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'We were exotic strangers competing for notches on the bedpost'

Preview: comedy: mel and sue

Live on stage, comedians Mel and Sue are very much unchanged from their familiar personae on Channel 4's Late Lunch. They display all those qualities which gained them sofa-loads of malingering student fans: they're sassy, saucy, sussed, sarky. Oh, yes, and silly. The pair are at their best when their professionalism is at its worst. During a recent live show, they would often lose it completely in the middle of a sketch, and step out of character to take the mick out of each other's (frequent) fluffs. Rather than appearing self-indulgent, this is actually rather endearing. They appear with Tim Vine, Bill Bailey, Paul Zerdin and Jocelyn Jee at tonight's Alan Davies Appeal Benefit. Alan Davies Appeal Benefit (in aid of the Hackney Empire Appeal Fund), Hackney Empire, London E8 (0181-985 2424) tonight

Letter: Millennium song

Sir: John Harris cannot get his head around the possibility that the "millennium number one" will be a record using words written by the man who started the whole thing off 2,000 years ago ("Praise be! It's the terrifying cult of Sir Cliff", 23 November).

Space. The final frontier for a foreigner in London

`If there's a more awful experience than looking for a flat to rent, I don't want to know about it'

Parliament: Welfare - Rebels back down as benefits Bill passes Lords

LEGISLATION TO cut disability benefits was passed by the House of Lords last night, despite last-ditch claims by Labour peers that they were "grossly unjust" measures.

Parliament: Welfare - Darling accused of betraying the vulnerable

ALISTAIR DARLING came under intense pressure for "betraying" the most vulnerable people in society last night as backbenchers rebelled against measures to cut incapacity benefits (IBs).

Education: How the system failed a school

It's four years since Hackney Downs school was forced to shut down after years of very public pillorying as `Britain's Worst School'. But its long demise was no simple tale of poor teachers and lack of community support.

Letter: Squatter's wrongs

Sir: Though entertaining, Danny Penman's tale of how he was set up in an east London flat by Syd the Squatbroker exposes the myth of the "harmless" squatter ("How squatter king set me up in a London flat for pounds 120", 24 July).

Letter: Squats in Hackney

Sir: In a number of articles last week your writers have appeared to glamorise squatting in Hackney (reports, 22, 23, 24 July). I don't think that the average Hackney council tenant or property owner shares the views or perceptions of your writers.

How squatter king set me up in a London flat for pounds 120

Danny Penman gets a place from a man who acts as estate agent to the capital's homeless

Who wins in squatland?

I squatted in London for nine months and can honestly say the shelter it provided saved my life

BOOKS: The discomfort of strangers

Weird Sister by Kate Pullinger Phoenix pounds 16.99

Firm's pounds 1.4m to shake up schools

PRIVATE CONTRACTORS will be paid pounds 1.4m under a three-year deal to take over key education services in a failing London borough.

Private firm for Hackney schools

MINISTERS WILL announce shortly that they are to privatise the school improvement service in Hackney - the first time one of a council's key functions has been taken over by a private contractor.

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NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own