One of the first columns I usually turn to when opening my Daily Mail is Ephraim Hardcastle. First, it’s an easy name to remember and second, one doesn’t get stuck pronouncing it. I always think it’s important to have an easy-to-remember name for a column: not only for readers to have some identity with, but also for the hapless hacks going out to parties and having to introduce themselves to possible story-givers and those PR types.
‘Hi, I’m Suzy Whispers from Peterborough'(at The Daily Telegraph) sounds quite a bit more respectable than say ‘Hi, I’m Billy Blyton from Spy”. But on second thoughts, saying you’re from Peterborough, someone who isn’t familiar with all the sections of the Telegraph might mistake you for being from the city rather than a hack.
But back to Ephraim. He seems to have an endless string of contacts and because the column is so well laid out in easy-to-read paragraphs, it enables people to skim through it effortlessly and eagerly. It is usually an excellent mix of politics and media coupled with plenty of news about personalities who live in the US.
And the column has no qualms about below-the-belt stuff. I was smiling from ear to ear after reading the item about the new warts-and-all film about Gandhi. Writes Ephraim: ‘He once confessed to our shocked British cabinet minister Sir Stafford Cripps that he liked to sleep between two naked girls to see if he could control his sexual urges.”
For the same reason I enjoy Ephraim, I quickly turn to Black Dog, the purely political, well reasoned and not-so-bitchy column in The Mail on Sunday. There’s no byline or pseudonym attached to this, so I’m not sure who puts it together, but nevertheless it’s lively, entertaining and informative – for those interested in the Westminster scene and its surroundings.
Recently, after the publication of the Alastair Campbell diaries, the entire column was devoted to ‘titbits Campbell didn’t want you to know”. It was a fascinating read with a wide selection of items that I assume the MoS reader had no knowledge about.
The one that particularly fascinated me was that Tom Baldwin – now in Washington for The Times, but then in the lobby – would pick up his papers from his Islington newsagent and point to his bylined stories to the man behind the till. Then he would boast how he ‘got that from Downing Street”. Now that’s taking politics to the people, I would say.
Oliver Marre is a 20-something journalist to watch. He cut his teeth working shifts on the Telegraph’s diary in his school and university holidays, and once he finished Oxford he did diary shifts whenever he could find them. His persistence paid off and before long he was deputy at The Independent’s Pandora. But soon after, he was snapped up by The Observer to reinvigorate its Pendennis column.
Marre manages to combine politics and pop in an extremely agreeable way, and isn’t afraid of ruffling a few feathers from time to time. After all, that’s what diaries are all about; as long as you’re 100 per cent sure of your facts, you’re safe as houses. I particularly enjoyed reading his story on Clive Owen and Kate Winslet, who are being asked to condemn cosmetics giant L’Oreal after the firm was recently found guilty of racism.
Katie Nicholl, in her Mail on Sunday column, has shown how to attract younger readers by writing about the young, the famous and their antics. The good thing about her is that she personally knows most of the people she’s writing about – they’re her generation, and that’s why it works so seamlessly and she so hard. Her story on the Beckhams planning a string of elite nightclubs around the world, modelled on London’s Soho House, was tops.
Over at The Sunday Telegraph, Tim Walker and Richard Eden have been producing Mandrake together for some years, and they both know the tricks of the trade – except I imagine that neither of them is willing to ruffle too many feathers. Their story on Nigel Dempster, for instance, was rather soft.
Monday is the hardest day to fill a diary and it’s often put together on the Friday before, despite the risk of being beaten by one of the Sundays. Despite this, I regularly turn to Oliver Duff’s Pandora, as word reaches me that he spends his weekends gathering material and putting it to bed on a Sunday. While I always think its matchbox-sized photo with the main story is too small, the idea of using a cartoon at the bottom of the page is always fun and an eye-catcher.