The Feral Beast: Laughing all the way to the altar

Eats the birdies that go tweet
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The Independent Online

BBC man trapped at the top

Peter Rippon was an early victim of the BBC scandal: he stood down as editor of Newsnight when it emerged he had axed an investigation into Jimmy Savile. But should he have left months ago? For I'm told he had been unhappy in his job for some time, and had asked to move to a different role within the BBC.

My source tells me Rippon approached Helen Boaden, his line manager, up to five times, but each time his request was denied. Rippon took over as editor of Newsnight in 2008, when Peter Barron left to head Google's PR. Rippon was not an obvious replacement, having more experience in radio than television; in an interview with this newspaper in 2009, he admitted "being rubbish" at the technical side of TV.

Despite breaking some notable stories, Newsnight has seen its ratings drop from 1 million in 2008 to 450,000 under Rippon. When I interviewed him in 2009, he admitted he was hardly ever in the studio when Newsnight went out, and complained of being snowed under with admin. He had to oversee severe cuts, and there were murmurings of staff discontent, with political editor Michael Crick quitting last year.

Rippon declined to comment. The BBC said: "We cannot omment on individual members of staff."

Possum's pile

The death of T S Eliot's widow, Valerie, raises the question of what will now happen to the writer's papers. For 50 years, Valerie Eliot fiercely guarded her husband's estate, blocking publication of his letters, and forbidding biographers from quoting even the poems. Now, academics and biographers are nervously waiting to hear the instructions of her will, which will decide what can finally be released.

Some are hoping the whole lot will be left to a British university, with Oxford a likely candidate: Eliot was a scholar at Merton. But he also spent time at Harvard and the Sorbonne, and Harvard would have the resources to catalogue the vast archive. Valerie's grip on the Eliot estate is a source of contention: some say she was merely following Eliot's wishes, as he didn't want a biography to be written. Others, such as Carole Seymour-Jones, have fed speculation about his sexuality, and suggestions of anti-Semitism.

"What we want now is to get the whole lot catalogued as quickly as possible," said one Eliot scholar. In 2007, Faber put pressure on Valerie to let an editor help her collate the letters for publication, which she had spent 30 years working on, and the complete poems are to be published in the next 18 months. The complete prose is also to be published in America. Surely then it will be time for a new biography?

Charity loot

Much spluttering on frappuccinos among the Boden-wearing mums of south London. They have discovered they have unwittingly been paying for the care of one of the Great Train Robbers, James Hussey, who revealed on Monday that he had coshed the driver all those years ago.

After his death-bed confession, it was reported he had died at the St Christopher's Hospice in Sydenham, south London. Apparently, the hospice is partly funded by a charity shop in East Dulwich, popular with local yummy mummies. "I had no idea that the hundreds of pennies I have spent there have gone towards looking after a violent criminal," says one.

"The St Christopher's Hospice shop sells some good stuff and is very popular, but who knew the money was going to help a great train robber? Makes me think twice about going back." There's charitable for you.

Arianna Who?

Arianna Huffington is a busy woman, but she has found time to write a foreword to the 2013 edition of Who's Who, the networker's bible. It's a strange piece of writing, saying not very much about the 165-year-old book, and a lot about social media and technology. She is, after all, the founding editor of the Huffington Post news aggregator, which she sold to AOL for $315m last year.

The essay is so bonkers and incomprehensible that quoting it doesn't do it justice: "The first trend is a Garden of Eden blooming with engagement and self-expression, the second trend is the snake in the garden." Eh? Huffington has run into scrapes with her writing before: her biographies of Maria Callas and Picasso drew allegations of plagiarism, which she denied.

She concludes her essay thus: "As Lady Boothroyd wrote in her foreword to the 1998 edition of Who's Who, 'Long may it continue to flourish.'" Here's to churnalism!

Please p'lice me

It's a victory for the lightweight! Ann Barnes, the independent candidate to be Kent police commissioner, has won the £85,000-a-year job. She demolished her Tory opponent, Craig Mackinlay, who had sneered at her for using a Gilbert and Sullivan song as part of her campaign.

A video on her website had reworded the lyrics of "I am the very model of a modern major-general" with "She is the very model of a Kentish p'lice commissioner"? Mackinlay said it was a "curiously lightweight approach to what is a serious election". Who's got the last laugh now?

Culture vulture

When Veronica Wadley was editor of the London Evening Standard, she listed her recreations in Who's Who as "newspapers". Now, she is a member of the Arts Council for London, and appears to have lost interest in the press. Her 2013 entry says she likes "visiting London's theatres, museums and concert halls". Fancy!

Queen's award

High drama at the Portrait of Our Queen event yesterday, a competition open to children to submit the best painting of the monarch. As proud parents assembled at the Philip Mould gallery in London to see the finalists, news broke that the prizes had been stolen.

Annie Tempest, the cartoonist, had donated 28 drawings, which were being delivered by the journalist Charlotte Metcalf in her car. But the car was broken into and all the drawings had gone. "Happily, we were still able to award the main prize of a trip to Venice," Metcalf tells me.


One thing Downton Abbey could never be accused of is a lack of imagination. Pat Hillman, a retired optician from Wales, has written to the Radio Times with a niggle:

"I was amused by Downton's assurance that after eye surgery, Mrs Patmore just wears glasses for reading! In the 1910s, cataract surgery would have involved 'needling' the natural lens, and very thick, high-power spectacle lenses would be needed to compensate for this for regular wear.

"Stronger ones still were needed for reading. Intra-ocular lenses … only became commonplace in the 1970s and '80s. Mrs Patmore is fortunate to appear in a drama, where all manner of miracles occur."

Laughing all the way to the altar

Visors off for poker pro and TV quiz host Victoria Coren and comedian David Mitchell, married yesterday in London. Victoria's brother, food critic Giles Coren, gave his sister away: their father, humourist Alan Coren, died in 2007. Mitchell's best man was his other life partner, Rob Webb. Vicky tweeted at 2am that she couldn't sleep. Last week, Giles said he'd given up alcohol, as he couldn't have a beer without adding in "a bottle of Meursault, a hearty rioja or claret, grappas, fags, a tequila session, hard drugs and frantic rumpy with a stranger". So the drinks bill should be cheap....