Axe grinder 24.02.06

Fake sheikh rattled as role is reversed

THE News of the World’s fake sheikh, I can reveal, has been inadvertently — and sensationally — stitched up by undercover reporters in a newspaper investigation. And what’s more, the newspaper in question just happens to be a stablemate of the Sunday red-top, from the more serious end of the News International portfolio.

I will not reveal the identity of the gentleman in question in case he should suffer reprisals from the villains he has helped put away — so in true ‘Screws’

style, let us call him Dr X — but he is the man who often dons white robes and head-dress to work alongside investigations editor, Mazher Mahmood. While Dr X generally plays the sheikh, Mahmood, contrary to newspaper folklore, plays the role of interpreter.

During their legendary stings, in which the rich and famous are lured into spilling beans about their private life, X is Robert Redford to Mahmood’s Paul Newman.

But he received a distinctly unappetising dose of his own medicine recently when an undercover reporter arrived at the office he uses for his respectable day job. (He is neither a journalist nor a NoW staffer — but I gather Mazher speaks in glowing terms about one of his books.)

What followed was a classic exposé, in which he revealed a number of less-thanwholesome details about his business practices — details that would no doubt have had News of the World readers fuming, had they read them.

The team reporting on this story did not know that their victim was Mahmood’s assistant on their sister paper. And why should they? Dr X’s involvement with the ‘Screws’ had been a well-kept secret.

There’s more… the paper not only left the sheikh badly shaken but also managed to stitch up (again, inadvertently) his family — a photograph purporting to show him was actually a snap of his brother.

When I phoned to speak to Dr X, I was told "he has been abroad for the last few weeks".

Mail can’t say a civil word

WRITING in The Independent last Monday, media commentator Stephen Glover expressed "surprise" that the Daily Mail did not mention the "marriage" — civil partnership — of Guy Black and Mark Bolland.

Glover said: "Here, after all, was a union of two media titans attended by a couple of media gods."

The titans, of course, were Black (director of corporate affairs at the Telegraph Group) and Bolland (Prince Charles’s former media guru); the gods, as far as Glover was concerned, were Sun editor Rebekah Wade and Telegraph chief executive Murdoch McLennan.

Over five columns, Glover gave theories as he tried to explain why the Mail hadn’t covered the happy news. He pondered over "the outbreak of mutual goodwill" between the Mail and the Telegraph.

Clearly perplexed, he told Indy readers: "As I write a column for the Mail, the reader might expect me to have a special insight, but I’m afraid I don’t."

But I do. The Mail didn’t cover the event because it was attended by a third media god — Mail editor Paul Dacre was there with his wife Kathy, a drama teacher.

His presence will be considered odd: Dacre’s paper is hardly a cheerleader for the gay community and says nasty things about civil partnerships.

Perhaps Glover can explain this to Indy readers in his next column.

Meanwhile, he might also like to know that apart from Wade (Apollo), McLennan (Mercury) and Dacre (Terminus) there was a fourth god in attendance — News International chairman Les Hinton, until recently the Juno of Wapping.

Baby blues for Cameron news

DAVID Cameron has told a source that "the paper I’m really worried about is The Daily Telegraph".

The new Tory leader apparently is worried that the "Torygraph" has it in for him and his modernising friends.

Yet last week’s events suggest that he should be more worried about The Times.

News of David and Samantha Cameron’s new baby was reported prominently in The Telegraph, complete with a frontpage photograph.

The Times, whose news coverage is controlled by Labour-supporting Ben Preston (son of a former Guardian editor), was less excited.

It gave the Camerons’

happy news a single paragraph on page two, by long custom a place to bury inconvenient stories.

Theatre review was a bummer for exec Tobyn

DOWN at Associated Newspapers, a theatre review of the notorious Howard Brenton play Romans In Britain proved too much for an innocent-minded young Daily Mail executive called Tobyn Andreae.

Brenton’s play caused a sensation in 1980 when Mary Whitehouse objected to a scene which includes violent buggery.

The Mail’s theatre critic, Quentin Letts, filed copy saying that Mrs Whitehouse found the gay scene "hard to swallow".

