The tale of Petsy and the BBC chairman's wall

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THE UNCERTAIN fate of Petronella Wyatt, the dismissal of Lady Hesketh, 70, as rugby correspondent and a row with the BBC involving the penises on the chairman's wall ensured that the staff of The Spectator magazine enjoyed a lively Christmas lunch yesterday.

The scene was Home House (pronounced Hume) in Portman Square, London, and the new editor, blond Boris Johnson, was taking a calm view of the turbulence at the paper.

"The Spectator is the oldest and best magazine in the English language," he told the troops, "and it has no intention of altering that status. As we go into the new millennium we go forward with both hands".

But what does this vision mean for the fate of the magazine's Chanel- clad, waspish deputy editor, Petronella ("Petsy") Wyatt? Ever since Mr Johnson took over the editorship in July the common view has been that Petronella's days were numbered.

"She is stepping down as deputy editor," Mr Johnson confirms. "But she will continue to be an honoured honcho at The Spectator with a title of some grandeur which is still being thrashed out."

So far there is no white smoke on the position of the new deputy editor, although inside sources on the magazine admit that "a search has been on for some time". Former Independent on Sunday assistant editor Stuart Reed, brought in at the same time as Mr Johnson and described by the latter as "a genius", will take on some of the deputy editor's role.

Earlier this week Mr Johnson ruled that the rugby commentaries of Dowager Baroness "Kisty" Hesketh were to be dropped. "It was a great honour for us to carry her insights into the scrimmage technique of the England back row," says Johnson, "and I'm sorry that space makes it difficult to keep her regular slot".

Then, yesterday, he confirmed that Auberon Waugh is moving from his long- held post as wine correspondent, to be replaced by Tory MP Nicholas Soames. "We are hugely lucky to secure the services of Nicholas Soames, whose very physical presence testifies to his authority on wine and food," says Johnson.

But the controversial changes of staff have caused less fuss than Mr Johnson's eagerness to get into a scrap with the BBC. First he accused the Corporation of dismissing him as a presenter on the Radio 4 programme The Week in Westminster for having "too plummy" a voice.

Then, alongside an article by the new BBC director general Greg Dyke about Mr Dyke's vision for the Corporation, he carried a piece by Peregrine Worsthorne describing Mr Dyke's efforts as "linguistic garbage" which was "piss-poor as much in style as in content".

Mr Johnson's third battle with the BBC is the biggest, and is as yet unresolved. After Petronella Wyatt interviewed the chairman, Sir Christopher Bland, the magazine was forced to publish an apology declaring that Sir Christopher had not shouted at her, or otherwise behaved aggressively.

The paper did not, however, apologise for Miss Wyatt's observation that there were pictures of erect penises on the walls of the chairman's office. A BBC spokesman insists that "there is one penis on a picture of a Madonna and child, and apart from that there are no penises at all" on the walls.

Mystery remains as to whether Miss Wyatt's imagination got the better of her, or whether the BBC has removed the pictures in question.