Eton shaken but not stirred by story of 007's schooldays

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The Independent Online

* With a remarkable degree of diligence, Eton College has seconded two members of staff to help with the literary renaissance of one of its most famous old boys, James Bond.

* With a remarkable degree of diligence, Eton College has seconded two members of staff to help with the literary renaissance of one of its most famous old boys, James Bond.

The comedian Charlie Higson - star of The Fast Show - is writing a series of books about 007's teenage years at the public school. To ensure he gets every detail correct, the college librarian, Michael Meredith, and his assistant Nick Baker have been instructed to help out.

Although the two have taken a strictly advisory role, Pandora gathers that Higson's novels will now gloss over some details that might embarrass the school's authorities.

Ian Fleming's Bond had an undistinguished career there, leaving after two terms due to "trouble with one of the boys' maids". The new version will meet with no such fate.

"There are two reasons for this," said Higson at the opening of Philip Grey's exhibition Music to My Eyes. "Firstly, the books are for 9-12 year-olds, who don't want to read about sex. Secondly, I now know that most of the maids at Eton are over 60."

Higson reckons diehard fans of Bond, left, might be unhappy with the project, commissioned by Penguin.

Meanwhile, Meredith explains: "We showed him the geography of the place, and tried to explain how it was in the 1930s. We've also explained the language of the college, because Eton has its own slang."

* UNLIKELY THOUGH it sounds, Johnny Depp has become a client of the Queen's wine merchants, Berry Brothers & Rudd.

Last week, the Hollywood star - who once spent £11,000 on a bottle of claret in a London restaurant - attended a "tasting dinner" in the cellars of the company's St James's Street store.

"He dropped in one day and spent 45 minutes here discussing wines with one of our salesmen," says a spokesman for the firm. "Then he made his purchases. I can't disclose details of what he bought, but he was invited back later to a private dinner."

According to one who was there, many guests at the dinner were blissfully unaware of their companion's identity.

"It was hilarious," I'm told. "Mr Depp spent half the evening telling toffs who didn't recognise him that his name was Johnny, and that he was an actor."

* JOHN MOTSON has bravely spoken out against critics of Craig Doyle, far right, the BBC Olympics presenter dubbed "Bimbo" by his many detractors.

"Craig has been very unfairly treated," Motson, near right, said at the launch of his book, Motty's Year . "When I think of some things people were saying about me in the early days, I wouldn't be here today if I wasn't pretty thick skinned.

"Besides, I've heard that Clare Balding thought he was a great colleague - kind and courteous. People should give him credit for doing as well as he did."

* Nicholas Soames is apoplectic, after falling victim to a cruel hoax. A letter has been circulated to various Fleet Street hacks - including Pandora - purporting to be from the Mid Sussex MP to a local colleague.

"Thank you for such a wonderful party on Friday," it reads. "The gifts were most generous and I attach a letter of thanks to be circulated as appropriate."

The letter goes on to discuss the details of what amounts to a minor political scandal. But Soamesy, below, is adamant it's a fake. "I've never in my life used the word gift," he says. "It's rather like saying toilet: it's a 'present', and everyone associated with me knows that."

With a delicacy that befits his station in life, he adds: "I never wrote a communal letter of thanks to be circulated, either. I'm not that fucking rude."

* Much gossip surrounds the inclusion of Matt Thorne's novel Cherry on the Booker Prize long-list, after The Sunday Times noted that (the virtually unknown) Thorne is a close friend of two judges: Rowan Pelling and Tibor Fischer.

Interesting, therefore, to see Fischer at the book's launch bash on Monday. "I think what's been said about this is very spiteful," he told me. "Just because I'm seen out drinking with novelists, it is unfair to make allegations. It is unfair on Matt.

"You also can't believe everything you read in The Sunday Times. After all, they were the ones who printed Hitler's diaries."

pandora@independent.co.uk

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