The page was just about to go to press when Andreae noticed the sentence and, Axegrinder hears, "almost fainted with anxiety". A comment by Letts that the gay rape scene was "a bit of a bottom squirmer" was also excised from the review.

Can it be long before features executive Andreae is elevated to the priesthood?

Incidentally, Andreae made his name on the Daily Express back in 1999 when he broke the shock-horror news that John "I’m Free" Inman — the camp star of Are You Being Served? — is… straight and in a relationship with a woman (unnamed).

"The couple do not live together,"

wrote Andreae in his "ining" of Inman, "but when John is at home in North London they meet regularly and frequently holiday abroad… Why has he never married? ‘I have considered it.

I’ve often thought it might be nice, but you see I’m already married to a business they call show.’"

Andreae finished his unique article by asking his dumbstruck readers: "Have we all got John wrong then?"

Why Hipwell (PA 6164) is Bedford bound

THERE’S no let-up for genial James Hipwell, the Mirror City Slicker who has been sentenced to six months for his part in share ramping.

Hippers had expected to serve his time in an open prison. However, he suffers from kidney disease and needs the sort of superior medical attention that is not available in an open nick.

Therefore, I am told, he seems destined to do porridge at HMP Bedford, where he is known as prisoner number PA 6164.

Has Seymour foxed up over Mirror photo?

THE Seymour Saga rumbles on nicely.

You’ll recall from last week’s column that David Seymour has left the Mirror as group political editor, but not before infuriating colleagues by doing an interview with Horse & Hound.

In the magazine — which describes itself as "appealing to the dedicated and affluent equestrian consumer whose interests cover all aspects of horse sport"

— he outed himself as a pro-hunt supporter and attacked his paper’s antihunting stance. Mirror staff gave him a leaving card which carried the unfriendly message: "Seymour fox off."

Now I learn that a copyright row has erupted over a photograph that was used alongside the grossly offensive H&H article.

The snap shows Seymour not on horseback, but looking statesman-like in the Mirror newsroom. It was given to H&H by Seymour, who had taken it from a Daily Mirror website.

"Horse & Hound has been asked to pay a sizeable fee," says an Axegrinder source.

Though H&H picture editor Alex Medhurst say: "I haven’t heard anything about this. We took the picture in good faith as David was supplying it.

But if there is a problem we’ll pay."

There’s food for thought in the Commons

THERE IS serious concern among hacks at Westminster over proposals to make major changes at their drinking haunts at the House of Commons.

The Commons Administration Committee has not only recommended closing down Annie’s Bar — the battle ground for hard-fought pool matches between MPs and journalists — but has also suggested doing away with the journalists’ posh dining room.

The committee says the dining room isn’t viable because it is highly subsidised and too few hacks use it. But according to Greg Hurst, the Honorary Secretary of the Parliamentary Press Gallery: "I am sure if, as planned, the kitchens are replaced, the quality of the food will improve and I hope, therefore, my colleagues will use the facilities. I imagine revenue will increase and the subsidy will go down."

The committee also wants hacks to share the Press cafeteria with Parliamentary staff. Outraged hacks fear that this will mean lowly political researchers and Commons officials will be able to listen into hush-hush conversations and get a sneak preview of leaked documents.

Says the committee: "It is vital that the catering facilities that emerge after the Press Gallery refurbishment should be provided at a significantly lower level of subsidy than those that exist at the moment, and that the business case for their provision at this expense should be capable of standing up to detailed public scrutiny."

Why is The Times lacking in direction?

FROM Bengal to Bedfordshire, The Times was once renowned for accuracy.

But are standards starting to slip?

Times (and Axegrinder) reader Graeme Andrews has spotted three geographic mistakes so far this year… "In its Home Counties supplement a few weeks ago," says Graeme, "it used a map which put Luton and Luton Airport in Hertfordshire, rather than Bedfordshire where they belong.

"A recent T2 crossword clue was ‘Bay of — west of India’. The correct answer was given as Bengal, which is, in fact, east of India."

Graeme’s trio of howlers was completed last Saturday: "The How to be Green section carried a diagram which stated that New Zealand is 8,839km from Britain. I think it is 18,839."


Ritz plugs take the biscuit

STAFF AT The Telegraph are finding clever ways to promote The Ritz — the London hotel owned by Telegraph proprietors Dave and Fred Barclay.

