Abbott music show hits low note as director quits

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The Independent Online

Diane Abbott may no longer be the left-wing "firebrand" of old, but her blossoming media career can still make for cracking spectator sport.

The Hackney MP, right, is taking part in a reality TV experiment for the BBC, in which six celebrities are taught to play a musical instrument. However, Pandora gathers that the filming of the documentary - working title: Play it Again - isn't going according to plan.

For reasons that aren't clear, the director of the programme and an assistant producer have suddenly stopped working with Abbott. The rumour-mill is buzzing with talk of a bust-up. Sources at the documentary maker, Diverse Productions, say friction was caused by the replacement of one employee with another from the Caribbean.

"No one knows what exactly went on," I'm told. "But Diane seems to have been very keen on working with an expert in Caribbean music."

Amid talk of bad feeling, Pandora gathers that the BBC contacted Diverse last week to find out what was going on. "It's an interesting one," says a BBC source. "The director did indeed leave, though that was nothing to do with Diane Abbott. The assistant producer was moved to another area of the show."

The BBC has released this statement: "During production, it was decided to bring someone on board with specialist knowledge of African-Caribbean culture and music. Someone was duly appointed - no one has been sacked."

Royals silent on Harry blunder

Prince Harry, left, made headlines last week, after going on the toot with comely TV presenter Natalie Pinkham.

Reports of their unremarkable night out mentioned that Pinkham was ferried home, at 5am, in a Range Rover driven by royal bodyguards. This, according to one leading expert in such matters, should not have been allowed to happen.

"It's against all the rules and guidelines governing the duties of protection squad officers," I'm told. "They are paid to safeguard the royals. They are not meant to provide a free taxi service for their friends. Royal security costs the taxpayer millions of pounds, and incidents like this give it a very bad name."

Clarence House (as well they might) are reluctant to respond to inquiries about the matter. "We never comment on matters like this for security reasons," says a spokesman.

Hoff: Bobby's still a dazzler

David Hasselhoff, right, has explained his sudden decision - as revealed by this column - to pull out of his British pantomime debut.

He denies tabloid reports that he withdrew from Peter Pan because of unflattering press about co-star Bobby Davro.

"I wanted to do the show for my children, because my daughter was going to play Wendy," he said, at Mint Leaf restaurant last week.

"That's the only reason I was going to do it. Anyway, I got offered this part in America's Got Talent with Simon Cowell and decided to take that instead. But I'd love to come back and do it again, perhaps next year."

Book your seats!

Thaw encore

Sheila Hancock's memoir of her marriage to the late John Thaw was a surprise best-seller of 2005.

There will, therefore, be concern in publishing circles at news that she's struggling to complete the sequel.

"I've written the first two chapters, but I'm not that happy with them, so it may not happen," she tells me. "I've got an advance, but I am prepared to give it back."

Hancock, speaking at the first night of See How They Run, has other pressures on her time. She's about to take a cameo in The Catherine Tate Show and is in talks to star in a West End musical.

Of the memoir, she adds: "The first was called The Two of Us. I'm thinking of calling this one Alone."

Sexed up in translation?

Did Cameron Mackintosh sex up his new West End play? Fans of the puppet show Avenue Q - previously staged on Broadway - certainly reckon so. "This version is much, much cruder," I'm told. "They've added a blue gag with 'pussy' as the pay-off, and make passing references to a character's 'muff'. Then there's the puppet sex scenes. They're far more explicit than in the version I saw in New York. It must be Cameron's doing, he's got a wonderfully smutty sense of humour."

Over to the show's spokesman: "We had four weeks of previews when the cast did play around with some of the gags," I'm told. "The idea was to make sure that things the Americans found funny weren't lost in translation."