Matthew Bell: The <i>IoS</i> Diary (14/11/10)

A priceless heirloom, with no reserve
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The Independent Online

He has been called a misogynist, a mediocrity and a moron. But for how much longer can we call Ceri Thomas editor of the Today show? For I can disclose he is to be joined at the helm by Jasmin Buttar, the fearsome deputy editor of Newsnight. At first it was thought she would be replacing Thomas's deputy, Jon Zilkha, but Zilkha isn't going anywhere. Now, mischief-makers are wondering if it will be Thomas's job she takes. Thomas has not had a good year: in April, he was obliged to make a grovelling retreat after suggesting women weren't thick-skinned enough to work on Today. Then, when Mark Damazer left as controller of Radio 4, Thomas failed to land the job. BBC chiefs have now clearly decided that, contrary to Thomas's pronouncement, Today could benefit from a female touch. Not that Buttar is exactly a wallflower: she has quite a reputation at Newsnight, where she nearly got the top job two years ago.

A cushy little number has come up at the House of Lords – the job of Black Rod. Duties for the £83,000 post include looking after security arrangements and having the doors of the House of Commons slammed in your face once a year, during the ceremonial State Opening of Parliament. The job has come up unexpectedly after Sir Freddie Viggers was forced to step down only a year in, due to ill health. An advert says the right candidate would have the ability to work in a complex political environment. What about Sally Bercow?

Having donated £10m to the Royal National Theatre, businessman Lloyd Dorfman is to have the Cottesloe renamed in his honour. The founder of Travelex, he has generously been sponsoring cheap seats at the National for years, but why the fascination with theatre? As one friend from their days at St Paul's explains: "Lloyd loved dressing up in exotic clothes at school. What better fulfilment of his theatrical side?" A spokesman for the National confirms it: "Lloyd has very fond memories of taking part in theatrics at school."

What could Julian Fellowes possibly have done to upset the socialite beauty Basia Briggs? The impeccably mannered author of Downton Abbey – you won't catch him folding his napkin after dinner – has displeased his neighbour in Chelsea so much that he has not been seen at her salon for some time. Fellowes used to be among guests rubbing shoulder pads with Joan Collins or Princess Michael of Kent. But then he committed a faux pas so grievous that a furious exchange of letters ensued, which, I'm told, only added insult to injury. "Julian is a prolific letter-writer, and can be pretty waspish at times," says a friend. Happily, bridges have now been built, though Basia declined to comment when I call.

World leaders are scrambling to be first to offer tea and sympathy to freed Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Andy Coulson earned his keep by getting David Cameron's message of support out in record time. No doubt he was encouraged by Ed Llewellyn, Dave's chief of staff, who knew the Burmese leader a little during his time with Chris Patten in Hong Kong. Suu Kyi is quickly becoming the Nelson Mandela de nos jours: in 2007, Gordon Brown sought to show off his human rights credentials by dedicating a chapter of his book Courage to her. The stunt backfired when it prompted a chorus of complaints from Burma experts, who said it was riddled with errors: it turned out to have been written by two junior researchers. Others said Brown failed to act on Burma, and a leading charity said they received nothing from him, while the less boasty Laura Bush and Prince Charles made donations. "And Brown can't even pronounce her name," groused one expert. World leaders beware.

Nigel Lawson has accused Simon Hoggart of inventing "most of the stories" in his book, a memoir of his time as The Guardian's sketch writer. The former chancellor is annoyed by Hoggart's relating an anecdote, in which Lawson is alleged to have asked a photographer if he can see the photo of himself before it was published. The only other person to have made that request, said the snapper, was Zsa Zsa Gabor. Writing in The Spectator, Lawson calls the story "a complete invention". But Hoggart is sanguine when I call: "I'm not at all surprised he has forgotten it," he says. "The story is very old, but it's true." The key to all this, perhaps, lies in the book's curious title: A Long Lunch: My Stories and I'm Sticking To Them.