The Daily Telegraph ran a cartoon in which a woman imagined some Valentine’s Day treats. Second on the list? "Dinner at the Ritz."

And sports reporter Henry Winter managed to plug the hotel in the first par of a match report: "Often criticised for delivering only three-star wins, Chelsea put on a Ritz-like performance last night, showing pace, power and fabulous finishing to set up an FA Cup fifth-round meeting with Colchester United."

Please let Axegrinder know if you spot the twins’ staff putting in the Ritz.

BritArt? More like ShitArt…

ANGLICAN clergyman George Pitcher — a former industrial correspondent of The Observer and PG Thought for the Week contributor— had a close shave when he appeared on Radio 4’s Broadcasting House.

The programme was discussing moral standards in modern art and invited the gregarious Pitcher to tour an exhibition of BritArt and give his vicarly verdict.

He came across as a thoroughly reasonable and humorous soul, speaking in a relaxed way about the inferiority of much of the work on display. It was so nearly different, though.

I learn that Pitcher’s first reaction to the microphones, on seeing the exhibition, was to ejaculate, "This is SHITE!"

Only thanks to some sensitive editing from the BBC team was the Rev Pitcher’s embarrassment saved.

"If it had gone out uncut George would by now have been given a severe bollocking by the Bishop of London,"

says my source.

Avril to blame for Journal’s braindead subs

MEANWHILE, take a look at what happened when Avril Deane pointed out an inaccuracy in the Newcastle Journal.

Avril — who for 13 years was the Journal’s women’s editor — dispatched an email to the paper saying: "For goodness sake, get some subs who can spell or find someone to check copy!

Saturday’s front-page puff ‘Look who’s back but who’s eyes are on England’ was cringe-worthy. No doubt head’s [sic] will roll… not!"

She got a response from the deputy editor: "I think they’re all braindead from too many years of subbing and correcting your copy, Avril! People in glass houses…"

Obviously, she is now an ex-reader and thinks the dep ed is a prat. And he is. He is Graham Pratt.

eBay auction fails to hit the right note

SADLY, Dave Nicholson’s efforts to become the next Simon Cowell are not going as well as planned.

As mentioned here last week, the former Fleet Street executive (who nowadays sells Jonathan Cainer’s serialisation rights) is managing a York-based band called Ryan Shirlow and the Bloody Marys.

Nick came up with the shrewd plan to sell a one-off gig on eBay — "the band will travel to play for you".

The internet auction ended last Sunday, but how much was the winning bid? The magnificent two-figure sum of £53. Punters failed to be enticed by the accompanying blurb: "The band combine a glut of dark pop influences from Joy Division, The Smiths, Nick Cave, Elvis Costello — even The Pogues — basically, the best of folk, punk and rock. Then they mix it up into a unique sound, rich in unforgettable hooks and anthemic choruses."

Large Bloody Marys all round.

the 1pm girl life begins at lunchtime

DOES BBC Breakfast’s new sports presenter, Chris Hollins, need a cold shower? Twinkly-eyed Hollins, who wears heavy gel on his fringe, was discussing the amount of money David Beckham makes for Real Madrid.

Suddenly his voice went all gooey and he mentioned Beckham’s "beautiful blond hair".

Calm down, dear!

HAVE the recent uncertainties at The Spectator started to prey on the sober mind of Peter Oborne, the magazine’s political editor?

On the day Matthew d’Ancona was appointed editor, the admirable Oborne appeared on BBC2’s Newsnight as a pundit.

Jeremy Paxman started to stare in wonder as his guest flew into long, colourful, you could almost say lively descriptions of the Labour Government’s behaviour.

Fact: Oborne tried to give drink for January, but fell off the wagon.

February doesn’t seem to be going too well, either.

MEANWHILE, Matthew d’Ancona’s appointment as Spectator editor has not stopped the magazine’s chief executive, Andrew Neil, pushing himself into the media spotlight.

Neil gave a long interview to the Evening Standard in which he used the first person singular a great deal to explain his expectations for the Spec’s future rude health.

"That’s why I pay the editor and publisher," he boasted.

"I"? Surely it’s the Barclay family, which owns the title, who actually pay the wages.

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