MANDRAKE: Rowan Atkinson insists on having the last word on burkas

Rowan Atkinson has been having his say on the burka row. Picture: VCG/VCG via Getty Images

Rowan Atkinson has been having his say on the burka row. Picture: VCG/VCG via Getty Images - Credit: VCG via Getty Images

Tim Walker's diary also focuses on why Sarah Sands won't be sacked as editor of the Today show and a former colleague recalls Daniel Hannan's difficulties mastering facts.

Sarah Sands remains "stubbornly in place" as editor of the Today programme on Radio 4. Picture: PA

Sarah Sands remains "stubbornly in place" as editor of the Today programme on Radio 4. Picture: PA - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Mr Bean shuts down the burka row

Although Rowan Atkinson likes to portray himself as a defender of freedom of expression – this is what was ostensibly behind his support for Boris Johnson's incendiary joke about Muslim women looking like 'letterboxes' – the comedian is unwilling to expose himself to questions about the tablets of stone he hands down.

The Mr Bean star's backing for the former foreign secretary came in the form of a letter to the Times and he granted no subsequent requests for interviews on the subject. 'All jokes about religion cause offence, so it's pointless apologising for them,' he wrote. 'You should really only apologise for a bad joke. On that basis, no apology is required.'

This was the same tactic Atkinson deployed in his last public intervention, when he said in a missive to the BBC's Media Show that the corporation had every right to sack Miriam O'Reilly as a presenter of Countryfile, even though she had successfully sued the corporation for ageism.

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The Media Show duly read out Atkinson's letter in its entirety, and – after he declined to appear on the show in person – invited the BBC grandee Lorraine Heggessey on to agree with him. Then, as now, his views were never challenged.

Atkinson comes from a family not known for its liberal outlook on the world – his Eurosceptic brother Rodney once unsuccessfully attempted to become the leader of UKIP – and the comedian himself now certainly belongs to an income bracket that sets him apart from lesser mortals. He is the sole director of a company called Hindmeck, whose latest accounts show a profit of £900,000 for the year up to April 30, 2017.

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Short-term job

Frank Field may now be nudging 80 and his local Labour Party members in Birkenhead may just have passed a vote of no confidence in him for his steadfast support to Theresa May's Brextremist government, but the old boy has still decided that now is the time to splash out some money on a new researcher.

The job pays up to £27,000 for someone to help him with, among other things, writing articles and books and 'liaising with Frank's interests outside of parliament'. The 'ability to remain discreet and maintain confidentiality at all times' is also stipulated. Mandrake respectfully suggests that any young people looking for a long-term position might be well advised to look elsewhere.

Happy days

Dr Richard North, the author and journalist, has been recalling on his blog his days working alongside the Brextremist Owen Paterson as his political advisor.

'Part of my job was to talk him down from some of the more stupid positions he would occasionally adopt,' North alleges. 'Sometimes I had to get quite stroppy, as when we were preparing a speech on his 'optimistic vision of a post-EU United Kingdom', which he delivered to Business for Britain in November 2014.

'After I'd written the first draft. Owen – unbeknown to me – gave it to Dan Hannan to 'improve'. He produced a draft so riddled with factual errors that I refused to have anything to do with it. I warned Owen that his reputation would suffer irreparable damage if he went ahead with it. That time, Owen relented and almost all of Hannan's input was removed. As a result, I think we produced a pretty good speech.'

One wonders if Hannan still helps Paterson with his speeches. Sadly, Hannan has now denied both Dr North and myself the pleasure of following him on Twitter.

Sands stays

Sarah Sands remains stubbornly in place as the editor of the Today programme, even though she has managed to carelessly mislay 800,000 listeners, from 7.66m a week during the second quarter of 2017 to 6.82m a week in April-June this year.

The show is an industry joke with John Humphrys' gaffes becoming ever more embarrassing – his latest was to suggest that people didn't like seeing women in burkas in pubs – and recently the far-right extremist Raheem Kassam was invited on as a guest.

For all that, I am told Sands' position is 'impregnable' for the simple reason that she keeps at all times to the BBC's fanatically pro-Brexit line. I am reminded of the former editor Sir Peregrine Worsthorne's verdict on Sands when she was sacked after nine disastrous months in charge at the Sunday Telegraph. 'Sarah was a sweet girl, but she had absolutely no political feel at all and I don't think she was a suitable person to edit a political broadsheet,' he opined.

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