Boris Johnson: Armed and Dangerous ; He's Already Blasted Baroness Hesketh from the Pages of the Spectator. Who Else Does the New Editor Have in His Sights?

Article excerpt

Looking at the quiet beauty of the Georgian house on Doughty Street in Bloomsbury, you would think that the offices of The Spectator are everything the readers expect - the embodiment of Englishness, restraint and good manners. But you would be wrong. Because, for the past week, the newspapers have been hinting that behind the scenes at the stately organ of the political right, there has been untold turbulence, culminating in the sacking of Dowager Baroness Hesketh, 70, as rugby correspondent.

The man responsible is blond Boris Johnson, who arrived as editor at the magazine last July with a mission to restore to it the political edge it has lost in recent years. He is also charged with regaining its waning reputation for excellent writing and to adding few scoops to match those of the days when Dominic Lawson was editor and lured Nicholas Ridley into disclosing his real and politically fatal views of the Germans.

So far, Mr Johnson has entered into the spirit of the thing with gusto - even when it meant taking the heart-wrenching decision to give Lady ("Kisty") Hesketh the boot. "It was a great honour for us to carry her insights into the scrimmage techniques of the England back row," says Johnson, showing real affection for his victim, "and I'm sorry that space made it difficult to keep her regular slot."

Then Mr Johnson appointed the Tory MP Nicholas Soames as wine correspondent, following the loss of Auberon Waugh's long-running wine column. Soames's "very physical presence testifies to his authority on wine and food", says Johnson.

Boris has also boldly tackled "the problem of Petronella": he is in the process of finding a new deputy editor to replace Petronella Wyatt, the daughter of the late Lord Wyatt of Weeford. Everyone, including Johnson, is being diplomatic about "Petsy". "It's true that she is stepping down as deputy editor, that she no longer holds that great office of state at The Spectator," says Johnson, "but she will continue to be an honoured and valued honcho with a title of some grandeur which is still being thrashed out."

Petronella had caused a stir with an unflattering interview with Sir Christopher Bland, the chairman of the BBC ("Sir Christopher runs the company as a personal fiefdom..." "Sir Christopher puffed up his chest like a blue canary," etc).

Her piece was a gripping read, but the magazine was forced to publish an apology for various inclusions, in particular the allegation that Sir Christopher had shouted at Miss Wyatt. "He did not say, in relation to presenters, `It is good for them to be afraid,'" the apology continued, "nor did he refer, in the context of life in the pre-television age, to `bear-baiting and prostitutes'. Finally, Sir Christopher maintains, contrary to the impression we gave, that he watches plenty of television."

Miss Wyatt also asserted that there are pictures of erect penises on Sir Christopher's office wall - a claim that The Spectator has not withdrawn, despite the BBC's insistence that the only penis on Sir Christopher's walls is limp and appears in a painting of the Madonna and child. A mystery remains over whether Miss Wyatt's imagination got the better of her, or whether the BBC has quickly taken down the controversial drawings.

But Petronella's days as deputy editor seemed numbered well before the Christopher Bland article was published. She is respected for her ability to craft a fine sentence, and charm the old chaps whom she selects for her interview couch (Denis Healey was a memorable conquest), but her youth, beauty, Chanel clothes and perfect make-up made her an object of envy; while having a famous father and a comfortable home life with her mother Verushka gave the impression of a charmed and pampered existence.

Then she began to be accused by colleagues of spending "less than conventional office hours" at her desk, and considerable amounts of time working on her book - an affectionate portrait of her father. …