Axegrinder 09.02.2007

A moving story from the Commons' Press Gallery 

DISTRESSING news reaches me of a furore in the normally clubby atmosphere of the Press Gallery at the House of Commons. A refurbishment of the rabbit warren – which houses up to 100 hacks from national and regional papers, and broadcasters including the BBC – is creating serious ructions. Some reporters who have sat in the same chair for up to two decades are being forced to move to less salubrious quarters in the gallery to make way for other hacks. Among the most contentious changes are plans to move the regional and wire journalists from a cosy room affectionately known as the "Rampton Wing" due to the eccentricities of its residents.

The space has been earmarked as the new base for the Daily Mirror's Lobby team, which means veteran regional journalists Billy Jacobs (who represents the Edinburgh Evening News, among other regionals) and Ian Craig (Manchester Evening News) will be booted out to make way for their national colleagues. They will be decanted to a communal space in what is currently the Press Gallery bar (yes, the hacks have their own private bar area!)

"Some people are seriously miffed. There will have to be changes," insists one veteran journalist from the regional press. But another hack joked: "We're not sure the Rampton Wing are ready for release into the wider community. It's probably best they stay put."

Outbreak fails to impress at Myler's NoW

THERE were frenetic scenes at the News of the World where eager execs battled to impress new editor Colin Myler during his first full week in charge.

Features supremo Jules Stenson was among those who ordered his bleary-eyed underlings to attend a breakfast-time "ideas meeting" at Wapping. The results were pretty impressive. The first five pages were taken up by an exclusive on Sven Goran Eriksson's former squeeze Faria Alam.

But it was the day the first major outbreak of Asian bird flu in Britain was confirmed – a story which merited coverage on page one or a spread for most other Sundays. Strangely, the story only made the bottom of page 15 of Axegrinder's edition of the Screws – just below some nice pictures of the paper's columnist and Sven's ex Ulrika Jonsson ice skating.

Indy radio ga-ga 

A fine piece of radio ga-ga comes courtesy of this week’s Independent Media Weekly supplement.
The front-page montage of radio station logos proclaims that UK commercial radio is ‘carrying the fight to the BBC’ according to the newly released Rajar listening figures.

But I’m not convinced Kiss FM 96.7 (which broadcasts from  Austin, Texas) and Magic 94.3 (Illinois) have anything at all to do with it.

Gossip queen sets tongues wagging

SUN gossip columnist Katherine Bergen has herself become the subject of newsroom tittle-tattle about her marriage to Tory party spinner Nick Wood.

I learn that Bergen, who compiles the Whip column, has moved out of the marital home in Holland Park.

Wood, a former political editor, is said to be "really sad" about the break-up. Meanwhile, his wife is doing her best to keep her spirits high. She is being consoled by Con Couglin, executive foreign editor of the Daily Telegraph and Saddam Hussein's biographer (Saddam: the Secret Life ranks 108,011 on Amazon). Indeed, Bergen and Coughlin have just returned from a holiday in St Kitts.

They were greeted at the luggage carousel in the Caribbean by a smirking Kelvin MacKenzie, another Sun columnist, who was not slow to relay news of the sighting back to talkative colleagues at Wapping. The couple describe themselves as "mates".

While Wood has five children by a previous marriage, Bergen has two cats from her marriage to Spectator editor Matthew d'Ancona. "Nick has been left with the cats," I am told. "He's fine with that as he loves them dearly. He sees it as the silver lining of this otherwise doomy cloud."

Wallace slaps down Clifford's Prescott claim

MIRROR editor Richard Wallace was quick off the blocks when Max Clifford appeared to claim the credit for the paper's scoop on John Prescott.

The wily publicist listed the deputy PM's affair with his diary secretary among his big stories in a piece for the Independent on Sunday's op-ed pages.

A clearly miffed Wallace fired off a letter to the Sindy to counter Clifford's "mischievous assertion". "He was not responsible in any way for the Daily Mirror's exclusive revelations about John Prescott's affair with Tracey Temple," thunders Wallace.

The editor, however, manages to pay a back-handed compliment to Clifford's negotiating skills: "In reality, after the Mirror broke the story Mr Clifford became Ms Temple's agent and persuaded The Mail on Sunday to part with £250,000 for her ‘diaries'."

But Axegrinder is perplexed. Why on earth did Wallace put the word diaries in quote marks? Answers please…

Guardian man is Barkham up the wrong tree

GUARDIAN feature writer Patrick Barkham sounds like a remarkably tenacious chap. He posted a pleading message on the blog of former Labour MP Jane Griffiths in the hope of a chat about her one-time colleague Fiona Jones. Former "Blair babe" Jones, the ex-Labour MP for Newark, was found dead surrounded by 15 empty vodka bottles, according to the News of the World.

Barkham emailed Griffiths, saying he was keen to contact her to "produce a rounded, sensitive piece" about Jones – even though he worked for The Guardian "which I understand you do not particularly like".

Now, Axegrinder reckons that's a slight understatement, judging by Griffith's comment on her blog: "I don't, as readers will know, read The Guardian, on account of it being a despicable rag."

