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The Play's the Thing for New WritersThe Play's the Thing for New Writers
-TV talent show looks for West End hit
BUDDING playwrights could see their work staged in the West End thanks to a new TV show on Channel 4. From today, scripts are invited by producers of The Play's The Thing, with, Pop Idol style, the winning script getting the prize of a run in the world's most famous theatreland.

"It will need to fill a big space, be able to do a long run and it will not be able to appeal just to a minority audience", said Jan Younghusband of Channel 4. "This can only stir up a debate. It will be controversial, but we will do this properly and thoroughly."

Sonia Friedman, the producer of current hit The Woman in White, is in charge of choosing the winning script. Said Friedman: "There are very few new plays in the West End that haven't already been supported by the subsidised theatre sector or have come from the US. It's primarily because the risks are just too high. With The Play's The Thing, I have been set a challenge and I want to know whether we can fulfil it."

Dance to Billy's Tune Dance to Billy's Tune
- Ballet musical opens this week MILLIONS of pounds look to have been well spent on new musical Billy Elliot, which opens at the Victoria Palace theatre this week.

Stephen Baldry, the director of the hit film of the same name, is also in charge of the stage version and has enlisted UKP6 million to produce a stunning show and Sir Elton John to provide a stirring score.

The show charts the boyhood of Billy, a boy growing up in a tough mining community who has a passion for ballet and a father who doesn't understand that passion.

"Doing this musical has been one of my true passions," Sir Elton said. "I also had a difficult relationship with my father when I was growing up, but sorted it out in the end. Billy's story reminded me of my own life." Billy Elliot opens this Wednesday, the 11th of May.

Blair Wins Again, Despite the War Blair Wins Again, Despite
the War

- Reduced majority, but Labour claim historic third-in-a-row victory LABOUR is once again the governing party after winning its third General Election in a row last night, though its parliamentary majority is much reduced. The biggest reason for the fall in majority from 167 seats to 60-odd is the still simmering resentment felt across the country over Blair's decision to take Britain into the Iraq War.

Labour received about 36 per cent of the popular vote, down four points from

2001, but most of Labour's lost vote went not to the main opposition Tories but to the smalller Liberal Democrats, the least pro-war of all three main parties. The LibDems saw their vote rise by about three per cent to 23 points and the Tories, now on 33 per cent, could muster only a gain of 0.5 percentage points.

The impact of the war was felt most spectacularly in the east London constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow, where George Galloway, standing for the tiny leftist anti-war party Respect, ousted Labour's Oona King.

Nevertheless, the anti-war factor apart, Labour's victory was a resounding and historic one. It was the first time ever that the party has won three elections in a row and it has handed Blair a big enough mandate and majority to carry through the great bulk of his programme.

Blair: My Passion to Serve a Full Term Blair: My Passion to Serve a Full Term
- PM hints at cannabis u-turn in next parliament

TONY BLAIR has dropped hints about some of his off-manifesto plans for the next four years, should he be returned as Prime Minister tomorrow morning.

High on Blair's agenda seems to a reversal of the recent law which liberalised cannabis use. "It was a classic example where you have a very good intellectual case and it was worth seeing what happened," said Blair. "My hunch is this is an area where it's so important that the signals are strong, and that you do not take any risks."

The Prime Minister also made it clear he plans to stay on at 10 Downing Street right up until the end of the next parliamentary term, scotching rumours of a hand-over to Chancellor Gordon Brown. Blair said: "The reason I want to carry on now is because I believe passionately that there are things to do."

Polling stations close at 10pm tonight.

Microphones set up to monitor after Soho Grows New Ears
- Microphones set up to monitor after

CCTV cameras have been fitted with microphones to check noise complaints in central London.

Soho Square is the first place to get the new microphones in a pilot project that, if successful, will be rolled out to other central areas.

"This is about trying to instantly capture an image and audio that goes with it to let us know what's going on," said Steve Harrison of Westminster Council.

The scheme evolved in response to a situation in which complaints about noise have historically been hard to follow-up as by the time police arrive at a scene, the noise has often disappeared.

