Axegrinder: 5 January 2007

Pierswatch pics fail toget papers salivating

In his days as a showbiz hack, Piers Morgan craved paparazzi snaps from the Caribbean to fill his pages over the dog days of the festive season.

How ironic then that pictures of Morgan, once of this parish, and his squeeze Celia Walden were offered to the tabloids over Christmas for the same reason.

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Axegrinder’s spies tell me that a certain agency caught Morgan and Walden, editor of the Telegraph’s Spy column, strolling along the beaches of Barbados.

But I’m sad to report there were no takers for the pix over here. “Celia’s got a great figure, but Piers is hardly Baywatch material,” chortles my man on the picture desk.

However, there is some good news for the former Mirror and News of the World editor.

Morgan’s burgeoning career Stateside means the snaps were expected to find a (limited) market on the other side of the pond.

Exclusive… and likely to stay that way

It appears to have been a less than auspicious start for Andrew Pierce in his new berth at the Daily Telegraph.

Only weeks after being lured away from The Times, his new bosses have been forced to print their first apology for their “legendary” story-getter.

It all started on 8 December when a breathless Pierce revealed the details of an “explosive” memo about the cash for honours affair which has engulfed Tony Blair.

The memo — which did not appear to be in Pierce’s possession — “went to the election strategy unit”.

The receipts included Labour MP and former party fixer Pat McFadden who used to work at Number 10, affirmed Pierce (pictured).

Unfortunately, as the Telegraph’s prominent apology on 2 January pointed out, McFadden “left his Labour Party job before the beginning of the last election campaign and did not work at either Labour’s HQ or at Number 10 at the time we said the email was sent”.

For good measure, the craven apology adds: “We accept his assurance that he knew nothing about the email.” Insiders at the Telegraph say the page two mea culpa has not gone down well with the paper’s news supremo, ex-Mailman Ian MacGregor, who hates printing apologies.

As his former editor at The Times Robert Thomson affectionately pointed out at Pierce’s leaving do, some of Pierce’s stories are so exclusive that they tend to stay that way.

Xmas columns are dross, admits Coren

Giles Coren has irritated some of his notoriously prickly fellow columnists with the manner in which he announced he was giving up his regular gig at The Times.

He used his weekly outing in the Saturday paper’s op-ed pages to inform readers that his offering on 30 December would be his last.

Thankfully, Giles (son of Alan and sister of Observer columnist Victoria) will continue his restaurant column for The Times Saturday magazine. “A man’s got to eat,” as Giles jests in hilarious and vintage Coren style.

The following passage, however, in his swansong was slightly harder to swallow for his colleagues at The Times.

“The festive season is a good time to stop too. This is the dead part of the year, when columnists go away for a week and leave behind 800 words of rehashed seasonal dross (diet tips after the festive overeating, dunderhead quizzes of the year, nominations for hilarious news-related awards) which they hope nobody noticed could have been written at any time during the previous year.” Regular readers of the festive editions of The Times and its sister title were full of exactly the sort of “dross” highlighted so unsparingly by the departing Coren (pictured below).

Rosie should boycott these programmes

One of the true joys of Christmas (Axegrinder doesn’t get out much) was all those glorified cuts jobs masquerading as primetime TV shows. You know the sort of imaginatively titled programmes: “The 50 funniest celebrities in the toilet” or “50 celebs out on the town with Paris Hilton or Britney Spears”.

These shows have spawned a veritable cottage industry of Fleet Street hacks happy to provide the grouting around these clips.

Showbiz hacks and big-name columnists are, of course, only doing it to “promote the paper” — at least that's what they tell their editors. Still, the extra cash comes in handy.

Few would have been surprised by the regular appearances of the News of the World’s motormouth TV critic Ian Hyland and his Sunday Mirror sparring partner Kevin O’Sullivan on the shows.

But among the more bizarre choices of commentator on “yoof shows” such as Big Brother and Celebrity Love Island was ex-Independent editor Rosie Boycott. How the mighty have fallen.

Fireworks: not exactly great to listen to

The BBC sent a mini-army of correspondents to Oz to cover Britain’s doomed attempts to cling onto the Ashes.

