The shocking truth: Blair did not lie about Jackie Milburn

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The Independent Online

One of the most damaging criticisms levelled at Tony Blair is that he lied about childhood memories of Newcastle United in order to increase his share of the working- class vote.

One of the most damaging criticisms levelled at Tony Blair is that he lied about childhood memories of Newcastle United in order to increase his share of the working- class vote.

The old accusation was cited by Brian Sedgemore, following his defection to the Liberal Democrats: "Blair tells big porkies as easily as little porkies," he said. "Whether it is watching Jackie Milburn play football or being certain of WMD."

Yet, as Britain prepares to go to the polls, Pandora can reveal Blair never lied about his footballing pedigree in the first place. An investigation by BBC's Newsnight and the Spectator journalist Peter Oborne has shown it to be little more than an urban myth.

The tale goes back to December 1997, when the PM gave an interview to BBC Radio Five Live. According to the Sunday Sun - followed by several national papers - he spoke of sitting behind the goal and watching Jackie Milburn.

Subsequent reports noted that there was no seating at St James' Park until the 1990s, and that Milburn retired when Blair was aged four.

However, the radio interview has finally been unearthed from the BBC archives, and shows that Blair was, in fact, misquoted: he never mentions sitting, and claims his time as a supporter "came just after Jackie Milburn".

Concludes Oborne: "There is abundant evidence that Blair is a liar, but on this occasion he is completely in the clear, and can be exonerated."

You have to sympathise with Mike Read, in his ill-fated quest to become a West End impresario.

Last year, the veteran DJ's Oscar Wilde became the shortest-running musical in British history when it closed after one night, due to poor ticket sales.

Now the cast of the play - which starred Peter Blake in the title role - have called in the lawyers, claiming they are still owed unpaid wages.

"The cast are still pursuing Mike through the courts," says the agent of one. "They were hired for five weeks' work, but haven't been paid for that.

"It's a contractual matter, and they are claiming around £15,000."

Read declined to comment yesterday, but has previously blamed the show's failure on box-office problems at the Shaw Theatre, where it was staged.

Reviewers at the time weren't so sure, though. "In 1895, Oscar Wilde was sentenced to two years' hard labour," wrote one. "A more cruel and unusual punishment has been devised by Mike Read."

After a brief investigation, I have identified the cat responsible for disfiguring the Hollywood star Alicia Witt, while she was making her new film The Upside of Anger in London last year.

Yesterday, I reported that Witt had needed 10 stitches after a moggie fell from the upstairs window of a Notting Hill pub, bounced off a sun umbrella, and landed on her face.

I can now reveal that the unlucky feline was called Joey, and belonged to the landlord of the Ladbroke Arms.

"He's dead now," she says. "He was always doing stupid things, and eventually had to be put down, though not because of the Alicia Witt incident."

Many thanks to reader Greg Miall, who witnessed the event - apparently Witt was "very brave" - and receives a bottle of Dom Perignon 1996 for passing on the details.

The actor James Dreyfuss - best known as the limp-wristed protagonist of Gimme Gimme Gimme - is tired of being pigeon-holed as a gay icon.

In an interview to publicise his current West End show, The Producers, Dreyfuss announces that the entire British media is to blame, but reserves particular criticism for his occasional employer, Channel Four.

"I am gay, but I'm not a camp person," he says. "People are getting it confused and it's beginning to really irritate me.

"The other day, I got a phone call asking me to comment on a show called the Top Ten Camp Idols, or something.

"When I declined, the guy said: 'But you can't say no: you're in it'."

An effort to persuade Britain's spotty ranks of science fiction fans to vote Labour tomorrow has rather gloriously backfired. Vernon Coaker - a Dr Who fan, and Labour candidate for Gedling - has spent recent weeks parading a replica Dalek around his constituency, highlighting Tory plans to "exterminate public services".

Unfortunately, the Daleks are a registered trademark, owned jointly by the BBC and the estate of their late creator, Terry Nation. Labour HQ has therefore received a stern letter ordering them to withdraw the pepperpot-shaped villain.

"The BBC takes very seriously the unauthorised use of its brands," explains a spokesman. "We've written to Labour asking them to stop this, and will take further steps if necessary."

Coaker was unrepentant yesterday. "It was supposed to be a fun way of getting our message across," he said.