Axe grinder 02.06.06

Reeking scribe was smelling like a Wolf

BITCHING in the world of theatre critics is all the rage.

You’ll recall the recent Axegrinder item about Mark Shenton, reviewer for The Stage, and the Evening Standard’s Nicholas de Jongh.

Shenton wrote about de Jongh’s nasty custom of removing his shirt — to reveal “his sweaty flesh” — during shows, and putting it under his seat.

Last Friday, the Daily Mail’s theatre critic, Quentin Letts, was equally vicious about a colleague. Under the headline, “A Whiff of Scandal”, Letts produced a review of Clever Dick at the Hampstead Theatre, but also found the space to mention the smelly man beside him.

Wrote Letts: “The man sitting next to me, a foreign theatre critic of the lank variety, had raging b.o. Really quite remarkably whiffy, he was.”

Blushing wedding pair: the guests!

THERE WAS a severe case of embarrassment when former Telegraph journalist Michael Kallenbach held a big party last weekend to celebrate his civil partnership marriage to bigshot banker, Robert Taylor.

The happy couple had sent out invitations which declared that the soiree would be a “flamenco evening” at Berry Brothers, in St James’s. In effect, this meant that the food was tapas and the music was provided by a band playing Spanish music. Of course, none of the guests pitched up in flamenco fancy dress. Except two.

When Daily Mail executive Sarah Sands and her husband Kim Fletcher, The Guardian’s “media commentator”, walked into the crowded room, they realised to their horror that they were the only ones looking like idiots.

First in was Sands, dressed in a black mantilla with a veil covering her face. She was playing the role of the Spanish widow (doubtless mourning the tragic loss of her Sunday Telegraph editorship), but some thought she looked a little like Cherie Blair at her meeting with the Pope. Behind her was Fletcher, undeniably the star of the show. He was festooned in an oversized cape made of red silk. Other guests were blinded by the shocking vibrancy of the garment. “Is he meant to be a matador?” asked an astonished member of the band.

“He looks as if he’s trying to be Superman.”

Piggott is not a bigot. But there again…

BBC Radio announcers, increasingly casual, still need to check their pronunciation. During a recent news bulletin on Radio 4, a report by journalist Robert Piggott was introduced so sloppily that it made his name sound like “Robert Bigot”. Mind you, Piggott is a religious affairs specialist, so maybe it was fair game after all…

Sun reporter should ‘Reid’ The Times

THE SUN’s deputy political editor, Andy Porter, told readers on Tuesday that Home Secretary John Reid was enjoying a “sunshine break in France with his wife” while the chaos continued back in Britain.

Is Porter reading his own sister paper, The Times? On Monday, the day before Porter’s shock story, Times home affairs correspondent Richard Ford had told the broadsheet’s readers: “John Reid returns to London today after criticism for travelling to France for a short break with his wife at a time when the Home Office is in disarray.”

Sickbags were essential kit for Iraq pack

PASS the sickbag time — literally.

Westminster hacks travelling with Tony Blair on his latest trip to Baghdad had a gut-emptying descent to the airport in Iraq.

The press pack had transferred to a daylight military helicopter and were nearing their destination when the pilot spotted a flash of something on the ground and took evasive action in case it turned out to be evidence of “incoming”.

This is fairly standard procedure in Iraq — so no one had bothered to warn the hacks beforehand that the flight might get a bit lively.

So it was that green-gilled journos suddenly felt the chopper surge, dip and

drop, in classic evasion manoeuvres, and shoot out lots of back rockets as “chaff” against heat-seeking missiles.

More than one member of Her Majesty’s lobby, Axegrinder hears, was left feeling distinctly queasy by the experience.

“It was even worse than being on one of Ken Livingstone’s bendy buses,” I am told.

Cannes I go somewhere else, please?

THE GUARDIAN sent Charlotte Higgins to Hay-on-Wye to cover the literary festival. It was clear that she would rather have been in Cannes.

“On Saturday,” she wrote, “as festivalgoers paddled though the mud, cagoules zipped tight against the driving rain, it was hard to see the Welsh Marches rivalling the Cote d’Azur for glitz and gaiety.” Steady on, Charlotte. Try to remember that The Guardian is one of the event’s sponsors.

