Diary

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Andrew Jaspan, named yesterday as the next editor of the Observer, caused much amusement among newspaper executives at the Labour Party Conference last September. Tony Blair called a meeting for national newspaper editors to brief them on his pla ns. Jaspan, 42, who had just been installed as editor of the Scotsman, was greatly put out when he found he was excluded. He complained about the snub, adding, with all the force of the first Englishman to edit the Scots'

establishment paper, that everybody knew it was a national. Clearly, the right man for that job.

There's no chance of his being snubbed this year. In picking Jaspan, the Scott Trust has alighted on an Andrew Neil-style figure, full of bustling energy and big features ideas, but without the fierce free market Conservative edge and love of all things American that blighted Neil's Sunday Times. Jaspan is expected to shake up the paper's core comment and features pages radically as he searches to update the Observer's traditional liberalism.

What will John Birt do after the BBC? I ask, because his scathing remarks at the weekend about the way some broadcasters bicker rudely with politicians sound strangely detached, considering he heads our largest news and current affairs operation.

And Birt's thesis, that the media are guilty of blowing up stories from stray remarks, is the sort of thing politicians love to hear.

John Birt's observations surely reflect three facts. First, while the BBC won virtually everything it wanted in last summer's White Paper it is facing a Parliamentary debate tomorrow on reactions to the consultation, as well as having an eye to the unresolved issue of whether the BBC's transmitter network should be privatised.

Second, Birt is looking beyond the BBC for his next challenging mission - either to reorganise an untidy area of public life, or make some real money; after all, his former multi-millionaire mates at LWT don't just watch racing, football and politics, they invest in them. Birt is thought to be on a five-year staff contract which expires in 1996/97 - with provision for an annual extension (don't celebrate too soon, Jeremy Paxman). But he is known to have little truck with the notion that a job is for life. So, where to go? The rumour is he's been eyeing up the United States. Third, Birt really believes what he says about the nation's need to have a responsible media. The problem is that he could have made last weekend's Dublin speech at any point in thepast two decades. Indeed, the famous "bias against understanding" articles which he penned with Peter Jay were published in the Times 20 years ago. When you start repeating yourself, perhaps it really is time to go?

This column wanted to bring you a flavour of last Friday's Oldie magazine lunch of the year. However, at 12 noon, hair washed, smartly suited, I was about to set off when the phone rang. My five-year-old had been taken ill, and needed to be picke d up. Huddled on a school sofa under a blanket, she looked the picture of misery and flu, crossed with the current chest infection suffered by the baby.

I went to the doctor's instead of lunch, then spent the afternoon watching Mary Poppins. The film contains the famous song, "A Spoonful of Sugar helps the Medicine Go Down", which I suddenly found intensely irritating. There must be thousands of parents like me wondering how on earth do you make small children take their medicine, short of physical assault.

Mary Poppins, I admit defeat. The baby pushes all spoons away, and spits out liquids squirted into his mouth by a plastic pipette. You need a change of clothes after dealing with him. Bribes of chocolate are ignored by my five-year-old, who dramatically turns into a weeping jelly when faced with a spoonful of (sweet-tasting) yellow antibiotics. Have today's children become too mollycoddled?

Oddly, despite the little amount of medication that actually made it down their throats, the two of them seem to be getting better.

The screenwriter Andrew Davies as aroused a hornet's nest with his Huw Weldon memorial TV lecture last month, saying that far too much mainstream television drama is formulaic and trite. The New Playwrights' Trust, which has some sympathy with th e Davies broadside, is advising its members to look to children's and educational departments for creative commissioning.

I couldn't agree more. Children's television is throwing up some of our most enjoyable drama (think of The Borrowers, or Just William). This evening, at 5.05pm, I hope to be pinned to the sofa with my three daughters to watch the final episode of Elidor,a spectacular and frightening fantasy in which four Mancunian children intercept a dark, dying world, inhabited by grunting savages, only to find themselves caught up in its evil power.

The episodes so far have included extraordinary visual effects,: at one point a computer screen bulges, in another a white unicorn breaks through and nearly knocks the children off their feet. We left them last week alone in their home, as two warriors daubed mystery signs on the house exterior walls. Scary.

The final episode is repeated on Sunday morning. Some 5 million children (and me) have been hooked. Try i There's a queue at the ice rink, and it's hard to gain admittance because the receptionist is phone-bound. "It's red hot, the skating's on the telly, and everyone's ringing to ask if we are open," he explains. But Ice Link, a free newspaper calli ng itself "the official voice of skating" is worried about the current TV ratings boom.

Bryan Morrice, the editor, says that unless more variety is injected, media disillusion and public boredom could set in. "Some names appear time after time - same music, same costume, same programme, quite often the same marks and result as last time." The danger is that skating will go the way of men's tennis, technology-dominated motor racing and show jumping. The thrill will dim and audiences switch off. But at least it will be easier for amateur skaters to get on the rink. And let's face it, for sheer excitement, Tonya Harding was no match for Eric Cantona.

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