'New Statesman' tells Portillo: 'You're fired'

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The Independent Online

Mind you, El Caudillo will still find it pretty hard to stomach news that he's been sacked as the theatre critic of the New Statesman after less than two years in the saddle.

In a rare blow to his otherwise successful, post-Westminster money-making career, he was quietly given the chop by the left-leaning weekly a few days back.

Although Portillo's slot was filled by Julian Clary yesterday, sources at the magazine poured cold water on rumours that the comic was a permanent replacement for the former Tory star.

"Clary is actually holiday cover," I'm told. "Michael was on a long-planned foreign trip, and won't leave for good until June. His replacement is going to be Rosie Millard, the former BBC arts correspondent."

Despite talk of a minor tantrum, witnesses say Portillo's sacking was taken on the chin - he does, after all, retain a lucrative Sunday Times column - even if he'll no longer command freebie tickets to London's hottest shows.

Meanwhile, NS editor John Kampfner declined to comment on the matter, referring me to his new arts editor, Alice O'Keefe. "I felt it was time for a rejig," she explained. "Michael has been great at it but all good things must come to an end at some point and all that."

* Could Martin Shaw be tempted to blow-dry that poodle perm one more time?

More than 20 years after it launched his TV career, The Professionals is returning to our screens. A modern version of the cult show is being created by the composer Laurie Johnson, whose firm Gainsborough Pictures made the original.

"Our UK broadcasting partners will probably be the BBC," he tells me. "We're getting on with the scripts, and casting is under way."

The show, about an anti-terrorist unit called CI5, is credited with changing 1970s fashion, by popularising the roll-neck sweater and leather jacket.

Sadly, Johnson - speaking to promote a concert for the RAF Association at Fairfax Halls in Croydon on Sunday - is unlikely to ask Shaw, 61, to take a role: "Martin [left] was good at the time, but we'll probably hire someone younger."

* Boris Johnson's posh-boy rugger tackle may not be the only abomination committed by a celebrity footballer this week.

Aldo Zilli has been hired to manage a team of prominent Italians in a novelty World Cup in Birmingham. His squad includes the boxers Joe Calzaghe and Enzo Maccarelli, and the pop group Kasabian's guitarist, Serge Pizzorno.

"I used to play for a non-league team in Italy, but I've got to be manager because I did my hamstring on Celebrity Fit Club," he said at the launch of his book Fish Cook. "It'll all be on Sky TV. So I won't be wearing a tracksuit on the touchline - maybe an Armani."

Asked about Gordon Ramsay, our best-known footballing superchef, Zilli adds, cheekily: "One day he might learn to cook, too."

* So, which MPs filled in Labour's "identikit" press release on the Home Office knives amnesty?

Yesterday, I reported Labour MPs were ordered to fill in duplicate press releases, trumpeting a nationwide knife amnesty.

A trawl through cyberspace shows that at least 19 of their number cut-and-pasted their details on to the dodgy document, obtained by Pandora.

The guilty backbenchers were: Lynne Jones, David Lepper, Russell Brown, Tony Cunningham, Sadiq Khan, John Spellar, Sandra Osborne, Helen Jones, Alan Whitehead, Alan Campbell, Diana Johnson, Betty Williams, Dawn Butler, Gisela Stuart, Sian James, Andrew Gwynne and Rob Marris. From the Cabinet, you also had John Hutton, and from Labour's high command, Hazel Blears. Drones!

* The failure of Plum Sykes to ban Pandora from her book launch on Wednesday yielded a "scoop" that may yet destroy her literary career.

Also swanning around Annabel's that night was a team of snappers from German magazine Blond, who were preparing a gushing feature on the fashion label Pucci.

The head designer at Pucci is Matthew Williamson, who (stay with me here) just so happened to have agreed to host Sykes's bash.

"The deal was this," said one snapper. "Williamson said he'd host the party. But he got his pound of flesh: Plum wore a Pucci dress, for our feature, and inserted several whopping plugs for the label in her novel."

A flick through Sykes's potboiler, The Debutante Divorcee, reveals half a dozen mentions of Pucci. "You might call it a sell-out," reckons my friendly German.

pandora@independent.co.uk

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