Publisher starts bad taste 'Hamster' memoirs row

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The Independent Online

The gaping chasm in the national consciousness created by the death of the Queen Mother was briefly forgotten in September, when Britain's red-top editors awarded "national treasure" status to Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond, after his near-fatal 288mph crash.

So it is no surprise that the battle for his autobiography is already getting dirty.

The publisher Weidenfeld & Nicolson claims it has a deal with "Hamster".

"We are delighted," says a spokeswoman, "to announce that we have acquired world rights to the story of the enormously popular TV presenter's life." She quotes Hammond in her press release.

Hammond's agent furiously denies that bidding has begun - let alone that Weidenfeld & Nicolson has won the race.

Referring to the publishers as "shits", he tells Pandora: "They may well think they are the publishers, but they are so off the mark. They are winging it, announcing they've won the rights to scare off opposition.

"They haven't even had the chance to bid yet - Richard needs time to recover. At this rate they [Weidenfeld & Nicolson] will get a book on tyres instead."

What's more, the publisher claims that BBC producers have finally decided, after allowing medics to assess long-term damage, to screen the spectacular smash - which Hammond says was caused by a "simple, could-have-happened-to-anyone puncture". (Anyone tied to a jet engine with the oomph of 11 F1 cars.)

The BBC says a decision will be taken in the new year.

Dancy dumps LA for Broadway

Hugh Dancy says he is "thick", "lazy" and owns "sticky out ears". We'll see what the Americans have to say about that.

The actor and former Burberry model is taking a break from Hollywood for Broadway, to star in Journey's End - about British infantrymen in a First World War trench.

It is a sweet success for British director David Grindley: the play has been a surprise hit in the West End, and now the producers behind the Broadway staging of Spamalot and The History Boys, Bob Boyett and Bill Haber, are stumping up $2m for a New York run.

Grindley auditioned Dancy, then bought him a pint in the Northumberland Arms on Goodge Street, where he twisted the actor's arm into playing hard-drinking young Cpt Dennis Stanhope.

Sir Laurence Olivier was the first to take the role - albeit for two performances. Dancy is down for four months.

Dust, death and a dark Cage

Nicolas Cage impresses in Oliver Stone's surprisingly sober new film, World Trade Centre. Playing a cop buried under steel and concrete, in the dark, covered with ash, for days at a time, is not the easiest acting assignment.

Says Stone before a screening in Leicester Square: "Nic went into a black box before filming to get his eyes used to darkness. It was tough for him to come to work each day to play someone on the verge of death. So I read him the Tibetan Book of the Dead." (The spiritual guide for those near the end.)

"People say this is not an Oliver Stone film. But if it was full of politics and conspiracy [e.g. JFK, Nixon], they would think, 'Here he goes again'."

The director adds: "If the movie had been blacker, people would have fallen asleep in the cinemas."

Hot dog

At last! The supposedly "spectacularly endowed" John Major has a rival swordsman in the Palace of Westminster. The former PM shed his caricature of a grey Superman in 2002, when Edwina Currie revealed they had enjoyed a four-year affair.

John Prescott's dalliance with diary secretary Tracey Temple has since briefly amused gossip lovers - particularly when Tories ribbed him with cries of "Waiter! Bring me a cocktail sausage". (Not a reference to Prezza's days as a ship steward.)

Now we learn the secret of Lib Dem Lembit Opik's success. An MP has told the Conservative blogger Iain Dale that "Tripod" Opik is "at the opposite end of the scale" to the Deputy Prime Minister.

Press red for redundancy

Anger at Rupert Murdoch's Sky over recent redundancies, some of which staff say occurred in a decidedly sinister fashion.

The chosen ones are said to have attempted to log on to their computers, only to receive an onscreen message informing them to report to a nearby office, where they were greeted by Human Resources and a lawyer who informed them of their imminent departure.

One employee recalls the "friendly" phone call Sky News reporters and producers received in the summer from their boss, asking them to meet him the next day for "a chat" (aka the chop). "But this is an even worse way to get rid of people," he says.

And makes switching on one's monitor an unnerving experience, no doubt.

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