Scott Gives Heaven Critics Hell (Photo: PA Picselect) Scott Gives Heaven Critics Hell
- Director defends Crusade movie at premiere

DIRECTOR Ridley Scott hit out at critics of his film, The Kingdom of Heaven, at its premiere on Leicester Square last night.

"They keep going on about being threatened by this and that is absolutely rubbish," said Scott.

The Kingdom of Heaven is set in the 12th century and centres on the adventures of a young blacksmith, played by Orlando Bloom, who is involved in the Christian v. Muslim battles of the time. Some critics have called the film anti-Muslim; others feel it tries too hard to be politically correct.

"They have not seen the bloody movie," Scott said of his critics.

"Religious difference, right now, is causing a great lack of understanding, so I felt it was important to show that not all Muslims are bad, and that not everyone in the West is good. The world is getting so small, you have got to learn to live together. "Scott's performance apart, Bloom drew the most attention at the premiere, saying it was good to be home. Co-stars Jeremy Irons, Martin Sheen and David Thewlis were also in attendance. The film opens on the 6th of May.

Kingdom Of Heaven - Click here for listings

The congestion charge protest winds around West London today.  Photo:  Harper Smith. Traffic-Jam Moves Against Congestion Charge
- Campaigners want to scupper plans for westward shift of payment zone

MOTORISTS are today disrupting traffic in west London in protest at the planned extension of the Congestion Charge.

Campaigners say at least a hundred cars will take part in the traffic snarl protest, which will move very slowly from Holland Park to central London.

Mayor Ken Livingstone aims to extend the current central London Congestion Charge westwards, but has faced opposition from campaigners such as the West London Residents Association, who dub the plan a "crazy scheme".

Local Tory MP Sir Malcolm Rifkind backs the aims of the protestors and hopes to wave the today's convoy on its merry way. "[The Congestion Charge] will go straight down the middle of Earl's Court Road, dividing the community," he said. "Mums dropping children at school will have to pay."

Random Huggers Day hopes to push past the awkwardness of hugs, like Ben Stiller and Dustin Hoffman in Meet the Parents, pictured. Vote for the Cuddle Party
- Random Huggers Day hopes to cure election fever

PEOPLE suffering under the intense heat of the election campaign will be offered solace in the arms of a team of huggers next week.

"Amid the political rhetoric, there will be groups of people offering a moment of peaceful sanity in London," said Mayella Johnstone, the organiser of Random Huggers Day. "Although some people are reticent to be hugged at first, they soon get the idea and find it really refreshing."

Johnstone and her 30-strong team of trained cuddlers will patrol Covent Garden and the South Bank on the 1st of May on the lookout for victims. At last year's event, 3,000 clinches were dished out, a figure likely to be beaten this time around due to election strife.

Campaigners this week are opting to take television into their own hands, thanks to a new device. Liberation for the Prisoners of Pub TV
- New device launched in time for TV Turn-Off week

ANTI-TV campaigners plan to use a new device to turn off televisions they find in public places.

The new zapper, TV-B-Gone, can turn off all TVs within a 12 metre radius and is the brain child of Mitch Altman, who launched his anti-TV campaign ten years ago in the USA.

Today is the first day of what activists are calling TV-Turnoff Week. The idea is that campaigners find pubs and bars with TVs and disable them temporarily to make people think about their TV use. TVs placed in public are a particular concern of campaigners as people have little choice whether to glance at them or not.

"We're offering people the chance of liberation," said David Burke, the leader of White Dot, the British section of what has now become a world wide movement.

Returning all those emails causes braincell loss, according to King's College.  Email Dumbs Us Down
- Message mania causes brain damage, says London university

SEVERE brain strain is the inevitable result of answering emails, a London university has found after conducting scientific tests on over a thousand people.

"This is a very real and widespread phenomenon," said Glenn Wilson one of the team of psychiatrists from from King's College, which investigated the effects of email use over the course of a day.

The team reckons people who make it their daily task to answer loads of emails suffer a loss in their IQ equivalent to 10 per cent. In comparison, smoking dope lowers IQ by just four per cent.

It should be noted that this phenomenon is not said to be caused by the often inane content of so many messages, but rather the constant and undisciplined use of the brain as it is forced to respond to many and varied requests, resulting in tiredness.

