Diary

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The Independent Online
RORY BREMNER

Just when you thought the Hugh and cry had died down about That Night on Sunset Boulevard, the papers explode with tales of Mr Grant's apology on the Jay Leno show. Apart from revealing what we already knew - that Hugh's a likable guy who's mortified by the whole affair - it also reminds us that we in Britain no longer have a chat show. Where could Hugh go in this country to save himself a trip to Los Angeles to bare his soul? Without Clive Anderson, Terry Wogan, Jonathan Ross et al, the only alternative would be to seek a guest appearance in other programmes. Casting an eye over the schedules reveals a limited range of possibilities: Men Behaving Badly? Three Up Two Down? perhaps Pets Win Prizes? or even Ready Steady Cock. Though I did have to cheat with that last one.

Talking of situation comedy, the events of last week's leadership contest and reshuffle leave us with the classic plot: John Major and Michael Heseltine in - Neighbours. After the PM's curious triumph ("Last month, we thought there were a dozen or so MPs prepared to vote against me. Now we know there are at least 89. That's what I call a victory!"), we now have John and Michael booked into adjoining suites following a clerical error, aka a leadership election.

It has all the attendant ingredients for farce: the glass pressed against the wall, the accidentally-being-knocked-over-while-listening-at-the-door, the popping next door for a cup of subsidy. But what to call the series? My Knife Next Door? Hezza the Twain? And Ken makes Three? Meanwhile, having waved two fingers at Michael Portillo by dressing up as Lord Nelson the day after his young rival was confirmed as Defence Secretary (ho, ho), Mr Heseltine single-handedly keeps brass plaque-makers in business as he devotes his energies to his main task: inventing new names for himself; first, President of the Board of Trade, now Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State. What's wrong with plain "Eric"?

The Prime Minister could do worse than find a new word for reshuffle, which itself sounds vaguely sleazy - like brothel-creepers, or bottoms sliding along a bench. So perhaps the more appropriate word would be "remodelling", since Mr Major's preferred tactic is to go down to Burton's and get another four dummies out of the window.

Did you hear the one about the Irish greengrocer? Apparently he couldn't get his Orange Order right. Yes, the marching season has begun in Ulster; it must be something about all the hot weather that brings out the urge to put on the suit, bowler hat and umbrella traditionally associated with the Ministry for Silly Walks and go and annoy the neighbours. Apart from the oxymoronic concept of Ian Paisley leading negotiations, which is like Jonah Lomu leading the corps de ballet at Sadler's Wells, we can look forward to intense media speculation about the future of the peace talks.

My own favourite piece of coverage occurred when Sky TV was in its infancy. Told to end an interview with a Protestant about the Orange Day parades on an upbeat note, one of the presenters, who shall remain clueless, turned to camera and said cheerfully: "Well, we hope all the Catholics enjoy Orange Day as well."

Blissfully unaware of his diplomatic triumph, he returned after an ad break to greet the Sky audience - at that time including a significant number of viewers in Eire - with: "Good Morning. It's July 12th. Happy Orange Day."

A ridiculous row has erupted over the right of BBC presenters to chair meetings and host conferences for outside companies, with the suggestion that said presenters should register their interests, or in the case of the laconic Jeremy Paxman, their lack of interest. Yesss.

It is argued that outside work could compromise the integrity of the BBC. As John Humphrys was apparently employed by the Deparment of Trade and Industry to chair a conference on technology, it seems the Government has no problem with this, although some minister doubtless felt that by associating with anyone from the BBC - let alone the Today programme - it was compromising the integrity of the DTI.

In any case, if any BBC presenter steps out of line, there is a very efficient regulatory body waiting to catch them out. It's called the right- wing tabloid press. Or now, the Independent.

Further problems this week for the Channel tunnel link, with banks and investors staring at an estimated pounds 2.8bn bill for the next stage of construction. After suffering a blow last month when Linford Christie allegedly refused to use the tunnel (he preferred to walk instead), the project's backers are considering desperate measures to complete the link. These allegedly involve routing the track through Wales, Merseyside and the Scottish Highlands, thereby taking advantage of regional development grants and taking pressure off angry Conservative voters in the South-east; a more bizarre scheme involving a tug of war team and Anneka Rice's phone number; and the ultimate option, which is to sell the tunnel off altogether. But who do you know who wants a 22-mile section of tubing? Step forward Saddam Hussein. And now Jonathan Aitken has left the government to spend more time with his libel suit we have someone with a well-thumbed Arabic phrase book to clinch the deal.

Joke of the week: traffic police have been issued with new leather jackets that are so heavy they can't wear them to direct traffic. What's the point of the police carrying arms if they can't raise them about their heads?

And finally: they're back. Once again the country's roads are clogged as New Age travellers and sad hippies re-enact ritual ceremonies on a tour of Britain's Ancient Stones. They may be cordoned off and in imminent danger of collapse, but there's still something irresistible about Keith Richards and Mick Jagger.

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