Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary

A serious scribe for serious times


As the producers of 'Countdown' hold auditions to find a new "Vord at the board", one stalwart of the show has come out to call for it to be axed. Sir Tim Rice, a regular guest in Dictionary Corner, says 'Countdown' has not been quite right since the death of Richard Whiteley. "I do think these things run their course," he tells me. But Sir Tim wouldn't rule out presenting the show himself. "I would love to but I think it's better left alone now." In a further revelation, Sir Tim tells me that when Richard Whiteley was first unwell, 'Countdown' asked eight regular guests – including himself, Richard Digance and Richard Stilgoe – to each present a week's worth of shows. Alas, just as shooting was about to start, Whiteley died, necessitating a permanent replacement, and the recordings never took place.

Peter Mandelson has never lacked a sense of his own worth. Only a little while ago he sauntered into The Wolseley on Piccadilly for supper, only to be told there were no free tables. Mandy then uttered the immortal line: "Don't you know who I am?" Heroically, the table-booker replied: "Yes, Mr Mandelson, I know exactly who you are. And we still don't have any tables."

An exhibition by photographer Jocelyn Bain Hogg, opening at London's City Hall later this month, has caused much controversy. The subject is Britain's youth culture, with pictures taken in locations as disparate as Harrogate and Exeter to the Cambridge University May week ball. But it seems Bain Hogg has been too close an observer of the activities of British youth, and has been ordered to remove snaps involving underage drinking and smoking. "They're nothing grittier than what you would see in the papers, but they are verboten," I'm told. Perhaps Boris and team don't want to be reminded of their own varsity ball japes.

Boris Johnson is not alone in thinking Sir Ian Blair was not up to the job. Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Kenneth Clarke says of his sacking: "It's a pity as he's quite a nice chap. But I always thought he was slightly out of his depth." Johnson's dismissal of Sir Ian has angered Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, but senior Tories are also slightly nervous at Johnson's muscle-flexing. Inside City Hall I'm told of a hoo-ha after Johnson replaced his vastly experienced director of housing with an inexperienced young spark from his campaign team. As Dave might say, Boris will be Boris.

As minister for Africa, Asia and the UN, Mark Malloch Brown spends much of his time in the air. So to pin him down for a social engagement is quite an achievement. One such occasion was the 65th birthday party of his old beak at Marlborough College, Marty Evans, last weekend, having just flown in from high-level talks at the UN. "Marty was boasting of the fact he had five lords and ladies there," snipes one old boy. Lord Malloch-Brown is unusual for a Labour minister: he's the only one to have a grace-and-favour apartment, and one of the few to dare send his children to public school.

Thank goodness for Cherie Blair who is on course to save the plight of women worldwide with her new website,, which launched yesterday. "Its central aim is to highlight how women all around the world can work together to improve their lives," she announces. The practical details of quite how womenfolk should do all this working together remains unclear, but there's a handy link to the Waterstones website, where we can buy copies of Cherie's autobiography, 'Speaking for Myself'. So at least we can make a start improving one woman's life.

Prize-winning author Piers Paul Read is known for his strong Roman Catholic faith and for his biography of Alec Guinness. But his latest project marks a departure: he is writing a history of the Dreyfus affair, the French political scandal in which a Jewish officer was falsely imprisoned for treason. The real culprit was one of the Esterhazy family, and the author Emile Zola exposed the cover-up with his open letter to the president, "J'accuse". "I've just got a deal with Bloomsbury," Read tells me. "It was quite an effort to get one: half the publishers said the readers had never heard of the Dreyfus affair while half said there was already too much about it."

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month  

General Election 2015: Politics is the messy art of compromise, unpopular as it may be

David Blunkett
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Vote Tory and you’re voting for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer

Mark Steel
General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'