Diary: It's agony having a born-again boss

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DEAR Agony Aunt: Twenty of my colleagues have just signed a letter supporting the lowering of the age of consent for gay men, which was then published in the Times. I was the only agony person who refused to sign it. Will my colleagues ever speak to me again? Yours sincerely, Phillip Hodson, agony uncle, News of the World.

On Sunday, Hodson was counselling his readers (one question to him: 'My dad recently remarried after several unhappy years - and his new wife can't keep her hands off me'). Now he may well need some counselling himself following suggestions that a News International line on homosexuality - Rupert Murdoch, a born-again Christian, is believed to hold strong views on the issue - had influenced his decision to dissociate himself from his colleagues.

Stonewall, the lobby group for lesbian and gay equality, tells me he gave it the impression that he supported its movement, but would not be signing the letter because of his contract with News International. Hodson tells me otherwise. 'I wasn't spoken to by anyone. Clause 8 of my contract prevents me signing round robin letters, but the main reason I didn't sign the letter was that agony columnists should not become involved in politics.'

If Hodson needs an agony aunt to talk to, he should try Marje Proops of the Mirror. She wasn't going to sign the letter, but changed her mind after lunch at the Gay Hussar with Sir Ian McKellen.

WITH A cabinet apparently divided between those who hanker after John Major's job (Messrs Hurd, Heseltine, Clarke, Portillo, Redwood and Mrs Bottomley) and those who, for the moment, don't (the rest), I hear of one loyalist who is still flying the Major flag. Cabinet meetings are not usually back-slapping affairs, but the Prime Minister did receive congratulations for his performance at Lord Justice Scott's inquiry. Lord Wakeham's place at the cabinet table is, I gather, now that much more secure.

NORMAN EVASION

Norman Lamont may well take issue with the Times magazine article in which he is alleged to describe John Major as 'weak and useless' but there is a precedent for stories he originally downplays. I refer you to the most celebrated Lamont story (eclipsing even Miss Whiplash and Threshergate), the one in which he received a black eye from a suitor of Olga Polizzi, Lord Forte's daughter, in 1985.

The story was told almost by accident. It was originally a Nigel Dempster scoop, but the then Daily Mail editor, Sir David English, had cold feet about running it. The story only came out because Dempster resigned over the issue during an emotional outburst at the Berkeley Square ball. As the rest of Fleet Street tripped over themselves to discover why Dempster had resigned, the Sun printed the story, Lamont retreated behind his dark glasses, told all and sundry that he had had an altercation with a filing cabinet, and saw his promotion to the Cabinet blocked for several years.

FOLLOWING the BBC's documentary profile of the former editor of the Daily Telegraph, Lord Deedes, viewers have been demanding to know what he does with all the magpies he traps in his garden. Here is the answer: writing in this week's Country Life, Richard Ingrams, editor of the Oldie and occasional organist at Deedes's family weddings, reveals that the birds meet their fate in the hands of Hilary, Lady Deedes, who wrings their necks. She is, according to Ingrams, 'particularly skilled at that kind of thing'.

AHEAD WITH BMW

Perspicacious editors at International Business Week should congratulate themselves on their cover story for the 7 February issue, which went to press before the Rover takeover: 'BMW's comeback: how it's beating the slump and competing head-on against the Japanese'.

A DAY LIKE THIS

2 February 1944 Denton Welch writes in his journal: 'Eric has just told me how, when he was nine, he ran away from school at Salisbury and walked to London, taking four or five days. At night he slept in ditches or in haystacks - once in a clover-stack - and he said this was dangerous, because clover sucks up all the air, and he might have been suffocated. (Is this superstition?) He lived on milk left on people's doorsteps. And this strikes me as extraordinarily poignant. I can see a picture of a small boy early in the morning, snatching up nacre-white bottles of milk in the half- light and drinking them hungrily. It is tragic. His feet were bleeding and cut, the shoes were worn through, and when he reached home his father who loved him, 'made a fuss of him', as Eric put it. They were not angry, they solaced him. He had run away chiefly because he wanted to be out in the world earning money.'

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