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Matthew Norman

Matthew Norman: At last a rival for Humphrys and Paxo


The Sun last week devoted many pages to covering the subject of violence committed by women against their men folk. "I want society to understand domestic abuse DOES affect men," said Ian McNicholl, whose former partner has been jailed for seven years for maltreating him horrifically, on the front page.

In Tuesday's edition of the paper there was extensive pictorial evidence of the abuse the victim sustained, presnted under the headline "Punched, burned, glassed & broken...by my wife-to-be". Among much else, the poor chap had a steam iron branded on to his arm, his lap doused with boiling water and cigarettes stubbed out on his penis.

All of which brings us to the inaugural Humphrys-Paxo Question of the Month. A day after all this appeared in the newspaper for which he writes, my favourite columnist Jon Gaunt interviewed Mr McNicholl on SunTalk the internet radio station which proudly describes itself as the Home of Free Speech.

"So you weren't enjoying it or anything?" asked Gaunty. "I wasn't enjoying it at all," replied Mr McNicholl. Well, it was hardly being tied to the bedposts with fluffy pink handcuffs, or having drops of hot wax dribbled on to his nipples, was it? Still, always best to make sure.

The Smart money's on?

As for The Sun's Bizarre editor Gordon Smart, mixed news for him in the new Rajar radio figures. Gordon recently had a splendid scoop with his front-page revelation that Chris Moyles' contract to present Radio 1's breakfast show will not be renewed, his hold on the youth demographic regarded by BBC bosses as alarmingly weakening. Unnamed sources then informed the Daily Mirror that the contract will in fact be extended, but given Gordon's insistence to the contrary one dismissed this as a self-serving leak.

So the bad news for Gordon is that Mr Moyles' audience has grown by an impressive 400,000, putting him within striking distance of supplanting Terry Wogan as market leader in the time slot. The good news, meanwhile, is that ... erm, we'll do some more digging there, and get back to you on that one.

Hawk's wind

Buoyed by the success of the neo-Con experiment he championed, not to mention his personal triumph in wisely reassuring us that fears of a major financial crisis were wildly overstated, Irwin Stelzer considers whether Trident should be recommissioned. Oddly enough, the old hawk believes that it should, regardless of professional advice to the contrary.

"It is not for the military experts to decide whether Britain retains a nuclear deterrent," begins a Daily Telegraph piece in which he posits that failing to spend billions upgrading a weapons system with an estimated 0.00 per cent relevance to the post-Cold War world will degrade Britain's global standing. This is already damaged, Irwin writes, "as a conversation with leading Pentagon figures makes clear".

Who'd have guessed that such figures would wish to flog us a fantastically expensive weapons system over which they have ultimate control? Quite a shocker there, but pleasing to note that the advice of military experts can be worth listening to when it suits.

ITV: Peter kicks arts

I am distressed by the misreporting of ITV's decision to drop The South Bank Show, which some seem to believe marks the final surrender to the Cowellite forces by a feckless, pointless commercial network that's been steadily declining into unleavened mass market mediocrity ever since the day that Carlton took the London franchise from Thames.

From all the accounts, you'd have believed this is not to the liking of Melvyn Bragg, who recently stated that ITV would be "mad" to abandon its arts coverage, and that he hoped to continue for many years.

Not a bit of it. "The South Bank Show and Melvyn go hand in hand, explains Peter Fincham, ITV's dapper director of television, "and given that he has decided to step down, we felt this was the right time to lower the curtain."

Our thanks to Peter for setting the record straight. In these difficult situations, brutal honesty is invariably the wisest policy, and Fincham is duly shortened to 4-1 joint favourite to succeed Michael Grade as ITV's chief executive.

A couple of number twos

A couple of poignant farewells to outgoing deputy editors. Alistair Sinclair is leaving his post at the Daily Mail, as you will have read, after many years' service as Paul Dacre's trusty number two.

Astonishingly little is known about Alistair, other than that he retained to the last an obsessive commitment to the dying art of the long and rowdy lunch.

In fact it's widely believed that, over more than a quarter century, he left the premises on two occasions in daylight hours, once during a fire drill, and once to collect his hairshirt from Sketchley.

Rather less enigmatic, finally, is Neil Wallis, who leaves the same post at the News of the World. Neil has been one of tabloid journalism's most proficient exponents and his long career was distinguished not merely by the stint as The People editor, during which he published long lens photos of the BBC Radio 1 presenter Sara Cox sunbathing naked during her honeymoon; but also in the role he continued to perform as upholder of professional ethics on the Press Complaints Commission.

No one present at the 1999 Press Gazette Awards, the Oscars of the newspaper industry, will forget his impromptu keynote address, when he stormed the stage to rail against anti-tabloid bias. A great man, grievously missed.