Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary (24/07/11)

Grateful to the committee for the chance to clear his name

Sunday 24 July 2011 00:00

Marco Pierre White's mission to open restaurants all over Britain continues, but his creative touch hasn't gone down well everywhere. I can reveal that Marco has quietly pulled out of one of his better-known ventures, the Yew Tree Pub near Newbury. Only two years ago he created headlines after putting the price of a pint up to £5. Now he has sold his shares and gone, and business is booming. "We're doing better than ever, actually," says an employee when I call. "Things have got better since he left. Marco took his chef with him, but we've got a chef in from the Ivy." The price of a pint has been reduced, he adds. "In fact, the main improvement is that the locals are coming back. They all walk in and say 'Thank God Marco's gone'." Earlier this year, I disclosed how Marco had bought the Angel in Lavenham, Suffolk. He has since taken lager off the menu and plastered the walls with pictures of himself. Asked how he justified his £5 pints, he said: "You're not just paying for beer. You're paying for the place you drink it in and the people who serve it."

A golden opportunity for anyone wanting to join the Chipping Norton set has arisen: Bruern Abbey, a baroque jewel near David Cameron and Rebekah Brooks's Oxfordshire homes, is on the market. It's being sold by Sir Anthony and Carole Bamford, the JCB billionaires and owners of Daylesford Organics. I'm told they bought the 11-bedroom mansion for their son, Joseph, but since marrying Alex Gore-Browne in 2007, he has settled in Staffordshire, home of JCB headquarters. The house, formerly a school, comes with six acres and has an asking price of £7.5m to £8.5m. Although Joe is expected to take over the family business, he was cruelly nicknamed "Bungalow Joe" at university. Although Bruern will appeal to the power-hungry, the Bamfords may be wary of celebrity buyers. Last year they sold Sloane House in London to Petra Ecclestone, youngest daughter of Bernie, who upset everyone by trying to demolish a 200-year-old lodge in pursuit of "Botox" architecture.

Tomasz Schafernaker, the ex-BBC weatherman caught making a rude hand gesture on air, tells me his departure had nothing to do with the incident. Schafernaker was one of three weathermen who left in October owing to cost-cutting, disappointing viewers who enjoy his unusual style. "I don't miss the early starts," he tells me, "but it's frustrating that everyone thinks I left because of that. It was completely my choice to leave, and was a massive coincidence." Fans of Polish-born Schafernaker can catch him in The Great British Weather, a live BBC1 show presented from around Britain. Last August's gaffe was by no means his first: he tells me he was told off "a gazillion times for making bloopers", such as the time he referred to a part of Scotland as "nowheresville". "Actually, I had a lot of letters from Scots saying you're absolutely right: there's nobody living there."

Sean Hoare, the brave phone-hacking whistleblower who died last week, was honest enough to own up to his own guilt. The story of Sven-Goran Eriksson's affair with Ulrika Jonsson was said to have been unearthed by a Mirror reporter, rather than the 3am girls, on whose page it appeared. In fact, I can reveal it came from a tip-off by a News of the World journalist, who had hacked the relevant phones. So why didn't he run it? Because he so impressed his boss that the boss told him to take the afternoon off. (They both know who they are, and so do I.) So off he went with Sean, his co-hacker, to the pub, where he ran into the Mirror reporter. So pleased was he with his scoop that he couldn't help boasting about it. The Mirror reporter checked the story, whose paper ran it before the NOTW had the chance.

Pole dancers in Slough have been told not to sit in the corner reading novels. A leaked code of conduct for staff at the Flags pub decrees that "artistes" should mingle with the customers in between dances, and should "not sit in a corner with a book". The document was revealed to Slough council, and includes 27 intriguing instructions for the workers, which range from the mundane to the eye-popping. "Avoid eating food (other than crisps and nuts) on the premises" and "Wash up any cups, plates or utensils after use" are in there, along with "No gynaecology of any kind".

One of the sketch-writers mocking Rupert Murdoch last week was the Financial Times's Matthew Engel. His satirical depiction of the old man was all the more admirable given that he is, to give him his full title, the News International Visiting Professor of New Media at Oxford University.

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