Axe Grinder 22.09.2006 - Press Gazette

Axe Grinder 22.09.2006

Stay married to you? I’d rather jump off a cliff…

Most couples on the brink of a break-up might throw the china across the room.

But Sunday Mirror reporter Susie Boniface chose a much more public course of action when she split from her Sun journalist hubby.

She’s penned a delicious piece for the paper’s holiday section under the headline “Feeling free in Turkey – newly single Susie spreads her wings.”

The article begins: “It was only when I jumped off the 1,000-foot cliff that I realised how fabulous a singles holiday can be.

“With the wind in my hair, the world at my feet and a young man tucked behind me, it became clear that in all my years of coupledom I had been missing out.

“Paragliding is one of the many things my soon-to-be ex-husband was simply too scared to do – along with parallel parking and picking up spiders.

“After marriage, heartache and impending divorce, how hard can jumping off a cliff really be?”

Ouch! Fancy having your “many” shortcomings shared with somewhere north of 1.4 million readers – not to mention the rest of Fleet Street.

Susie did text her ex about the impending publication of her piece.

Sadly, he was less than impressed and even rang the paper’s legal department to complain – to no avail.

Still, it could have been worse. The article that made it to press was much gentler on him than an earlier version seen by Susie’s giggling colleagues.

A comparison that d’Ancona couldn’t refuse

Axegrinder is always keen to hear of shameless examples of brown-nosing.

The latest comes from the BBC’s wanfaced business editor, Robert Peston.

Peston, a former City editor at The Sunday Telegraph and the “definitive”

biographer of Gordon Brown, wrote a piece for The Spectator about the brooding Chancellor.

Curiously, Peston began the article with a tortured comparison of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to two Mafia bosses – “Don Antonio” and “Don Gordono”.

As a former underling of Speccy editor Matthew d’Ancona at The Sunday Telegraph, Peston had remembered his old boss’s obsession with The Godfather.


Sexton and the city paper’s book reviewer

It could have come straight from the pages of a Mills & Boon romance.

He was the books editor of a local newspaper, scarred by the heartbreak of a failed marriage. She was the aspiring writer, witty and warm, who was particularly gifted at penning critiques.

Together, they would spend cosy nights in shitty wine bars, pondering John Donne’s verses (“Love built on beauty, soon as beauty dies…” and that sort of thing).

I am referring, of course, to David Sexton of the Evening Standard and Catherine Shoard, whose byline pops up in the paper’s books section with increasing frequency.

Great minds do think alike

You thought originality and an ability to resist clichés were essential in a Fleet Street theatre critic? You’d be wrong!

The Donmar Warehouse show Frost/Nixon, about Sir David Frost’s 1977 TV interviews with President Nixon, was reviewed on 22 August in The Times by Benedict Nightingale. It started: “Hello, good evening and welcome.”

The following day Charles Spencer’s review of the show appeared in The Daily Telegraph. It began: “Hello, good evening and welcome.”

Four days later came Georgina Brown’s review in The Mail on Sunday. Its opening sentence?

Afraid so. “Hello, good evening and welcome.”

Time for a change of cast, maybe.

Theatre critic with the Greta Garbo touch

Meanwhile, there is further evidence that no group of hacks hates each other quite like Fleet Street’s theatre critics. Toby Young (who does theatre for The Spectator) writes in his brilliant new book about an exchange he had with The Independent’s Rhoda Koenig.

The first time they met at the theatre, Young said: “You’re not Rhoda Koenig by any chance?”

Koenig (staring straight ahead): “My name is Rhoda Koenig, yes.”

Young (proffering hand): “Hi, I’m Toby Young.”

Koenig (not taking it): “Yes, I know who you are.”

Young: “I believe we have a mutual friend in the form of Jim Wolcott.”

Koenig: “To quote Dickens, we don’t have a mutual friend so much as a friend in common.”


Young: “What’s the difference?”

Koenig (still without looking at Young): “Look it up in a dictionary. Don’t you get it? I don’t want to talk to you. I’m doing my best to ignore the fact that I’m sitting next to you. I find the fact that you’re doing theatre criticism an absolute disgrace.”

Axegrinder hears that the dour Koenig has treated other critics with similar disdain. As one of her victims puts it: “The only thing that makes her Gorgonesque presence bearable is the fact that the Indy pays notoriously parsimonious fees and we can all laugh about how much more we get from our own papers and magazines.”

Headlines: not as easy as ABC

Thanks to Kent News and Pictures for giving newsrooms a chuckle with their tale about a Z-list celebrity famous for little more than her pneumatic chest.

“Love Island contestant Alicia Douvall has revealed that she does not know the alphabet because she is dyslexic,” according to the agency’s Heidi Doore.

Pity the story ran under the headline: “Alicia Duval’s battle with dyslexia.”

Nelson leaves Downing Street under a cloud

Gordon Brown has been dragged into a scandal that has engulfed the lobby at Westminster – Brollygate.

The press pack was invited for drinks at 11 Downing Street last Wednesday with Chancellor Gordon Brown and his wife Sarah.

But the assembled hacks were faced with a torrential downpour as they attempted to leave the reception.

The People’s political editor, Nigel Nelson – who is rarely seen without his trademark umbrella – was horrified to discover that his treasured brolly had disappeared from a basket by Gordon’s front door.

Acting on a tip-off from a fellow political hack, Nelson accused Sunday Telegraph political editor Patrick Hennessy of being behind the dirty deed.

A horrified Hennessy strenuously and genuinely protested his innocence.

He admitted he had indeed been given an umbrella by No 11 staff – but not one that belonged to Nelson.

