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The Independent Culture
WHEN THE Prime Minister appeared on television on Wednesday evening to announce that Britain had launched a "substantial" air attack on Iraq, neither BBC1 nor BBC2 bothered to interrupt their scheduled programmes. It was, however, carried live on ITN, Sky News and CNN. Blair's speech was first aired in taped form on national BBC television during Newsnight, some minutes later. Pandora was intrigued by the corporation's rationale for deciding that the Government's declaration of war in the Middle East was less important than the ski resort potboiler War and Piste (BBC1) or the soft-core body show Naked (BBC2). After many telephone enquiries yesterday, Pandora uncovered a fair degree of internal confusion. "It was carried live on Radio 4 and Radio 5," said John Steel, BBC News press officer, continuing, "With a network like the BBC, it makes sense to break into programmes at different times. The programmers and the news team talk to each other intensively on these matters. The news team can't just hijack the schedule." But Charlotte Ashton, deputy head of BBC Publicity, disagreed. "Oh, I am surprised they are saying that. They [BBC News] crash into programming all the time. Well, maybe not all the time but it happens." Not this time, it didn't. "I'm astonished that the number one public service provider did not carry the statement live," said Tory MP Roger Gale, a member of the Broadcasting Select Committee. "It is incredibly ironic that War and Piste was on at the same time."


THE LIBYAN strongman Col Muammar Gaddafi's son,

al-Saadi, went on a most enjoyable shopping spree in Paris a week or so back. On assignment to purchase aircraft, al-Saadi and his entourage holed up in the Hotel Crillon and partied at the lavish Al Mawal night- club, eventually running up about pounds 200,000-worth of expenses over a 10- day period. Given that Papa Gaddafi does not approve of his officials behaving like wealthy oil sheikhs while the Libyan people suffer from international sanctions, perhaps the bill for al-Saadi's excursion was picked up by other interested private parties?


SEX UNDOUBTEDLY sells magazines, but Pandora had assumed that the high- brow monthly Prospect was above such base concerns. Apparently not, for the mag's latest issue carries - alongside weighty contributions from Vaclav Havel, Simon Jenkins, Nigel Lawson and this newspaper's own Anne McElvoy - a raunchy "sexual diary from inside Wandsworth prison" by the convict/columnist Peter Wayne. As explicit as anything on the top shelf, the piece offers an uncontrite celebration of a homosexual convict's lifestyle during the Eighties at the outset of the Aids epidemic - plus a concluding paragraph that shows little has changed in 1998. "It is night: one in a thousand nights of close confinement. There's a boy in my cell. He's young. He's attractive, he's willing to go... We both know there's no turning back." Odd, too, that another article in the same issue, "A Pornographic Culture" attacks Britain's sexual freedom that "instead of liberating us... is enslaving us".


IT'S BEEN a duff quip a minute from Robin Cook lately. Yesterday we reported on his off-the-cuff remark that his job, not his new bride, was the "number one passion" in his life. At the Foreign Secretary's Christmas party on Wednesday evening, he told the jolly gathering that it had been a "very strange year, a very entertaining year". He had visited 29 countries and spent 178 hours in the air, circling the globe the equivalent of two- and-a-half times. "The worst thing is that I haven't been able to collect any air miles." Later, when one journalist suggested that the sudden decision to bomb Iraq would provoke many Wag the Dog jokes, Cookie confessed total ignorance of the film and the phrase. Perhaps if he took Gaynor out to the cinema more often, it would brighten up his own repartee a bit.


THE EMOTIVE singer Sinead O'Connor (pictured) has told The Independent's sister newspaper in Ireland that she's carrying a torch for the precariously perched US President. The unpredictably romantic Sinead has felt that Bill Clinton "is the sexiest man in the universe" ever since she read the details of his quirky affair with Monica Lewinsky. "I would bring my own cigars, absolutely.

My mouth is watering at the thought

of it. I thought he was sexy anyway, but now... my God!"