to attend the jolly are Sunday Sport editor Paul Carter, advertising director Rudd Apsey, and the advertising manager Tracey Lawton. Oh, and two news reporters will be allowed in — but will have to stay sober because they are only there to write about the event.

One member of staff tells me: "Talk about a kick in the teeth. It's done nothing for morale and we all feel like we're surplus to requirements. You would have thought that Dave Beevers — the guy who's been overshadowed and basically edited the paper while Tony Livesey was making TV shows — would have been invited."

From hot news on Today to hot lamps tomorrow 

BBC newsreader and all-round national treasure Peter Donaldson is finding new ways to earn an income after his bust-up with corporation bosses.

Donaldson next week launches a website,, which will be a buy-and-sell site for collectors of items ranging from BMX bikes to fetish clothing. "I'm just browsing in HMV," said Donaldson when Axegrinder phoned to talk about his new venture, "Looking for some Leonard Cohen."

Donaldson, who describes himself as "the poor man's Michael Aspel", says he collects blow lamps. "I like them because they are not current or trendy. I've got 10 of them but need to get them working."

He intends to talk to Today presenters John Humphrys and James Naughtie about his site but hasn't seen them "since I told the BBC I wasn't going to get up at 4.30 in the morning, stamped my feet and cut my nose off". Good guy.

Is the Mirror killing off its readers?

The Daily Mirror's intrepid investigators Andrew Penman and Nick Sommerlad recently sprang into action after receiving a reader's complaint about a company selling light bulbs.

The duo duly declared on their page that the "most inappropriately named firm of the week has to be Easylife, a mailorder shambles that's based in Sittingbourne, Kent".

They told the sad story of how Jean Wilcock of the Isle of Man had bought some low-energy light bulbs from Easylife but was still waiting for the bulbs to arrive.

Penman and Sommerlad "had words" with the firm "and the bulbs have arrived". But the boys added a word of caution: "Jean, don't plug them into Easylife's butterfly table lamp, if you bought one. Trading Standards have warned it's not wired and could kill you.

And, like their five-socket adaptor, has cheap fuses that could spark a fire. So if you bought either, get a refund."

Listening in to pub tittle-tattle at Canary Wharf on Monday night, I learned that Jean Wilcock is not the only one whose life might be in danger.

On other pages of the Daily Mirror, Easylife's life-threatening products have been advertised as reader offers! Could it be possible that the paper's declining circulation is down to the Daily Mirror killing its own punters by electrocution and house fires?

Newsroom tea lady steals the show

Newsnight continues to set the news agenda. Peter Barron, the programme's editor, says that he received numerous press inquiries following Emily Maitlis's interview with the heath minister, Caroline Flint, over the parlous state of the NHS computer systems.

"It was a good story," says Barron. "But it wasn't that which interested the press pack. Ms Flint was doing her interview down the line from a camera in the BBC Sheffield newsroom. As she spoke a woman wove casually past in the background, as people often do in newsroom shots. She was carrying a full tray of teas.

Not unusual. Balanced on her head. The press office phones went mad. Who was the mysterious woman with the deft teatray skills? I rang our colleagues at Radio Sheffield who told me she's the lady who tidies up the office in the evenings. She's been getting the teas in like this for years. No one there bats an eyelid."

The tea-carrying heroine is Nana Amoatin, originally from Ghana. "It's not that difficult," says Nana. "Anyone could do it."

The press cameras never miss a flick

A news game among Fleet Street snappers.

When assigned to take pix of David Cameron they wait until he pushes back his fringe and then — click click click — get yet another snapshot of the Tory leader toying with his hair.

There seems to be something of a competition to see which snapper can get the most "Cameron hair pictures" into print. "It's amazing picture desks have not got bored of this shot," says one lensperson.

It's equally amazing, perhaps, that Cameron's handlers have not told him to leave his hair alone when in the vicinity of photographers.

Sitwell is no Silly Billy at awards do

Silly awards were dished out during the dinner at John Brown's summer bash in Surrey the other night.

William Sitwell, editor of Waitrose Food Illustrated, won the award for "Person Most Likely to Embarrass Himself". He got the hint.

Within minutes of being bestowed, the happily married father of two excused himself from the table and trundled off to bed — alone.

By rights, the award should have gone to… Oh, let's come back to this.

Baz's blog has become a bit of a dead dog

Only the other week, Axegrinder was pulling up the Daily Mail's Benedict Brogan for neglecting his blog (he has changed his ways since appearing here). Now I notice that another BB — the paper's showbiz columnist Baz Bamigboye — is also unaware that a blog is supposed to be updated regularly.

In fact, until publishing a post last Wednesday, Bamigboye's previous item was posted on 21 July, when he filed a film review of Stormbreaker. Perhaps he was recovering from the remark left by a visitor, "Bored of Glasgow", who clearly thinks little of Bamigboye's critique and adds: "Stick to goss, Baz."

Concentrating on the job in hand

Back to Will Skidelsky, the new deputy editor of Prospect magazine, who (as mentioned here last week) wrote a Guardian article in 2002 in which he described his period of "frantic masturbation".

My yellow-edged copy of the article continues with Skidelksy recounting how "actual sex" was more of an ordeal than rewarding himself with a hand job.

When he was in bed with lovers he "would have to concentrate so hard on reaching the finishing line that pleasure was out of the question. Male friends tried to be supportive. Rather than feel sorry for myself, they said, I should be grateful for my stamina. What women could fail to appreciate the ability to ‘go all night' in a man? But I found that any benefits from my enhanced staying power were more than offset by my woeful lack of responsiveness."

He recalled that "as yet another tender caress failed to have the desired effect, a sense of hopelessness would descend. Any feelings of passion were eclipsed by frustration and paranoia."

He had turned into "something of a womaniser" albeit "in my own mind".

Life at Prospect is about to perk up…

La Johnson bites the hand that feeds her

What is Rachel Johnson up to? Boris's sister went on Radio 4's Loose Ends last Saturday to plug her new novel, Notting Hell. During her interview she took a swipe at The Daily Telegraph, saying she was fed up with the paper for not doing more to promote the book. She explained that it owed her this because she was a columnist on the paper.

Is it really the role of breathless freelance scribes to whinge on air about national newspapers which decline to enter into the old corrupt game of giving contributors' books a soft ride?

Johnson has been pressing The Daily Telegraph to put more work her way of late — she is going about it in a rather strange way.

Science ed left unseated at Daily Mail

As millions of pounds are chucked at Associated's latest title, London Lite, cost-cutting at the Daily Mail means that arguments have erupted over the office furniture.

The paper's science editor Mike Hanlon arrives in the office each morning to discover that someone has pinched his chair.

An otherwise patient man, Hanlon has become increasingly grumpy at having to endure the daily ritual of tracking down his own seat.

So much so that he asked chief penny pincher Charlie Garside for a new chair (upon which he would doubtless carve M.H.) but was told: "New chairs won't arrive until after Christmas."

The exasperated science bod is now contemplating dipping into his own funds, buying a chair and then, he has informed his colleagues, "I intend to chain it to my desk."

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