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'Times' editor had a keen eye for talent

THOSE who fear that Peter Stothard, the editor-designate of the Times, is too serious-minded to take the ailing paper to the places where readers can be found need worry no longer. We can reveal that Stothard, in the first issue of his first editorship, showed all the gutter savvy of the best of his colleagues in the Murdoch stable: he was quite probably the first man to put a topless woman on the cover of a British newspaper. Alongside, you can see the front of the 28 April 1971 edition of Cherwell, the Oxford University newspaper, which he co-edited with Howard Davies (now Director-General of the CBI). The picture was not, of course, printed with anything but the highest motives in mind. 'It was a distinguished photograph promoting a distinguished theatrical production,' Stothard insisted yesterday - to which we can only say 'Phwoo-arrrr]' And, by the way, how distinguished is the actress? According to Stothard and Davies, she is Gully Wells, step-daughter of the late Sir Alfred (Freddie) Ayer. Stothard says Wells's mother, the American journalist Dee Wells, made quite a fuss. However her daughter, who is now literary editor of Conde Nast's Traveller magazine, tells us that she was not the model. 'I did do a topless shot, but I had my back to the camera, and it was two or three years earlier.' Stothard's career at Cherwell ended three issues later. The paper was badly in debt to its printers and was printed by the old- fashioned hot-metal process. He and Davies tried their best to persuade the Cherwell board to update. 'We were impatient and resigned in protest. We needn't have done - by the end of the term the process was changed anyway.' Students - incorrigible, aren't they?

THE former porn baron Howard Davies (see above) is making his mark at the CBI. He has renamed the confederation's November conference 'Competing with the world's best'. A spokesperson explains that the original, optimistic 'New Horizons' title 'was chosen before we got the new government'.

Disjointed reunion WHERE has the 'legalise cannabis' pressure group Release got to after a quarter of a century's campaigning? Well, by last Friday it had made it as far as the Tabernacle Community Centre in Notting Hill, west London, for a 25th anniversary bash. Mike Goodman, Release director, tells us it was 'a groovy event'. But many of those present wonder in which particular planetary sphere he was orbiting. 'It was terrible,' moans George Weiss, a campaign supporter and hopeful reveller. 'There wasn't a joint in sight, although the food was quite good. It represented nothing of what the Sixties were all about.' Another says: 'It was more like a squatters' benefit.' Well, the sign on the door did say: 'Drug-free zone.'

IN the current Soldier magazine: 19 British servicemen and women have received 'liberation medals' from the Saudi ambassador for their part in the Gulf war. One, photographed at the ceremony with the ambassador, is a 20-year-old driver, Amanda Tillotson, of the Royal Corps of Transport. She drove fuel tankers across the desert. But hang on - women aren't allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia . . .

Only half silly FOUR days into August and the silly season is looking rather sensible. Take the Sun's praiseworthy campaign against the menace of 'Old Age Travellers' who roam the country on state benefits such as the old age pension. According to the columnist Richard Littlejohn, these people drive bizarre vehicles - the Austin Allegro Vanden Plas and the Morris Traveller - at less than 30mph, stopping on motorway verges where they produce Primus stoves and flasks of 'tea'. 'Something,' he says, 'must be done.' And he's right - a really silly silly season story must be found. Write us one - the headline and first paragraph will do - and we'll cough up the usual bottle of Lanson champagne.

AND in the Jobs Wanted section of Loot magazine, there's Matt and Luke, 'two young, fit, intelligent and versatile males . . . anything legal and reasonable considered.' And they are, it turns out, Bros. But, sadly, their surname is Leggett.


4 August 1967 James Lees-Milne writes to Christina Cholmondeley from New York State: 'Billy and I are spending the most heavenly weekend here on Little Moose Lake - very cold and bright sun, the deserted lake before one's window, pine forest all around, and ferns and orange fungi and brown butterflies flopping in the dappled sunlight. By the kitchen window is a huge cylindrical bear-trap, because on Friday night a bear stood up and smashed the screen and window. We came back just in time and he fled. They are black bears said not to be dangerous. I asked our host what to do if I meet this or any other bear up the trail; he said 'Why James, you just stand still - unless it happens to be a mother with cubs, when I guess you should slowly withdraw'.'