The Feral Beast


Get ready for the 'fantasy schoolmaster'

After spells at 'the Daily Telegraph' and 'Daily Mail', Harry Mount has joined 'Reader's Digest'. The 36-year-old son of writer and novelist Ferdinand Mount and cousin of David Cameron has been snapped up by my colleague Sarah Sands, recently appointed editor-in-chief of 'Reader's Digest' in Britain. "Harry acts as a fantasy schoolmaster," she says. "We refer to him as 'Sir' in the office." Mount is working on the digest section at the front of the magazine, and is in charge of the much-loved Word Power column, which aims to help readers extend their vocabulary. He will also write a column called 'Nuggets'; Sands calls it "a quirky digest of educational wisdom".

Fern Britton: out of the frying pan and into the fridge

A splendidly timed appearance by Fern Britton in the What's In Your Fridge slot in 'London Lite' last week. It was a curious moment for Fern to tell London's Tube-using masses about her gastronomic proclivities, following the previous week's hoo-ha over her secret gastric band. It will certainly have confounded some journalists, as Fern has been vehemently turning down interview requests – including from 'The Independent on Sunday' – since the fuss began. So how did 'Lite' land such an exclusive? An insider tells me interviews for that slot are conducted weeks in advance, and it was only by chance the paper found itself sitting on a delicious little scoop. No doubt Fern was delighted by its timely appearance.

The 'sycophant' says sorry

Sir Peregrine Worsthorne has grudgingly accepted an apology from 'The Spectator' after the magazine's editor, Matthew d'Ancona, meddled with his copy in a craven attempt to avoid offending the rag's proprietors, the Barclay brothers. The apology comes after Sir Peregrine lodged a complaint with the PCC, as first reported here. Although he accepted the wording before it was published, he would have liked a stronger punishment. "I wanted the PCC to wrap the editor over the knuckles for excessive sycophancy," he tells me.

Critic in court drama

Theatre critic Lloyd Evans will put himself at the mercy of colleagues when the curtain rises on his own play. 'Grand Slam', a comedy about the Wimbledon tennis set, opens at the King's Head Theatre in north London on 24 June to coincide with the start of the tournament. Evans has previously co-written two plays with fellow 'Spectator' columnist Toby Young, one of which was offered a West End transfer. But he admits: "Sport and theatre have never been happy bedfellows, particularly when there is a big football competition on."

So who tried to steal the President's pillow?

After the excitement of interviewing President Bush on Air Force One, 'Times' journalist Tom Baldwin filed a short piece on life inside the flying White House. In it he revealed that "one 'Times' journalist was told to put back the pillow he was stuffing into his bag" during this latest trip. Well, who could the mysterious thief be? The full interview carried just two bylines – Baldwin's and that of Gerry Baker. So unless he was writing about himself in the third person, it was a very poor attempt to preserve Baker's anonymity. Over to Baldwin: "Don't assume anything ... I wouldn't be the only journalist who writes about himself in the third person, would I? You'll just have to guess."

Walter Mitty puts in a seven-day shift at the 'Telegraph'

Two weeks ago this column learned of plans to integrate further the daily and Sunday titles at the Telegraph Media Group. When it was put to the company's press office, a spokeswoman said: "There is absolutely no question of introducing a seven-day 'Telegraph' operation." Funny then that last week the group announced the integration of news operations across the 'Daily', 'Sunday' and online 'Telegraph's, following earlier mergers on the business, comment and sport desks. The same TMG spokeswoman now says that although the staff may be the same, the titles will retain "quite separate identities". As one exhausted staffer quips: "You don't have to be Walter Mitty to work here, but it helps."

Let's hope they've never watched a disaster movie

Top nobs at Associated Newspapers are setting off for a blue-sky thinking break in San Francisco this week. The assembled company will include 'Mail' editor Paul Dacre, proprietor Lord Rothermere (pictured) and 'Evening Standard' editor Veronica Wadley, along with directors Kevin Beatty and Guy Zitter, 'Mail on Sunday' editor Peter Wright and 'MoS' executive editor Ted Verity – in fact all the most senior people at Associated. When the Royal Family travel abroad en masse, they fly on separate planes in case of disaster. But I gather no such precautions will be taken next week, and the party will all be flying on just the one jumbo jet. Chocks away!

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