No-hope hackette's grub proves too hot to handle

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The Independent Online
Jane Smith, the plucky PR manager at Birmingham Midshires building society, is nursing a bruised ego after a conspicuously unsuccessful TV debut on a cookery programme.

The drama unfolded on Monday when Ms Smith was recording an episode of Can't Cook, Won't Cook, a BBC programme for talentless chefs. A self-confessed no-hoper in the kitchen, Ms Smith was required to rustle up a sausage, bean and chilli casserole for her partner, Pete, who would test it blindfolded.

Even though she was operating under the guidance of a celebrity cook, the Brummie PR hackette rather overdid it on the chilli, causing poor Pete a good deal of discomfort: he had to be practically hosed down. Ms Smith is bracing herself for a fresh bout of mockery when the programme is screened in the next couple of weeks. Game to the last, she was putting a brave face on the experience yesterday. "Pete does all the cooking in our house. I do the DIY - it's safer if we keep it that way."

Gerald James, former head of the collapsed Astra arms company, is enjoying something of a hit in his second career. A few years after Astra went down, losing shareholders a bundle, his book on the arms-to-Iraq scandal is walking out of the shops.

As the Government braces itself for the Scott report on the arms-to-Iraq scandal tomorrow, Mr James's publishers say the hardback edition of In the Public Interest has shifted all 4,000 of its print-run since its launch in mid-December. A paperback edition is planned for July.

Mr James's literary career may not stop there. "There are one or two interesting stories that I think ought to be told," he says. "I'm just not sure if I'm the right person to tell them."

Those canny fellows at pounds 13,000-a-year Eton College have dreamt up a laudable wheeze to fund the school's pounds 10m rowing lake. The 2,000-metre, Olympic standard course will be part-funded by the sale of gravel excavated in the landscaping process. According to the school's bursar, Roderick Watson, the deal will contribute "several millions" to the cost of the project.

Mr Watson says that, though rowing has a fine tradition at Eton, it was once frowned upon by the school's more highbrow tendency before it was made legit in 1840. "In the early days it was disapproved of because it was a non-academic pursuit," he says. "Too much fun and it often led to a picnic."

Wallace and Gromit scored a points victory over Ian Lang yesterday when the Trade Minister was stood up by the production company's latest star turn, Sean the Sheep. Mr Lang praised Aardman Animations for its use of technology in the production of its films at a conference in London yesterday and the organisers had hoped to introduce the minister to the bleating Hollywood hit. Sadly, Sean had a prior engagement. He is currently in Los Angeles hob-nobbing with other luvvies ahead of the Oscars.

John Ashcroft (above), the fallen 1980s star who shot to fame with the Coloroll group, has been offered a career in academia. Impressed by his studious approach to his PhD in economics, universities have offered him the chance to lecture on his specialist subject, the balance of payments deficit, but he has turned them down. Speaking from his Lancashire home, he says: "I haven't finished the PhD yet, though I have done a draft." He did only start it in 1989, after all.

He wants to return to entrepreneurial matters. He has been publishing the Economic Picture Book, a quarterly collection of economic graphics, for two years. And he has other projects on the boil. But, chastened by the experience of the Coloroll collapse, he is keeping them to himself. "I don't want a low profile," he says. "I want to be subterranean."