A miffed Nelson was last heard of still trying to track down the £70 brolly which he’d purchased from “Britain’s best umbrella shop”.

Something very fishy in Siberia

Where on earth (literally) will the BBC’s David Shukman pitch up next?

Axegrinder has already pointed out the irony of science correspondent Shukman jetting across the planet with his team to highlight the dangers of global warming.

Last week, he was in Siberia after earlier trips to the Amazon and Antarctica.

But it’s not all work. As Shukman reveals on his blog: “Another first: caviar for breakfast, two big bowls of the stuff from local fish – no better start to the day.”

Well worth the licence fee.

Shurely, shome Moss-stake

Compare and contrast: Snaps of Kate Moss at the same event last week were analysed by both the Mirror and the Daily Mail. The Mirror told readers that she was beaming and on top form. The Mail concluded that she looked like she was back on drugs.

No hoorays for Dollywood

Please spare a thought for GMTV presenter and Express columnist Kate Garraway and her husband, the former Labour spin doctor, Derek “Dolly” Draper.

The couple had hoped to front a new ITV political show which would be broadcast for the first time last weekend.

However, they lost out to The Observer’s Andrew Rawnsley and ITN reporter Andrea Catherwood.

I hear that Mr and Mrs Draper have not given up their dream of becoming the next Richard and Judy. Surely, it can only be a matter of time.<blockquote>

The Sunday Times political desk is clearly a great place for team spirit. Under the headline “Blair fails to back Brown” was a 10-par story of precisely 512 words. It carried no fewer than five bylines. Or 102 words each. That’s teamwork.</blockquote>

Ah’ve gan doon the Toon, like

Press Complaints chief Sir Christopher Meyer uses The Independent’s media pages to announce that the job has allowed him to get to know his country better. Sir Chris (a fan of The Darkness, incidentally) reports that he has been – “three times” – to Newcastle. Gosh! Three times to one of the country’s biggest cities! Had he never been north of Watford before he ran the PCC?

Three chairs for Facilities?

Pour yourself a generous glass of Rioja, then settle back in your favourite armchair before reading this gem of an all-round email sent to Indy hacks by Peter Jackson (assistant facilities manager, no less)… <blockquote>

The Facilities Department will be undertaking an audit of all office chairs within the building.

We wish to determine the number of chairs that require replacement or repair.

Could all staff carry out a simple inspection of there (sic) chair and check that: All adjustable features are working correctly.

The seat should move up and down and the back-rest should be adjustable in height and tilt.

Arm rests should be free from damage and be able to move up or down.

Back rest and seats are secure.

All five castors have wheels and are movable.

All found faults should be reported to the Facilities Helpdesk Ext 3333.</blockquote>

Jackson’s email will be of particular interest to Daily Mail science correspondent Mike Hanlon, who (as mentioned here recently) has been told he will have to wait six months for a new chair.

Yeah, I know… laydee luck’s abandoned us

Red faces at The Sun which spent a fair few quid buying up and serialising the official Little Britain biography – only to get scooped on the biggest story in it.

The book describes how “laydees’ man” David Walliams is unrequitedly and passionately in love with a woman named only as “Miss X”, who sadly feels only friendship for him.

The Sun, in its serialisation, reported that fact, but didn’t bother to find out the identity of the mystery femme fatale – even though it interviewed Walliams.

The sleuthing was left to the Daily Express, whose Day&Night diary column (a few days after The Sun’s serialisation) led with the scoop that Miss X was in fact George Clooney’s ex, the TV presenter Lisa Snowdon.

The Sun was forced to follow up this revelation in Wednesday’s paper, shamefully claiming it as a “Sun exclusive”.

Kathryn Spencer, the editor of Day&Night, tells Axegrinder: “The book is full of clues – for example, it says Walliams took her to Elton John’s wedding. So a quick cuttings check was all that was needed.”

She adds, with a tone of bitchiness: “The book didn’t have an index, so maybe they didn’t bother to read it properly.”

What a City anniversary

City AM’s first birthday party was not as happy as we had previously been led to believe.

Staff turned glum when management sent an email to editorial staff telling them that, as part of the celebrations, they had been “volunteered” to distribute the free newspaper in the City.

Hacks were particularly bothered by the instruction that they should wear the distributors’ uniforms – ostentatious zip-up jackets emblazoned with the City AM logo. One by one, the hacks came up with poor excuses (doctor’s appointments etc) until the bosses were forced to drop the idea.

Life in the reporters’ pool

It’s all going swimmingly for News of the World hack James Desborough and one-time People columnist Nadia Brooks.

A ticker-tape style report reaches Axegrinder: “Interested to spot the duo laden down with towels… They disappeared into the swimming pool at Maze Hill in Southeast London… What can it all mean?” An exes claim for entertaining contact at pool?

Please come to the diary room

The latest blogger explicitly telling all about her sex life claims to be a Fleet Street freelance.

Writing her Journal of the Men in My Life under the nom-du-blogue ‘Sexandtheshitty”, she reveals being smitten by the “delicious” young lawyer with whom she often crosses shifts at a national paper and whom she hopes to “shag shaggedy shagshag”.

“I have fantasies about accosting him in a darkened corner on a night shift,”she writes at

The blog is certainly, um, entertaining reading.

“I have purposefully not mown my ladygarden so as to discourage me from doing anything untoward on a first date,” she reveals before a recent rendezvous with an “alleged tripod”.

Hopefully our blogger is conscious of the perils of online “jigsaw identification” and has strewn some misinformation in her posts. After all, there can’t be that many 26-year-old freelances on national papers who have written Big Brother Watch for a tabloid.