Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary (26/12/10)

Boxing clever

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Radio 4 listeners may be left scratching their heads on 6 January, with the broadcast of a play called A King's Speech. For it comes just a day before the hotly anticipated release of The King's Speech, the film starring Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter. Despite the uncanny similarity of the titles, and the subject matter – both tell the story of George VI's struggle to overcome a stammer – they are by different authors. So, who had the idea first? Mark Burgess's play was first aired on Radio 4 in April last year, and the BBC is repeating it to make a point. But any suggestion that his idea was nicked is demolished by Tom Hooper, the film's director, who says that he chanced upon his script, a play by David Seidler, at a fringe performance in north London. Still, the similarities are spooky. "You wait 75 years and then two plays come along at once," says Burgess, who teaches at Bedford Modern School. "Everyone's going to think I'm raking it in, but they're completely separate. It's a bit strange."

Tina Brown is throwing a "Welcome to America" party for Piers Morgan in January, as he arrives to start his celebrity interview show on CNN. The Daily Beast editor, who likes to think of herself as the Queen of New York after 25 years in the city, plans to introduce Morgan to various useful contacts. But the question everyone wants answered is what Morgan's wife, the Daily Telegraph journalist Celia Walden, plans to do. She has a successful career of her own in London, and may be reluctant to give it up. "I'm looking into various options," she told me at a party last week when I inquired. Surely Tina, who plundered Evelyn Waugh's novel Scoop for her website's name, can step up and provide Celia with the Mrs Stitch service?

One unexpected consequence of Vince Cable's indiscretions is that Rebekah Brooks could be hauled back into the Commons. The News International executive has been careful not to appear before select committees since the time when, as editor of The Sun, she admitted to paying police officers for information. But the transfer of the decision over Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB bid from Cable to Jeremy Hunt – from the Business department to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport – means that it will now be the media select committee that scrutinises the decision. Among its members are Tom Watson and Paul Farrelly, who have been the most exercised over phone-hacking, and are, I'm told, rubbing their hands at this new opportunity to summon Murdoch stooges for questioning. Even though the two matters are separate, select committee members are free to ask any question they please.

Now that Vince Cable has been exposed as a Murdoch-hating dissident – as if we didn't know – other MPs are making their own confessions. Guy Opperman, Conservative member for Hexham, leapt up during a debate on racing last week to reveal his criminal past. "I must declare an interest as a former jockey who, for his sins, still rides as an amateur," he said. "I probably would not have got through my schooldays were I not also a former bookmaker. I financed a large part of my schooldays by running an illegal book when I was aged about 12 and 13, and I avoided the law very impressively. It's a wonder I survived." Who needs the Telegraph when they 'fess up voluntarily?

Expect to see plenty more of Helena Bonham Carter in coming weeks. The diary's favourite actress is appearing not only as a young Queen Mother in The King's Speech, but also as the charlady stepmother of Nigel Slater in Toast, the film adaptation of the chef's memoirs. One interviewer has already seen rather more of her than he expected, after a wardrobe malfunction. "Sorry. This suit works all right when I'm standing up, but it's not very practical," she announced to Andrew Duncan of the Radio Times as they sat down. "I don't want to keep thrusting my breasts in your face. Have you seen them before?"

Ex-Observer editor Donald Trelford was among those saying nice things about political journalist Anthony Howard, who died last weekend. "He was an excellent editor of the New Statesman and The Listener," he said, "and, if the timing of his career had been more fortunate, he should have edited a national newspaper." Indeed. What Trelford politely omitted to mention was that, as his deputy, Howard spent much of his time plotting to topple him. As Peter Wilby – former editor not only of the Statesman but of this newspaper, too – says: "He thought [Trelford] intellectually lightweight, incomprehensibly obsessed with sport and too often absent." Howard was also a great friend of our own Alan Watkins, whose death this year saddened him greatly. They will both be missed.

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