Matthew Norman's Media Diary

Who will be the next guinea pig?
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The Independent Online

Andrew Marr's imminent departure from his second job, as BBC political editor, raises disturbing doubts about the future of his first. Will his Mr Snuffles column in The Daily Telegraph, written from the viewpoint of the family guinea pig, survive his transfer to David Frost's Sunday sofa? This unconscionably hilarious riot of whimsical splendour (Boots' reports sales of its own-brand rib-cage repair kits quadrupling on publication days) places Marr up there with S J Perelman, Craig Brown, P J O'Rourke, Dave Barry and a few others in the pantheon of newspaper humorists. Since the prospect of losing it is too excruciating to contemplate, we turn hurriedly to the betting on his replacement at the Beeb.

Andrew Marr's imminent departure from his second job, as BBC political editor, raises disturbing doubts about the future of his first. Will his Mr Snuffles column in The Daily Telegraph, written from the viewpoint of the family guinea pig, survive his transfer to David Frost's Sunday sofa? This unconscionably hilarious riot of whimsical splendour (Boots' reports sales of its own-brand rib-cage repair kits quadrupling on publication days) places Marr up there with S J Perelman, Craig Brown, P J O'Rourke, Dave Barry and a few others in the pantheon of newspaper humorists. Since the prospect of losing it is too excruciating to contemplate, we turn hurriedly to the betting on his replacement at the Beeb.

Invariably and inevitably, the post goes to one in sympathy with the ruler of the day. John Cole, appointed from The Guardian when Labour was in power in the 1970s, was followed in the Major era by the Tory supporting Robin Oakley, and then came the New Labourish Marr. On this logic, we must anticipate a Brownite, which explains the shock joint favouritism, at 3-1, of Charlie Whelan and his friend, the Mirror plutocrat Paul Routledge. Martha Kearney (this column's preference; how can you not love Martha to bits?) is clear third favourite at 100/30.

Next, bracketed on 13-2, come Mark Mardell, June Sarpong, Jon Snow and Geoffrey Robinson, with Sir Alex Ferguson at 8-1, assuming he has time to prepare his CV before Mr Glazer shows him to the Old Trafford rear exit. ITN's Nick Robinson makes little appeal at 10-1, given his general perception as a Tory, while support from Singapore betting syndicates brings in the late Dr Magnus Pyke to 12s.

BetFred offers Adam Boulton at 14-1 "with a run" (if Mark Thompson is prepared to jettison Radio 3; in other words, to free funds to match his Sky salary), but Andrew Neil has drifted out to 16-1, following a strike threat from makeup artists at White City. John Pienaar, Peter Allen, Johnny Marr - the former Smith's guitarist - and Jeremy Vine, Radio 2's Sony award winner, are among a clutch at 18-1. Polly Toynbee makes each way appeal at 25-1, but The Sun's George Pascoe Watson looks short priced at 66-1. It's 125-1 bar those.

YOU WILL, I know, be bemused by the omission from the above of serial job-rejecter Nicky Campbell. He wishes it to be known that he was sounded out several months ago, but couldn't give a firm commitment due to hopes over an imminent vacancy at the Vatican. Sources close to the Radio Five Live breakfast bunny insist he turned it down again last week. Campbell, they say, is "on a promise" from the UN if and when the neo-Cons succeed in ousting Kofi Annan.

HOW STARTLING to observe the British press - generally so impervious to the lure of the passing bandwagon - embracing that addictive Japanese numbers puzzle almost as one. The Daily Star is considering its own version of the game, but is having technical problems gearing it for the readership. A single grid, in which seven of the nine numbers are already filled in, is the preferred option, although a faction on the paper is pushing for eight. At The Sun, TV editor Victoria Newton is under pressure to change her name to Sue Doku, while Times guv'nor Robert Thomson is developing a twist on the original, in which readers fill in the numbers they think would correspond to the page accorded to various possible news stories seen as damaging to the Prime Minister. These numbers would run, we gather, from 63 to 124.

WITH ALL the exquisite opaqueness of the Delphic oracle, Paul Johnson issues a warning to Andrew Neil, who will continue to oversee The Spectator should he fail to succeed Andrew Marr. Johnson concludes a typically lucid article on skyscrapers by dwelling on what he claims is an old Fleet Street adage, that it's bad luck for a publication to move to a new building that happens to be tall. Whether Neil would be able to decrypt on his own seems unlikely, so we gently point out the persistent rumours that the Barclays are keen to move the magazine to Canary Wharf.

OUR BRETHREN in France shame us with an exhibition of stoicism in the face of danger unknown since the tremendous success of the Maginot line. A colleague calling a friend at the International Herald Tribune in Paris was misrouted by the switchboard to a man who introduced himself with the words: "Hello, terror desk." Fears that this was a foray into the land of irony were swiftly assuaged. Something there for British editors to ponder.

FINALLY, MAY I express my delight at last week's interview with Melanie Phillips, ultra right-wing ranter-in-chief at the Daily Mail. The winner of the Orwell Prize for journalism in 1996 (the snap of her receiving the trophy from Keith Harris sits on her desk to this day), Mad Mel must try to get over this idea that she is a "hate figure" among the left. It's certainly true that she is taken very seriously - indeed, she is on a shortlist of two, with Mr Snuffles, for next year's Orwell - but while the likes of General Pinochet and Donald Rumsfeld walk the earth, "hate figure" could be seen to verge on the self-aggrandising. She's a cuddly old thing, though, and full of harmless fun, so we wish her well.

m.norman@independent.co.uk

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