The plot takes a strange twist in Mortimer's Forsythe saga

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The Independent Online

At the weekend, Mortimer attempted to discredit Lord's book The Devil's Advocate - which, among other things, details unsavoury aspects of his sex life - by claiming that he'd dishonestly named Forsyth as a source.

In a newspaper interview, Mortimer said that - despite being widely quoted in the unauthorised biography - Forsyth had never given an interview to its author.

"Freddie wrote to me and said he had never spoken to Lord," he said.

If true, it's quite a claim. But Lord insists that he certainly did speak to Forsyth and (what is more) has the tape recordings to prove it.

"I interviewed him at the Montcalm Hotel on Great Cumberland Place on 3 June 2004," Lord tells me. "I taped it with his permission, and he knew he'd be quoted. Mortimer is clearly suggesting I've lied, when I can prove otherwise."

Forsyth was on holiday yesterday, so unable to comment. Mortimer, meanwhile, backtracked: "Freddie may not have actually written to me," he admitted. "But he did make an apologetic phone call."

* Heston Blumenthal finds himself at the centre of a highbrow debate over the "dumbing down" of science.

The Royal Institution has invited the celebrity chef - who invented molecular gastronomy - to speak at its annual televised Christmas Lectures.

If he agrees, Blumenthal will become the first non-scientist to speak at the event, begun by Michael Faraday in 1820. In recent years, Sir David Attenborough and Baroness Greenfield have spoken there.

It's part of an attempt to "sex up" the event for TV. This year, it moves to Channel Five, having previously been shown on the BBC and Channel Four.

Sir John Krebs, former head of the Food Standards Agency, has already agreed to headline this year's event, but TV bosses now want him to be partnered by a celebrity "face."

"The production company has a hit-list of celebrity chefs," said an RI spokesman yesterday. "Talks are on-going, and we'd love Heston to do it if he is free."

* Robert Newman's come a long way since those halcyon days when he looked David Baddiel in the eye and declared: "That's you that is."

The one-time golden boy of British comedy - currently performing in Edinburgh - is making a series for Channel 4, about the history of oil.

"It's about the birth of the oil trade and the effect it has had on human life," Newman tells me.

"I probably won't be able to watch it though, because I don't own a TV set. I have no TV, no alcohol and no cell phone."

If this makes him sound like a grumpy old man, it's no coincidence.

"Alternative comedy's ruined a generation," he adds. "It's encouraged all young stand-ups to speak in whiny voices and be incapable of saying anything unless it is ironic. It's like a disease."

* It's been at least a month since Jacques Chirac fell out with Tony Blair, but there's nothing like being prepared for next time.

With that in mind, the French President has a useful addition to his wardrobe: one of the Countryside Alliance's "Bollocks to Blair" bracelets.

The rubber wristband was procured by Gilbert de Turkheim - the president of the European Federation of Hunters, and an old chum of Chirac - at the recent CLA Game Fair.

"Gilbert came to our stand, and took two bracelets, saying he thought Jacques would find it amusing," says the CA. "We consider this quite a coup."

A spokesman for de Turkheim confirms that he's matey with le President, but declines to discuss the wristband: "since one cannot be indiscreet in such matters."

* Another day, another e-mail from Jools Holland, who's shortly to marry Christabel McEwen. Last week, Holland put out a statement denying that Prince Charles would attend the nuptials. Now he wants to stress that his aristocratic fiancée - the former wife of Lord Durham - won't be posing for the celebrity glossies.

"Britain's best-loved big band leader and music virtuoso Jools Holland (47) has confirmed the wedding to his long-term partner, sculptor Christabel McEwen (42)," reads the modest statement. "The couple will enjoy a private ceremony. The general media are not invited and neitherJools nor Christabel will be taking interview requests from the media."

Bizarrely, the statement describes the bride-to-be as "The Lady Christabel Durham." In fact, her correct title is "Christabel, Lady Durham" - shortly to become plain Mrs Holland.