Matthew Norman's Media Diary

Paul and Rebekah's tug-of-love baby
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The Independent Online

Thankfully, you needn't make it up, and next week, Rebekah will seek an injunction to prevent tug-of-love baby Richard jumping ship without a thought for his notice period. The sadness is that all this unpleasantness is down to Richard's chum Simon Heffer, at whose Essex home Richard once arrived in the bedroom of fellow-guests John and Louise Patten, unannounced and unclothed. Perhaps it is revenge for that minor faux pas, but Simon's defection from the Mail to the Telegraph has left Paul with a gaping nutter-columnist hole that he needs to fill more urgently than anticipated.

To this end, Paul asked Richard not to write another word for The Sun, Richard obliged... and now, to quote the old music-hall song, "Let's All Go Down the Strand (Have a Banana!)". Let us pray that no last-minute, steps-of-the-court deal prevents the public discussion of Richard's present and future earnings (estimated at £800,000 per annum at The Sun, and a round annual million at the Mail), and other intriguing matters. If the Mail fails to prevent the injunction, meanwhile, expect an appeal on unfair-restraint-of- trade grounds under the human-rights legislation for which that paper (see Melanie Phillips, last paragraph) has always shown such respect.

FAR BE it from me to advise Rebekah's legal team, but they may find a Sun column from 7 June instructive. It concerned the poaching of a commercial rival's key employees. "If he really loved the club as much as he claims," wrote Richard when Arsenal's Ashley Cole was caught chatting with Chelsea, "what's the difference between £55,000 and £60,000? What must loyal Arsenal fans make of it when they see one of their heroes stomping his feet ... to listen to Cole and his lawyer bleating about slavery is stomach-churning."

Substitute "paper" for "club", and "Sun" for "Arsenal, and change the weekly wages to £16,000 and £20,000, and it all seems uncannily prescient. Did Richard never love The Sun, as claimed? Was it all an act? Does he now love the Mail, or is that a lot of mercenary madam, too? And will he style himself as Kunta Kinte, warrior for freedom against the tyranny of slave-mistress Wade? We shall see. God willing, we shall see.

THE REHABILITATION of Ron Atkinson is taking a linguistic turn. Aside from his appearance in Parlez Vous, a new BBC "reality" show in which celebs learn French, Ron may soon make his long-awaited debut on Countdown. Its new presenter, Desmond Lynam, is lobbying for his old ITV football colleague to appear in Dictionary Corner, and it will be interesting to see whether the Channel 4 guv'nor (my cousin by marriage) Kevin Lygo, whom I have actually never met, will deem him a desirable presence. If so, we wish Carol Vorderman luck with the letters selection. If it ever gets as far as N, G, I, R, probably best scrap the round and reshoot it from the top.

YET AGAIN, I am beside myself with admiration for the Times editor, Robert Thomson. After so many heroic attempts to safeguard Tony Blair from bad publicity (last week, he tucked the Walter Wolfgang incident away on page two), Robert turns his protective cloak to another leader favoured by Mr Murdoch. On Friday, when all other vaguely serious papers put George Bush's divine guidance on their fronts, Robert cleared a weeny box on page 46 for the news... and even then, began the report with the friendly words: "The White House has denied that President Bush said he was instructed by God to invade Iraq and Afghanistan".

The peerage is in the bag, of course, but does anyone know if the Americans ever give Purple Hearts for courageous journalism beyond the call of duty?

TREMENDOUS TO see Michael Parkinson attacking rivals such as Graham Norton and Jonathan Ross for banality. Good old Parky, whose interviewing technique has come to make Lorraine Kelly look like Torquemada, speaks with authority on the matter of heavyweight interviewing. But should he wish to underline his credentials, perhaps it's time to have another bash at Miss Piggy, whom he included on his list of sexiest interviewees.

FINALLY, WITH some reluctance, to Melanie Phillips, a more crucial Mail presence than ever during this unnerving Heffer-Littlejohn hiatus. The Phillips knickers seldom stay untangled for long, and this time they are twisted by the human-rights ruling from Strasbourg that prisoners should be allowed to vote, a notion that she believes "makes a mockery of the whole notion of punishment". How can she bear to work for a paper so continually outraged by the jailing of pensioners such as Sylvia Hardy and that daft vicar, who show contempt for the law by refusing to pay their council tax? These people have forfeited their democratic roles, yet her employer wilfully undermines respect for the judicial system by lionising them. The paradox must be excruciating. Mel's a doughty old fighter, but how much longer can she be expected to soldier on?