More than a month after the death of Lynda Lee-Potter, there are signs that the process of crowning the new First Lady of Fleet Street may be nearing its conclusion.
More than a month after the death of Lynda Lee-Potter, there are signs that the process of crowning the new First Lady of Fleet Street may be nearing its conclusion. When last we examined the odds, as compiled by Graham Sharpe of William Hill, Polly Toynbee was the 100-30 favourite "with a run", ahead of Amanda Platell on 9/2. It was 7-1 bar the pair, which bought in the likes of Mad Mel Phillips, Esther Rantzen, Simon Heffer, Andrea Dworkin, Gladys from Hi-de-Hi! and many others. But the woman approaching the last, well clear of the field, was such a long shot that she brings to mind Nortons Coin winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup at 100-1. Would you Adam'n'Eve it - it's Jenni Murray. At first glance, you probably wouldn't, what with Jenni's long tenure on Radio 4's Woman's Hour (Alvar Liddell introduced her for the first decade) seemingly positioning her among those PC-gone-mad, metropolitan elitists, who play such merry hell with Paul Dacre's blood pressure. Yet before she yielded that space to the incomparably more talented Carol Sarler, Jenni wrote a column for the Daily Express, demonstrating the earthy common sense and rigid certainties that tend to soothe the little ladies of Middle England. Jenni, a keen Mail reader, tells an acquaintance she's been offered the job, but is anguished as to whether the lure of a huge salary and the loftiest bully pulpit in newspapers is worth the sacrifice of the Woman's Hour gig. We wish her well with this agonising decision, and look forward to that first puff of white smoke.
* With voting under way for the What the Papers Say Awards, I am asked to make an appeal to the show's presenters who form the electoral college. On no account are you to vote for Piers Morgan as Editor of the Year, as one of you has regrettably done already. It would be monstrously embarrassing for those at the Mirror Group table if Piers were to stroll up to the dais. Please.
* I find myself too shocked and distressed by one putative departure from the Commons to address it yet, so we'll give the tranquillisers time to work by considering another that is guaranteed. Tony Banks, the mother of Parliament's closest thing to Forrest Gump (stoopid is as stoopid does) will not stand at the next election. It is for political columnists to analyse his contribution. To them we delegate the task of judging whether his suggestion, when sports minister, that foreigners working here should be allowed to play for England trumped his motion - tabled on the eve of the Iraq war - demanding clemency for the occupants of Baghdad Zoo. My job is to look ahead on his behalf, and to this end I commend him to the controller of Radio Five Live. The station's downmarket lurch has begun to stall lately. A johnny-come-lately Chelsea fan ranting at phone-in callers would be just the thing to kick-start it.
* Following the bold experiment with Punch, Mohamed Al Fayed is said (and this is frankly little more than bar talk) to be contemplating another foray into the world of media. This time it is telly that catches his eye. Mohamed is apparently keen to pay that other leading monarchist Rupert Murdoch the £1m needed to rent space on the Sky satellite network. The possible involvement of Keith Allen and Victor Lewis-Smith suggests that rumours about the name - the Passport Application Channel has been mentioned - are childish inventions. Mohamed has set aside a start-up fund of £4m, and fingers crossed that when the time comes, he'll find some way of mastering his phobia of making an arse of himself on screen (you will recall his rap with Ali G, if not his majestic cameo as a Harrods doorman in Sara Sugarman's Brit-flick classic Mad Cows).
Now then, to that other potential departure from the Commons. According to a diary in a so-called rival newspaper, my friend ... no, it's too soon. Another handful of pills may do the trick.
* Fears escalate that Times editor Robert Thomson has developed writer's block. It is almost a fortnight since Robert's last lengthy letter to readers about the paper, its shape, its splendour and its unique significance to national life appeared. Before then, Robert was churning out these electrifying missives at a rate of one every other page (sometimes more; one Saturday, he sequestered the entire sports section), so perhaps burn-out was inevitable. Even so, his publisher Random House must now decide whether to cut The Complete Works Of compendium from five volumes to four, or postpone the launch until autumn next year.
* And so, finally, to that other possible departure from the Labour benches. It concerns, sad to say, my friend Gerald Kaufman, whose Manchester Gorton seat is reportedly being targeted as a key marginal by the Liberal Democrats. Regardless of where a defeat for Gerald would leave the media select committee Gerald chairs with such mannerly charm, it seems unbelievably cruel. After all, at the last election Gerald held on wonderfully with a majority barely worse than halved. Attempts to pass a message of support have failed so far (he's been frantic this week rehearsing the Joel Grey role for the forthcoming Blair Players production of Cabaret), but I expect to see him at the Dusty Springfield Convention at Olympia on Wednesday, and will report back next week.
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