Matthew Norman's Media Diary

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If what follows has an unusually rancorous tone you must excuse me, but it's hard reading the guest list for the Chequers dinner table, covering the years 1997-2001.

If what follows has an unusually rancorous tone you must excuse me, but it's hard reading the guest list for the Chequers dinner table, covering the years 1997-2001. It's very, very hard. Admittedly Peter Mandelson once dangled the carrot of a cup of char and a bun at No 10, but he'd had a few that night and it came to nothing ... and now I find a new set of names seemingly computer-designed to twist the knife. No one could take umbrage at all the intellectuals, of course. Who could begrudge the Blairs the chance to hear Dickie Bird tell his anecdote about Beefy Botham and the mobile phone once again? But as for the media figures, why should the likes of Polly Toynbee and Andrew Marr be lavishly dined on the taxpayer while some of us are not? No one would suggest that being schmoozed by the Blairs would influence anyone's thinking, and I enjoyed the serialisation of Polly's hard-hitting new book Moses Blair And The Land of Milk And Honey (Chequers Press, £17.99) as much as the next man. Even so, and heretical as this will sound, is there a vague case for journalists steering clear of the hospitality of those about whom they have to comment? Take The Sun's editor Rebekah Wade. It was Rebekah, the day after Dr Brian Jones delivered the most devastating dismissal of the WMD nonsense to the Hutton enquiry, who ran the headline "Boffin clears Blair over 45 minutes claim". The fact that she and her husband, the Shakespearian actor Ross Wade (Ross Kemp as was), are regular Chequers weekenders had absolutely nothing to do with it, of course. It just doesn't look so clever, that's all.

* Although the Rev Simon Mayo appears in the latest Chequers log, his Radio 5 Live colleague Nicky Campbell does not. Might this have something to do with his language? Last week, Nicky used the "c" word on his breakfast show for the second time in five months. The official explanation was another Spoonerism revolving around the word "hunt", or possibly Kent, but you have to worry about a mild, undiagnosed case of Tourette's syndrome. If so, it would explain why he keeps rejecting all the job offers that come his way. You might get away with that sort of thing on Radio 5, but certainly not on Newsnight.

Speaking of which, Jeremy Paxman may be in line for a new job himself. Rumours that Jeremy Vine will take on the revamped Sunday morning slot to be left vacant by David Frost are wrong. Instead, in due accordance with the Dimbleby (Heirs of Richard) Employment Act 1982, David D will get it, thus freeing up Question Time for Paxo. Why the BBC would wish to bring QT out of the persistent vegetative state it's been in since Robin Day departed I've no idea, so it's probably a load of cobblers. If not, remember that you read it here first. Or possibly second.

* I am intrigued by a new survey revealing that the most enticing career a man can hope for in a woman is that of journalist. Attempts to discuss the matter with the leading sirens of the trade have yet to bear fruit, but the minute Melanie Phillips and Janet Daley get back to me I'll pass on their thoughts. Meanwhile, doubts have been cast over the reverse finding that women rank male journalist only fourth in their career wish list. Apparently the research was conducted shortly before the latest batch of photos of Simon Heffer on the Milanese catwalks were wired to the survey company.

Thanks to James Eastham of gambling magazine Inside Edge for a sighting of Gerald Kaufman. James spotted the old goat recently on Upper Street in Islington, "wearing possibly the most bizarre outfit ever seen: a multicoloured patchwork hat and matching scarf, a black coat flecked with red, orange and grey, red corduroy-style trousers and black shoes with gold buckles." What James doesn't realise is that the Almeida Theatre (also on Upper Street) has been casting for yet another stage revival of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. Sir Gerald is up for the role played in the film by Christopher Lloyd.

* Finally, a couple of observations about Radio 4. Firstly, hats off for hiring Brian Walden, probably the most compelling public speaker of the age, to fill the "wise old bird" slot vacated by Alistair Cooke. And secondly, to pose this rhetorical question for the hundredth time, can anyone posit a more depressing 11-word English sentence than "And now on Radio 4, time for Midweek with Libby Purves"?

m.norman@independent.co.uk

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