The week in review: Home news

THE Olympics began: the quadrennial orgy of arcane sports and chauvinism. The nation settled in front of the television set to become instant experts in judo, volleyball, parallel bar work, weightlifting, dressage and coxless pairs. We learnt to call the Russians the 'Unified Team'. We bemoaned the desperate ill-luck of our medal hopes but admired their unquenchable courage. We waited breathlessly for the inevitable drugs scandal.

When it came, it was uncomfortably close to home. Two British weightlifters and a sprinter had been routinely tested some three weeks ago. Delays in evaluating their samples meant they were not told they had taken forbidden substances until they had already arrived in Barcelona. They returned home, protesting their innocence. Against all that, the fact that Britain won an early gold medal was overshadowed. The cyclist Chris Boardman won the 4,000m individual pursuit riding a revolutionary British carbon-fibre bicycle called a Windcheetah.

Nearer home, another traditional summer ritual was being played out at Kerry, mid-Wales, where some 20,000 New Age travellers turned up at a farm for a weekend festival and would not leave until they received their social security payments. The farmer, Stanley Pugh, displayed some sheep that had been savaged by the travellers' dogs and said some pounds 20,000 damage had been done to his property. Other farmers erected road blocks to deter the travellers from moving to another site.

The new Labour leader, John Smith, named his Shadow Cabinet, containing a record five women and, in Chris Smith, the first self-declared homosexual to attain such eminence. John Smith's leadership opponent, Bryan Gould, was given the dubious honour of shadowing the Secretary of State for National Heritage, David Mellor, victim the previous week of tabloid press intrusions into his private life.

Mr Mellor began his rehabilitation this week when his Desert Island Discs interview with Sue Lawley - recorded before his disgrace - was broadcast. Commentators combed it for doubles entendres largely without success, although Ms Lawley did compliment him on his speedy mastery of his briefs. The only vice to which he admitted was Friday afternoon sorties to record shops with an opposition politician.

Ms Lawley asked him what he thought of Eldorado, the much- touted BBC soap opera whose ratings have been a distinct disappointment since it started last month. He was non-commital, although the tabloid press was this week already writing off the series as an expensive disaster. The rival channel ITV, after an inordinately long search, found a chief executive - Andrew Quinn of Granada.

In the world of libel, Michael Jackson began legal action against the Daily Mirror for saying his good looks had been compromised by unsuccessful plastic surgery, while we enjoyed colourful evidence in the case of Jani Allan, a South African journalist suing Channel 4 for suggesting she had an affair with a Eugene Terre-Blanche, a neo- Nazi politician. Channel 4, in an unusual double defence, said it never made the allegation but it was true anyway.

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