Matthew Bell: The IoS diary

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Good news for Lord Archer's son James, who has just been given the green light by Westminster council for a mega-development of six vast houses in Bayswater. An application by Target Living, the company jointly owned by Archer and his wife, Tara Bernerd, to convert what is currently a hotel back into five grand townhouses and three flats was granted on the condition they bung the council £300,000 towards "environmental improvements" in the area. A big bung you might think, but cheaper than the alternative: because of the size of the development, it could be subject to Policy H4, requiring the provision of affordable housing. In theory the hotel could generate 18 dwellings, rather than eight. But that policy is only discretionary, and Thursday's committee generously decided to waive it in return for the cash. Carry on!

* The High Court was told by News of the Screws hack Neville Thurlbeck that footage of Max Mosley's orgy was needed for them to prove the story. And he should know. Author Peter Burden tells the story of how, a few years ago, Thurlbeck was sent to investigate a naturists' boarding house in Essex whose owners allegedly offered "extras" to guests. Once he had finished his interview, it seems Thurlbeck thought he might as well take advantage of the situation, and begged the couple to be serviced himself, eventually enjoying what Burden describes as "an unmistakable act of Onanism". Unfortunately for Thurlbeck, the incident was recorded on camera and made its way on to the internet, much to the delight of Thurlbeck's colleagues back at the Screws. Apparently they know him as Neville "Onan the Barbarian" Thurlbeck.

The top lot at Labour's fundraising auction on Thursday was a tennis match with Tony Blair, although in the event an original artwork by Antony Gormley fetched more money. But who will Tony be up against? It may be with some relief that he learns the winning bidder was a woman, Penny McDonald, managing director of the Outside Organisation. But friends of McDonald, who is 6ft and whose clients include Sir Paul McCartney and Amy Winehouse, say she is a formidable presence on court. I look forward to reporting back on the result.

Residents of the Vatican have no shortage of visual stimulation, but now for the first time are being treated to a musical, based on – what else? – the life of the Virgin Mary (the other Madonna). I gather the Pope has given his blessing to the production, which stars a former Miss Italy contestant, Alma Manera, in the lead role. I only hope His Holiness does not interest himself too much in the back catalogue of the composer, Stelvio Cipriani. His previous works includes scores for the soft-porn B-movie 'Sex and the Devil', and that other classic of the 1970s sexploitation genre, 'Black Orgasm'.

I'm told Israeli TV commentators have been making merry with the name "Condoleezza Rice", which in colloquial Hebrew has come to mean "turn round and round without achieving anything". Rice just made her 22nd trip to Israel, and the wall is still up and the territories still occupied. They may have a point.

North London neighbours Jonathan Ross and Ricky Gervais have picked up on the plight of a missing dog on Hampstead Heath, each pledging £1,000 to match its owner's £1,000 reward for the dog's return. Manon, a whippet, was being walked by its now ex-dog walker when she went missing. She was spotted on the heath but couldn't be caught and has now disappeared. The pooch's owner claims she has been stolen, in what is known as a brown-collar crime.

Poor old Anne Robinson. Not only has she had to shell out £20m to her ex-husband John Penrose, but she's also lost her driving licence. You might have thought the reformed alcoholic had put her wild ways behind her. You certainly would had you watched her in "Star in a reasonably priced car", a feature on 'Top Gear' in which celebrities do a lap of a circuit in a banger. Robinson's time of 1 minute 57 seconds is one of the slowest times in the league table, down at the bottom with Terry Wogan and the late Richard Whiteley.

m.bell@independent.co.uk

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