The Tory MP and the punch-drunk researcher

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* Conference week just wouldn't be conference week without boozy late-night shenanigans by the seaside - so it is with sadness that Pandora failed to spot any "pavement hugging" Tory bigwigs in Bournemouth this week.

Rather splendidly, however, there's a cracker currently doing the rounds involving the party's well-groomed shadow energy minister, Charles Hendry.

On Sunday evening, at a late-night do, Hendry was left startled when his researcher confronted him and, after an exchange, took a swing at him.

"Out of the blue, Charles's male researcher came up and tried to sock him one," says a well-placed source.

Fortunately for Hendry, above, the potential bruiser was rather too well refreshed from several glasses of the good stuff - and missed his target entirely.

The matter was immediately brushed under the carpet, but the cause of the melée remains a mystery. "The chap in question had had a few," says my informant. "It was completely out of character and he's still dreadfully upset about it. What's particularly strange is that the pair of them have always got along extremely well.

"Charles, bless him, has been a star about the whole thing and there's no question of anyone losing their job. It seems to be behind them."

I give Hendry a call to ask him about the budding Muhammad Ali. "The story is entirely without any foundation whatsoever," he says, before I can finish my opening sentence.

So it's not true then?

"No, no it isn't."

* News of two fresh entrants to this year's most glamorous awards ceremony. No - not the Miss Tourism World beauty pageant - but Westminster Dog of the Year 2006.

An e-mail arrives from Gordon Brown's formidable former spin doctor, Charlie Whelan.

"Hope you have recovered from Manchester," he writes, without the customary generous serving of profanities.

"Attached are pictures of my two Black Lab gun dogs. The little one is Buddy, and the big one Rosa - named after the German revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg."

Will he order them to go for Blair's throat, should the PM wander through Victoria Tower Gardens at the anointed hour in two weeks?

"No. That's bollocks," he says.

And, as journalists familiar with the jovial Whelan will know, when he told you a story was "bollocks", it was definitely true. Heel!

* Two of our most celebrated (and rudest) chefs, Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White, decided to tell their tales from the stove by releasing autobiographies this autumn.

But what does the bickering duo's former mentor, Albert Roux - who knows the characters behind the asterisked headlines - make of their literary offerings?

"I intend to read Gordon Ramsay's book. But Marco's - absolutely not," he tells me at the relaunch of Pilsner Urquell lager on Wednesday evening. "I have no interest in it. He and I do not speak."

According to White, above right, the pair fell out in the late 90's, when Roux (Marco's best man at his second marriage) allegedly vetoed his protégé from winning chef of the year at the Caterer and Hotelkeeper awards.

The thought of ringing Ramsay to deliver the news was unbearable. So I didn't.

* Two months ago, Pandora revealed that Labour was to cut one in five of its staff in a bid to fill the £27.3m hole in its accounts and end the party's financial crisis (which was caused by the need to repay large "loans" from prominent businessmen, several of whom were later nominated for peerages).

The axe-swinging is not confined to the party HQs in Newcastle and London. It has now begun in Westminster, where Labour MPs must each cull two staff to reduce costs. The reluctant messenger is Fiona Gordon, secretary of the Parliamentary Labour Party (she of the identikit "personal" letters for MPs to send constituents).

The "staffing review" (shiver) means each office will be "reduced to six", she writes, adding: "The process is underway."

Welcome back after your summer holidays, folks!

* We return to Hampstead, north London, for a poke about the Grade II-listed mansion of film director Sir Ridley Scott.

Two months ago Pandora reported that Sir Ridley had called in designers to oversee renovation work (they were subsequently rather rude about the existing decor, calling his entrance hall "a joke ... looks like a 1960s Brighton hairdressing salon").

Now I hear that the luxury gazebo planned for Rid's back garden - flint and Portland stone, with a "decorative owl finial perched on top" - has been axed, as out of keeping with the leafy environs.

His neighbour, Julian Baughan QC, objected that the structure would have "a serious impact upon amenity view of neighbouring home (mine)".

Take two.

pandora@independent.co.uk

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