Diary

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For the first time in the two-year history of the Channel 4 series, Devil's Advocate, the person due to sit in the proverbial 'hot seat' has bottled out at the very last moment. (Each week a subject is interrogated aggressively by host Darcus Howe, who acts out the programme's title with considerable pugnacity). The retreat in this case was beaten by Mr Farid Kassim, spokesman for Hizb-Ut-Tahrir, the political party of Islamic extremists, deemed illegal in the Arab world and which allegedly supports the killing of Jews and homosexuals.

According to the programme's producer, Ambreen Hameed, Mr Kassim had, after initial reluctance, agreed three weeks ago to appear on last night's programme and even became quite enthusiastic about it - although he insisted he controlled the agenda. Last Friday however, the day before the studio session was to be filmed, the organisation called to cancel. According to Ms Hameed, they said they had heard the programme was a 'set-up' and that they did not trust the Western media. By 3pm on Saturday, the studio audience had arrived and Mr Kassim had not. 'I am really irritated,' says Ms Hameed, 'this is a multi-cultural series and we had no intention of doing an anti-Muslim

programme.' Ah well, some consolation, surely, in the fact that Mr Kassim's slot last night was replaced with one of a man whom no one could possibly accuse of cowardice - Mark Tully.

It is never plain sailing, it seems, for the irascible head of English Heritage, Jocelyn Stevens. A month ago fiery words were exchanged between himself and Paul Drury, director of English Heritage's London region. Now his head of public affairs, Nicky O'Reilly, is leaving after only

18 months in the post to go the Country Landowners' Association which, stammer heritage buffs, is not exactly a rung upwards on the career ladder. Ms O'Reilly herself was unable to explain the move to me, since all day yesterday she was tied up in meetings.

Forsaking his swingometer for the high seas is Newsnight presenter Peter Snow. He is replacing his sailing yacht of 20 years, Cyrano, with a swanky 43ft number called Cerulean - 'after a sky-blue Canadian lake'. (The Newsnight team should beware - he is already planning many nautical adventures with his colleagues.) Of particular interest to him, he says, is Cerulean's automatic chart plotter, which theoretically should prevent collisions with lighthouses and islands. However, Snow's most dramatic misadventure to date was of a more mundane nature. 'My daughter Kate,' he explains, 'became so mesmerised by the bilge (surplus) water flowing out, that she just toppled overboard into the marina.' He adds proudly: 'I had to jump in and rescue her.'

I cannot recommend the Theatre de Complicite's production of The Street of Crocodiles, currently showing at The Young Vic, as easy viewing. So confused were Saturday night's audience by director Simon McBurley's interpretation of the life of a Polish-Jewish writer shot by the Gestapo in 1942, that they had no idea when the play actually ended. Eventually, after a silence of several minutes, during which a diminutive actress struggled bravely beneath the weight of the 6ft male she was holding, someone started to clap. Fortunately for the company, the avant garde style allows for such ambiguities. 'They are supposed to stand there in silence,' said a spokeswoman. A pause.' But maybe not for that long.'

This year's prize for the sending out earliest Christmas cards goes to Teeside University, which sent one to my colleague on the education desk last week. At Teeside they are wondering who could have sent it. 'We are efficient,' said a spokeswoman, 'but not that efficient.'

SOS yesterday from Transport 2000: Breakfast TV has swiped our last campaign press release. Copies required immediately]

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