The Feral Beast: Farewell to Exeter bookshop

Spoiling a country supper near you

A witter of writers is up in arms after Exeter University got rid of its campus bookshop, and replaced it with a "Customer Services" desk.

Philip Hensher, Bel Mooney and Nicholas Lezard are among those horrified at the university's bizarre decision, as part of a £270m refurbishment. Now, where Blackwell's once stood, there's a counter offering dry cleaning, alcohol and chewing gum. Students can order books if they wish, though there aren't any actual books to browse.

Hensher, a Booker-shortlisted novelist who teaches creative writing at Exeter, says he is "ashamed" of the move. The university, ranked 13th in The Independent's league table, is calling it "a different model for academic bookselling".

Mooney has called it a "nightmare" and "unbearable", that "should be exposed". So we salute Hensher for criticising his employer. Only last year, he put some noses out of joint on campus by writing "a very unflattering portrait" of a provincial university in his novel, King of the Badgers.

New pastures for Giggs's silk

Have journalists won a small victory over Schillings, the terrifyingly effective libel lawyers? News reaches me that the firm, famous for winning injunctions for philanderers such as Ryan Giggs, is planning to focus more on blue-chip clients such as hedge funds.

The senior sports and media litigation partner Gideon Benaim, who represented Giggs and Naomi Campbell, has quit the firm, as has Matthew Himsworth, a senior associate, who is leaving to set up his own firm focusing on sports clients.

Intriguingly, Schillings recently cancelled its graduate recruitment scheme, and has cancelled contracts for trainees due to start in September. Despite the firm's reputation as the scourge of Fleet Street, super-injunction work makes up less than 10 per cent of its total turnover.

Senior partners have dismissed the idea that Mr Benaim's departure and the recent cuts suggest the firm is struggling, which is obviously splendid news.

Tables turned on 'NOTW'

One of the more colourful episodes in the history of the News of the World was the time its chief reporter, Neville Thurlbeck, was photographed naked on a table in a state of some excitement.

He had been sent to expose a naturist bed and breakfast in Dorset, where massages were on offer. Famously, he made his excuses and stayed. Happily, the B&B's owners Bob and Sue Firth, were suspicious, and secretly caught him on camera.

Now, they have published their account of the bizarre episode, in a move that seems likely to embarrass Thurlbeck, currently the theatre critic for the Surrey Comet.

Entitled I Made my Excuses and Stayed, the 342-page book relates the whole episode in exhaustive detail, and even comes with new eye-popping colour photos of the Firths in naturist poses.

"It was finished years ago," they tell me, "but while the News of the World was still in existence, no publisher would dare touch it. Neville Thurlbeck never gave us the opportunity of a right to reply ... but now the tables are turned this book is intended to do just that." A jolly holiday read, then.

A pal with a difference

John Prescott is delighted that his old friend April Ashley has been awarded an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours.

The former deputy prime minister has known Ashley, the first Briton to have a sex change, since the 1950s, when Lord Prescott was a chef at the Talardy Hotel in St Asaph, north Wales. Back then, Ashley was the barman and was still a man, though Prezza knew there was something different.

"I was 15," he tells me. "And on first impressions, she looked like a woman. He waltzed into the dining room wearing an eiderdown as a long ballgown."

He says they used to go horseriding together, and shared a bungalow, though they later lost touch.

"Back then, I didn't know what a gay guy was. But you knew there was a difference. And in the end, she got rid of the difference," he recalls. That's one way of putting it.

Seconds out, round one?

Tim Henman has, rather disappointingly, wimped out of Andy Murray's suggestion they slog it out in a boxing ring.

Two weeks ago, Murray suggested they should have a bout, after the Oxford Mail revealed Henman had taken up boxing in a south Oxfordshire club. "Henman vs Murray – that would be fun," said Murray at the French Open.

Murray has always been a fan of the sport, and says he wants to take it up after tennis. But Henman has played down his skills, saying: "In the neighbouring village there is a local boxing club.

"I've been working with a trainer with boxing pads, but only to keep fit. The world of boxing doesn't have to worry about me."

I wonder why the gentle Henman isn't keen to take on the world No 4?

There goes the neighbourhood

Private Eye editor Ian Hislop suffered a setback to his grand new life in Chelsea, when the council turned down applications for a gym and extension for the £4m town house he recently bought. But he'll be comforted to learn he lives one street away from Colin Myler, the final editor of the News of the World.

Though Myler now edits the New York Daily News, his personalised Range Rover still sits outside his house.

This coming weekend, the two streets are having a joint Jubilee party. No doubt the Mylers will be sure to welcome the Hislops to the neighbourhood.

A loony site for a blue plaque

Screaming Lord Sutch, founder of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party, is to get a blue plaque. It will be erected at the Ace Café, a bikers' hangout on London's North Circular, where Sutch whiled away the 1960s.

The plaque is being made by the Heritage Foundation, which is also commemorating the poet Rupert Brooke and drag artist Danny La Rue this year.

I wonder what English Heritage – which runs the main blue plaque scheme – makes of it all. They dole out plaques to unheard-of worthies.

'Archers' excite strong feelings

Does the Radio Times hate The Archers? The star letter in this week's edition is from a listener who says "one of the joys of The Archers is the Schadenfreude when a disliked character comes a cropper".

Sue Gedge, from Woodford Green, goes on in questionable taste: "I was delighted when the whingeing Adam was silenced by being put into a coma, and was only sorry he came round again so soon! Can Mr Yorke [acting editor of The Archers] also arrange for Helen to fall into a vat of melting cheese?" We'd sign the petition.

A million spare? Bag a bolt-hole

Looking for a bargain country bolthole? Then snap up Dunecht House in Aberdeenshire.

Owned for 100 years by the Pearson family, owners of the Financial Times, this magnificent John Smith mansion boasts 24 bedrooms, 16 bathrooms, a billiard room, ballroom and chapel. All this, plus 13 acres of gardens and parkland, comes for just £1m, the price of a small flat in Chelsea.

For the past decade, the Pearsons have used Dunecht as a furniture store.

Oddly, the house has received little publicity since coming on to the market. The only mention I've seen was in ... the FT. Fancy!

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