Touchstone Pictures hosts the World Premiere and party for "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy". Wednesday April 20th, at Empire Leicester Square, London. Pictured L to R: Martin Freeman, Zooey Deschanel and Sam Rockwell. Photos by: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images. Galaxy of Stars at Hitchhiker Premiere
- Freeman praises 'Britishness' of new movie

THE OFFICE's Martin Freeman was among the stars who turned up at Leicester Square last night for the premiere of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Freeman, who played Tim in The Office, stars in the film as Arthur Dent, another likeable character caught up in a bizarre world, though this time his colleagues include talking computers and aliens rather than office twerps.

"I suppose it's quite a British thing. It didn't feel like a big Hollywood film and I mean that in a good way," Freeman said of the movie which is released on the 28th of April.

Written by Douglas Adams, the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was originally a radio series, then a book and later a successful TV series, in the 1980s. Other stars at the premiere included Stephen Fry, who does the voice of the computer Guide, Bill Nighy and Sam Rockwell.

Anakin Skywalker, played by Hayden Christensen and Count Dooku, played by Christopher Lee.  Image courtesy 20th Century Fox. London Feels Star Wars Force
- World's first showing for all six films to be at Leicester Square.

LONDON Star Wars fans are to be the first in the world to see all six films in the series back-to-back.

The sixth Star Wars movie - Revenge Of The Sith - makes its premiere on the 19th of May. In the days leading up to what promises to be a star-studded event, the UCI cinema on Leicester Square is screening the first five films in the cycle.

All this means that although the world premiere of Revenge Of The Sith goes ahead at the Cannes film festival early next month, the premiere of the whole series is London-bound.

Only 1,000 tickets will be available, costing UKP50 each. The tickets go on sale on the Monday, the 25th of April. The first Star Wars film is to be screened at 7am on the 16th of May.

Arsenal and England colleagues and proud east Londoners: Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell.  Image courtesy London 2012. London Offers Olympic Athletes Financial Package
- UKP20 million on the table, but not if games go to Paris

LONDON looks to have stolen a march on Paris, its chief rival for the 2012 Olympics, by offering to help fund the costs of competing for athletes.

Free flights, accommodation for family members, free pre-game training facilities and free phone calls are among the benefits available to athletes and administrators in the UKP20 million package.

"This is designed to enhance the Olympic sporting and cultural experience for athletes and team officials," said Lord Coe. "We are eliminating the financial burden so that athletes and teams can concentrate on performance and developing their sports."

Paris, the rumoured front-runner in the bidding process, appears to have been left on the back foot by Coe's plan. "It is not our idea to do anything similar," said Philippe Baudillon, boss the Paris bid.

Schools are backing kids biking to school, in a new Transport for London campaign. Photo:  Harper Smith.   Schools Out to Back Bikes
- New Tv ads bolster Transport for London cycling campaign

SCHOOL KIDS are to be among the prime targets for Transport for London's (TfL) cycling campaign, which is relaunched today.

Not so many years ago, bikes were about the most common method for children to get to school, but busier roads and lifts from parents changed things until recently when a greater take-up of cycling has been delivered.

TfL is also targeting businesses and families in its campaign, which is to be bolstered by a new series of TV ads.

"Cycling is a great way to enjoy the parks and get a fresh view of London, particularly now that facilities are improving and there are many more cyclists around," said Rose Ades of the Cycling Centre of Excellence.

The 25th annual London Marathon winds through London monuments on Sunday.   Image courtesy Flora London Marathon Press Office. Marathon Races to 25th Anniversary
- 33,000 runners plus 500,000 spectators expected for London's big day out

THE LONDON Marathon celebrates its 25th anniversary this Sunday as 33,000 runners take on the historic 26.2 mile course that moves from Tower Bridge via views of Greenwich to Buckingham Palace.

The first event back in 1981 featured some 7,000 runners, but grew quickly to its current mammoth size. In all those years, nearly a quarter of a million pounds has been raised for charity by competitors through sponsorship.

