The Feral Beast: Rebekah's wizard in Oz

The growl from Tiger Bay

Rupert Murdoch has been invited to Baroness Thatcher's funeral but says he will not attend. What could possibly be making greater demands on his time? It's been claimed he needed to be in New York for a meeting. But back home in Australia he has been playing host to "this one" – Rebekah Brooks. His flame-haired muse, on bail for charges of conspiring to pervert the course of justice, is on a two-week visit to Australia with her husband, Charlie. My man in the cork hat tells me the couple have thrown themselves into the Aussie racing scene, and are spending this weekend in Sydney for an important race meet. I'm told Rebekah has even bought into a girls' racing syndicate, which includes Fran Ingham, daughter-in-law of poultry billionaire Bob Ingham. Brooks's trial is due to begin in September. What a pity to have to break up the party.

'Toxic' Toksvig

Sandi Toksvig has returned to Radio 4 with a new series of The News Quiz, the satirical current affairs show. But the Danish foghorn hasn't much of a sense of humour when at the wrong end of the joke. The writer A N Wilson recently penned a blistering attack on Toksvig in the Daily Mail, calling her "unfunny, toxic and a bore". I gather Toksvig's response, rather than laugh it off, was to write to the Press Complaints Commission. Needless to say, there isn't much it can do, given that, by its nature, it was an opinion piece. And Wilson's not alone: now Sarah Vine – wife of Michael Gove – writes in The Times: "Some things improve with age; The News Quiz, sadly, has really gone off the boil in its dotage." She goes on to single out her Times colleague Daniel Finkelstein as the only good contestant. That could just be because, at odds with the show's cheerfully undisguised left-wing tendencies, one of his recent riffs was a staunch defence of Gove, who had been had likened to "a foetus in a jar". What a vipers' nest!

Boris's climax

Michael Cockerell landed a scoop by getting Boris Johnson to admit that he would like to have a crack at being prime minister "if the ball comes loose from the back of the scrum". But the Mayor of London has quickly gone back to downplaying suggestions he's got his eye on Dave's job. In an interview with Tania Bryer for the US network CNBC, due to air on Wednesday, Boris claims his career has already peaked. "I was sad when [the Olympics] was over," he says, "because I kind of realised that was it, that was probably the juddering climax of my existence [laughs]. That's it." Unless a rugby ball comes loose, of course.

Drawers on

Helen Lederer became a household name thanks to her goggle-eyed appearances on Ab Fab. So how will her daughter make the big time? If her debut film is anything to go by, it could be for three-in-a-bed romps. Hannah Lederer-Alton (her father is ex-Independent editor Roger Alton) stars in The Look of Love, a biopic about Soho club magnate Paul Raymond. Directed by Michael Winterbottom, it has an all-star cast including Steve Coogan as Raymond and supporting roles from Stephen Fry, Miles Jupp, Tamsin Egerton, Matt Lucas and David Walliams. Hannah, who read English and drama at Bristol, is seen having a threesome with Coogan and Egerton. "I was nervous but the scene is more comedy then sex," she tells me. "I got on well with Tamsin and we had a laugh to overcome the awkwardness. Steve had to do a lot of smooching in that film. Our scene was more frolicking about and giggling on an enormous bed than actual sex. Undies remained on, thank goodness!" Hannah is now developing a comedy with her mother, Mutton and Lamb. "It will be a kind of mockumentary about us both wanting the same auditions, and arguing. Typical mother-and-daughter stuff."

Ken benefits

Ken Livingstone enjoyed a brief return to public life last week, appearing as a guest on Have I Got News for You. Ian Hislop quipped that the former Labour mayor had been invited on because "the BBC was worried about accusations of bias" in the light of its reporting of Margaret Thatcher's death. In fact, it was indirectly because of her death that he was asked, after a senior Tory pulled out. Ken told me: "I was asked in at the last minute because a Tory who was going to be on dropped out. I think it was Baroness Trumpington. I got a call 30 minutes before they started recording. Luckily I was quite nearby. It's very difficult for a sitting politician to go on a light entertainment show when a major political figure has just died. I think it would be difficult for a Tory to go on. Maybe she found it all too emotional."

Flower power

Did nature try to warn us Margaret Thatcher was about to die? Orchid growers from all over the world descended on the Royal Horticultural Society's London headquarters this weekend for their annual orchid show. Among those exhibiting was Ratcliffe's, a family firm from Winchester, which specialises in elaborate paphiopedilums. While most of their paphs were in bloom, I gather the Margaret Thatcher orchid stopped flowering a couple of weeks ago. "We were planning to display it, but it just stopped," co-owner Nik Whales tells me. "It's a shame and also quite strange." Spooky!


Richard Needham was among the Bufton Tuftons who paid their respects to Margaret Thatcher last week. He called her "a very great woman" and went so far as to call her "clearly the greatest peacetime prime minister of the last century". Needham was the Tory member for Chippenham and served as a minister under Thatcher and then John Major. But he wasn't always such a fan. In 1990, he was caught saying "I wish the old cow would resign" during a phone call, which was leaked to the press. The story was the first major crack in Thatcher's supremacy, and helped to accelerate her political demise. Still, that was then, this is now.

No, no, no!

Yet another Margaret Thatcher myth that demands to be cleared up: she was not the first person to say "no" three times in a row. That distinction, so far as we know, belongs to the painter J M W Turner. Selby Whittingham, secretary of the Independent Turner Society, tells me the great man ended a letter to his solicitor with it in 1831, as he was making his will. Whether Mrs Thatcher was aware of this when she thundered "No, no, no!" in the House of Commons will no doubt be revealed. Turner's life was not dissimilar to Thatcher's – born to a wigmaker and barber, he achieved fame and greatness during his life, and wound up at St Paul's.

Thank you for the reunion?

They haven't appeared on stage together in 30 years, dogged by rumours of rows and rivalries. Now, with rare unanimity, the four members of Abba are to collaborate on a new book. A giant pictorial biography, Abba: The Photo Album, will feature 500 previously unseen photographs from their own collections. Out next year, it will have contributions from Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid. Björn once vowed "we will never appear on stage again", though Agnetha raised the possibility of a one-off reunion two years ago. Go on, chaps... voulez-vous?

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