Axe grinder 28.04.06

The spy who lobed me

THE ISABY Saga, week four… An exclusive snap emerges which shows Jonathan Isaby being kissed on the ear by Martha, the young woman he tried to seduce with a love poem.

Isaby, deputy editor the Telegraph's Spy diary, took the photo several weeks ago using his mobile phone. But it's the only picture in existence of the couple, so you'll have to forgive its ridiculously poor quality. Isaby is clearly more of a words than a picture man.

In the meantime, he has somehow managed to divert his attention from Oliver Letwin's researcher, Martha.

Instead, he is trying to woo this column. The diarist spent an entire Tube journey from Westminster to Canary Wharf, composing four verses entitled "Dear Axegrinder". Maka a cuppa, sit back, relax and savour the bard's genious:

Press Gazette simply has to be read,
If you're looking for media news;
And as it arrives on my desk every week,
I grab it — not a moment to lose

The Axegrinder column is especially good
Or so I had always thought;
But of late you've included some tales about
me — and what a lesson you have taught:
Never discuss your most private feelings,
On paper, email or fax;
Unless you want them shared with the world and his wife,
When Axegrinder grinds its axe

My verses of love clearly failed to impress
Despite being funny and flirty;
So perhaps you could help me to find
Miss Right, aged somewhere between 18 and 30?

Isaby signs off: "Yours, living by the sword and dying by the sword." More like the Valentine's Day massacre.

Happiness is bliss… when you've got over all the agony

THE INDEPENDENT on Sunday last weekend published its Happy List 2006. It was a compilation of the, apparently, 50 happiest people in Britain. Veteran agony aunt Claire Rayner — "happily married, three children, still smiling" — came in at number 25.

But readers' cheery spirits may have evaporated rapidly if they read Sophie Goodchild's full-page interview with Rayner five pages on. "It comes as a surprise," wrote Goodchild, "to learn that the 75-year-old has spent her life battling with mental illness: black moods in childhood, post-natal depression and even post-traumatic stress, which set in after a near-fatal reaction to anaesthetic."

In fact, the woman who ranked as the 25th happiest person in Britain admitted to Goodchild that her moods go "up and down like a yoyo".

"At one point in the conversation," wrote Goodchild, "she bursts into tears…" And when life seems particularly bleak Rayner relies on "a combination of pills and therapy" to pull her through. Pretty grim stuff.

Happy: Lucky, fortunate; contented with one's lot. (Oxford English Dictionary.)

Rowan finds out it's klutz at the top

STICKING with "happy" people, staff at the Jewish Chronicle must surely be overjoyed about the arrival of new editor David Rowan. Fresh start, and all that.

Rowan doesn't officially take up his post until next month, but he has already popped into the office to reveal his plans for the paper.

The website will be free to visitors, he announced at the meeting. The reaction was not great. Managing director Richard Fass seemed to flinch at the news. He has spent ages exhaustively preparing a paid-for site.

Rowan also told staff what he intends to do with production — which, roughly translated, means longer hours and more expense.

Then Rowan proclaimed that the Chronicle will soon undergo a re-design. There was more shoe shuffling — only six months ago the paper was redesigned at some considerable cost.

Editorial staff were also miffed that Rowan had held a meeting with the advertising staff before deigning to address the hacks.

But at least he managed to clear up the confusion over his departure from The Guardian. Chronicle staff had been led to believe that Rowan left the paper because he was snubbed over a job. Not at all, explained Rowan. He left because of its perceived stance on Israel.

Not such a big one in Utley's case, after all

THE DAILY Telegraph leader-writer Tom Utley was at Davy's, a popular Canary Wharf haunt, the other day chatting to colleagues about the reputed magnitude of John Major's penis.

But the real mystery (until now) surrounds not the largeness of the former premier's member, but rather the size of the salary Utley will receive when he leaves the Telegraph to join the Daily Mail. Many believe that editor Paul Dacre offered Utley a figure that was so enormous the paper was unable to match it. Not so, it seems.

In fact, Utley was enticed with the relatively insignificant annual salary of £120,000. For that he must produce daily leader columns — rewrite them several times pre-publication — and do a weekly bylined column.

The last time he was approached by the Mail he promptly scurried back from Dacre HQ, broke the news of the offer, and was given a pay increase to stay on.

However, this time Utley reckoned that the Telegraph wouldn't fall for the same trick.

"So he accepted the Mail job on the spot and signed the contract for 120 grand there and then," I am told. "If the Telegraph wants to keep him they'll have to get into a messy row over the contract."

