Clash of the anchormen as Neil goads Dimbleby

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The Independent Online

* When giants of broadcasting go to war, people get hurt. So stand by for fireworks, because we're about to witness almighty "handbags" between TV's finest political anchormen: David Dimbleby and Andrew Neil.

For some time, Neil has jollified his late night show This Week by making disparaging remarks about Dimbleby's weekly showpiece Question Time, which precedes it in Thursday's TV schedules.

A fortnight ago, Neil wondered if any viewers of QT, which featured all three of the Lib Dem leadership candidates, had managed to stay awake, declaring: "What a yawn!"

Now Dimbleby has struck back. Last week, a senior colleague on the Question Time editorial team was authorised to write a formal letter of complaint to Helen Boaden, the BBC's head of news.

As a result of this letter, Neil has been warned about his future conduct. Should he now take the mickey out of either Dimbleby, or his show, he'll face disciplinary action.

The affair is causing serious diplomatic problems at the BBC's Millbank political unit, which is anxious to retain the services of both men.

"David's always disliked Brillo, and the feeling is mutual," says a source there. "But this letter has pushed things over the top."

"This Week will not be trailed at the end of Question Time until they get a proper apology. But Andrew won't back down. It might sound petty, but there are two huge egos at stake here."

* Despite her many physical assets, Charlie Dimmock has never been fortunate enough to garner the honorific: "style icon."

Until now, that is. For Ground Force's bra-less wonder intends to launch her own range of hair and beauty products.

Dimmock's company Mucky Hands, which recently brought out a gardening kit for children, has trademarked a range of "personal care" products.

A spokesman says that, although the project is still at an early stage, Dimmock is currently in negotiations with a range of licensing partners.

"We're still very much at the licensing stage; the main focus is to ensure that nobody hijacks her ideas," she says. "This gives us a range of options."

Dimmock is following a grand marketing tradition. Her co-star Tommy Walsh has lent his name to a range of DIY products, while Alan Titchmarsh fans can purchase a range of branded products.

The bestseller, according to those in the know, is the Titchmarsh "garden gnome" coffee mug.

* Fascinating to see Deeyah, an Asian pop star nicknamed "the Muslim Madonna," telling papers that her music has inspired death threats from religious extremists.

A similar thing happened last year, when she claimed to have been targeted by Muslim gangs offended by her racy image.

There is but one problem. The Muslim Council of Britain does not reckon that Deeyah, inset, is actually a Muslim after all.

"Her real name is Deepika Thathaal," says their spokesman. "That's certainly not a Muslim name: it is identifiably Hindu. Our suspicion is that this is all a big publicity stunt."

That would certainly figure: Deeyah's recent publicity coincides nicely with the fact that she embarks on a promotional tour next month.

However, a spokesman insists otherwise, saying that she's been forced to hire bodyguards. "The police don't think it's a publicity stunt," he says.

* The Animal Health minister, Ben Bradshaw, is accused of adopting a Dad's Army attitude to bird flu, telling concerned members of the public: "Don't panic".

He's not the only Cabinet minister who seems determined to look on the bright side, though.

Last week, Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt published a response to House of Lords concerns raised about our state of readiness.

Aside from dismissing every criticism levelled at her department (natch), Hewitt's report claims that bird flu isn't all bad news.

"The Government also recognises the unique opportunities that a pandemic would present for research," it reads. Every cloud!

* It's another British bloodbath! Hollywood bigwigs behind The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe are chopping our finest acting talent from its sequel.

Industry sources describe this as an enforced cull. "Disney decided to choose Prince Caspian as the next film, because it's the only book that involves the same four children," I'm told.

"But half the other characters, like Tilda Swinton's White Witch, don't feature. So they've had it. Another victim is Mr Tumnus, the fawn played by James McAvoy."

When I ran into Shameless superstar McAvoy at Monday's Elle Style Awards he was licking his wounds.

"They've begun work on the second film, but so far no one's called me," he said. "It's fair enough, as Tumnus is not in the book. But I could be persuaded."

pandora@independent.co.uk

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