No playing away for Daily Mail's workers

WORD reaches me that a certain writer might have trouble meeting the gaze of Paul Dacre in the lift up to the Daily Mail's third-floor offices.

As the guardian of the nation's morals, Dacre is famously unimpressed by the marital infidelities of some of the tawdry celebs featured in his paper. But gossips at Associated HQ suggest a Mail man has been spotted on Shaftesbury Avenue – where else? – with a blonde who was not his wife. And, horror of horrors, they had their hands down the back of each other's trousers and appeared to have enjoyed a few drinks, according to one report.

Greetings from a fellow hack

Freelance journalist Rob McGibbon has branched out from his "remarkable writing career to launch a range of brilliant greetings cards". That's what he told Axegrinder anyway.

McGibbon, who regular PG readers will remember from his Press Conference interviews, has created a range of 24 cards that follow a character called Sally as she smiles through the woes of self-improvement, dieting, holistic therapies and hypochondriacal men.

The Sally cards have taken McGibbon two years to develop and are drawn by cartoonist Rob Buchan.

Speaking between beers via a satellite phone from his yacht in the Caribbean, McGibbon garbled: "I am very excited about the launch of Sally, but I am also in the real world about these things. I think she could become popular but I will not be giving up the day job any time soon."

"I am interrupting my sun-bathing to plead with every journalist to help Sally. I have spent 20 years doing publicity for celebrities and other unworthy sub-species and now I desperately need the column inches for me. Can you help? Is it worth a drink? Two drinks?

"There are a multitude of ways to do this. How about news stories: ‘Sally Cards fever hits high street'. Or a reader interactive spread: ‘Are You A Sally?'. Or a human interest feature: ‘How I faced poverty to bring Sally to life'. There could even be a Sunday newspaper background feature: ‘We find the girl who inspired Sally Card range'. Hell, there might even be a kiss-and-tell spin-off: ‘How Sally Card rat Rob broke my heart – by the real Sally'…" All the cards can be viewed at

(That's enough plugging for Rob, Ed)

Edwards bluffs it through his title's no-show

AXEGRINDER takes his hat off to the hacks who trek out from central London to Sky News' HQ at Osterley to appear on late night and crack of dawn paper reviews. At least they get the chance to suck up to the editor by plugging their own newspaper and, often, their own stories. Spare a thought, then, for Daily Mirror crime man Jeff Edwards who schlepped out to Osterley on the night of the police anti-terror raids in Birmingham. Unfortunately, no copies of the Mirror managed to make the same journey in time for the review. Undaunted, Edwards said "We don't have a copy of the Mirror here", before going on to give a lengthy – and doubtless baffling to viewers – review of the paper's crime coverage.

Global reports from Times' Chamberlain

To misquote Oscar Wilde, to lose one foreign correspondent may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose eight looks like carelessness. That was the situation facing Daily Telegraph editor Will Lewis and executive foreign editor Con Coughlin after the departure of Patrick Bishop was announced.

But there are apparently no such problems for Sunday Telegraph editor Patience Wheatcroft when it comes to filling the foreign pages. Reporter Gethin Chamberlain managed to get bylines – but, strangely, not datelines – on four stories from across the globe, covering Iran, South Africa, Pakistan and even Iceland. Perhaps Wheatcroft has found the solution to Lewis' problems.

Love is in the airwaves

PR firm Cohesive is offering to send a red rose to the loved one of any journalist who can stomach an hour-long presentation by two of its paymasters, "wireless innovators" Zinwave and "communications forensics leaders" SS8 Networks, at the forthcoming 3GSM mobile technology fair in Barcelona.

They have even offered to include a romantic message with the rose.

A disbelieving reporter at one mobile telecoms mag told Axegrinder: "We usually get the standard cruise/drinks invite to a party with some half-naked popstar at 3GSM – but this is a step too far. "It's one thing dealing with some PRs in the office: but perish the thought of them getting involved in reporters' personal relationships!"

Memo of the week

Birmingham Mail staff waited more than
a year for a new vending machine. Joy for famished staff on the new
arrival was closely followed by despair as this memo appeared from
regional facilities administrator Laura Smith…

Subject: Vending Machines
Connect Vending have just notified us that our new food suppliers,
Benjy’s, have this morning gone into administration. They are looking
to bring in another supplier from around the Midlands area to replenish
our machines. As it stands, all fresh food in the machines is out of
date so we request that nobody use these machines for the time being…

‘All aspects of this assertion are wrong'

Apology of the week has to go to the Sunday Times for the following: "Your profile (Comment last week) of Andrew Adonis stated as fact that ‘Charles Clarke opposed university tuition fees and found himself overruled on the advice of Adonis.' All aspects of this assertion are wrong – Charles Clarke MP."

Just goes to show that the jug-eared ex-Home Secretary can still throw his weight around when he needs to. Perhaps ST editor John Witherow didn't fancy the hair-dryer treatment next time he bumped into the old bruiser.

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