BBC employees elsewhere were also having a hard time. As a new dawn broke for Mr Birt the sun finally set on Eldorado after Alan Yentob, new controller of BBC 1, concluded that it had still 'not engaged the affection and attention of viewers'.
The future of Corky, the vociferous Devonshire cockerel, looked bleak after a judge at Taunton county court condemned the bird as a noise nuisance. Margerie Johns had installed Corky in a hen run in her garden in the hamlet of Stoke, from which he caused aural outrage to her neighbour, John Ritchings from 3.30am onwards. The judge, Malcolm Cotterill, regretted the case had 'apparently been elevated to some sort of crusade on behalf of oppressed chickens'.
Bigger things were brewing at the Treasury as Norman Lamont, the Chancellor, revealed in the Budget that VAT would be imposed on heating and lighting bills from April next year. Campaigners warned that winter deaths among poor pensioners and other vulnerable groups would rise unless they got full compensation. The Government hastily responded to the row by dispatching ministers to 'clarify' the extent of extra help to be given to the needy.
As the price of beer, wine, cigarettes and petrol went up, and the fish wars dragged on, the supermodel Naomi Campbell fell down while wearing purple platforms at Vivienne Westwood's show in Paris.
Meanwhile the Ayrshire house of Albert McTear, 49, became a courtroom as he sued Imperial Tobacco, claiming that his incurable lung cancer was the result of smoking 60 cigarettes a day for 30 years. He said the tobacco industry did not give sufficient warnings of the dangers of smoking.
Another diversion turned out to have sinister implications as Southwark Crown Court heard that Paul Bedworth, 19, of Ilkley, West Yorkshire, had become compulsively obsessed with computing. Bedworth, who hacked into databases at the Ministry of Defence, the Financial Times and a Brussels computer holding cancer patients' medical files, was described as lonely and vulnerable. He was acquitted of conspiracy charges under the Computer Misuse Act 1990. The jury heard that his closest friends were those he chatted with via his computer.
Finally, good news for God. Susan Howatch, author of Penmarric, donated pounds 1m to Cambridge University's Faculty of Divinity to establish a lectureship in theology. The woman who abandoned transient liaisons and a champagne lifestyle to become a recluse said: 'God seized me by the scruff of the neck, slammed me against the nearest wall and shook me until my teeth rattled.'Reuse content