Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary (23/01/11)

Love child of Truth and Beauty

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Marco Pierre White has abandoned plans to divorce his wife Mati, preferring not to fritter his estimated £50m fortune away on legal bills. And I can reveal he already has plans for the money, having snapped up a chain of six pubs and hotels in Norfolk, Suffolk and Wiltshire.

The pressure-cooked chef is putting the finishing touches to a contract that will see him take control of the boutique Maypole Group, which called in the receivers last month. It's an ambitious move that will see his portfolio outside London – he already runs pubs in Bristol, Newbury and Chester – more than double in size.

Among his new drinking holes is the ancient Angel Hotel in Lavenham; my man in the inglenook tells me locals are thrilled with the news, so long as he doesn't boot them out of the bar. When Marco took over the Yew Tree in Newbury, he put the price of a pint up to £5 – there may be trouble ahead.

She's the BBC's economics editor, but Stephanie Flanders appeared not to notice or care that a new Shadow Chancellor had been appointed on Thursday. Her blog, Stephanomics, has yet to remark upon recent events.

Could this have anything to do with the fact Flanders once went out with Ed Balls? Then again, she also dated Ed Miliband, and shared tutorials at Oxford with Yvette Cooper, so no wonder she's stuck to blogging about VAT.

Wiltshire County Council meets on Tuesday to discuss slashing its library services. Despite commissioning a report that concluded "professional staff are viewed as key to a libraries' [sic] success", the plan is to axe them in favour of volunteers.

So far, so Big Society. It might have been different had the council – to borrow that Tory mantra – mended the roof while the sun was shining: in recent years it has spent £475,000 on a rebranding exercise, and £35,000 on uniforms for librarians, despite their insistence they were quite happy wearing badges. So it must have cheered residents to read the headline on Devizes MP Claire Perry's column in the local Gazette and Herald: "Nothing to beat an old library for a good read."

La Perry was writing from the "hushed House of Commons library" and went into dewy-eyed reminiscences of her student days in the library at Brasenose College, Oxford. But astonishingly, she made no mention of the swingeing cuts about to be introduced. Does she even know?

Outraged Japanese viewers have prompted the BBC to apologise over a gag made on the quiz show QI. The jokes referred to Tsutomu Yamaguchi,the one official survivor of both 1945 atom bombs, who died last year aged 93.

What's odd is that it's not the first time the gag has been made: in 1997, a photo round in Have I Got News For You showed a lone figure walking through Hiroshima after the explosion, to which one contestant quipped: "One lucky survivor makes for the safety of Nagasaki." Nobody complained then, not even Mr Yamaguchi.

If your name is Johnson, don't answer the door. Hacks from one Sunday newspaper have been scouring the country in search of Emma Johnson, daughter of the recently departed shadow chancellor Alan. We admire their hunger for a scoop, but they could have done a bit more homework – on Friday two of them knocked on the door of one Emma Johnson in Bracknell, Berkshire, near Alan's constituency of Slough. But as the electoral register would have shown, that particular Emma was unlikely to be his daughter, being married to a Robert Johnson.

Accountancy giants Price Waterhouse Coopers are putting on their 25th annual pantomime at the Peacock Theatre in London this week. Employees apparently like nothing better than to ditch the grey pinstripe for face paint, wigs and honky false boobs. This year they've chosen Pinocchio. One can only wonder what attracted a corporate accountancy firm to the story of the long-nosed little puppet.

It wasn't just Vanessa Whitburn who gave away the New Year Archers plotline. Eagle-eyed owners of the 2011 official Archers calendar – still for sale at Waitrose and on Amazon – will have spotted a striking omission in the photomontage of characters on the front cover. Nigel Pargetter had been killed off long before he fell from the roof.

"I learnt more about what was going on in Tunis from one of my minister's wives than from our embassy," Nicolas Sarkozy fumed last week. The wife in question must have been Yasmine Tordjman, the nubile 20-something art student wife of immigration minister Eric Besson, 52. Let's hope Sarko and Mrs Besson don't start discussing Uganda.

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