Wanted: ambassador to the Vatican (mind the small print)

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The Independent Online

For the first time, the Foreign Office is advertising an ambassadorial vacancy in national newspapers, and paying the recruitment consultancy Capita Resourcing to sort applications.

The salary offered is in the region of £50,000. The successful person will have "proven political and strategic awareness" and "be able to communicate in Italian and French". The sticking point comes in the small print for the advert is covered by UK employment law.

"We welcome applications from all suitably qualified people regardless of gender, marital status, race ... or sexual orientation," it states.

Which leaves them in a tricky position when it comes to gaining the necessary approval of the Pope, whose views on homosexuality (or unmarried partnerships of any orientation) and preference for a Catholic ambassador are known.

"The Vatican knows we are planning to advertise in this way," said a spokesman. "We can't speak on their behalf, though, so I can't say for sure what might happen."

* Here's some news to send a shiver down the spines of politicians and celebrities everywhere.

There are moves afoot for a new run of Spitting Image shows, being spearheaded by Jon Culshaw. The comedian, who writes Dead Ringers and did the voices of more than 40 characters on the satirical puppet show, tells me that the cast is ready to reform and cut the current crop of public figures down to size.

"We, the producers, the cast and everyone have been discussing it and we'd love to get back together. I am actually working with one of the producers from Spitting Image on Dead Ringers now so, to that extent, part of the team is already working together.

"We're talking to ITV about it: we're just waiting to hear whether they are prepared to put the money up for a couple of series. It's expensive to make the puppets but if we can persuade them that the time's right for a return, it'll be back."

* After Rudolph Giuliani's kind words of support, on behalf of the Big Apple, following the terrorist attacks on our capital, comes a useful addition from fellow New Yorker Mel Brooks.

The comedian - best known for writing the original version of The Producers - has jetted into London for a week to lend a hand with re-casting various parts in the West End stage version of the show.

While many lesser men would have been keen to postpone, or indeed cancel, their trips because of the threat of more terrorist attacks, Brooks, right, is putting on a brave face.

"I'm not afraid - I never take the subway," he says.

* Problems continue to beset Charles Kennedy as he struggles against a tide of anger over Jenny (now Baroness) Tonge's refusal to withdraw her comments in support of Palestinian suicide bombers.

With what may be considered the very worst timing, John Stevens - a former Tory MEP who is now a senior figure at the Lib Dems' headquarters - is to publish a book, which will cast Jesus Christ as a kamikaze.

The book, Before Damascus, is a novel about the life of St Paul, to be published by the independent firm Naomi Roth Publishing. But what could have been a low-profile foray into the world of literature is being given an unfortunate spin.

"It's essentially a love story, and it's a real page turner," says the book's publisher. "But it's likely to be controversial because it portrays Jesus Christ as a sort of suicide bomber."

* Disappointing viewing figures for Nigella Lawson's new television show have brought on a degree of schadenfreude in colleagues who worked on the programme. It has lost 40 per cent of its viewers in its first two weeks, but they don't seem overly disappointed.

"She was a nightmare on set," according to one who worked with her. "She demanded that she shouldn't be filmed below the waist because she said it was unflattering. I wonder if even more people would have stopped watching if we'd shown her bottom."

A spokesman for the Domestic Goddess is quick to deny that she made any such demands.

"There was certainly nothing like that in her contract and she'd never have asked anything of the sort," I am told.

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