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A STRONG rumour suggests that the vital job of encouraging British trade abroad, traditionally undertaken by our ambassadors and consul generals, is soon to be delegated elsewhere. Reporting to both the Foreign Office and the Department of Trade and Industry, a Director of Trade will operate independently in our major foreign trading partner nations. Thus, for example, the Director of Trade (US) will not report to either Ambassador Sir Christopher Meyer or to Jeffrey Ling, Consul General in New York. This step comes after numerous complaints from British businessmen abroad about the limited assistance they received from our diplomats. Pandora suspects that these Director of Trade posts will not be given to civil servants.

IT'S BEEN widely reported that delegates to the Labour Party Conference later this month will be wearing sleek laminated passes sponsored by supermarket chain Somerfield. Less well known are Somerfield's own labour problems. Workers at four Somerfield distribution depots have rejected the first round of their annual pay talks. An official at Usdaw, the union involved, told Pandora last week that there is a good chance of resolving the conflict at the second round of talks. However, he warned, "If it isn't resolved next week, there might be problems." Delegates might refuse to wear their passes for a start.

LET US spare a moment of sympathy for Sgt Charles W Little. He is anxiously awaiting a pardon from President Clinton after being dismissed from the US Marines for "Adultery and Fraternization". The marine says that although he had "a consensual relationship" with a junior soldier, he is not guilty of criminal "misconduct" and is sure that the President will come to his rescue before his discharge order is signed. He has written to Clinton saying, "You explained that your private life is no one else's business. I wholeheartedly agree." And he continued, "You urged the American public to allow you to put this behind you so you could concentrate on pressing matters. I agree." As yet, however, there are no details of Sgt Little's inappropriate behaviour on the Internet. Pandora is sure this will soon be rectified as the world's appetite for such tittle-tattle has now been thoroughly whetted.

AFTER THE least relaxing weekend break in history, Bill and Hillary Clinton are scheduled to fly to New York this evening with Al and Tipper Gore. The two couples, who first bonded back during the 1992 election campaign, haven't spent much time socializing together in recent weeks, according to The Washington Post. When asked if Mrs Gore (pictured), famous for her Eighties' crusade against sexually-explicit rock music lyrics, had spoken to Mrs Clinton since the sexually unabashed Starr Report was published, her press secretary said: "My sense is that their communication is personal and private, and she would not want to share that with the press." One can hardly blame her, but if the foursome turns up to watch the puppet musical of The Lion King tonight, the press will be hunting for any bits of graphic body language.

TORY MP Peter Bottomley attended the launch of Andrew Roth's new edition of Parliamentary Profiles last week. Roth's book includes highly-detailed information on the current roster of MPs, including selected newspaper cuttings. In the four-page entry for Peter's wife, the former Tory Heritage Secretary, Virginia Bottomley, one cutting notes that she had a real knack for attracting publicity. Apparently, this part of her entry did not please its subject. After a brief stay at the launch party at Politicos bookshop, Peter Bottomley, on his way out, paused by the author and hissed: "We won't co-operate again unless you stop calling us publicity seekers." Does reporting this incident mean that Pandora can't count on the Bottomleys' generous help in future? Oh dearie.

GOOD TO see those imaginative, ground-breaking programme makers flying high at BBC1, which is launching a new four-part documentary series "in celebration of great British talent". Do you have any doubt about who has been chosen as the Four Great Ones? They are Victoria Wood, Lenny Henry, Barbara Windsor and Cliff Richard.