Adds my source: "This may prove to have been foolish and a bad business move on Tom's part. He is coming round to the frightening fact that he'll have to work extremely hard."

Right-wing and prayer for Dan

WHILE TOM Utley was being wooed by Dacre, at least one application came in for the same horrendous job of leader-writer at the Mail. The applicant was none other than young Danny Kruger, who just so happens to work alongside Utley and the other leaderwriters at the Telegraph.

Kruger would have been perfectly qualified for the Mail. He was the Tories' selection to run against Tony Blair in Sedgefield, but had to pull out. He was considered too right-wing.

Sum's the word for poor Peter

AND APART from gifted Tom Utley, there'll be another new face pitching up at the Daily Mail.

Peter Oborne has been hired to write a Saturday column, I learn.

The new job will certainly be a confidence booster for Oborne, having just been moved from his role as political editor of The Spectator and replaced by Andrew Neil's protégé, Fraser Nelson.

According to the mag's new editor Matthew D'Ancona, Oborne will now "write longer articles on politics and society both in Britain and abroad".

I am told: "When Matthew was appointed editor Peter had a strong feeling that he wouldn't keep the job."

There have been sniggers over the name of Speccie's new section — You Earned It. In return for being one of Fleet Street's most respected political writers, Oborne was paid just £25,000 per year by the Spec. Boy, did he earn it.

Crazy thing called love

WHEN THE Queen visited the BBC last week no one was more girlish, giggly and sweetly excited than a certain radio executive of long-standing reputation as a Hampstead liberal and scourge of the old elite.

Could this sudden knee-squeeze be Jenny Abramsky? It certainly could.

Sue's new spin on plate joke

FURTHER to last week's item about Sue Peart, the delightful editor of You magazine, she writes to say "thanks for the mention". Pleasure.

"Just for the record," she adds, "I've had my numberplate, K2 YOU, ever since I joined You magazine, more than 13 years ago…

"I inherited it (along with the car) from a departing member of staff (who had ordered it for himself) when I joined as deputy editor back in January 1993. So it's hardly new. Or even mine.

I've always thought it was rather amusing, but that must be my sad sense of humour."

The howler and Mrs Slocombe's pussycat

CRISTINA Odone's Media Guardian column on Monday discussed Simon Heffer's return to The Daily Telegraph. It carried a comment from the Telegraph's deputy editor, Will Lewis, along the lines of Young Mr Grace's "You're All Doing Very Well" in Are You Being Served?.

Lewis sounds pleasantly surprised that Heffer is doing well and has settled in. He perhaps forgets that a decade ago Heffer was himself deputy editor of the Telegraph. It is already common currency at the paper that Heffer thinks Lewis is a jumped-up little squirt. This will only have added to his fury.

Petty Polly pays the price

AFTER declaring that no one's salaries should be secret, Polly Toynbee is coming under fire from all directions.

Tim Walker's entertaining Mandrake column in the The Sunday Telegraph called to ask how much Toynbee earns, but was told by her husband that she was putting the kids to bed. It was 6.30pm and her youngest child is aged 21. Meanwhile, the Guido Fawkes political blog has been bombarding Toynbee with emails.

Here's their exchange…

From: Guy Fawkes guido.fawkes@ order-order.com
To: polly.toynbee@guardian.co.uk
Date: Apr 21, 2006 10:42 AM
Subject: How much do you earn per annum?

From: polly.toynbee@guardian.co.uk
To: Guy Fawkes
Date: Apr 21, 2006 12:41 PM
Subject: Re: How much do you earn per annum?

Why should I tell you, who don't even give your true name or address? An organisation has to go public all together.

From: Guy Fawkes guido.fawkes@ order-order.com
To: polly.toynbee@guardian.co.uk
Date: Apr 21, 2006 12:52 PM
Subject: Re: How much do you earn per annum?

Err, because you wrote an article headlined "Throw open the books so that we can see what everyone earns" stating that "trust and social glue are corroded by pay secrecy".

And because, as you wrote, "the highly paid command the citadels of public debate, they grossly distort the true picture of the way most people live now. Making sense of reward is difficult — but the debate has to begin by throwing open the books. It wouldn't hurt much if everyone had to do it together."

Guido speculates that Toynbee picks up £140K from The Guardian alone.

Can she really be worth £20K more than Tom Utley?

Minor hiccup for D'Ancona

WAS IT really a good idea for the Spec to arrange a wine-tasting at which readers, for £75, could meet new editor Matthew d'Ancona? D'Ancona, once a heavy drinker, is now a firm teetotaler.

He'll have to keep a good distance from the gargle.

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