RAC covers Gambon on the Hay road

STICKING with Hay, festival-goers felt pity for the acclaimed thespian Michael Gambon because he was being trailed by a groupie. When Gambon took a seat at the lectures, his groupie sat beside him.

And who was Gambon’s admirer?

None other than RAC Gill, the snooty critic of The Sunday Times.

It’s one in the eye for Nichols — Geldof

FREQUENT mentions of Peaches Geldof in Katie Nichols’s Mail on Sunday gossip column seem to have had the desired effect.

Ms Geldof was recently overheard at a party telling another guest precisely what she thinks of Nichols.

“I would like to stab her in the eye with a knife,” said Sir Bob’s daughter, surely in jest.

Beeb needs a Code about these adverts

POST-HUTTON, the BBC claimed to be tightening its public-duty rule against running advertisements. But did no one tell BBC1’s Friday Night With Jonathan Ross programme?

One of Ross’s recent guests was actor Paul Bettany, plugging the film, The Da Vinci Code. Instead of the usual clip to accompany the interview, the programme ran the entire Da Vinci Code trailer, as seen in cinemas — as well as a clip. Should the BBC not refuse to run trailers, because they are nothing more than adverts?

Bono doesn’t know what nag he’s looking for

IT’S being described as “the curse of Bono”.

When the U2 front man was guest editor of The Independent on 15 May he wrote a column of confident racing tips.

Described as “the man the bookies fear”, Bono predicted the winners of a string of big races in May and June.

However, it is fast becoming clear that the singer is in fact the man the readers should fear. And judging by his unsuccessful tips, the bookies must love him.

“On today’s racing,” he wrote, “I have received some confidential information that the 4.20 at Auteuil will be a walk up for Bronco.” He added with utter coolness: “You read it here.” Alas, the nag came nowhere.

He had another tip. “On the same French track on Friday, the Irish-owned Marble Garden is virtually a foregone conclusion” — ‘virtually’ being the word that should have set alarm bells ringing.

Marble Garden also failed to improve the finances of readers.

Then Bono had a tip for the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury on 20 May. “Mick Kinane rides Rob Roy… I hear the champers is already on ice. It’s bubble time.” But hang on — don’t open that bottle! Rob Roy, according to the website Sporting Life, “went right start, tracked leader, ridden to press leader over 2f out, every chance, soon ridden and weakened rapidly…” But the most devastating effect of the Bono curse came last Saturday at the Irish 2000 Guineas. “Who could oppose George Washington?” Bono had asked.

Indeed, George Washington — winner of the Newmarket Guineas — was reckoned by everyone to be a dead cert and was listed as the favourite. But… the horse was beaten by Araafa.

It gets worse. George Washington was found to be lame and the mistyeyed trainer Aidan O’Brien told the Racing Post: “He has pulled some muscles above his hip and it will be a few days before we know how long it will be before he can run again. Plans for him are on hold.” In short, Bono’s tips have been disastrous.

Or, as The Independent puts it: “Bono’s well-intentioned attempt to improve the finances of Independent readers with some tips from his connections on the Irish racing circuit has brought some small, but not yet lifechanging dividends.”

Division belles infuriate male hacks

MEANWHILE, the men of the lobby are furious at the spread in Monday’s Independent media section, in which female hacks whinged about how few of them there are at Westminster.

Veteran male hacks have always moaned about how the women have secret “women only” lunches to which they invite gullible Cabinet Ministers — who usually give them an exclusive.

The men complain that if they tried the same tactic as the group they call the “lezza lobby” (very politically incorrect), the women would be up in arms and on the phone complaining to all the sex equality bodies.

‘Hi Queen!’ booms nervous Mail man

THERE was a nice opening last week for the British Library’s exhibition, which celebrates 100 Years of Newspapers.

The Queen pitched up to open the exhibition and was given a tour of great front pages that have appeared since 1906, though she was steered away from the Princess Diana splashes, with their screaming headlines.

And then she came to the line-up of journalists, some of whom had written the front-page stories that are on display.

Most of the esteemed hacks followed etiquette and gave a little nod of respect to the monarch and only spoke when spoken to. But when she reached Daily Mail features writer, Paul Harris, the journalist was overcome with nerves and stretching out his hand he boomed loudly at Her Majesty: “Hi!” It was the sort of “hi” that Harris might have delivered on a doorstep, according to witnesses, and for a split second the Queen had a look of fright in her eyes.


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