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Digging a hole for themselves

GREAT publishing boobs of our time. The title billed as 'the world's first women's humour magazine' may well be the last, if its blunder record is anything to go by. In its launch edition this week, Bitch magazine carries a spoof advertisement for telephone sex lines. Under the headline 'Gardeners Chat-lines', it exhorts ladies to dial now to discover their 'sexual roots with compost Kenneth'. The accompanying photograph is of a wrinkled old man wearing a woolly hat. Oops. He turns out to be Syd Hearne, a First World War hero who was a staunch member of the Tory party. Fortunately for Bitch's Hove-based publishers, Syd is dead - you cannot libel the deceased. But still alive and contemplating legal action are three other elderly gentlemen featured in the 'advert': a retired gamekeeper, whose picture appears above the caption 'Let me bed you down for winter, says seedy Ralph'; a shopkeeper dubbed 'Green-fingered George, who wants to sow wild seeds'; and an estate worker whom Bitch calls 'Earthy 'Peat', who wants to trim your bush'. The photos were lifted, without permission, from The English, a 10-year-old book about rural characters. But Bitch protests that it made an innocent mistake. 'I had no idea the item would cause offence,' says Anne Harrison, the editor. 'It was just a joke.'

THE HEATH and Old Hampstead Society has protested at Camden Council's plan to close Hampstead's South End Green public convenience. It has asked the Government to list it as a historic building. After all, the society points out, it was a key setting in the film version of Prick Up Your Ears, John Lahr's biography of Joe Orton.

Insincerely yours

TIME to unfold another of life's great mysteries - why every letter to Blue Peter gets an individual reply. According to Biddy Baxter, the programme's editor from 1962-88, who set up the rather grandly titled Correspondence Unit to reply to readers' letters, it was because of Enid Blyton. As a six-year-old, Baxter wrote two gushing fan letters to Blyton, only to receive two identical replies. Baxter reveals this telling detail in an interview in the latest issue of Durham University's alumni magazine, Kingsgate. The first letter, a hymn of praise to Blyton, was elicited by Blyton's magazine, Funny Stories. In reply, Baxter tells us, she received a 'wonderful letter, very chatty with her own address on the top. I really felt she was writing to me. But, being a typical child, I wrote again three days later. I got back exactly the same letter. I remembered for ever how awful I felt that day.'

AN OTTER radio-tracking project is causing a few ripples in Scotland. The scheme involves rigging bulky chest harnesses with transmitters on trapped animals before releasing them into the wild, where their movements can be tracked by conservationists. One bemused onlooker recently sought refuge in a pub. 'A double brandy,' he gasped. 'I've just seen an otter wearing a rucksack.'

A passage to India?

AT LAST - the uncensored truth about our obsession with the Royals' romantic indiscretions. Swami Prem Amrito, a follower of the late Indian mystic Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, has uncovered the real interest behind Dianagate and Fergie's Last Boob. In a communique from the Osho commune in Poona, India, Amrito, a British physician turned guru-wallah, puts it all down to the British public's deeply repressed sexuality. 'People are still enslaved by the Victorian idea that sex is a sin,' he says, 'so they only feel free to gossip about it if they can condemn the sexual behaviour of others.' Amrito's solution is simple: the sisters-in-law should give up their titles and their Royal salaries and join him in the commune. You can see them now: swathed in orange robes, holding hands and chanting mantras about sexual liberation - one called Swami Prem Fergie and the other Swami Prem Squidgy.

JOHN CLEESE's dislike of the press appears to have reached Basil Fawltian proportions. In this month's Esquire he offers to send pounds 10,000 to charity for every newspaper that promises never to mention his name again. 'In the case of the Sun, I'll send pounds 20,000,' he adds.


2 September 1914 Robert Bridges, the Poet Laureate, writes to the Times about the First World War a month after its outbreak: 'Since the beginning of this war the meaning of it has in one respect considerably changed, and I hope that our people will see that it is primarily a holy war. It is manifestly a war between Christ and the Devil. The infernal machine which has been scientifically preparing for the last 25 years is now on its wild career like one of Mr Wells's inventions, and wherever it goes it will leave desolation behind it and put all material progress back for at least half a century. There was never anything in the world worthier of extermination, and it is the plain duty of civilised nations to unite to drive it back into its home and exterminate it there.'