Matthew Bell: The <i>IoS</i> Diary (20/02/11)

The other ratcatcher
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The Independent Online

Today editor Ceri Thomas has been keeping a low profile since his gaffe last year, when he said women were not thick-skinned enough to cope with the programme's "incredibly difficult" environment. But he's not just staying out of the public eye – he hasn't been seen in the studio for weeks, prompting some to wonder if he has been quietly moved on. Holding the fort is Jasmin Buttar, who was transferred from Newsnight in November. Some colleagues are beginning to miss Thomas, who despite his perceived misogynism, is an energetic ideas man, who hates getting boring old ministers on to fill space. Last week, there was a minister five days in a row. But I have good news for his one-time workmates: Thomas is coming back. "Ceri is heading up a short project," a BBC spokesman tells me, "The director-general has appointed nine work streams to look at how the BBC can do things better and save money. Ceri is leading the radio one. He will be back next month."

Happy birthday to Gordon Brown, who turns 60 today. And how does the ex-PM plan to mark the big day? He has already got off to a cracking start, by penning a piece for the IoS. Then, I can reveal, he will be spending the day at home with his sons, John and Fraser. After that, starting tomorrow, the Downing Street diaries of Sarah Brown are to be serialised in a newspaper. But judging by a warm-up interview she gave yesterday, Gordon shouldn't have to lose any sleep. The only interesting revelation was that, on leaving No 10, the Browns were given a bill for 200 breakfasts from the Civil Service. But what about tonight – surely a small party is in order? "I'm afraid I don't know," says his spokesman when I call. "If Sarah has planned anything privately, she hasn't told me. And I'm not going to tell you."

Peter Mandelson's dream of being asked to appear on Strictly Come Dancing may have inched closer to becoming reality, after he partnered up with Ann Widdecombe at a charity bash on Thursday. Sky News's Adam Boulton bid £300 for the prize of having Mandy and Widdy dance to the Titanic hit, "My heart will go on", at The Ultimate News Quiz. Boulton was thrilled to be the author of the unlikely union: "Peter feigned annoyance but once they got going you could tell they were loving it. A lot of secret rehearsing had obviously gone on." But Widdecombe dismisses the suggestion they had been practising. "Peter was a very good dancer," she tells me. "It's not that surprising, as he is one of those people who has always wanted to do Strictly. But no, we didn't have any rehearsals. I was particularly impressed that, when it came to the lift, which I thought he wouldn't do well on, he got me up quite high."

The prize for most weasel-worded quote of the week goes to Roger Wright, controller of Radio 3. Denying that he was performing a U-turn by reintroducing live performances, he said: "You can't do a U-turn to something you had never done before." Except, of course, that it was he who axed almost all live music from Radio 3 back in 2006, thus beginning the station's decline into the drab, populist station it has become.

Hooray for Sir Colin Davis, 83, who was back on the podium at the Royal Opera House last night, after suffering a fall there on Wednesday. But what has become of that other Great British Conductor, Sir Andrew Davis? He now lives in the US as principal conductor of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and is Conductor Laureate of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Toronto Symphony Orchestra. In 2007, he had to cut short his contract with the Pittsburgh, citing too much work. But the schedule on his website is worryingly empty. February: "There are no events listed for this month"; March: "There are no events listed for this month". April, June, July... the same. Andy, where are you?

Last week, I mentioned Lawrence Abramson, the lawyer who conducted one of the News of the World's internal investigation into phone hacking, who found no evidence that anyone other than a rogue reporter had done anything wrong. The odd thing is, it didn't take a Murdoch-inspired probe long to find "significant" evidence. When I first contacted Abramson, he declined to comment, citing client confidentiality. But even after raising this troubling question last week, I still hadn't heard from Abramson, so I gave him a ring for an update. Alas, his answering machine informs me that he is on holiday – until the end of the month. But fear not: we'll be sure to follow it up on his return.