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WHAT DID Old Labour do on its summer holidays? A graphic report from Austin Mitchell, Labour MP for Great Grimsby, appears in the current issue of The House magazine. During his close-up, first-hand view of Castro's Cuban socialist paradise, Mitchell was "impressed by the efficient collective farming" but "depressed by the flagrant prostitution". Indeed, he confides, "I was twice grabbed very painfully by the balls." How depressing indeed for the man, but fortunately his sense of fun remained intact. Remarking on his encounters with other, less grabby Cubans, Mitchell notes: "Questions about their one-party state produced hour-long diatribes, leaving me no time to explain ours."

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THE EDITOR of Country Life, Clive Aslet, has told a New York newspaper that American readers object more than British readers to the editorial changes he's introduced at the magazine over the past five years, including a nude woman in its centennial anniversary edition. "We have more critical letters from American readers," he told the New York Observer. "Country Life represents to Americans, I suppose, an Arcadia. Even if these values do not exist in their own American life, it needs to exist over there, in England." Aslet may be particularly sensitive to this dichotomy between real life and magazine dreams, as he lives in Pimlico.

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IS THE BBC having second thoughts about giving Top Gear's presenter Jeremy Clarkson his own non-automotive chat show, after those remarks he made last weekend about Koreans "eating dogs" and "Nazis" controlling the British motor industry? When Pandora rang to enquire how they were preparing for the debut of Clarkson on 8 November, a cheeky BBC spokeswoman named Kim Creed quipped, "The producers are currently looking for a talk show format for Jeremy where he doesn't have to speak."

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IT'S UNUSUAL for a British executive to announce his retirement years in advance as well as name his future successor, but this is far more common in America, where it's seen as a useful technique for "easing" a new management team into place. Terry Mansfield, managing director of the National Magazine Company, a subsidiary of America's Hearst Corporation, whose glossy titles include Cosmopolitan, Harpers & Queen and Esquire, told staff last week that he will retire in three years' time. His successor is to be 34-year-old Duncan Edwards, who becomes deputy managing director immediately, having begun his career with Nat Mags just eight years ago. Mansfield, who has been the company's MD since 1982, celebrates his 60th birthday on Monday. He generously predicted that Duncan Edwards "will be of tremendous support to me and to his 550 colleagues".

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AFTER AUBERON Waugh claimed in the New Statesman that John Prescott wears a toupee, the Daily Mail launched a competition challenging its readers to prove this assertion. Pandora believes the ideal person for the job is Danbert Nobacon, a member of the anarchist pop group Chumbawumba, who dared to throw cold water over the Deputy Prime Minister at this year's Brit Awards. Surely he would have no qualms about lifting a handful of Prescott's scalp foliage? "Oh no, he won't do that," a spokeswoman from his management company told Pandora yesterday. "The attack the first time was funny. To do it again would be personal."

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THE SINGER/ACTRESS Barbra Streisand's capacity to take herself seriously is about to breach a preposterous new frontier. Streisand will go live on the Internet next Monday evening to chat with fans, but she'll refuse to answer any questions about her career or private life. What else could anyone want to discuss with the egocentric pop diva? Ms. Streisand says that she will discuss only American politics, in particular the Republicans' "attempted coup" against her friend, President Bill Clinton. By appearing on America Online on the eve of next week's US elections, Streisand apparently believes that she can influence the vote and stop the ongoing impeachment process, which she likens to "a sting operation". Wouldn't this funny girl be better advised to restrict her own public operations to sweet singing and cinematic make-believe?

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