Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary (28/02/10)

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Senior BBC bods are anxious to avoid a repeat of the brouhaha that arose when Peter Sissons wore a maroon tie while announcing the Queen Mother's death. A new protocol for coverage of royal deaths, seen by the diary, includes a strict dress code which demands: "For the death of the Monarch, presenters should, wherever possible, make the announcement of death wearing black tie (men) or black jacket/top (women). Black should definitely be worn for later broadcasts." The document has been drawn up by deputy director general Mark Byford, head of news Helen Boaden and chief operating officer Caroline Thompson, and circulated to senior BBC editors. "Do remember, our audience will have high expectations that the BBC will handle the story in a respectful manner, with proper recognition of the status of the deceased," it adds. Peter Sissons retired last year and is currently writing his memoirs.

So Labour's election slogan is "A future fair for all". A worthy sentiment, but it doesn't chime with new figures revealing a significant pay gap among staff at No 10, released last week following a question by Baroness Warsi. The information shows that male civil servants in the top pay grade earn nearly 10 per cent more than women, earning £74,480, while their equivalent female colleagues are paid £68,390. What is it they say about charity beginning at home?

Boris Johnson says he will "keep blapping ministers between the eyes until they understand that it would be utter madness to cut infrastructure projects". Is that really what he means? According to my urban dictionary of street slang, blapping means something more specific than mere slapping or bopping. Sensitive readers may wish to skip forward to the next story, as I quote: "Blap, verb: the act of slapping someone across the face with your penis. They then become your property/ your bitch." We suggest he keeps his keks on.

Whispers reach me of a feisty incident involving top thriller writer Tom Clancy, author of bestselling titles such as Patriot Games and The Hunt for Red October. Clancy is an honorary yeoman warder of the Tower of London, and regularly flies over from his Maryland home for dinners and functions. At one bibulous recent occasion, Clancy is said to have lit his cigarette while still inside the building. According to my source, he was asked to put it out, which he did, but 20 minutes later was caught again, and was this time escorted outside. But Clancy denies any misbehaviour: "That never happened. When I smoke at HM Tower, I do so outside. I always play by the rules. I'm in the business of writing fiction and so is your source. Me, ejected from the annual yeomen's dinner? Not damned likely." Yes, sir!

Jonathan Ross is going back to his old rabble-rousing ways as he prepares to leave the BBC in July. Bantering with a listener to his radio show yesterday, Ross poured scorn on the BBC Trust's call for Radio 2 to attract older listeners. "We're still on what is ostensibly, for now, a youngish radio station," he said. "But you know it's all changing. They're turning it into a pensioners-only site after the summer. It's not just that I'm off. Obviously I'm off, but it's come down from above. Nobody above the age of 75 can listen any more. Briefly, we turned it upside down and now sanity returns it seems." (We assume he meant "below 75".) We will miss him, we think.

The sale of a Dalek at Bonhams for more than £20,000 last week sounded like good news for Cathy Ashton, the EU's foreign policy boss. As I revealed, the Labour peer has a full-size Dalek in her sitting room, a present from husband Peter Kellner. Might they now be tempted to cash in and sell their own? "No," laughs Kellner when I call. "Sadly, ours is only a replica. You can get them off a website. It would be like selling a print of a Picasso rather than the real thing." Maybe one day they'll invest in a genuine one. "It's not something to which we've given any thought."

m.bell@independent.co.uk

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