Pandora: Simpson fears for the future of the BBC

Barely two months after Sir Terry Wogan claimed the BBC was no longer the world's best broadcaster, the corporation is facing what amounts to a vote of no confidence from one of the most respected voices in its news department.

John Simpson, the BBC's long-serving world affairs editor, has cast a bleak picture of the Beeb's future as the licence fee is "chopped away". Speaking at the Cheltenham Literary Festival yesterday, Simpson described the current model of the BBC as being "in the last stages".

"We are already cutting back on all our operations across the board, as a result of the effective cut in the licence fee," he said. "The future? Well, I don't think it's going to look very good for the BBC. I think the BBC we have known, for good or worse, is now in its last stages. It pains me after 42 years of working for it to think that, but I alas do. It will be very different indeed. It may be better, but I somehow doubt it. What the hell do I care? I'll be 75 or something like that."

As for his own future, after filing reports from over 100 countries including 30 war zones, Simpson was equally glum, reserving special vitriol for the men in grey suits.

"I shall no doubt be sacked under horrible circumstances. Things will be absolutely dreadful," he added. "I'll hate the so and so's – I hate them pretty much anyway, but I'll hate them even more."

Tweedy day out for Josh

Josh Hartnett appears to be taking to English life like a duck to water.

The Black Hawk Down star, who is currently treading the boards in the West End production of the Oscar-winning film Rain Man, has been spotted frequenting several London watering holes since arriving in the capital in August.

Just recently, I hear, Hartnett has also taken an interest in country sports at the behest of the Hong Kong businessman David Tang. "Josh recently got an invite to do a spot of pheasant-bashing," says my man in the waxed jacket. "Tangy apparently even took him to Holland and Holland in Mayfair to help get him kitted out. I'm not 100 per cent sure Josh had a go with a gun himself on the day, but would have certainly had all the gear."

Esler's work of political fiction rings rather true

The revelations about Gavin Esler's private life haven't just whipped the tabloids into a frenzy, they've also set tongues wagging in the world of publishing.

The Newsnight presenter was reported at the weekend to have left his wife and moved in with a "raunchy" musician 28 years his junior called Anna Phoebe, known in the industry as the "vixen of the violin".

Publishing sources gleefully point out that the affair has an eerie resonance with a novel that Esler, 55, released earlier this year, called A Scandalous Man. The book tells the story of an ambitious politician whose career ends when his affair with an Iranian journalist is discovered by the press. "With friends in Downing Street, the White House and the CIA, he is known as the brightest politician of his generation, tipped to go all the way to the top," says the synopsis. "But when the media discover Robin is at the heart of a shocking sex scandal, his glittering career comes to an abrupt end."

I do hope this won't be a case of life imitating art.

Quentin spells it out

Brad Pitt's long-awaited collaboration with Quentin Tarantino is causing quite the kerfuffle among movie buffs.

Yesterday, a press release was sent out announcing that cameras had begun rolling in Germany on their Second World War epic, to be called Inglourious Basterds.

Previously, all reference to the film had been made with the standard spelling "Inglorious Bastards", but apparently the incorrect new format is the way it should be referred to from now on. "We are not entirely sure the reasons why it has been changed. We think it just has to be one of those Tarantino-esque things," says a spokesman for the film's British publicists. "All we do know is that is definitely the title from now on."

Marketing experts reckon Tarantino could be on to something. The change of spelling certainly gets the producers round any problems they might encounter with advertising standards watchdogs when the film is released next year.

Deer cost of Vaizey's no-show

The Shadow Arts Minister, Ed Vaizey, appeared as a guest on Radio 4's The Westminster Hour on Sunday evening.

He had to give his answers down the phone line after failing to make it in to BBC Oxford, owing to a run-in with the local wildlife en route to the studio. "The car picking me up had a mishap," explained the Tory member for Wantage to presenter Carolyn Quinn. "I'm OK and the driver is OK, but a passing deer may not be OK."

Owen receives a welcome snub

Lord Owen and Quentin Letts, the Daily Mail sketchwriter, were speakers at a literary lunch organised by The Oldie magazine at Simpson's-in-the-Strand yesterday. Letts was there to plug his latest book, 50 People Who Buggered up Britain, which barely needs explanation. "Oh," said the peer, taking a nervous peek through Pandora's copy. "Am I in this?" Mercifully, Letts had chosen to omit him from the hit-list.

Gold 'less genteel', but Kelly's not bitter

A new generation of students are now able to enjoy the delights of daytime favourite Going for Gold after it relaunched on Monday with John Suchet.

But what does the original show's presenter, Henry Kelly, make of the revamp?

"I saw a bit of it, but now they can win money it makes it a little less genteel. Michael Grade was very against that," he tells me. "But I'm not bitter. If they'd asked I would have done it. I'll just have to hope Jeff Stelling turns down Countdown."

pandora@independent.co.uk

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