The Piranha returns to the publishing pond

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The Independent Online

* More than 25 years since he was dubbed "the Piranha of Fleet Street", Sir Jocelyn Stevens has decided to return to the cut-throat world of publishing.

Earlier this month, Stevens accepted a post to be the new chief executive of the glossy monthly, Country Illustrated.

It's the first publishing position he's taken up since his tempestuous tenureship at Express newspapers came to an end in 1981.

But despite his accomplishments - he also set up the hugely successful Queen magazine - it's his previous form inside the office that's likely to be of greater concern to employees at his new title.

Various items of folklore have been repeated over the years about Stevens' time in Fleet Street, from the time he supposedly threw a fashion editor's filing cabinet out of a window, to reportedly firing a company secretary via the office intercom. One scribe on the magazine, however, thinks Stevens' arrival might be just what the company needs. "There's been a need for a shake-up," I'm told. "

We've had quite a few problems these past few months with contributors getting paid.

"There have been a few times when we haven't even got an edition out, so a firm hand could be just what's required around here."

Most news about Stevens over the past few months has centred on his personal life, due to his split last year from his long-term partner of nearly 30 years, Dame Vivian Duffield.

* There is no sharper sword in the BBC's armoury than Jeremy Paxman, so it is intriguing to hear they are offering politicians advice on how to deal with him.

On Sunday, Radio 4 will broadcast How to Beat Paxman, a valuable insight into the Newsnight Rottweiler's interview technique, which will be delivered by previous victims such as Jack Straw, Alan Duncan, and, of course, Michael Howard.

"We contacted Jeremy about the show and he was very decent about it," says the show's producer, Richard Vardon.

"He said we could do anything we liked, and even offered to check facts for us."

According to Jack Straw, one of Paxo's secrets is to be as unpleasant off-screen as he is when the cameras are rolling.

"One of his things that he does when you walk into the studio is not to even look at you," Straw says.

"Or he deliberately looks bored, to throw you off."

* Another day, another event falls victim to the World Cup merry-go-round. Tonight, Hollywood star Juliette Lewis is due to take the stage for the opening night of Fool For Love at the Apollo Theatre in London.

It's unfortunate timing, since it happens to fall on the same night as England's match against Trinidad and Tobago.

One investor in the show is said to be less than thrilled at the scheduling, though organisers insist there won't be a problem.

"We're not worried," says a spokesman. "The play starts at seven, so if the game kicks off at five it should be over by then.

"Anyone worried about cutting it fine can watch the football in the pub next door."

* David Blunkett has managed to get right up the noses of the good people of Chatham House.

Speaking on the Today programme yesterday, Blunkett told Jim Naughtie that comments he was reported to have made about a possible amnesty for illegal immigrants in 2003 were said at an event under Chatham House rules [i.e. off the record], but were "immediately released, as ever".

Quite a slur on such a venerable institution, and one which has provoked a curt rebuttal from CH. "Seeing as the event was being filmed and reported on by journalists, it seems strange Mr Blunkett thought it was off the record," says a spokesman. "Sometimes politicians remember differently in retrospect, but in this instance it definitely was not the case."

* Tory members delivered a kick in the teeth to modernisers by rejecting the candidates from David Cameron's beloved "A-list" at the forthcoming Bromley by-election. But by doing so, they inadvertently helped heal a fierce rift over at the headquarters of UKIP.

Apparently, UKIP members became embroiled in a row over the by- election when their candidate, Nigel Farage, suggested the party shouldn't stand. Farage insisted that since the Tories looked like selecting hardened Eurosceptic Syed Kamal, there was no point in pitting anyone against him.

"A lot of us were miffed at that kind of approach and there ended up being a row," says one member. "We were keen to put up someone whatever happened. "But once that Euro-softy Bob Neill got in, Nige happily changed his tune."

pandora@independent.co.uk

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