Now Archbishop turns charm on the Fleet Street enemy

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The Independent Online

In an effort to heal old wounds, the Church of England has hastily arranged a high-level conference at which the Archbishop of Canterbury will spend a day with newspaper editors and senior TV executives, including the BBC director-general, Mark Thompson.

No agenda has yet been set for the long-overdue charm offensive, but it will take place under "Chatham House rules" at St George's House, Windsor on 8 December. Williams will come face to face with 30 members of the trade he criticised for "paranoid fantasy and dangerous bigotry".

"I think it'll be very helpful for people on both sides to break through stereotypes," says an organiser.

"We've kept rather quiet about it because it has to be a very exclusive event, but I hope that it will provide an opportunity to meet in an atmosphere of trust and understanding, and be extremely helpful in building bridges."

News of the conference will cause excitement in church circles, since such meetings have only happened once before, in 2000, when George Carey was Archbishop of Canterbury.

"That was very successful," reckons another organiser. "At the beginning, we had two groups of people who hardly knew each other. By the end of the day they were best friends."

* Oh joy! Griff Rhys Jones has at last agreed to show female fans what's been going on underneath those tailored corduroy trousers.

In what promises to be one of the most memorable nude scenes in TV history, Rhys Jones will be filmed diving naked into the Thames with two of British comedy's foremost matinee idols: Dara O'Briain and Rory McGrath.

It's in aid of a BBC2 film about Jerome K Jerome's novel Three Men in a Boat, to be shown at Christmas. And O'Briain says our national broadcaster is keen to see as much flesh as possible on display.

"I didn't think I would have to deal with nudity clauses so early in my career," he tells me.

"I'm not keen on appearing naked in front of the British public, particularly after spending a month at the Edinburgh Festival, when it's fair to say I'm not at my most fit.

"So I am trying to get out of it."

* After two years in the job, Anthony Minghella is clearly growing tired of the demands of chairing the British Film Institute.

At the Edinburgh Film Festival this week, Pandora inquired - somewhat unoriginally, it has to be said - about his views on the state of our film industry.

"I'm fed up with being asked about the state of British cinema," came his reply. "I don't want to hear about it. I'm a wop, so I don't have to defend the rights of the British.

"We're such a misanthropic country and we're always seeing the bad in everything. It's so dull. The print press and the media always want to talk about what's bad in the industry. I certainly didn't join the BFI to moan."

Chin up, old boy!

* If Downing Street thought they'd managed to escape any difficult incidents at the Edinburgh Book Festival when Sir Jeremy Greenstock pulled out of his talk, they are in for a nasty surprise.

Greenstock - a former ambassador to the UN - was forced to cancel his lecture because the Government is attempting to block the publication of his memoir about Britain's policy in Iraq, The Cost of War.

But in his place, the Book Festival has arranged for a special visit from another surefire agitator.

It's good old George Galloway, whom organisers describe as "outspoken, unafraid, rebellious, never far from a headline". I couldn't have put it better myself.

* In a speech at the Edinburgh Book Festival, the cartoonist Steve Bell offered an insider's view on three of the biggest beasts in Westminster.

First, he accused John Prescott of wearing a wig: "I'm pretty sure it is: he's got very angry hair." Then he claimed Tony Blair uses Botox: "Just after the election, his forehead had all these craters in it. Now they're gone."

Finally, he offered thoughts on Charles Kennedy: "I love Charlie! You can tell when he's hungover, though: he's got eyes like pissholes in the snow. But I think he's off the sauce now."

Fascinating stuff, but is it true? Blair formally denies using Botox, while the Lib Dem leader has reacted angrily to questions concerning his drinking habits.

Prezza, meanwhile, hasn't yet had a chance to deny wearing a hairpiece. But it'd be a shame if he did: "Wiggy" Prescott has a certain ring to it.

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