A sombre note, I'm afraid, to kick off my return from a sunny sojourn abroad. Former chief executive of Westminster Council, Bill Phillips, is learning the harsh realities of the saying 'It never rains but it pours'. He has been forced to ask for leave of absence from the magistrates' bench in his home town of Maidstone, Kent. The decision follows criticism from Labour who argued it was wrong that Mr Phillips, 45, who faces accusations of collusion in Westminster's alleged gerry-mandering, should be handing out judgments to others until the charges are resolved. Mr Phillips, a director of a London recruitment firm, left Westminster council in 1991. In addition, he has personally been accused of shredding documents required by the district auditor investigating the case. Though he has consistently refuted the allegations, the magistrates' committee has agreed not to deliberate Mr Phillips's future on the bench until the district auditor's final report is published. Mr Phillips, not surprisingly, will not comment.

Even if you do look like Michael Keaton, it does not do to go overboard on publicity shots as Hobart Earle, conductor of Ukraine's Odessa Philharmonic Orchestra, discovered recently. Posing in tails before his orchestra with his back to the Black Sea, the surreality of the moment - and shot - was lost when a wave doused him thoroughly. Since Ukrainian oil stains are particularly belligerent Earle, 33, (a Gordonstoun old boy) sent his tails to England to be dry-cleaned. He was never to see them again. Impressed, no doubt, by the miracle Sketchleys had worked, the Ukrainian customs impounded the suit on its return. Earle is gnashing his teeth - and rightly so. New tails are not exactly easy to find in Ukraine clothes stores.

If, as was reported yesterday, Tony Blair has encouraged TUC general secretary John Monks to forge links with other parties, then I am afraid I carry sorry tidings for Mr Blair. Mr Monks has just refused an invitation to attend the Liberal Democrats' pre-conference rally in Brighton, hosted by speakers Paddy Ashdown and Anita Roddick, chief executive of the troubled Body Shop. Quite why Mr Monks should have declined appears to be causing the TUC press office some confusion. My first query was met with 'because it would appear too much like a Lib Dem event'; my second that 'Mr Monks will be in Finland', and my third that 'whether he is in Finland or not is irrelevant - we want to forge friendship with the Liberal Democrats - but not by appearing at a Lib Dem rally'. Hmm, never mind. At least the TUC seems to be united on one fact - that Mr Monks will attend a fringe meeting run by Link, the Liberal Information Network. But then, it is on a topic close to his heart - 'Employees' Representation in the Workplace'.

The beginning of the end is nigh - or so they are saying at LBC, Britain's oldest commercial radio station, due to lose its franchise next month. From 1am to 5.30am on Sunday, there was no human voice on air for the first time since the station's inception in 1973. 'Nobody got around to replacing the presenter who was unable to do it,' explains an insider, adding gloomily, 'this is only the start you know - it's going to get a lot, lot worse.'

Breaking away from the family penchant for publicity is Sophia Child-Villiers, 23, step-daughter of actor-turned-Tory Party chairman, Jeremy Hanley. It is hard to drag anything out of Miss Child-Villiers, but I did gather that she has just forsaken a PR job in the West End for the somewhat less aesthetic alternative of Brentford. Surprisingly, given her shyness, I discover that she has opted to be sole press officer for Tie Rack. 'I like to keep my life private so I won't comment on anything,' she explained adding, without prompting, I'm sure, 'not, of course that I haven't got anything to say about Tie Rack.'

(Photograph omitted)

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