The Feral Beast: Bannister's restoration tragedy


As controller of Radio 1 in the mid-Nineties, Matthew Bannister famously got the revolving doors spinning. Nicknamed "the axeman", he saw off Dave Lee Travis and Simon Bates and brought in Chris Evans and Trevor Nelson.

Now a presenter on Radio 2, Bannister has decided it's all change at home. He is separating from his third wife and selling their west London home, which they have spent years restoring. Bannister married Katherine Hood, an American financier, in 2007, and they bought a period townhouse. Now the refurbishment is finished, Bannister, 55, says he wants a new life. "Yes, my house is on the market and, very sadly, I have separated from my wife," he tells me. Despite his reputation as a ruthless assassin – he is blamed for reducing John Peel's airtime – Bannister has had his own turmoils. He lost his first wife in a drowning accident, and his second wife died of cancer. Asked about the circumstances of the break-up, Bannister says: "No one else is involved and I do not have a new partner." The asking price for his 6-bedroom house is £7m.


Leading crime writer R J Ellory is at the heart of his own literary mystery, as he finds himself accused of being involved in a "sock-puppeting" scandal. This is the practice of going online to post glowing reviews of your own books, while taking a pop at those by your rivals. Crime writer Jeremy Duns claims to have found evidence that Ellory is the author of a five-star review of his own book, A Quiet Belief in Angels, on Amazon, posted under the soubriquet Nicodemus Jones. Elsewhere on Amazon, Nicodemus Jones writes several postings signing himself off as Roger, which is Ellory's Christian name, and tells one user: "The simplest way to have a conversation … is for you to email me through my website (, click on the contact button, and it comes direct to me)." Literary figures including Louis Barfe, Jenny Colgan and Matthew Sweet were among those lamenting this "nefarious" activity, and demanding an explanation. The Crime Writers' Association issued a statement saying it had become aware of the practice, and condemned it as "unfair" on the readers. "We will be taking steps to set up a membership code of ethics," it said. R J Ellory had not responded to a request for comment by the time we went to print.


Christine Emmett has a tough job on her hands, having been selected as the Tory candidate for Corby. The polls suggest she may struggle to maintain the seat vacated by the unpredictable Louise Mensch. But Emmett hasn't been helped by a press release issued by her party that quoted her as saying she was "truly honoured to be selected as the candidate for Corby and North East Hants". Er, last time we looked, Corby was more than a hundred miles from Hampshire, nestled in east Northants. Not knowing where you're truly honoured to be selected for could seem a trifle grand. Still, given that Emmett hails from nearby Rutland, we'll give her the benefit of the doubt, and hope it was a central office intern that was to blame.

For stunted grumps only

A fascinating insight into what is and isn't required of a civil servant these days. It's an advert from the Treasury, who are looking for a press officer. Beneath all the blurb saying how talented, energetic and innovative they want you to be, there's a panel called "Key competencies". There are nine of these, and each has a yes or no next to it. Achieving results. Yes. Thinking strategically. Yes. Delivering together. Yes. So which ones get a no? "Thinking and developing professionally" and "Appreciating people". Or in other words, only misanthropic amateurs need apply.

Moving on

Philip Hensher has had a complex relationship with the University of Exeter, ever since he satirised a West of England university in one of his novels. One Exeter academic was quoted saying King of the Badgers, which was shortlisted for last year's Booker Prize, had "gone down like a sack of worms". Now Hensher, who has taught creative writing at Exeter since 2005, is leaving. He is taking up a professorship at Bath Spa University, starting in January.

"I decided I would like to go to a university that would support my work," he tells me. Asked if he had fallen out with Exeter, he said: "Yes, I think I rather have." Another factor was Exeter's recent axing of its university bookshop. "It's difficult for a writer to want to go on working for a university that closes its bookshop." Hensher lives part of the time in Topsham, a small town in Devon, which was thought to have partly inspired his novel's fictional town of Hanmouth. Now he will leave Devon altogether, and commute to Bath from London. Will he miss his Exeter colleagues and students? "I'll miss my students." Ouch!

St Clare

We won't hear a word against Clare Balding, the face of this summer's sport. Still, her choice of the Daily Mail as the vehicle through which she wishes to tell her life story, by selling a serialisation of her autobiography, has raised some eyebrows. For it was The Mail on Sunday that "outed" her in 2003 as gay, revealing she was in a relationship with the BBC's Alice Arnold. Days later the Mail ran a story quoting a source who talked about a supposed "lesbian mafia", a "secret sect" which used to meet to "revel in their sexuality".

At about that time, Balding decided to stop writing her column for the Evening Standard, then owned by the Mail group. But that was then and this is now. Only the other day, the Mail ran a piece demanding "Why can't everyone be Clare Balding?" So having made her stand, Balding has allowed time, the great healer, to do its work.

Let's play 'I'm Barry Norman'

Despite turning 80 next year, film critic Barry Norman continues to entertain readers of the Radio Times. Well, most of them. Jackie Grant, from Oxford, has written in to complain that the fact he grew up in the 1950s is beginning to show.

"I'm tired of reading the misogynist comments Barry Norman injects into so many film reviews," she sighs. "He writes: "Nowadays [Pretty Woman] invites the tut-tut of disapproval for its sexism and rose-tinted view of prostitution (as personified by every man's dream hooker, Julia Roberts)." He refers to Richard Gere as "every girl's dream billionaire", the film as "Cinderella without the ugly sisters", and Roberts as the "archetypal tart with a heart". That's four sexist remarks in just a few lines." Sounds like a new game in the making.

Eva Figes, novelist (1932-2012)

Fans of the feminist novelist and critic Eva Figes will be saddened to learn of her death last week at home in Belsize Park. The mother of writer Kate and historian Orlando, she wrote 13 novels and three volumes of memoirs, and experimented with forms of fiction in the Sixties. In 2009, the British Library bought nine boxes of her correspondence for £20,000. Born in Berlin in 1932, she arrived in Britain as a refugee at the outbreak of war.

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