They were once the highlight of the party conference season – the News International parties. Exclusive affairs, where the champagne flowed, the flesh was pressed and prime ministers and wannabe PMs queued up to touch the cloth of Rupert Murdoch and his lieutenants. Even when The Sun pulled its support from Gordon Brown's Labour Party in 2009, half of his cabinet still turned up to the NI bash. How times change. The phone-hacking scandal had the dual impact of removing most of the big schmoozers from Murdoch's employ – notably Rebekah Brooks and all the News of the World staff – while few politicians would want to be spotted cosying up to the firm that hacked the phones of murder victims. A NI spokesman confirms to me "that party conference [sic] has been cancelled". MPs finding themselves at a loose end could join The Independent on Sunday for a fizzy water instead.
"A pint?" Tony Hancock famously exclaimed at the idea of giving blood. "That's very nearly an armful." Many of the one-liners from Hancock's Half Hour stand the test of time, despite first airing in 1961. But while the star gets the credit for the laugh, it's the show's writers – Ray Galton and Alan Simpson – who feel a little overlooked. "Even now, if a newspaper wants to use a gag from one of our shows, they don't credit us," says Simpson in a new book, The Masters of Sitcom, out this month. "They attribute it to Hancock, or Steptoe – because they don't want to have to explain that Galton and Simpson actually wrote the line."
Prudishness in Downing Street. The Government art collection team has been "rotating" the pictures hanging in No 10. And several have raised eyebrows. While officially they depict nature up-close, staff with more active imaginations have noticed striking similarities with, ahem, parts of the human body. One image of seeds, in particular, looks like a "pert bottom", I'm told, while a graphic painting of a flower bears a resemblance to female genitalia.
Alistair Darling's memoirs chronicling, among other things, Gordon Brown's "brutal and volcanic" moods, are making waves. It will please his publishers, Atlantic Books, who seem to have got plenty of bang for their buck, having paid a £75,000 advance for Back from the Brink: 1,000 Days at No 11. But it is worth noting that, despite settling scores with his old boss, it is the former PM who came out on top, financially. Brown's advance from Sterling Lord Literistic, which he gave to charity, for his snappily titled Beyond the Crash: Overcoming the First Crisis of Globalisation was the very precise figure of £78,289.61. Kerching.
He has fronted Roman Polanski's 1971 version of Macbeth, presented Britain's first all-nude quiz show, and been cyberbullied for using other comedians' gags. Now Keith Chegwin has signed up as the frontman for Publishers Clearing House, America's national prize draw that, since 1956, has fuelled the dreams of suburban housewives by turning up on a winners' doorstep with balloons, buckets of mirth and a landing-strip-sized cheque. The company now plans to do the same in the UK, with Cheggers brandishing the £100,000 cheques. "The two countries are sharing the same headaches and worries, particularly in a recession," explains Dennis Vukelic of PCH. Fingers crossed Cheggers remembers to put his pants on.
Don't cross Nadine Dorries, the forthright Scouse nurse turned Tory MP, who has been calling for a tougher abortion regime. She was profiled in Friday's edition of The Times by Alice Thomson, who sharpened her pencil and made plain her disdain for the 54-year-old parliamentarian. Note: "Her face is as crumpled as her shirt". In response, Dorries fired off a withering character assassination on her blog. After noting that Thomson is "award-winning" in a comment dripping with sarcasm, she reels off a string of put-downs. There are claims of being misquoted: "You would think it wouldn't be too difficult for a journalist who knows her Vera Wang to listen to a tape." There are catty remarks about Thomson's outfit: "I waited with anticipation for haute couture to waft through my door, instead I greeted emaciated Gap." And there is a devastating swipe at Thomson's shoulder-length mousey-blonde hair. "Oh, and Alice, darling, there comes an age where it's just not OK to wear your hair long and in the style of a 16-year-old and you, sweetie, passed it some time ago." It is worth remembering that Dorries once admitted her blog is "70 per cent fiction", so Thomson needn't go to the hairdressers just yet.
Matthew Bell is away