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Next time, send for Mr Sheen

NORMAN LAMONT is an affable character who enjoys good company, but occasionally, I would suggest, he is unlucky - like his friend-cum-foe John Major. Just as he clearly enjoyed talking to the journalist Ginny Dougary and was then nonplussed when she quoted him, apparently, describing the Prime Minister as 'weak and useless', so now has he employed an image-polisher, Michael Romain, who could be seen as someone who could do with an image enhancer himself.

Lamont has been unlucky with his new consultant on two counts. First, it transpires, I can reveal, that Romain was until recently a fellow director of a Tory aide exposed by a Sunday newspaper for selling himself for sex at pounds 1,000 a night. He claimed only a vague association with the aide, Andrew Wigmore, when the Diary questioned him about the connection last month, but now says that he 'must have forgotten' that he and Wigmore had co-written articles for the Independent as directors of Independent Policy Research, an Anglo-American consultancy.

Second, Romain has not had an auspicious start to his career of damage limitation on Lamont's behalf. The Diary reported yesterday that Lamont had asked the BBC's Jim'll Fix It programme to delete a reference to a remark he made about John Major not wanting to play ping-pong with him at Number 11 because he didn't want to be beaten. Romain denied the story emphatically, saying he had consulted Lamont and the BBC.

It now turns out that Lamont did ask the BBC to delete a remark, and the Corporation agreed to do so.

AS I pointed out last year, John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education, has difficulty in spelling - he described himself as 'commited' in a foreword to a book on state schools - so it's no surprise that he chickened out of a spelling competition on Radio 4's Word of Mouth programme yesterday. His deputy, Tim Boswell, went along instead, and did well - except for the word 'loth' which he spelt 'loathe' - and even that was probably a misunderstanding.

If pigs could lie AS GAY men and lesbians continued to protest yesterday following the House of Commons vote, a researcher at Washington's National Cancer Institute thinks he may be close to finding a gay gene.

At a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco this week, he found himself trying to explain why he did not use animals in his studies of sexual orientation. Using animals is fraught with problems, he said: 'Pigs don't date, horses don't get married. Pigs - of the genetic type - don't say 'Honey, I'm going bowling' and then go to a strip joint.'

WOUNDED by a suggestion in the Times last year that his bank- balance suffered at the hands of Lloyd's, Anthony Steen MP has now received several thousand pounds in compensation. Other Names might have kept the money themselves, but not the MP for South Hams in Devon. He has decided to donate his gains to local churches in various states of disrepair.

Otherwise engaged HAVING already lost one secretary to the altar rail and the hand of a Mr Wright as I reported last week, Paddy Ashdown is now losing his private secretary (diary), Lisa Dorse, who will fill in her last day of engagements on 4 March prior to her wedding in Somerset. Applications to succeed Miss Dorse should be in by 18 March: pounds 12,000- pounds 14,000 a year, 90wpm shorthand, and Lib Dems only.

AN AWKWARD moment at a Foyle's lunch yesterday when photographers asked the guest speaker, Sir Edward Heath, to pose with Lords Hailsham and Whitelaw. En masse, a trifle bulky for the lenses, the trio were asked to squeeze closer together. 'Not too close,' quipped Hailsham. 'The age of consent has not yet been raised to 100.'


23 February 1669 Samuel Pepys writes: 'Up: and to the Office, where all the morning, and then home, and put a mouthful of victuals in my mouth: and by a hackney-home followed my wife and the girls, who are gone by eleven o'clock, thinking to have seen a new play at the Duke of York's House. But I do find them staying at my tailor's, the play being not today, and therefore to Westminster Abbey, and there did see all the tombs very finely, having one with us alone, there being other company this day to see the tombs, it being Shrove Tuesday; and here we did see, by particular favour, the body of Queen Katherine of Valois; and I had the upper part of her body in my hands, and I did kiss her mouth, reflecting upon it that I did kiss a queene, and that this was my birthday, thirty-six years old, that I did kiss a Queene.'