Matthew Norman's Media Diary

Let's hear more of Witty's repartee
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The Independent Online

How dispiriting to detect a familiar edge of contempt in coverage of Katharine Witty's public debut last week as Mohamed Al Fayed's official spokeswoman. The foreign papers weren't great (the Saudi Gazette referred to her as "Dodi's mother", which may strike even Bog Mo as a conspiracy theory too far), and our lot were worse. This mean-spiritedness is just what we've come to expect from envious types who only went in to journalism in the hope that one day they, too, might sit in Harrods parroting the thoughts that pass through Mr Al Fayed's temperate head.

The thing about working for Mo is that you have to do it with zest and zeal, or not at all, and here Katharine excelled herself. The judge's rebuke for smirking at the jury does her credit. So sneer and carp if you must, but consider whether her progression is any less comical than, say, Alastair Campbell's. A friendly word of warning, however, for Mr Al Fayed. Katharine is now the third TV journalist, in succession to Laurie Meyer and Michael Cole, to join his stable on both a point of sovereign principle and a reputed salary of £300,000. If he ever tries to complete the quartet by stealing Huw Edwards from the BBC newsroom, I cannot say what will ensue. But as another legendary rational figure once put it, they shall be the terrors of the earth.

* DAVID AARONOVITCH is in typically sparkling form in The Times, as he considers the closure of post offices with a piece beginning: "Debo was always my mother's second-favourite Mitford sister." (He doesn't name the champ, although we can probably rule out Diana.) David's argument is that all this bleating is silly because no one really uses post offices any more, even if Debo was right to claim that they are often social hubs. In support of this, he adduces a clever comparison with garages. "Did you know that petrol stations have been closing at the rate of 600 per year?" he asks. "Are they not often a social hub?" Oh they are, David, absolutely they are. If you're Alan Partridge.

* NOT SINCE Agatha Christie went to Harrogate in 1926 has there been as intriguing a disappearance of a leading lady of letters than the one that ruined last Tuesday's British Press Awards ("the Oscars of our industry"). Where, disturbed hacks asked one another as news of her absence spread around the Grosvenor House, was Rebekah Wade? What kept the Titian-haired temptress away when she was up for journalist of the year? And what would have happened had she, and not Andrew Gilligan, won it? Perhaps there was a Native American on hand, á la Marlon Brando at the Oscars (or "the British Press Awards of our industry", as they call them in Hollywood)? Was it innate bashfulness that drove her to flight, or was she, like another of our beloved redheaded comic icons, simply not bovvered? A search party led by favourite columnist Jon Gaunt has been dispatched to the Old Swan in Harrogate on the off chance. In the meantime, we can only stand and wait. And pray.

* STILL, THE evening had its moments, one of them being the annointing of the FT's Philip Stevens as political writer of the year. Philip richly deserved it for the electrifying brio of his prose, and also as belated acknowledgement of the courageous independent-mindedness he maintained throughout the premiership of Tony Blair. There was another reason to honour him. Philip is the only person in history known to have snogged Ann Widdecombe (they were contemporaries at Oxford: Widders kept one foot on the floor, we believe, at all times). His courage, as I say, is not in doubt.

* APOLOGIES TO the Scottish reader who wrote asking me to stop writing about Gaunty, on the grounds that his column – absent on Friday; he's probably whisked his family off for a half-term break in Saudi Arabia – doesn't feature in The Sun's Scottish edition. Sorry, but I can't promise that when I'm leading an outing of the provisional skinny latte-sipping wing of the Gaunty Fan Club to his Q&A show on Sunday week. But if and when Rebekah is located, I'll have a word with her about correcting this bewildering omission north of the border, and all will begin to make sense.

* AS FOR Kelvin MacKenzie, those persistent fears about his declining memory do not abate. Last week, Kelvin directed Sun readers to YouTube to watch Matt Damon and comic Sarah Silverman serenade the latter's gentleman caller Jimmy Kimmel with the song "I'm Fucking Matt Damon". "It's hilarious," wrote Kelvin, "and, you will be pleased to learn, contains bad language." This is worryingly amnesiac on two levels. First, Kelvin, who never misses this page, will have read about this video here many weeks ago. And second, he has forgotten his status as the country's leading warrior for clean language since the death of Mary Whitehouse. You will recall, even if he cannot, his livid outrage at Jonathan Ross's "disgusting" cruderies during an interview with David Cameron.

* FINALLY, I wish to say a few eulogistic words about our outgoing guv'nor Simon Kelner and his editorship of the last decade. That's what I very much want to do. Sadly, in the absence of any official confirmation that he will retain the power to hire, fire and award Fayedesque salaries when he becomes managing director, I can't really justify the space. Perhaps next week.

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