Did Cooke desert his country?

Ephraim Hardcastle

Last updated at 14:29 26 April 2004

In a gushing tribute yesterday to broadcaster Alistair Cooke, who has died aged 95, the Prime Minister mourned: 'We shall feel his loss very, very keenly indeed he will be deeply, deeply missed.'

Is Cooke such a national treasure? His biographer Nick Clarke says the broadcaster told a British friend in 1938: 'Why don't you think about emigrating to America? I can tell you there is going to be a terrible war. Now is the time to get out.'

Cooke's application to become a U.S. citizen was delayed until 1941 when Britain's war fortunes were at their worst.

Clarke adds: 'However unfairly, the message was that Alistair Cooke had deserted his country when it needed him most. It was a stigma that never quite went away.'

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, cleared this week of cooking the books to give his wife Betsy a job, is looking forward to visiting Washington in May when he will meet Vice President Dick Cheney. Cheney rang Duncan Smith last March to thank him for Conservative support for the war in Iraq. A source says: 'Cheney called Iain's press officer, Annabel, on her mobile.

When she told Iain he had a call, he asked her impatiently if the caller would hold.'

Lady Victoria Hervey, who has decamped to LA after feeling unappreciated in London ('I felt people were bitter about the fact that I had a title'), travelled with the Born Free Foundation to Ethiopia to highlight the plight of rare wolves. She wore an array of stylish outfits for this arduous conservation trip. One ensemble, a white leather jerkin covered in zips, teamed with lashings of blue eyeliner, must have had their eyes a-poppin'!

Sir Peter Ustinov's greatest fan the actor died this week aged 82 was the late Queen Mother, with whom he shared many a mischievous chuckle. In 1968, during his extraordinarily rowdy installation as Rector of Dundee University, Ustinov and the Queen Mother, who was Chancellor, were pelted with toilet rolls by militant students. Ustinov recorded: 'I shall always cherish the resilient grace of the Queen Mother.' Unperturbed by the avalanche of toilet rolls, he said, 'she picked them up as though someone had mailed them to the wrong address.'

Sandra Howard is not the only woman close to Michael Howard to tootle about in an elderly Fiat Panda. A friend recalls that his aide Rachel Whetstone, exasperated at having her Panda broken into so often, took to leaving it unlocked outside her flat in Notting Hill. One morning, she discovered a tramp having a snooze in the back whom she had to eject before going on her way.

Labour MP Austin Mitchell landed a smacker on Jeremy Paxman in his Yorkshire Post column yesterday. He is enraged by the Newsnight presenter's on-air insinuations about Charles Kennedy's 'drink problem'. 'The accusations that he's a boozer are as monstrous as they are untrue,' he rages.

'I blame Paxperson. This very superior person is really a creep.'

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