Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary (18/09/11)

The darling of the party faithful


Former Gardeners' Question Time host Stefan Buczacki has launched a marvellous broadside on the programme, calling it a "pathetic shadow of its former self".

He says the Radio 4 show has lost its magic by stretching to 45 minutes, and that there are too many panellists with no chemistry between them. There's a tinge of sour grapes to his salvo, as he was dropped when an independent production company took over in 1994. So in the interests of balance, I ring up a few panellists, hoping for a defence of the show. Oddly, none of them is willing to give an opinion, and they refer me to a BBC spokesman, who primly announces they have no comment to make. Why has no one got a good word to say about it?

Julian Fellowes has learnt how to handle the media since being propelled to stardom by his creation Downton Abbey. Last year, he lashed out at a "permanent negative slant in the press", and complained of endless "nit-picking" from the left. But when novelist and social commentator AN Wilson launched a sustained attack against Fellowes last week, calling him Britain's biggest snob in a newspaper, then following up with more invective on the radio, Fellowes just shrugged it off. "I have never met A N Wilson," he tells me from Los Angeles, where he is attending the Emmys. "I gather he attacks me for all the qualities invented for me by the Daily Mail. Rather feebly, I haven't read it. Life is tough enough."

Kelvin MacKenzie, ex-editor of The Sun, has wasted no time in distancing himself from the paper after taking his column to the Daily Mail. In his first outing at his new home, he takes a pop at Rebekah Brooks, The Sun's disgraced chief executive. He tells the story of how she was unamused by his voicemail message, which said: "I'm sorry that I am not here but do leave a message and Rebekah will get back to you." But I gather he's actually sparing her blushes by not revealing the real reason why he left. I'm told it came about because of a column in which MacKenzie savaged Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson. Clarkson is also a Sun columnist, but more importantly he's a friend of Brooks from the Chipping Norton set. MacKenzie, not used to being muzzled, said to hell with it and went elsewhere.

On the subject of Brooks, I hear Tatler is preparing a major profile of Fleet Street's most Marmite of editors. Although they refuse to discuss it when I call, I'm told Sun columnist Jane Moore has landed the assignment, with full access to Rebekah. When Rebekah married Charlie Brooks in 2009, Tatler brought us fascinating details of their new life together: we learnt they liked to breakfast in Oxfordshire, lunch at Harry's Bar in Venice, before flying back to London for supper in Wilton's. To followers of Rebekah, no detail is ever too banal. Let's hope Moore isn't infected by the spirit of her PR husband Gary Farrow's profession, and serves up plenty of sauce.

Allison Pearson has poured scorn on critics who say her book I Don't Know How She Does It is "anti-women". In case you've missed the wall-to-wall coverage, it's been made into a film, starring Sarah Jessica Parker. The book is about how mothers such as Pearson, juggle the demands of high-octane careers with a busy home life. But it's not just the critics who are sniping: a busy mother and acquaintance of La Pearson rings to tell me she does know how she does it. "Allison has only got two children. She is also blessed with a husband who works from home [Anthony Lane, film critic for the New Yorker]. Frankly, he knows how to operate the dishwasher better than she does."

Intriguing to note the National Trust is sponsoring tonight's party at the Lib Dem conference. This comes only days after the NT waged war with the coalition over their plans to relax planning laws, which they say will, er, pave the way for what's left of the countryside to be concreted over. Let's hope the NT threatens to turn off the champagne.

Art critic Waldemar Januszczak has written an open letter to Prince William, asking him to promote the forgotten court painter William Dobson. He reasons that, as a fellow art historian who once wrote an essay on the portrayal of Charles I by Van Dyck, the Prince would take an interest in this 17th-century portraitist. But he needn't have made such a song and dance about it. A palace insider says: "The Prince would never respond to an open letter. But if the critic wants to send him a private letter, of course he would answer."

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