Pandora: Who's the cheese-eating surrender monkey now?

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The Independent Online

There's chuckling over the cheeseboard in the French ambassador's opulent residence in Millionaire's Row, Kensington.

His Excellency Grard Errera, the delightful anglophile who has just left London after five years to return to Paris, said goodbye to our well-moisturised Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, when he saw him at a champagne reception.

M. Errera's parting shot was to tease Mr Miliband: "Now we, the French, are the number one ally for America!" It was Monsieur l'Ambassadeur's "leetle joke". Stick that in your baguette and smoke it!

According to an onlooker, Mr Miliband was thoroughly unamused. As well he might be: since taking the job in June, he has put up with colleagues Douglas Alexander and "Mad Mark" Malloch Brown making "off piste" comments about our relationship with the US.

But instead of defending the national interest and pushing M. Errera head first into the nearest trifle tower, Mr Miliband winced and shortly turned on his heel.

Pandora asked Mr Miliband if he had a) enjoyed M. Errera's gag, or b) expected to find a better joke in his Christmas cracker? The Foreign Secretary's spokeswoman who believes diarists to be a life form that would (unfortunately) survive nuclear apocalypse declined to comment.

As for M. Errera, he is now secrtaire gnral of the French ministry of foreign affairs, and happily ensconced in an elegant Quai d'Orsay office overlooking the Seine. À la votre!

Idi Amin's man sent to the rack (of clothes)

Ladies of this great isle, please take a moment to share a sisterly sigh with Anne-Marie Duff, left. Perhaps roll your eyes.

For I hear that while out clothes shopping, the captivating actress was hit by that affliction familiar to carriers of two X chromosomes: the unenthusiastic male companion. In Anne-Marie's case, it was her Bafta-winning husband, James McAvoy.

While she rifled through the rails in the Whistles shop in Muswell Hill, north London, her compadre (off to Hollywood next month to see if he has won a Golden Globe) appeared to be losing the will to stand up any longer. There were, apparently, moments when McAvoy's face was reminiscent of the scene in The Last King of Scotland when his character is brutally tortured by Idi Amin's men.

Unfazed, Anne-Marie, lauded this year for her stage portrayal of the Middle Ages cross-dresser Joan of Arc, ploughed on through the frocks.

This studio ain't big enough

Watch out for cock-ups galore on the BBC's news programmes in January. The closure of a studio for renovation for 10 weeks means that all news shows are being lumped together into a single room and will not have time to prepare normally for live broadcast.

Instead of the usual three hours to calibrate their set, Newsnight's engineers will have just seven minutes to wheel away the Ten O'Clock bulletin's chunky reader-out-loud, Huw Edwards; then rearrange the chairs and uncage Jeremy Paxman. There will be little time to pre-record material.

"We expect lots more mistakes," says a galley slave, "and the different programmes will look strangely similar to one another." What's more: "Newsnight wants a big table to sit around and debate but Huw will only want a small one. It could get ugly."

The Lee way

The most unfestive of ding dongs between London mayor Ken Livingstone and the London Evening Standard reporter Andrew Gilligan. The latter has asked questions about the performance of Livingstone's equalities advisor, Lee Jasper, and the allocation of funds to various community groups.

To date, the most fire-and-brimstone of contributions has come from black rights group The 1990 Trust (director 1995-2000: Lee Jasper). It accuses "the Gilligan man" of writing reports containing "unpardonable smears and ... fascist conspiracy, media institutional racism and the 'Jim Watson syndrome'". Crikey! At this rate they will still be fighting in the church aisles come Midnight Mass on the 25th.

Unsanitary measures

All BBC editorial employees right up to director general Mark Thompson are being put through a "Safeguarding Trust" course at present, to show them how to tell the difference between "acceptable artifice" (asking viewers to suspend their belief) and "deceit".

One of the more revelatory moments in an introductory video shows a hot fruit pie, steaming away. Mmmmm. The camera pans around to ask: is it OK to hide a wet, microwaved tampon behind a dish to make the food look piping hot? Appetising!

"I didn't even know you could do that," says one employee. "This has been very educational."

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