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With Friends like this ...

Whisper it not in Newbury. But Sir George Young, the Transport Secretary, who is a target of ecological opprobrium over the Newbury bypass, turns out to be a member of Friends of the Earth. It is making life for Sir George increasingly surreal. He tells me he constantly receives invitations from the Ealing branch of Friends of the Earth to write to himself to protest about the Newbury bypass. He then gives an official response to himself that "The Newbury bypass will be built".

I suggest that the Ealing branch of Friends of the Earth calls its VIP member to the next branch meeting to account for his actions.

Such thoughtful advice

By popular request, more handy hints from the Department for Education and Employment's advice to its own staff on how to communicate with schools.

Assuming the civil servants have mastered the key point I reported from the document yesterday, namely "Avoid sending material to schools during school holidays", I can now move on to the more advanced guidance in the DFEE circular: advice on layout and design.

Here goes:

"Allow space between different sections or points and use a logical hierarchy of headings which clearly distinguishes between headings and sub-headings. This will help reinforce the logical sequence of the material....

"Avoid using underlining or capitals to highlight points as this disrupts the flow of the text. Use highlights or italics instead, but not too much, otherwise the emphasis will be lost."

It cries out for the late Joyce Grenfell to address the Education Secretary, Gillian Shephard, and her mandarins on the art of letter writing, with a weary "Gillian, don't do that".

Jon the Divine

Another lesson for the Labour Party in its flirtation with showbiz. Never get comedians to canvass for you. They quickly get bored. In the recent Hemsworth by-election, the successful Labour candidate, Jon Trickett, found the comedian Mark Thomas championing his cause. After a slow start, Thomas, along with the Channel 4 cameras, began running ahead of Trickett, screaming at passers-by: "Vote for this man. He is God!"

As Thomas's programme on Channel 4 next week will show, Mr Trickett remained strangely unamused.

Mum's the word

A couple of engaging young thespians gaze out of the pages of the Tatler. They are Orlando Wells, son of Susannah York (right), and Amelia Fox, daughter of Edward Fox. The latter played Georgina Darcy in the BBC's Pride and Prejudice. As the magazine points out, they have gained much press attention because of their heart-rending public complaints about the burden of having famous parents.

Which is why it seems strange that both Wells and Fox appeared to have no qualms whatsoever about appearing in a recent production of Look Back In Anger at the Oxford Fire Station. It was directed by one Susannah York.

A spot of sumo

Watch out for BBC's Question Time tonight which could be almost as lively as Prime Minister's Question Time this afternoon. Appearing on it will be the Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, and the deputy leader of the Labour Party, John Prescott. Last time they were together on the programme, Prescott battered Clarke into saying he would resign if he were criticised in the Scott Report.

Whoopi, will she?

When Whoopi Goldberg hosts the Oscars and pays tribute to the British contingent, she might like to enliven events by borrowing a distinctly politically incorrect joke from Willie Rushton.

Hosting the British Animation Awards, Rushton said: "People often ask me 'Where would we be without humour?' I tell them 'Germany'."

Eagle Eye

No taste for self-mockery

Sir Patrick Cormack MP is at his magisterial best taking fellow members to task over bringing the political game into disrepute. Their crime has been to appear in Annie's Bar, the Channel 4 political soap.

The House magazine, which Cormack edits, devotes its main editorial to the subject in the current issue. He writes: "Politicians have always been lampooned and it is part of the very fabric of a healthy democracy that they should be," he agrees. But he goes on: "However, it is another thing entirely for politicians to caricature themselves, and so add a spurious air of authenticity to the self-mockery.

"That is what those Members who are appearing in the fifth-rate soap opera currently playing on Channel 4 are doing. Their participation risks bringing an institution of which they are, presumably, proud to be Members into new disrepute at a time when its stock is lower than it has been for decades."

It is good that Sir Patrick was not away, or the editorial might have had to be written by his deputy editor, the Labour MP Austin Mitchell (above), a recent guest star in a Channel 4 soap called Annie's Bar.