News Fireman Christian McClean comforts colleague Alex Badcock (right) after they both finished the last ever shift at Clerkenwell fire station in London.

There were emotional scenes as firestations across the capital closed their doors

Obituary: Sir James Hill

SOUTHAMPTON TEST, which James Hill represented for more than 20 years, is one of Britain's super- marginal constituencies. It has changed hands six times since 1955 and has seen even political stars such as Shirley Williams come and leave defeated. Hill, however, was a consistent winner. He was elected in 1970, and hung on until the second Wilson election in 1974. He came back in 1979, however, and held it until the Blair landslide in 1997. For Hill, though, the previous election in 1992 was a close thing. He got back - but by just 585 votes. It was almost the same number as the majority by which he lost the seat in 1974.

Obituary: Leslie French

DESPITE A remarkably varied career over nearly three-quarters of a century during which he appeared in everything from musical revue and pantomime, through Shakespeare, Milton and Eliot and a final trenchant cameo on television in Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective (1986), Leslie French (like his fellow vertically- challenged and similarly farouche contemporary Richard Goolden, the perennial Mole of Toad of Toad Hall) is fated always to be associated primarily with one particular role.

Restaurants: Gastropubs

The Eagle

Television: Our lady of the bap and tea towel

James Rampton watches Victoria Wood's new comedy and asks: what's the point of sitcoms?

Your usual table? Who eats where: Joan Bakewell, broadcaster

I LIKE to eat in places with spontaneously attractive settings. Art gallery restaurants are rather good at the moment, and the Tate (Millbank, SW1, 0171 887 8877) has a friendly ambience and a lovely setting, with wonderful Rex Whistler walls. While the National Gallery (Trafalgar Square, WC2, 0171 747 2869) is also nice and does good mushroom tarts and grilled lamb.

Design: Swings and roundabouts

Photographer Liam Bailey has captured the unique, usually ignored world of the playground. But which is best, municipal old or trendy new?

Win free meals at award-winning pubs

Rupert and Joanna Clevely are the husband-and-wife team behind Geronimo Inns, a company which is dedicated to the traditional idea of the pub being the centre of a thriving local community, while offering imaginative, wide-ranging menus and extensive wine lists.

Pop: Eliza Carthy

THE FOLK person you'll have heard most about this year is Eliza Carthy. Her nomination for the Mercury Prize was worthy, not least because in her strong hands, traditionally sourced folk sounds like contemporary music, with kick and bite and plenty of purchase on what goes on in the modern world. If there had been any justice at all last year, then Kate Rusby (right) would have been similarly feted for her remarkable Hourglass album: a beautiful set of agrarian ballads, some researched, some written by the singer herself, all of them arranged in stripped-down semi-acoustic settings that serve to make space for their narratives to settle and grip. It's as innocently uncomplicated as trad folk can be without being mawkish, twee or self-consciously reverential. And Rusby's voice will one day be recognised as one of the greats.

Books: Pale Eagle and a cheerleader reunited

Leading the Cheers by Justin Cartwright, Sceptre pounds 16.99

Property: The stunning stairways that sometimes steal the show

ALL HOUSES need a focal point. Sometimes it is the wonderful inglenook fireplace or, the Aga in the kitchen and just occasionally, it is the staircase. Just when a staircase is purely functional and when it is an art form is debatable, but a truly amazing staircase can become quite a feature of a house.

Tackling change

Inside Business: Large companies need clear objectives when they go down the capital venture route or they may well get lost, writes Roger Trapp

Theatre: If at first you don't succeed, kill, kill and kill again

SERIAL KILLING, one would imagine, is a serious business. And an actor playing a serial killer would have his work cut out preparing for the role. But what about an actor playing an actor playing at serial killing? In a musical? Well, in Douglas J Cohen's 1997 off-Broadway musical No Way to Treat a Lady, Tim Flavin is having a ball. As Kit Gill the role-playing murderer, he gets to sing, dance, laugh maniacally and dress up as a priest, a flamenco dancer and a stiletto-heeled woman. He gets the best tunes in a weak score, and, perversely, he's just about the most credible character in the whole show.

Sex and the single flapper

With squealing gold-diggers and hymns to roughage, a revival of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes has its comic moments. But where's the raunch?

West End diners at risk of food poisoning

TOURISTS and diners at restaurants in central London risk food poisoning each time they eat because Westminster Council's food safety inspection system is failing.

Picture of the Day: Wounded Elephant', by Ronald Rae

The life-size granite sculpture `Wounded Elephant', by Ronald Rae, which was installed yesterday in Regent's Park, London Photograph: David Rose
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