Pandora

RUPERT MURDOCH'S plans to own the millennium are suffering a series of embarrassing reversals. A newspaper called The Times had planned to erect a hideous `millennium statue' in the Royal Observatory gardens. Greenwich's long-suffering citizenry successfully protested, forcing Murdoch's minions to redraft their planning application. The tasteless advertising that formed an integral part of the original "sculpture" is now to feature in a "more recondite" position, according to Greenwich Council documents.

But a fresh disaster looms. Old Dirty Digs may well be adept at buying off Blair with his tabloid trash, but the Windsor family's retainers may prove an altogether tougher proposition. The Royal Fine Arts Commission has come down firmly against this ill-advised gimmick, taking the view that it "has consistently opposed advertising in the Royal Parks". After all, if the commission's supremo, Lord St John of Fawsley, nodded the stunt through it would set a precedent for introducing American-style billboards throughout thousands of acres of unspoilt parkland.

THERE'S MORE. Many Greenwich locals are increasingly uncomfortable with a tawdry LED displaying "breaking news" that the rag wants to dump on the meridian line. The meridian, agreed as "the official starting point of the year 2000" by an international conference in 1884 currrently runs through the Royal Observatory's courtyard. It is marked by a fibre optic white light, stunningly elegant in its simplicity. Greenwich Council has prudently insisted on monitoring the tacky replacement display's output. "I assume this is to stop news items such as `More Power to Our Glorious New Leader Wendy Deng'," one unhappy resident snaps - referring, in case you've just joined us, to the new Mrs Murdoch.

DIVORCES AND discord loom large too in Patrick Marber's award-winning play Closer, which spearheads the 1999 British invasion of Broadway with a midtown Manhattan preview next month. Natasha Richardson (pictured) and Anna Friel are set to star. Coincidentally Robert Fox, Closer's producer, used to be married to Richardson. Fox previously produced David Hare's The Judas Kiss which starred none other than Liam Neeson - the man whom Richardson married after she left Fox. Showbiz - it's just one big happy family...

...UNLESS YOU'RE panellist Bryan Robson on the 9 March edition of BBC TV's A Question of Sport. The programme's publicist promises "a barrage of banter" between Middlesborough manager Robson and his arch-rival, Sunderland boss Peter Reid. But Bry-Guy is recovering from a barrage of blows after his wife walked into a Leeds hotel at 2am earlier this week and discovered him playing away with Sky sports presenter Claire Tomlinson. Tomlinson had broken her ankle, and Robson's furious wife used the autocutie's crutch to attack her straying spouse. Can the Bry-Guy recover in time for the taping - or will he pull out?

ONE GUY who's not pulling out anytime soon, Mohammed "Mo" Fayed, will be a merrier mogul this morning - the ban on his favourite Iranian pistachio nuts has been quashed. He can thank Jeff Rooker, the food safety minister currently defending genetically modified victuals. In an aside to the new Food Standards Select Committee, the Brummie MP said he "almost had a fatwa put on me" by deranged Iranian planters. In banning their importation 16 months ago, the ministry alleged their nuts were diseased. We can all now sleep safely in each others' beds in the knowledge they're not.

THAT OLD GM smoothie Lord Sainsbury's charity, the Gatsby Foundation, recently gave pounds 50,000 to Liverpool University to compile archive records for the defunct Social Democratic Party. How odd to find that the generous Gatsby also forked out pounds 127,000 to the Social Market Foundation, the robustly right-wing think tank that's spawned many of Conservative Central Office's current elite. So much for the Sainsbury's loyalty card.

Pandora can be contacted by e-mail at pandora@ independent. co.uk

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