It seems that Peter Thurnham's resignation of the Tory whip served one useful purpose last week - the brouhaha he created arguably prevented a smaller, but highly embarrassing, story of Tory tactlessness from getting much attention in the national press.
David Shaw, the Tory MP for Dover, used Parliamentary privilege to allege that some of the crew of the Herald of Free Enterprise ferry, which sank at Zeebrugge in on 6 March 1987, killing 193 people, were drunk.
"The procedures on board ship were a disaster," he said, "and alcoholism was rampant among the crew. In reality, the officers were not in control - extreme left-wing trade unionists were in control of the ship ... People did not do their jobs because they were drunk."
Given that the ninth anniversary of the disaster is only two days away, his words have caused an outcry among the friends and relatives of the dead. One surviving crewman, Nick Delo, protesting that in the House of Commons the MP could say anything he liked and get away with it, called it "a slur which cannot go unchallenged ..."
Labour inevitably has taken great offence both to the reference to trade unions and to the allegations of alcoholism (they cite that the Sheen report which investigated the matter made no mention of this). Now 103 MPs have tabled an early-day motion calling for Mr Shaw's "imminent replacement".
Shaw, despite apparently having the backing of only nine of his fellow Tories, is unrepentant. "Evidence of alcoholism was found after the Sheen report was concluded," he says firmly. "I have therefore not withdrawn the statement.
Oh dear, Random House is hard to satisfy. First the publishers had that nasty battle with Joan Collins for not writing well enough; then they had that nasty battle with the singer Lisa Stansfield for not writing salaciously enough; now, I hear, they've been having a nasty battle with the writer William Donaldson, whose autobiography, From Sunningdale to This, due out this autumn, has had to be put back a year, because it is - wait for it - too risque.
"I've just been handed a libel report that is 90 pages long," he tells me, adding proudly; "it is apparently their longest libel report ever."
People who should start worrying about what Donaldson has said about them are the actress Sarah Miles, the singer Carly Simon (above) and the ex-gangster Frankie Fraser. Donaldson, however, is very blase. "This libel report is the funniest thing I've ever read," he says smugly. In which case perhaps Random had better publish it.
Although, as I reported last week, there is some in-fighting between Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend over what Daltrey claims to be the "sanitisation" of the forthcoming production of The Who's musical, Tommy, which opens tomorrow at the West End's Shaftesbury Theatre, the band are at least patting each other on the back about one aspect of its production.
It is, I am told, the first show to be completely technically fool-proof. Should anything break down - lights, special effects, the automated pin- ball machine, curtains, you name it - then all the producer has to do is ring a number in Burlington, Ontario, and the whole thing can be run over the phone from a computer in Canada. "In the past," says Chris Harper, marketing manager, "if the computer in situ failed, then we would have to cancel the show. Now, we just carry on over the phone. It's incredible." Only, presumably, if the Canadian computer does not itself break down ... a contingency, I discover, they appear not to have thought of.
I am glad to note that Michael Heseltine is speedily getting into anorak lingo for his new role as chair of the new ministerial group on Information Technology. It has been pointed out to me by Oliver Morton, the editor of Wired magazine, that a week ago he cracked a "binary system" joke on the BBC's Today programme. "No, no," he said to John Humphrys, "you are putting two and two together and coming up with 1010." (The point, according to Morton, is that 10 is the written formula for 2 in binary; but four is not 1010; it is instead 100.)
Personally I've heard funnier jokes - but in geek circles, Mr Heseltine, I'm told you are rapidly acquiring heroic status ....
Great Powell debate
I would like, if I can, to put an end to Westminster's most tedious debate - how do you pronounce "Powell" - the surname shared by the two bothers, Jonathan and Charles? (The former is chief of staff to the Leader of the Opposition and pronounces it to rhyme with towel. The latter is the former foreign policy adviser to Margaret Thatcher and pronounces it Pole.)
For years the two have been content to differ, but at a cocktail party a few weeks ago the latter confused things by sticking out his hand and saying "How do you do? I'm Sir Charles Pywell ..." "Really, Sir Charles," retorted the damsel, whose hand he was shaking. "Why change the pronunciation now?" "I no longer care what it is," said Maggie's man a tad wearily.
Bad news for Terry Waite ...
An unlikely name appears on the Royal Festival Hall's spring programme for classical music. Listed among eminent conductors, violinists, cellists and such like is one Terry Waite, better known for his hostage survival skills than musical or oratory talents. He is due to perform as "speaker" in Haydn's The Seven Last Words From The Cross on Good Friday.
According to the RFH, Mr Waite, who seems to be thriving on chat show appearances these days, was "jolly keen on the idea when approached". But would he have been so enthusiastic, I wonder, had he known that he was not first choice for the role?
"We did try to get an actor to speak the words," says the concert organiser, John Woolf, wistfully, "But it's so very difficult to book them...."Reuse content