Comment: Pandora

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The Independent Culture
Frank Dobson, perhaps fuelled by those sacks of Prozac he says he carries, was on sparkling form at a dinner hosted by Paul Boateng earlier this week. Mr Boateng and Mr Dobson worked together at the Department of Health, and, although Mr Boateng was once one of Ken Livingstone's right-hand men at the GLC, he is now a loyal Home Office minister and has dutifully thrown his lot in with Dobbo. Perhaps relieved that the Tory party's mayoral selection process has eclipsed Labour's own shambles (save for the odd Panorama expose), Dobbo spoke freely about his Tory rivals. Of the favourite, Steve "Ladykiller" Norris, Dobbo quipped: "I think Steve is more a question of Dick than Whittington."

THE TORY vice-chairman, Tim Collins, is reputed to be among those campaigning to thwart Steve Norris's mayoral ambitions and indeed would be certain of a place in Steve's little black book of squeaky-clean losers. Before he became an MP at the last election, Mr Collins served as John Major's press secretary and was a key figure in pushing the ill-fated "Back to Basics" policy, which was not exactly Nozzer-proof. The Dr Who-loving politician is the antithesis of the flamboyant Mr Norris and demonstrated his cautious nature during a recent Commons debate on alternative medicine. In a statement to rival Bill Clinton's naivety about drugs, Mr Collins said: "Perhaps I should explain to the House that I have never, to my knowledge, used or consumed herbal remedies."

Staying on the Clinton theme, rumour has it that Bill and Hillary are the preferred godparents for Tony and Cherie Blair's forthcoming baby. Downing Street, though, maintains that the report is incorrect as "nothing has been decided" on the matter. Very wise, especially if the divorce stories about the Clintons are to be believed.

BBC INSIDERS have been broadcasting the latest episode in the Sir John Birt portrait saga. There was a furore last week when it was revealed that licence payers would fund the unpopular outgoing director-general's pounds 20,000 portrait, to hang alongside other ex-DGs in the Beeb's council chamber. Sir John's commissioning of the artist Tai-Shan Schierenberg was described as "vain beyond belief", a description that could be applied to a demand he allegedly made about the portrait's size: that it should be at least as large as the legendary Lord Reith's. The request was not met. It is understood that Sir John has since commissioned a head-and- shoulders portrait that will, some say, ensure that his image dwarfs all others.

Someone else who does not paint a pretty picture of Birtism is the veteran sports commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme. Immortalised for his line "They think it's all over ... " when Geoff Hurst scored for England in the 1966 World Cup final, Ken actually took issue with the Beeb when they used the phrase for the popular sports quiz of the same name. In his new autobiography, 50 Sporting Years ... and It's Still Not All Over, Mr Wolstenholme says: "I wrote to Sir John Birt and asked him what the words have to do with the programme or vice versa and he replied: `We thought it was a good idea to bring those great words of yours to the notice of younger people.' I almost replied that anyone who believed that would believe the earth is flat and pigs can fly."

THE DAILY Mail continues to undermine its stance against France. Though the paper urges the public to "Just say non" to French goods, in its effort to force the French to lift their beef ban, it has made it awfully tricky for the reader to put their money where their mouthpiece is. First, there was the case of The Mail on Sunday's colour supplement, printed in, er, France; then, as Pandora reported on Monday, there was The Mail on Sunday's reader offer of, um, French champagne. This week the Daily Mail has gone one better with a reader offer to, whoops, "Cross the Channel for pounds 1". What next? A weekend in Paris?

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