Matthew Norman's Media Diary

Some things never change

IN THE WEEK the Requiem Mass was sung for Fleet Street, what a joy to learn that some of the old spirit survives. For this morale-booster, we thank a vignette played out in central London soon after Rupert Murdoch wiped away a tear ("Which heartless bastard killed it off?" he was overheard muttering to Rebekah Wade) to read the funeral lesson in St Bride's. A little later, diners outside the restaurant Roka were bemused when people inside began staring at them, until one turned around and twigged it. There, standing by the back door of a huge, black, chauffeur-driven car - one foot insouciantly perched on the car floor, the other grounded - a gentleman loitered with intent. Although not clad in the electric purple dinner jacket that lately graced BBC1's The Week, Andrew Neil's features are distinctive enough on their own, and as time passed he became quite the focus of attention. It is here that opinion diverges. One school of thought compares his pose to that of a copper on a surveillance job. Another

IN THE WEEK the Requiem Mass was sung for Fleet Street, what a joy to learn that some of the old spirit survives. For this morale-booster, we thank a vignette played out in central London soon after Rupert Murdoch wiped away a tear ("Which heartless bastard killed it off?" he was overheard muttering to Rebekah Wade) to read the funeral lesson in St Bride's. A little later, diners outside the restaurant Roka were bemused when people inside began staring at them, until one turned around and twigged it. There, standing by the back door of a huge, black, chauffeur-driven car - one foot insouciantly perched on the car floor, the other grounded - a gentleman loitered with intent. Although not clad in the electric purple dinner jacket that lately graced BBC1's The Week, Andrew Neil's features are distinctive enough on their own, and as time passed he became quite the focus of attention. It is here that opinion diverges. One school of thought compares his pose to that of a copper on a surveillance job. Another - our preferred version - likens his fidgety vigil to a 15-year-old boy waiting nervily outside her parents' house for his date. Anyway, after some 10 minutes, Andrew finally plucked up the courage, went in, emerged with a young woman believed to be a waitress, and off they rode together into the depths of a West End night. At this poignant moment in the history of a declining industry, we salute Andrew for this reminder of jollier days, when rival editors faced each other in the libel courts over Playboy-related allegations. As long as the boulevardier is still active, a little slice of old Fleet Street will live on in him.

I AM INTRIGUED to hear that the BBC's Huw Edwards, who crossly denies suggestions that he reads the news without writing it, teaches journalism at a college in Wales in his spare time. If any of Huw's students care to get in touch to discuss what form this tuition takes (Module Six: When Doing a Live Two-Way With Matt Frei in Washington, How Many Times Should You Address Him As "Matt"?), a very small cheque - unsigned, and dated 3005 - will be in the post some time towards the end of autumn.

DESPITE EMPLOYING as media editor the heroic Matt Born, who recently beat three world-class players in a televised poker tournament, the Daily Mail's view of gambling remains dim. Last week, with the spotlight returned to the startling financial power of internet sites, it produced a thunderous piece on the evils of online poker. Why this was illustrated with a picture of a backgammon board is unclear, but let no one doubt that the paper knows its subject inside out.

ELSEWHERE IN THE Mail, meanwhile, was another run-out for Rachel Royce's much loved piece about the break up of her marriage to Rod Liddle. This article, reworked each time with the infinitesimal subtlety of a Japanese haiku, is one of the few points of permanence in a fast-changing world. It is next scheduled for late July, and then for early September, mid-October, and twice in November. There are no plans yet for a Christmas Special, nor any firm dates for 2006.

ALSO CONSIDERING THE errant husband is Bel Mooney, whose agony aunt column in The Times shows a loss of creative energy. In reply to Eileen, whose old man has started up with an old girlfriend, Bel begins brilliantly, revealing that having Eileen's letter in her handbag greatly enriched her visit to an art gallery ("Gainsborough's portrait of the actress Mrs Robinson hides a tale of rejection, but how can we know what happened to Velasquez's Lady With A Fan?"). After that, though, she never scales the heights of the previous week's counsel to the mother of teenagers suffering fraught meal-times with their domineering father ("Search for some plain wooden napkin rings to decorate. The identical outsides will bear all four of your names, symbolising the group"), I'm sure this is just a temporary dip in form, and look forward to Bel bringing the tableware off the relationship-mending bench as soon as poss.

WITH THE 2112 Olympic decision imminent, Radio 5 Live had an exclusive interview with the Prime Minister. Whenever a media outlet comes by such a scoop, casting is crucial. So who better to chat with Mr Blair than Brian Alexander, who as The Sun sports editor oversaw the portrayal of Graham Taylor as a turnip? After the interview, Brian was quick to cement a reputation as an underrated social commentator. Getting children to play more sport, he observed, would end youth obesity, drug abuse and crime at a stroke. If the sports bulletin that followed touched on the arrest, in Holland, of Arsenal's teenage winger Robin van Persie on suspicion of rape, this was neither here nor there.

FINALLY, ON THE conclusion of Doctor Who's comeback series, my twopenn'orth of sycophantic adulation for Russell T Davies for a miraculous revival, and some of the best scripts TV drama has known for years. The loss of Christopher Eccleston is a blow, of course (especially to those who have had the fabled pleasure of working with him), but we look forward to David Tennant in the next series. Incidentally, plans to hire Simon Heffer as The Hefferlump - a part-organic, part-robotic madman hell-bent on bringing Enoch Powell back to life - have been shelved due to concerns about the show's pre-watershed start time. But Simon will definitely be signed up to play one of the Slitheen, should that portly family of intergalactic mercenaries make a comeback in series two.

m.norman@independent.co.uk

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