Diary: 'Question Time' quandary for BBC

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AS THE naming of a new presenter of BBC 1's Question Time draws nearer, an intriguing theory is doing the rounds at the BBC as to why the selection process is taking so long - now three weeks - to complete. It remains only for Tim Gardam, newly appointed weekly news and current affairs editor, to make up his mind before the decision is announced.

The theory goes like this: initially, the BBC dignitaries involved - Alan Yentob, controller, and Tony Hall, managing director of news and current affairs - were keen that Jeremy Paxman should get the slot currently occupied by Peter Sissons for a reported salary of pounds 500,000. As a matter of protocol, though, it was deemed necessary that he be seen to compete with a worthy rival, so they invited David Dimbleby to take part in mock programmes, held three weeks ago.

At the time, it seemed that Paxman was the clear favourite; an article in the Mail on Sunday focused heavily on his performance, merely describing Dimbleby as 'relaxed, if a touch bland'.

Yet, according to an insider, the reality was very different. 'The problem,' she says, 'was that Dimbleby was quite obviously so much better. . . . It threw the panel into an embarrassed quandary, which is why, in addition to waiting for the appointment of the new weekly news and current affairs editor, they have delayed making a final decision. . . .' Amid the confusion, the BBC itself is, understandably, refusing to comment.

VISITING the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, these days can be a daunting experience. During the interval of last Friday's performance of Mozart's The Magic Flute, a man - a newcomer to opera and opera houses - approached a barman in the crush bar and asked for a pint of Guinness. 'Guinness?' came the astonished response, accompanied by the rolling of eyeballs: 'Guinness? No, no, no] Never ever in 12 years has anyone asked me for a pint of Guinness.'


The Prime Minister is one of the fortunate few to get a sneak preview of Edwina Currie's forthcoming book A Parliamentary Affair - a steamy political novel that has a cover showing a pair of legs in seamed stockings carrying the House of Commons logo.

Despite describing her fictional prime minister as 'the most cynical character of all', the Conservative MP for Derbyshire South felt at ease with John Major at a lunch last week. The Bookseller reports that she handed the book - embargoed till February - over to him with the quip: 'I don't have to get you to sign a confidentiality agreement, do I?'

IS JASON DONOVAN thinking of getting married? Residents of Clifton Villas, in London's Maida Vale, were full of anticipation last week when they spied the Australian singer looking round a large corner house.

Whether or not Donovan, 25, is intending to forsake the delights of his three-bedroomed bachelor pad in Chepstow Villas, Notting Hill, for something a little more accommodating remains, for the moment, a tight-lipped secret.

If Donovan does make the move, he is likely to have attentive neighbours: 'The nanny from the house ran over and told my nanny as soon as he'd gone. . . .' one explained a little breathlessly. 'If he does move, my brother will be around all the time; he is one of Jason's biggest fans.'


A missing persons notice in Hammersmith tube station, London, asks: 'Anyone who has any idea of the whereabouts of Brain (sic) Roker to please notify the Metropolitan Police.' Brain can be easily recognised by his 'bolding' grey hair.


7 December 1963 Janet Flanner, in Paris, writes to Natalia Danesi Murray about the Kennedy assassination: 'It happened two weeks ago yesterday. The mind and memory know it is true, yet the waking instinct in the early morning is to slip back into the irreality of recovery of peace which marks the human emerging from a nightmare, a load of unbelievable, horrible dreams, and in that waking moment, for a fraction of time, it is not true. The nightmare will, for a second, seem only that, and will disappear, if one can only get one's eyes open. The (funeral) pictures in Paris Match are sensational. The French are keeping it as a document for their children to show how history happened. It is almost with disappointment that this morning in the Herald Tribune there was a photograph of Jacqueline Kennedy smiling. Must she ever change from that Persephone-like face and situation of grief which has made her our legend, the world's legend, in her way of beauty immortal?'