Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary (03/04/11)

Marriage of Truth and Comedy

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Spoofs creator Alison Jackson has been called a liar by the Reverend Simon Grigg, vicar of St Paul's, Covent Garden, who claims she misled him into hiring her his church to stage a fake Royal wedding. Farcical scenes emerged at the actors' church on Friday when the vicar chucked Jackson, and the Royal lookalikes – including the Queen, her corgis and an Archbishop of Canterbury – out of the building. Grigg says he regularly hires out the church for magazine shoots, but was not told of Jackson's intentions. "It was a deliberate attempt to mislead us," he tells me. "Rowan Williams is a close friend of mine, and dogs are not allowed in church. I would never have agreed to it." But Jackson says it was a genuine breakdown of communications. "Why would I go to all that trouble just to be kicked out? I wasn't expecting so many paparazzi to turn out – it was quite a shock. I think only one paw had set foot in church when he said no dogs." The ceremony was conducted in the street, with a reception at KFC, and the carriage got a parking ticket.

It's an old-fashioned war between right and left. In one corner is the Daily Mail, with its scurrilous, ego- pricking scribe, Quentin Letts. In the other is the Arts Council, and its grand dame of bien pensant liberalism, Dame Liz Forgan. Last week, Letts wrote a full-page attack on the Arts Council on the day its cuts were announced, arguing that it should stop whingeing. Now, I understand, the Arts Council has instructed lawyers and referred the piece to the Press Complaints Commission. "I know nothing about it," says Dame Liz when I call, but a press officer confirms that a complaint has been lodged. Letts is baffled, not least as Dame Liz is chairman of the Scott Trust, which governs The Guardian, that bastion of free speech. Reading the piece, it's hard to see what grounds for complaint there might be, but I think we'll leave it there, just in case Dame Liz trains the PCC on to us too.

Why did John Bercow lend the Speaker's House to insurance giant AXA on Wednesday for a dreary drinks party announcing the Ambition AXA Awards? Guests, who included Andy Burnham and Camila Batmanghelidjh, who must have concluded it was worth enduring the battery of self-congratulatory speeches to get a snoop around the palatial apartment overlooking the Thames. I can reveal that the Speaker's official bed is decked in placenta-coloured sheets. Sally Bercow wasn't in, but her husband made an amusing speech. "The crueller parts of the press say I am the shortest speaker ever to occupy this chair," he said. "In fact, there was Sir John Bussy, from 1394 to 1398 – he was much shorter than me, after he had been beheaded." One reason Bercow busied himself with insurance suits might have been to avoid another engagement across town that night – the launch of an unauthorised biography of the Speaker by Bobby Friedman.

Say what you like about Colonel "mad-dog" Gaddafi, he has always tried to make his position clear to the Libyan people. At least, that's what The Green Book is meant to do, a short pamphlet setting out his political philosophy. The book, a somewhat incoherent rejection of democracy and the free press, is given to Libyan children in schools to study. But reports reach me that stocks have run down here in Britain. The Libyan embassy is clean out of them, suggesting there might have been a run on them in recent weeks. You have to admire MI6 and FCO bods for doing their homework, although if they can make any sense of what it means, good luck to them.

Uh oh. Brace yourselves to hear Jon Snow singing the news. He's been encouraged to do so by Camden's funky mayor, Jonathan Simpson, after performing in a concert on Friday at St Pancras church. The Channel 4 newsreader bravely sang a bass solo – an aria from Handel's Messiah – to much acclaim from the audience. Snow has been a keen warbler for years, although his talents haven't always been obvious. One of the secret gems of YouTube is a 15-second clip of him singing Rick Astley's ghastly Eighties hit Never Gonna Give You Up on the set of Channel 4 News. Inexplicably, it has had fewer than 3,000 hits.

Kenneth Clarke wasn't the first person to nod off in parliament, and he's certainly not the last. Lord Grocott, a former private secretary to Tony Blair, managed to forget he was making a speech during the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill in the Lords. He sat down to allow a couple of Tory peers to intervene, but forgot to stand up again and had to be prompted. "Sorry," he said. "I was thinking about having a cup of tea."

m.bell@independent.co.uk

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