Tales from a riverbank - somewhere east of Vienna

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* The temperature on the river bank is rising. Back at the beginning of November, Pandora spoke to Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake) about the BBC's new production of The Wind in the Willows, which airs on New Year's Day. It stars Matt Lucas as Toad, Bob Hoskins as Badger and Staunton as the barge lady.

Referring to the decision to shoot in Romania, I wrote of film producers' failure "to dig deeper and support our film industry".

The line caught in the ribs of Willows producer Gub Neal (the chap behind Cracker and the recent Sweeney Todd with Ray Winstone). After seven weeks he has built a fine head of steam, which he released in the early hours of the morning in an emotional e-mail to Pandora.

"Smarting a bit to read your quip about producers not digging deep enough to save the sinking brit [sic] film and tv industry from itself," he tapped, complaining that he had spent three months "with quoted star Imelda Staunton in far flung reaches of eastern europe [sic]".

Neal demands: "Why should telly producers not seek to return the very best to Aunty and its subscribers? It's not about profit you ninny, if you want to make cash stick to tabloid journalism [?], banking or marry a cosmetic surgeon.

"We went to Romania... for the same reason that people here hire Polish and Latvian plumbers and builders, ie; because said eastern workforce is jolly, competent and cheap! Anywhere east of Vienna will do fine thank you."

Ratty. (Or should that be Badger?)

* Christopher Lee's villainous six-decade career includes drinking blood (Dracula), assassinating a scientist (Francisco Scaramanga), cutting off Anakin Skywalker's arm with a lightsaber (Sith Lord Count Dooku) and crossbreeding men with orcs (Saruman).

The actor's musical tastes are softer: he has released an opera album, Revelation, having belatedly decided to explore his second love, and Lee tells Mojo music mag that he is in talks with the "poperatic" quartet Il Divo to work together.

The 84-year-old adds: "I also discovered that I like a bit of heavy metal. I was asked to do some voiceover work by an Italian group called Rhapsody of Fire. I really rather enjoyed their music.

"So I told them I wanted to sing with them. They weren't sure at first but I was very determined and we did a song together called the "Magic of the Wizard's Dream". I'm very proud of it."

Lee once walked out of a David Bowie concert because it was too loud.

* It is a long way from Slough to Hollywood, as Ricky Gervais testifies. After making his name with The Office, the comic began bigwigging with A-list actors by inviting them to be cannon fodder for his series Extras.

Gervais's first movie opened in British cinemas yesterday. In Night at the Museum (Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Steve Coogan), he plays a cameo as the bumbling, edgy boss (sound familiar?) of a museum where the animal and historical exhibits come alive at night.

"I am never tempted to broaden my range," Gervais said at the film premiere, on his typecasting. "It's difficult enough concentrating on acting. I don't do accents or wigs."

He added: "When I said that my trailer was bigger than my hotel room they said, 'Do you want a bigger hotel room?'"

* The law firm Carter-Ruck specialises in celebrity litigation and collects journalists' scalps on its boardroom walls. Its newsletter lists its famous patrons and castigates the gutter press. This time, however, it is, joyously, Carter-Ruck's wigs who have printed a correction.

"In our last newsletter," the firm concedes, "we said that [football chairman Ken] Bates had successfully sued over false allegations published in MGN's Sunday Mirror.

"However, on this occasion Mr Bates' success was not over allegations published in the Sunday Mirror... [but] to allegations published in the Daily Mirror (also, of course, published by MGN).

"We are delighted to be able to make the position clear."

So gracious!

* Tony Blair's chief of staff at Downing Street, Jonathan Powell, is said to have already been told that his services will no longer be required when Gordon collects the keys of Number 10.

Powell, Blair's closest aide, helped to rewrite the Iraq war dossier to strengthen the case for the US-led invasion, and is preparing to be questioned in the New Year by police investigating the cash for peerages scandal.

There is enthusiasm for him to exit via the back door. He is tipped to earn a fat packet in the world of political lobbying.

I asked Powell when he learnt that he was leaving. A spokesman from Downing Street rang back: "Your story - I've got no comment."

pandora@independent.co.uk

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