Google ensures it has good links to No 10

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The Independent Online

Like Tony Blair before them, Google has hired a "big gun" to help it spin away from a tight spot: New Labour's arch PR fixer, Tim Allan.

In conditions of near-secrecy, the world's largest internet company has employed Allan - Alastair Campbell's youthful former deputy - to put a shine back on its tarnished public image.

His firm, Portland PR, has been engaged to lobby both the British government and the national media, following Google's decision to allow the Chinese government to censor the content of its site.

Although exact details of the deal are unknown - neither side will talk, except to confirm they are "working together" - Allan, above, was apparently hired on the advice of Rachel Whetstone, a former colleague at Portland.

She left his team to work for Michael Howard at the last election before taking a job as head of communications at Google.

News of the appointment will be a bit cosy for some to stomach, since Google will now be able to count on a sympathetic reception from key figures from within both the Government and the Opposition.

It will also throw Allan's chequered past back into the spotlight, five months after he was accused of trying to make the BBC sack its Today programme presenter, John Humphrys.

That row blew up after Allan leaked a secret recording of an after-dinner speech - in which Humphrys made unflattering comments about Blairite politicians - to a Labour-supporting newspaper.

* Toys are being tossed from prams over Bryan Ferry's appearance at the Conservative Party's black and white ball last week.

The interior designer Nicky Haslam is spitting feathers, because he says Ferry had previously declined his invitation to the glitzy bash.

He was therefore highly offended to witness the singer - together with on-off girlfriend Katie Turner, left - attending as the guest of someone else.

"Bryan Ferry was supposed to be on my table, but he went and sat somewhere else," Haslam tells me. "I could have killed him."

In the event, Ferry was a guest of the former Tory MP Anthony Coombs, whose wife, Andrea, was on the ball's organising committee. "There are two sides to this," says a friend of Coombs. "Andrea got her invite in months before Haslam, so Bryan was always going to sit with her. Wouldn't you choose Andrea over Nicky, given the choice?"

Haslam - speaking at a private view for Stephen Cornell's latest exhibition - won't take that lying down. He's currently writing his memoirs.

* Tom Hollander cleaned up at the Evening Standard and London Film Critics' Circle film awards, but didn't manage so much as a nomination for the Oscars.

Perhaps he ought to have more respect for the big beasts of the American film industry, who after all gave him a big break in Pirates of the Caribbean.

Last week, Hollander told me that he's just landed a role in a Hollywood comedy flick called The Darwin Awards.

"I play a silly drunk rich person who tries to have sex with his wife in his Winnebago and crashes," he said. "It's all based on a true story, except that in reality they weren't English.

"I have a theory that in the US if there's an arsehole in a film doing something stupid they say: 'Make them British, now it makes sense.'

"If they want a daft idiot nowadays, they just get a British actor in."

* Andrew Marr gives a blokeish interview to this month's edition of an edgy, thinking-lad's magazine called The Word.

In the midst of the article, the BBC's former political editor is subject to a shattering revelation.

"Despite the fact that much of our conversation is about the oversensitivity of the political class, our exchanges are overseen (and taped) by a BBC PR man," it reads.

Golly! That's the journalistic equivalent of having your hand held by a teacher in the playground. The magazine ascribes this to an effort to prevent "something being said that could upset the delicate balance of relations between the BBC and the people in power."

Maybe so. But Marr's an experienced broadcaster, and shouldn't condone this sort of control-freakery.

* The reading public's decision to abandon romantic novels for gritty thrillers comes at a tricky time for Bryan Forbes.

In recent years, Forbes - the film director responsible for The Stepford Wives - has spent his free time toiling away on just such a book.

It was almost finished. And then, a couple of months back, disaster struck in the shape of a computer "glitch".

"I'd written 120,000 words, and one day my computer turned it into something resembling Finnegans Wake," he tells me.

"I've no idea how it happened, but it mixed up all the words and changed the small Ts to big Ts, so I had to start again from scratch.

"I'm rewriting three pages a day and I'm only up to page 221. You lose heart after a while." Chin up!

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