Diary: Norton cool on Claudia show

News that Graham Norton's chat show may get the chop by budgeting BBC chiefs must have come as a shock to the normally ecstatic Irish TV host, who could be forgiven for feeling a tad persecuted of late. Certainly, when I accosted him at the launch of London's W Hotel last week, he seemed keen to put me right on one recent media misconception: that Claudia Winkleman is being lined up for a rival programme on Channel 4, potentially in the same Friday time-slot as his BBC1 show.

"I'm not nervous," he insisted. "Is hers a chat show? No, it's not. It's a totally different thing. And it hasn't even been commissioned yet. I'm not concerned in the slightest. If her show, which is only in the preliminary stages, gets made, it won't be a chat show. So why should there be competition?"

Calm down, dear. BBC1 boss Danny Cohen is said to be in a bidding war with C4 for Winkleman, who already hosts his channel's Film 2011. But given the Corporation's cash woes, can he afford her?

* This column's hard-won reputation for factual vagueness was burnished yesterday by my claim that John Bercow, the Cuban-heeled Speaker of the House, was forced to abandon a promising tennis career by a bout of glandular fever in his teens. Señor Bercow's biographer, Bobby Friedman, politely assures me that his version of the tale is, in fact, the correct one: despite being just two inches shorter than the current US Open champion, Kim Clijsters, Bercow proved too wee to compete as an adult. As the country's top under-12 player, he was coached by the former Wimbledon quarter-finalist Bobby Wilson, who told Friedman that, thanks to his height, Bercow "would never have been more than a good club player... As players get older they hit harder and volley more, so John found it more difficult. His was not an aggressive attacking game." As a tennis player, apparently, Bercow was popular, and known to be a considerate doubles partner. Sadly, the same can't be said of his tenure in the Speaker's chair.

* A stroke of luck for Jonathan Ashworth, Labour candidate for the Leicester South by-election (who, as I reported on Tuesday, hasn't had much luck at by-elections past: it was his bright idea to send campaign staff into the streets of Crewe and Nantwich in 2008 dressed as "Tory toffs", thus losing Labour the seat for the first time). Lib Dem candidate Parmjit Singh Gill, who was briefly the MP after a 2004 by-election, has pulled out of the race after a mere four days. Strangely, this was announced just as the Westminster press corps was preoccupied with the Budget. Singh said that after "much reflection" and discussions with his family (which, by all accounts, is large and very supportive) he'd decided to stand down, to be replaced by one Zuffar Haq. Might Singh have calculated, I wonder, that his chances as a Lib Dem in a by-election had diminished somewhat since 2004?

* One rare remaining electable Lib Dem is erstwhile leader Charlie Kennedy. This month, notes Prospect magazine, he was re-elected as Rector of Glasgow University: the first person to win a second term in the post since Benjamin Disraeli. A whopping 82 per cent of the student body voted for Kennedy, in a year when his party faces an ominous round of local elections. Cold comfort, I suspect, for Mr Clegg.

* More domestic details from the Gove household. The Education Secretary's wife Sarah Vine writes: "Whenever people start discussing football, something odd happens to my brain. It clouds over... as though I were gently falling asleep. A similar thing, I discover, happens when people talk about war. When the name Odyssey Dawn was first mentioned, my initial thought was: 'Didn't she win Eurovision back in 93?' Then I glimpsed the solemn faces of those around me, and realised that we were discussing matters almost as serious." Mr Gove is known to be one of the Cabinet's most hawkish members. Did he have Liam and Gideon round to the house for tea and flapjacks?

* A final achievement for the late, great Liz Taylor, who outlived her New York Times obituary writer by six years. Mel Gussow, a theatre critic for the paper, died in 2005, aged 71. His very first Broadway review was for Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, later made famous by a film version, starring Taylor.


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