It's not just a day for the runners, however. About half a million people are once again expected to line the route, creating something of a carnival atmosphere. The most popular places for onlookers have historically been the start and end points, but over the years people have cottoned on to the fact that less crowds equal better views, which translates into finding spot on the Isle of Dogs.

Wayne Rooney for PM?  Let the kids decide.  Image courtesy of: Ban Bullies, Elect Rooney
- Kids make their case for revolutionary change

BULLIES and bad school dinners are top of the issues list for the nation's 9-13 year-olds as far as the General Election goes, a survey by Cartoon Network has revealed.

The man to rid Britain of these twin curses, with 15 per cent of the vote, is Wayne Rooney, the England footballer who has a history of taking on night-club aggressors and who looks like he knows his way around a hearty meal.

Sound logic, which is unfortunately spoiled by the second choice for the ideal Prime Minister of the 1,000 children surveyed - Harry Potter, who notched 13 per cent. He's a fictional character, kids, though no less real than some of the promises from adult politicians, it might be argued.

South Bank this summer might include sand, thanks to refurbishment at the Royal Festival Hall (pictured).  Image courtesy Royal Festival Hall.  South Bank Beach Scheme Unveiled
- Sand and outdoor cinema lined up for this summer

THE SOUTH BANK could get a beach this summer if plans get the go-ahead from Lambeth Council.

With the Royal Festival Hall closed for refurbishment from July, local businesses are concerned about a lack of trade, a deficit the beach is designed to plug.

"The idea is to have people enjoying the beach, a bit like similar versions in Paris and Berlin," said a South Bank Centre spokesperson. "From dawn to dusk there would be a water feature, bar and cafe. There will be a barbecue each evening and they will be showing films."

Meanwhile, the fund for the refurbishment of the Festival Hall received a boost with news that Shell are to donate UKP1 million, bringing up to UKP81 million the money raised so far towards a final target of UKP91 million.

Passengers might have to get their fingers printed, for foreign travel.  Want a Foreign Holiday? Give Us Your Fingerprints
- Government confirms compulsory scheme for new passports

BRITISH passports containing fingerprints will be compulsory from next year, the government has confirmed.

From 2006, all new passport applicants will have to show up at newly built application centres to have their fingers inked and in following years, everyone renewing their passports will be forced to do likewise.

Home Secretary Charles Clarke has reportedly agreed to splash out nearly UKP500 million in tax payers money for the scheme, which includes a massive building programme to increase the number of passport offices from 7 to 70.

It is thought the passport offices are likely to become identity card centres, which is a blow to campaigners against identity cards who believed they had seen off their 1984-style fears at least until into the next parliament.

Michael Howard unveiled his list of Conservative pledges.  Image copyright Channel 5 Broadcasting. Tories Boast Hope-List
- Howard pumps five-angle pledge for Britain

MICHAEL HOWARD today unveiled a political manifesto for the Conservative party - the first of any political party to do so.

In the 29-page brochure, Conservatives touted five promises for the British people: "More police, cleaner hospitals, lower taxes, school discipline and controlled immigration."

He insisted that the policies were more "in tune with the longings of British people". People who, said Howard, "often feel forgotten and ignored."

A vote for the Labour party, according to Howard, is "a vote for higher taxes, more immigration and softer sentences for murderers and rapists."

Still, Tony Blair dismissed the manifesto as a "fraudulent prospectus", and pointed to Labour's upcoming manifesto launch, on Wednesday, where Labour is said to tackle education.

Stones Roll Into New Wembley
- 2006 appearance could be legendary group's last

THE Rolling Stones are to be the first rock act to play at the new Wembley Stadium, it has been revealed.

The concert is pencilled in for the summer of 2006, not long after the 80,000 capacity stadium's opening and right at the end of the Stones' world tour which begins in Boston, USA, this summer.

Like plenty of other Stones' world tours, this one is being billed as the group's last. If that prophecy comes true - and the band do feature two 60-plus year-olds - the Wembley gig would be a neat way to end a legendary live career which began in London 43 years ago.

Camilla and Charles are to marry at St. George's Chapel.  Photo: copyright Buckinham Palace Press OfficeThe Royal Confession
- Camilla and Charles to acknowledge their sins at the royal wedding tomorrow

DRAMA unfolds in tomorrows wedding, in the form of a 17th century prayer.

