Christopher Silvester: The Diary
Sunday 24 December 2006
At Friday afternoon's funeral of the political journalist Frank Johnson in Chelsea,former Telegraph editor Charles Moore explained to the congregation that, as the son of a baker living in the East End of London, Frank had led the life of a lotus-eater at home.
"Those of us who were sent off to boarding school can have no concept of the luxurious life of the sole son of a traditional East End household. In that warm house that smelt of baking, Frank's mother pampered her boy. She used to bring him a cup of tea in bed every morning until he was 32 years old. Frank was a young prince at home." But he found himself at a disadvantage when it came to providing for himself as a young bachelor. "In his flat, there was a corkscrew, but no kettle," said Moore. "When he bought his first fridge, he thought the shop supplied the ice as well."
The popularity of Frank Johnson was evident in the list of distinguished journalists who visited him in hospital. Their affection was so great, indeed, that personal enmities were put to one side. Charles Moore and mischief-maker in chief at the 'Daily Mail' Peter McKay turned up at the Chelsea and Westminster hospital to say their goodbyes at around the same time, the day before Johnson died. The pair do not see eye to eye and McKay, under his Ephraim Hardcastle byline, is inclined to rattle Moore's cage with some vigour, the least of his barbs being to call him "Lord Snooty". But no matter. McKay took the chair on one side of Johnson's bed and Moore sat on the other side. Each held one of Johnson's hands. That, at least, would surely have given the patient a quiet inward smile.
This year's Ebenezer Scrooge Award goes to David Cocks, QC, who has chosen the Christmas season to serve a summons on Felicity Hammerton seeking to end the £10,000 per year maintenance he pays for their illegitimate child, also named David. Their one-year affair – he was her pupil master in chambers – took place in the 1970s. Earlier this year, it emerged in a parliamentary answer that Cocks receives almost £500,000 in fees for his prosecutorial work. At 71 he draws a state and a private pension, and also does private and and legal aid work, garnering another £200,000. He has a 200-acre farm in the West Country, which helps offset his tax liability. Felicity Hammerton lives on incapacity benefit of £74.56 a week and pays their son's university fees out of her modest savings. The son, who is registered disabled, wishes to continue full-time education. I have followed this sorry saga from the time when Cocks denied paternity on oath, through his efforts to exhaust Hammerton with legal ploys, through his attempts to take David out of private school, through criticism of his conduct by the Family Court – and now this. The hearing is set down for 3 January. I hope Cocks receives a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Future and is confronted with his hellish prospects.
The story of the Bishop of Southwark's eventful journey home from a crapulous party at the Irish Embassy has proved the comic hit of the season. But the bishop's experience was not as humiliating as that of my dear friend Peter Oborne, the political journalist. Once, after a bibulous lunch, he decided that a walk along the Embankment might have a sobering effect. Overcome by an urge to pee, he descended a flight of steps for the purpose of relieving himself in the Thames. Out of concern for the sensibility of a woman enjoying the river view, he took one step further. His shoes met the sludge and he slipped into the water. "It was surreal," he recalls. "I remember walking to the Savoy Taylors Guild, where I purchased a suit, shirt, tie, underwear, socks." Although it would have been out of character for Oborne to be sober after lunch, he blames the tidal slime for his misadventure
The story of a Muslim suspect in the PC Beshenivsky case fleeing Britain disguised under a veil may have been read ruefully by Ipek Calislar, a Turkish academic. Calislar, who wrote a biography of Ataturk's wife, was prosecuted in Istanbul for "insulting" the memory of Turkey's founder. How had she caused offence? By suggesting that Ataturk once escaped from assassins by dressing up in women's clothing – in a veil.
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