AFTER READING yesterday's newspapers, Pandora felt great sympathy for Peter Mandelson. Not because of the predictable barrage of personal criticism and snide satire from his enemies which Mandy can certainly cope with, but because of the devastating tributes from his friends. How painful for him to read Andrew Rawnsley's glowing but tragically out-of- synch account of Mandelson's political reputation's "most remarkable reconstruction" in The Observer, whose Life magazine had obviously gone to press before the loan story broke. Next was dear friend Robert Harris, the columnist and author, performing acts of Herculean hyperbole on his behalf: "To call what he [Mandelson] did `sleaze'... is to murder the English language" and "sooner government by people like him than government by skinheads". Finally, Derek Draper's bilious attempt in the Mail on Sunday to make Mandy seem ordinary. "Here I am," he quotes Mandelson as saying, "supposedly the world's greatest political communicator and I'm saving up trips to the supermarket to make my life more interesting." Oh dear.

JOHN BIRT'S visit to the Groucho Club a few nights before Christmas caused a stir in the club originally founded as a writers' and publishers' hideout, now the favourite watering hole of television stars and independent producers, from Lenny Henry to Stephen Fry to Vic & Bob. The BBC boss was a guest of his administrative assistant Katie Kay, a Groucho member, who settled him into a quiet corner table in the upstairs bar. "It seems very reasonable," the notoriously cost-conscious Birt told Kay later as she paid their bill. When this overheard remark was circulated later, a number of members' eyebrows were raised. The Groucho's cocktails are excellent, but nobody before ever called them inexpensive.

AFTER BOWING to Tony Blair and Sir Edward Heath's appeals to allow the Branson balloon flight to proceed over its territory, China announced sternly on Christmas Eve that it would ban any more round-the-world balloons from crossing its borders. This is bad news for Branson, and the competing Cable and Wireless, Breitling Orbiter 3 and Spirit of Peace balloon teams, since virtually all northern hemisphere global balloon routes must cross over China. However, Pandora hears that at least three other teams are planning a southern hemisphere circumnavigation for next summer in the race to be the first to blow around the globe.

THE PANDORA Prize for the most surprisingly witty Christmas card goes to the National Audit Office. Printed to appear like a genuine NOA report on the "Ministry of Merriment", the card documents the "cost over-runs, delays and irregularities in the production of Christmas presents". An accompanying "press release" reports: "Asked to account for 500,000 X- rated imported videos, Santa said, `I know it looks bad, but at least I did obtain three quotes before purchase, as previously recommended by the NAO'."

THE MOST eagerly-awaited Western film for years is about to open in America - a film that was originally the brainchild of the late Sam Pekinpah - and its unlikely director is Englishman Stephen Frears (pictured). Over the past weekend, a storm of publicity has appeared about The Hi-Lo Country, a tale of two old-fashioned cowboys in modern New Mexico, and Frears, the north London resident whose credits include My Beautiful Launderette, Prick Up Your Ears, Dangerous Liaisons and The Grifters. Frears told The New York Times: "I had to literally learn everything... Western films are sort of half mythology, half what it was like in the West." He toured New Mexico for weeks before shooting began and, on the set, confesses to often thinking of Clint Eastwood. "What would Clint do now?" he asked his assistant.

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own