Falkender sees red over Wheen's 'Lavender List'

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The Independent Online

* One of the grandest dames of British politics is dusting down her sword of truth. Lady Falkender of West Haddon has decided to take on the BBC over its docudrama, The Lavender List.

The 74 year-old baroness who served as Harold Wilson's political secretary, has launched a legal action against the BBC4 programme, scripted by the Private Eye scribe Francis Wheen.

Her lawyers, Carter Ruck, have submitted a detailed complaint about the show, which was broadcast in March and explored Wilson's notorious resignation honours of 1976.

In a letter, they dispute several of the programme's key allegations, most notably that Falkender, then plain Marcia Williams, had an affair with Wilson during the 1950s.

They also deny that Falkender drafted Wilson's resignation honours, in which peerages and knighthoods went to political cronies.

As a result of the legal action, the BBC has cancelled plans to screen the programme, which received favourable reviews, on a terrestrial channel.

"A letter of complaint has indeed been sent, but Carter Ruck haven't actually started proceedings yet," said Wheen yesterday. "It's at a rather delicate stage."

Several of the disputed allegations were first aired in the memoirs of Wilson's former press secretary, Joe Haines.

It could all spawn a cracking libel case. "Haines is still alive, so if it ever reaches court we'll cross-examine both of them," reckons Wheen.

* Tom Cruise has failed in a long-running bid to prevent his least favourite episode of South Park being screened on these shores.

On Monday, a controversial episode of the satirical cartoon, "Trapped In the Closet", was shown at the National Film Theatre.

The show, which mocks Scientology, had been pulled by Channel 4 in January amid complaints over a scene in which a cartoon version of Tom Cruise is locked in a closet.

However, at this week's screening, which accompanied a talk by South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, guests were given free DVDs of the verboten episode.

Trumpeting this as a victory for free speech, the organisers say: "If we were charging, there may have been legal problems, but it was a free event, so it should be fine."

* Try as he might, Piers Morgan can't avoid fallout from the "City Slickers" affair, which returned to the news pages last week.

James Hipwell, who became Morgan's bête noire after being jailed following the share-tipping scandal, is serving time - with a security tag - at his parents' home in the Sussex village of Newick.

By a cruel twist of fate, Newick happens to be the location of Morgan's country home and local pub, the Royal Oak.

"I walked in to the Oak last Sunday and Piers was having lunch," says Hipwell. "It was obviously a bit awkward. But before I knew it, he'd got up and sped off in his Beamer, leaving half a pint behind."

Morgan denies being a girl's blouse, though. "That's absolute nonsense," he tells me. "I haven't seen Hipwell in years."

They can't both be telling the truth.

* Iain Duncan Smith hasn't yet been questioned by police investigating the so-called "cash for peerages" affair.

It's a strange omission, since at least three donors to his Tory party now sit in the upper house.

They are lords Laidlaw, Steinberg and Kalms, who dug deep around the time of the "Betsygate" affair, when the party had to pay IDS's £300,000 legal bill.

Are there plans for the topic of Betsygate scheduled to be looked at, now that the cops have decided to continue their investigation into the summer?

"No, not at all," says IDS's spokesman. "The question's never even been raised."

* When Mark Oaten went bald, he set foot on the slippery slope to rent-boys, coffee tables, and acts unsuitable for a family newspaper.

It is, therefore, with high excitement that Westminster gossips are discussing a further development to Oaten's ongoing mid-life crisis.

"On Monday, I spotted Mark in the parliamentary Post Office, sporting several days' worth of stubble," reports a colleague.

"Everyone reckons he's trying to grow a goatee. Say what you like about face fungus, it would make up for what he's lost on top."

Maybe so, but the Lib Dem MP's office insist their man has merely neglected to shave for a couple of days: "I don't think Mark's going to be appearing as Santa Claus any time soon."