'Fast Show' pals reunite for new comic escapades

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* When comedy partnerships go their separate ways, it tends to be for keeps. So it's warming to hear that Charlie Higson and Paul Whitehouse are bucking this trend.

Higson tells me the two have reunited to write a new television series.

Their last outing together was The Fast Show which, despite huge success, began to die a slow death after seven years, with reports of some on-set fallings-out.

Higson recently admitted that, by the end, filming the series "was like going on a long drive with your kids fighting in the back of the car".

But when I ran into him at Wednesday evening's British Book Awards, he told me he and Whitehouse were back at work and in the midst of creating something new.

"Paul and myself are busy now writing a completely new series," he told me.

"I won't say what it's about, but it will be a totally different format to The Fast Show.

"We've been friends for such a long time now that there was no way that we were not going to work with each other again."

The pair are also working on a British feature film, but Higson wouldn't say if any of his old colleagues would be cast in either project.

"Maybe, but it's not true that we fell out with each other," he added. "The show was wonderful fun, but it's just by the end of it everybody wanted to have a say in it."

* Most fans of Noel Coward would break out in hives at any comparisons offered between the legendary wit and that modern- day camp performer, Julian Clary. But they do have one thing in common.

Clary - whose previous TV work includes Natural Born Mincers and My Glittering Passage - has recently moved into Coward's former home in Kent.

The property is a secluded 16th-century farmhouse where Coward once entertained the likes of Cecil Beaton and Evelyn Waugh during the 1930s.

"Noel lived and wrote there happily for many years until he got fed up with the taxes and moved to Jamaica," says Coward's biographer Sheridan Morley.

"I believe Mr Clary is a fan, although I have to say that the two would not have much in common."

Friends of Clary say that he means to use the house as a retreat in order to finish his debut novel. It's apparently the story of a rent boy who specialises in strangling older men on request.

* Nicholas Soames is no longer a Tory frontbencher but the old rascal still enjoys causing a stink among the New Labour ranks.

Last week, Soames, below, tabled a question to Jack Straw asking him to define British interests in the Middle East.

As is customary, around five days later he got his reply.

"The Foreign Office told me that they'd received my request and that they would have to get back to me, which seemed a pretty dismal reply," says Soamesy.

"When they returned to me the next day, they then referred me to a bloody government website. It didn't seem to me to be an appropriate way to deal with a parliamentary question."

Quite, and the question was hardly taxing.

"One would like to think it wasn't the sort of question they'd have to go away and think about," he adds.

* If George Michael doesn't want his recent trouble with the authorities to become a joke topic on the London party circuit, I suggest he gets out more.

Michael, who was found not long ago slumped in his car with a stash of cannabis stuffed inside his pockets, was a no-show at a party held by the gay rights activists Stonewall on Wednesday evening.

After his long-term partner, Kenny Goss, arrived without him in tow, one guest was heard to ask the event's host Amy Lamé where he might be.

To which the radio DJ replied: "He's probably sat at home sucking on a spliff or something."

What cheek!

* Executives at the BBC expect the odd low blow from detractors but probably not from one of their own journalists.

But in a cheeky swipe at his bosses, John Simpson is the latest broadcaster to wade in against the organisation's foreign export, BBC World.

Earlier this week the Channel 4 newsreader Jon Snow told this newspaper that he thought World was a "tragicomedy".

"There are times when it's positively embarrassing watching it," he said.

And Simpson has backed him up. "I agree with him," he said at a talk in Whitehall this week.

"It's totally starved of resources. It's produced on a shoestring of people who work too hard, mainly out of loyalty.

"It's a pity because I think this country has it in its grasp to be the broadcasting superpower."