"We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness," is part of the statement that is to be said by Charles and Camilla during their blessing ceremony at St. George's Chapel.

The wedding has already had its host of drama, including a date-swap which caused planning chaos and the rescheduling of about 800 guests.

The blessing at St. George's Chapel will be preceded by a civil ceremony in Windsor Guildhall, with Joan Rivers, Sting, and Timothy West among the guests. The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh will attend the blessing, but have refused to attend the civil ceremony, on grounds of conflict with the Church of England.

MP's brace for a late night, as the deadline for closure draws near.  Photo:  Harper Smith. Parliament's Last Push
- MP's duke it out as election closure

THE LAST push in reforms comes underway today as Parliament scurries to finish before closure, on Monday.

A whopping 11 of the 27 Bills are predicted to be lost, according to Commons leader Peter Hain, including the controversial ID cards scheme. The Gambling Bill is also expected to be scrapped, unless major changes are made: MP's have toyed with foregoing the original eight planned casinos for one large 'super-casino'.

At the other end of the list, the controversial Mental Capacity Bill, which includes legislation on euthanasia, was pushed through on Tuesday night.

With the rush of the royal wedding and the election, Hain admitted that pushing through even 16 of the remaining Bills would be a "considerable achievement."

Tony Blair announced a May 5th general election, today.  Pictured: TALK TO YOUR PRIME MINISTER - The Prime Minister TONY BLAIR. Licensed by CHANNEL 5 BROADCASTING. Set for May vote
- Blair announces general election

TONY BLAIR announced the 5th May general election from the steps of Downing Street, late this morning.
The announcement came after a string of meetings, including a formal plea for the Queen to dissolve parlaiment.

Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, along with Labours, have pre-empted the election decision by nationwide tours, over the last month. Some polls suggest that Labour's lead has diminished to about 5% from the Tories, although the Lib Dems are still lagging steadily behind.

Parlaiment is scheduled to be dissolved on Monday, although much of the work is expected to finish on Thursday.

Campaigning will be suspended for Prince Charles' wedding, on Saturday.

London mourns the death of Pope John Paul II, whose funeral is expected later this week.  Photo: National Geographic Channels International Inside the Vatican James L. Stanfield © National Geographic Society London mourns the death of John Paul II
- The capital pays tribute to the pope

WESTMINSTER Cathedral's doors were open all night on Saturday, mourning the death of Pope John Paul II, who died Saturday night after two months of poor health.

Books of Condolence were filled with Londoners' signatures, and mourners filtered in all weekend, celebrating a Mass of Requiem on Sunday mourning. Cardinal Cormac Murphy O Connor, leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England, paid his tribute to the Pope from the cathedral steps. "He was one of the greatest leaders of our modern world - he was an extraordinary man," he said.

Also in London, Prime Minister Tony Blair offered his condolences to the Roman Catholic Church and its worshippers. "He was an inspiration, a man of extraordinary faith, dignity and courage," he said.

More than two million people are expected to flock to the Vatican for the funeral, and although hostels and hotels are already full, makeshift camps are being set up in parks and sports grounds. The funeral is expected later this week, either Thursday or Friday, but the date and time will likely not be announced until late Monday afternoon.

Prince Charles is rumoured to take on Nicholas Witchell, a swashbuckling reporter much like the Puss in Boots, pictured here, in Shrek 2. Image courtesy of Dream Work's Pictures.Charles gives press the word
- Swiss ski trip brings out the mouth of royals

Prince Charles, Harry and William gave a quiet earful to the press, yesterday, at a customary photocall during on their annual spring ski trip to Switzerland. Usually used as a concession to have peace from the press on the slopes, Charles was caught on tape muttering about the photographers and BBC Reporter Nicholas Witchell.

After being asked by Witchell about next Friday's wedding to Camilla Parker Bowles, Charles was gave a short answer and then was heard saying to his sons: "Bloody people. I can't bear that man. He is so awful, he really is."

