'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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