EDUCATION SECRETARY David Blunkett was keen to distance himself from the "failures" of his colleagues at a talk he gave in Shrewsbury last week. Arriving 30 minutes late owing to rush-hour traffic near Birmingham, he was quick to point the finger of blame, quipping: "After being stuck on the M6 and passing only four junctions in an hour, I was tempted to give John Prescott a ring and have a word with him." Blunkett went on to discuss Gordon Brown's interim budget announcement of pounds 25m to spend on basic skills. "It was my [department's] money, but Gordon was careful in the way he said it as he didn't want to get into the same trouble Jack Straw did over the 5,000 extra policemen," Blunkett helpfully pointed out.
The comedian Harry Hill is still in favour with Channel 4 despite taking a dig at the television channel in his new "fun book". The book includes a fantasy C4 controller page suggesting a number of new programme ideas, such as Wall Flies, a fly-on-the-wall documentary about the making of a fly-on-the-wall documentary about a wall with a fly on it. Hill, who has a new series starting on C4, also puts forward the cross-fertilising Sex in the Garden, in which Harry's chums turn up in a garden to have sex while the greenfingers Alan Titchmarsh looks on. According to one source the show most likely to get commissioned is Euro Barrel, where Harry's team "scrape the bottom of the barrel, and see what is left". Hmmm, sounds as if this one has already been done.
NOW THAT Charles Kennedy is busy leading the Lib Dems, who will take over the mantle of game-show darling? Before his accession to power, Charlie was notorious for his light-hearted television appearances, but now it is the turn of Lembit Opik, the party's MP for Montgomeryshire. Opik made an amusing appearance on BBC2's Have I Got News for You, for which he has won high praise. But the young MP recognises he has some way to go before he'll be following in his leader's footsteps: "Charles was on it about four times, so it looks like a case of three strikes and you're in."
Bedtime reading? The Book of the Penis, by Maggie Paley, is "certain to develop classic stature", according to its publisher. Vision Paperbacks is very excited about the new tome, which is "interspersed with humorous illustrations" and "debunks popular misconceptions going back to ancient Greece".
However, not everybody is tickled pink. Paley, who has worked on Elle and Vogue, has had some adverse publicity from within her own family. After she completed her perky project, her father asked: "Are you not a woman any more?"
DO THEY mean us? The New York Post has been keeping up with Madonna's house-hunting in London. On her newly found abode in Kensington, the US tabloid says: "She's settled for an old and traditional pad - although it does have hot and cold running water, and inside loos."
Asked last week, on Radio 5 Live, whether he was "old" or "new money", the former Tory leader in the Lords, Viscount Cranborne, said: "Compared to the Duke of Norfolk, new money. We were middle class in the 16th century."