Pandora: Our Boys' curry in a hurry

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After Prince Harry's discerning comments about the "miserable" Army ration packs – Cornet Wales wants Jamie Oliver to pioneer bangers and mash with gravy in a bag – the Ministry of Defence public relations machine has cranked into action.

Yesterday, in a move reminiscent of John Gummer trying to feed his four-year-old daughter a hamburger during the BSE crisis in 1990, the MoD fired out a press release with photograph, showing forces top brass tucking in to new ration packs due to be flown to Afghanistan and Iraq.

The MoD insists the timing is a coincidence. The Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, appears to be grimacing, but the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Jonathon Band, judged the lamb curry "first class".

'Spectator' editor rides to rescue of sacked City worker

There is great kudos in having an article published by the glossy centre-right magazine The Spectator. And, as one aspiring young scribe has recently learned, there are also leaf-covered pitfalls filled with poisoned spikes.

Four weeks ago, a trader named Venetia Thompson typed a pacey piece for the weekly, edited by Matthew d'Ancona.

"Essex and the City: My life as a 'posh bird' broker," it was her account of working as a young woman on the hard-drinking, rough-bantering, testosterone-fizzing trading floor. The article was complimentary about her eventual acceptance as a member of the pie-eating gang, although she also highlighted the booze culture, pretensions, greed, casual racism and occasional violence of her colleagues.

Her bosses at the über-trader Cantor Fitzgerald did not enjoy reading the article. Just hours after The Speccie hit the newsstands, Thompson found herself frog-marched out of their quarters in the Square Mile. She lost her job.

Not for long though! Like the fabled Christian in sparkly armour, d'Ancona has ridden to the rescue.

Although Venetia had no previous contact with the magazine – the offending article was sent "on spec" – she has since had a provocative piece on Barack Obama published (white men say they admire him but have primeval racist fears of the black "super male").

Says d'Ancona: "She appears to be a very talented journalist and we hope she'll write for us in the future."

Cantor Fitzgerald declined to comment.

The hills are alive with the sound of backtracking

Andrew Lloyd Webber is ushering a new protégé under his wing. Summer Strallen, 23, replaces Connie Fisher as the West End's nun-turned-governess, Maria, in The Sound Of Music.

The Olivier-nominated Strallen has been favourably reviewed. The public learnt of her anointment in the teen tea-time soap Hollyoaks; the actress played a wannabe actress stalking the good Lord 'til she got the part. Lloyd Webber himself appeared in the drama to audition.

Reports explain that "Summer won the role six months ago via a normal audition... She was spotted by Lloyd Webber when she played a kitten in Cats four years ago and the pair stayed in touch." Presumably no one licked their whiskers like her.

Except that's not quite how it happened. Did the theatrical tradition of who-ya-know help? Strallen, niece of Bonnie Langford, tells Pandora: "The first time I met Andrew I was about seven. My family are in the theatre, so..."

Vintage Weller yarn

A sweet follow-up to Monday's tale that Paul Weller had not asked for a "bald hooker with no teeth", à la Marilyn Manson, on his concert rider (list of demands). Instead, the former Jam and Style Council frontman likes "six bottles of red wine (quality), 3x24 cans of lager and an iron and ironing board".

A reader writes: "Back in 1999, while recording his Heliocentric album at a studio near Farnham, he would drop into his local Oddbins, where I was employed as deputy underling. I like to think that the brief chats we had then over which reds to buy have shaped his desire for 'red wine (quality)' today.

"I would have recommended Norton Privada to him, from Argentina, then £9 a bottle, as containing the essence of good claret for a fraction of the cost. He was always charming and engaging."

Red flag

I hear of a touching social encounter between a tribe of Daily Telegraph editors and a delegation of Downing Street and Treasury officials, both sets of men happening to have undertaken fact-finding missions to a Japanese cultural establishment ("karaoke bar") late last Wednesday evening.

The Telegraph editor Will Lewis, his political editor Andrew Porter and the columnist Iain Martin chanced upon Gordon Brown's top spokesman Damian McBride in the bar. The fellows sank a few drinks together – Porter and McBride are chums – leaving the neon saloon when it closed at 1am.

All parties deny the initial riotous claims that they were "dancing in pink wigs", alluring an image as that is. A far cry from the days of Pall Mall clubs!

pandora@independent.co.uk

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