Matthew Norman's Media Diary

And Scoop of the Year goes to...
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The Independent Online

With weeks to go until the Press Gazette awards ("the Oscars of our industry"), may I be first to nominate The Sun for Scoop of the Year, for its brilliant exposé last week of the Fathers 4 Justice plot to kidnap Leo Blair? The most reliable indicator of a story's quality is the bitterness shown towards it by jealous rivals, and this splendid world exclusive has been cruelly attacked on several fronts.

I'd like to deal with them one by one. Firstly, the notion that No 10 planted the story with Rebekah Wade, to deflect attention from Ruth Kelly's difficulties, is preposterous. The Prime Minister, who became so close to my old friend Paul Johnson and the Daily Mail in the distant days when they were compadres in the fight for family values (see Richard Littlejohn below), is the last person to use the façade of friendship to manipulate the media. So if Rebekah and her husband Ross, the Erin Pizzey manqué, are regular Chequers guests, that's an entirely social thing.

Secondly, the idea that the police were the primary source is equally laughable. Under Sir Ian Blair, the Met takes as clinically hands-off an approach to publicity as Mr Blair. Finally, and most distressing of all, we come to the doubts cast on the story's credibility. The likes of the Telegraph's Tom Utley affect to doubt that some bozo talking in a pub after a few pints about lifting the PM's son constituted a serious threat. Yet consider how little security surrounds Western leaders these days, and how members of F4J have taken such trouble to blend into the background - by dressing as comic-book heroes, for example, and posing on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. These are cunning and highly sophisticated operators, more than capable of breaching whatever flimsy protection the Blairs enjoy, and Rebekah performed an invaluable service in bringing this dangerous plot to public notice. Now let that be an end to the carping, and roll on the awards.

I AM intrigued to learn that Andrew Lloyd Webber is the brains behind a year-long televised quest to find a new lead for his production of The Sound of Music. It is unclear how the idea came to his lordship, who takes a drop now and then on medical grounds (for years Andrew has suffered grievously at the hands of a tropical amoeba), but with the reality TV market so sadly denuded at the minute it sounds like a winner to me. Rumours that my musicals-fixated friend Gerald Kaufman intends to try his luck, meanwhile, are too infantile to bother with. Sir Gerald may consider auditioning for Captain Von Trapp, or even reprising his critically acclaimed Mother Superior from the 1987 Cheadle Hulme Operatic Society production, but he has no intention of trying his luck as Maria.

IF ANYONE involved with the BBC3 series Tittybangbang ("seriously funny comedy" as the incessant trailer insists; I beg you to watch it and decide for yourselves) would get in touch, in the strictest confidence: three questions. Who commissioned it? Who approved the scripts? Who authorised transmission?

WITH ANDREW Neil coquettishly continuing to leave the editorship of The Spectator vacant, one leading candidate strengthens his claims. Tatler editor Geordie Greig is well fancied for the post on the strength of his former career organising dinner parties for Andrew (always, curiously, involving Henry Kissinger) in New York. Yet there's a great deal more to him than that, and the rigorous approach he brings to interviews seems ideally suited to an upmarket political weekly.

"A tear slowly trickles down JK Rowling's cheek," is Geordie's opening to this month's piece on the author. "She is sitting in her large and comfortable drawing room in the Morningside area of Edinburgh. It is early afternoon: sandwiches and cakes are left untouched on the coffee table as she painfully recalls..." Just the man for the job.

THANKS TO this newspaper's Five-Minute Interview feature for unearthing an underrated political thinker. "I'd like to change people's perceptions of politics," revealed the GMTV presenter Fiona Phillips last week. "Politics is what we live in. I'd love to do a big PR bit for the government." Fiona does herself an injustice. Her interviews with cabinet ministers have provided the government with valuable public relations for years. As for her complaint about the snobbery towards daytime TV that leads people to denigrate GMTV, no one who recalls a multiple choice competition question about an annual movie awards ("Is it: A) The Oswalds; B) The Oscars; or C) The Olives?") will pick a fight about that. "A lot of politicians do it for altruistic reasons - they want to make the country a better place," says Fiona. I wouldn't want to alarm Paxo, but this is no time for resting on laurels.

RICHARD LITTLEJOHN'S return to the Daily Mail continues to enchant. "At the risk of coming over all Cyril Fletcher," begins an item clinically targeted at the younger reader. Myself, I'm not sure that the image of Richard coming over all or part of anybody, let alone a man who died a year ago at the age of 91, is suited to the pages of a respectable newspaper. Still, whatever rocks his boat.

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