Among those enjoying the sunshine — sorry, assignment — was the team from Julian Worricker’s show which is broadcast on Radio Five Live on Sundays.

But Axegrinder was among the many listeners puzzled by one major subject for their New Year’s Eve programme.

Vast chunks of the show involved the discussion of the spectacular fireworks display at Sydney Harbour to mark the New Year — hardly the perfect subject for radio.

Lobby hacks’ bar haven for smokers

The ban on smoking in all Government buildings from 1 January has not troubled the hacks who operate out of the House of Commons Press Gallery.

The lobby journalists agreed last year to ban smoking from most of the space they occupy in the historic Palace — just down the corridor from Big Ben.

But they exempted their private bar which has now become a haven not only for political correspondents, but also for MPs and ministers who are banned from sneaking a crafty puff in the vast majority of the House of Commons.

“It’s quite ironic the Lobby correspondents write all this guff about a crackdown on smoking,” whispers my ministerial mole. “At this rate, their offices are going to be one of the last places in Britain where you will be allowed to light up.”

More caviar, comrade?

Communist Party of Britain (CPB) millionaire chairwoman Anita Halpin has revealed that she will put her newly inherited £20 million fortune in the bank for six months.

Halpin told the NUJ magazine The Journalist that “I heard some good advice given to lottery winners which is to put it in the bank for six months and don’t do anything, and that’s what I’m going to do.” Sister Halpin recently inherited £20 million from the sale of a painting previously confiscated from her family by the Nazis.

What she does not reveal is whether during the period that her £20 million is gaining interest she will continue to berate Communist Party members and Morning Star supporters to give to the party paper's fighting fund. The fund raises thousands of pounds each month to keep the left-wing daily afloat. Typically the funds come from fundraising efforts such as local bazaars and personal donations from often hard-up supporters.

Some of the supporters no doubt may have wondered when some of the money would be coming in the direction of the fighting fund and the paper itself.

The Journalist also carried a review by Halpin of a new restaurant based at the union’s old headquarter building Acorn House. “At £124 for three, including service charge and three bottles of Montepuliciano, it could have been worse,” said Sister Halpin. Up the workers and on with the struggle.

When theatre critics attack

Fur has been flying in the world of theatre critics after the Evening Standard’s Kieron Quirke used his blog to lay into Sunday Telegraph diarist and theatre reviewer Tim Walker.

Condemning Walkers’ zero star rating for “Caroline or Change” as “silly”, he went on to accuse Walker, somewhat sinisterly, of “verbally abusing children” by saying that pre-teen actor Perry Millward “looks and sings like Kermit the Frog”.

Delivering the coup de grace, he said: “There has been some carping at press nights that a mere diarist such as Walker has jumped into the critic’s berth at a broadsheet Sunday.” Ouch!

In a comment posting, Walker hits back saying: “It seems to me that those critics who have hissy fits about who other papers appoint as their theatre critics — the ones who write long-winded, onanistic pieces and blogs and so on — tend to be the ones who are the most ‘embedded’ into the theatrical world, ie: they might be married to theatrical PRs, or, in another case that comes to mind, have their hotel and travelling expenses paid for by theatrical PR companies when they review their plays. “As for ‘hinterland’, I would have thought the fact I have another job actually means I have more of it than those of my colleagues who have only the theatre to concern them. As journalists, one would have imagined they would have wanted to expand their range — and actually see if they are capable of writing something different — as Alan Watkins writes about rugby as well as politics, and, dare I say it, some tragedians like to do a spot of drawing room comedy every now and again.

“One certainly wonders if these critics who you say have been moaning that I am ‘a mere diarist’ — none of them have had the guts of offer their critical assessments to my face — were aware that Jack Tinker, probably the best theatre critic since Tynan, also happened once to have been a diarist (and, my dears, a former reporter on the Brighton Evening Argus to boot). “In my book, by the way, a diarist comes some way up the pecking order in Fleet Street to a critic. Jack Tinker certainly always revered the great Nigel Dempster and enjoyed his company. But then, as I am starting to find, diarists, by and large, make better company than critics.”



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