Witchell, who took up post as the BBC's royal correspondent in 1997, said that although he was "generally accustomed" to what he called "ignoble mud-slinging" from the royals whom he covers, he said he was particularly incensed in this particular incident by what he labeled "Charles's egregious disregard for decorum, chivalry and the common laws by which gentlemen are governed". Witchell claims these charges spurred his consequent challenge of Prince Charles to a duel.

The prince has accepted Witchell's challenge, although in a statement earlier today he claimed to be "taken aback" and "humoured" by what he called "Witchell's quaint, antiquated little proposal". Witchell struck back in rebuttal, calling Charles a "dastardly yellowbellied rogue" and, in an unconvential move, appointed American hip-hop star Fifty Cent to be his second in the impending duel.

The challenge is not the first in Witchell's career. In 1999, after inquiring as to the queen's actual age during her annual Trooping the Colour Parade and recieving no response, he removed his driving gloves and mounted a park bench at Buckingham Palace, calling Her Royal Highness "an impertinent wretch," and arguing for a duel. He was later removed by palace guards. Then, in 2002, while waiting for a comment from Prince William at his rugby match, Witchell was seen in cape and costume mask, arguing for the "timely application of gentlemanly conflict resolution."

Betting offices are offering three to one odds on Charlies, considering his stature over the five foot three Witchell, although many consider Witchell to be a dark horse.

April fools, dear readers, from your friends at LondonNet...

Public scrutiny might soon be thrown from turkey twizzlers to art, as artists & galleries lobby for art education. Pictured: John Duncan, 'St.Bride', painting. Tempera on canvas. Britain, 1913. Copyright The National Gallery of Scotland .  On display at the V&A's Internation Arts & Crafts exhibit.School Kids' Food for the Eyes
- Art panel target next generation

THEY'RE about to have their beloved twizzlers and chips taken away, but if the nation's kids thought that was it for moral instruction for a while they are mistaken - leading arts managers are hoping to force school children into art galleries.

The plan to make kids troop through galleries on school trips is just one of several likely 'manifesto' points dreamed up by a panel of the great and the good of the art world in time for the general election, set for next month.

"There's always been this emphasis on the three Rs," said Bill Woodrow, an artist who has had his work displayed on the spare plinth on Trafalgar Square. "But there should be four and the last one is art. It's never had that recognition."

Other big names on the arts panel include Sandy Nairne, director of the National Portrait Gallery, Alice Rawsthorn, director of the Design Museum and Sir Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate.

Other measures likely to be lobbied for by the panel are extended opening hours for galleries and more investment in regional galleries.

This picture shows Shanghai's commericial magnetic levitation train, a monorail train somewhat similar to the proposed monorail above Oxford Street.  © Corbis. All Rights Reserved.Monorail Planned for Oxford Street
- Train envisaged to run above shoppers

A MILE-LONG monorail is the latest scheme brought forward to try to improve Oxford Street, central London's major shopping area, but also one its most congested.

"The thing that will change Oxford Street is the monorail," said Ian Wilder of Westminster Council, one of the proponents of the plan. "The monorail is a lot cheaper than a tram. It doesn't rule out doing other things and having vehicles underneath such as taxis."

Like the previous tram plan mentioned by Wilder, the monorail would run the length of Oxford Street, relieving pedestrian congestion. Unlike the tram, monorail's 15 metre height would, say its supporters, leave more opportunities for redesigning the street.

The monorail plan is backed by famous architect Lord Rogers, an adviser to the mayor of London Ken Livingstone. "It would leave a wonderful public space below," said Rogers.

London Mayor Ken Livingston's plan for tubes to run later has collected opposition from airport workers and bigwigs. Photo: Harper SmithLate Tubes Fly Into Trouble
- Mayor's plan opposed by airport duo

AIRPORT-BASED companies likely to be adversely affected by mayor Ken Livingstone's scheme to run Tube trains later on weekends have put on record their objections.

The pay-off for trains that run later at night is to be trains that run later the next morning, which means a shift from 5.30am to 6.30am on Saturday and 7am to 8am on Sunday.

Some 60,000 people are reckoned to use the Tube early on Saturday and Sunday mornings, most of them to get to work and many of those to get to work at Heathrow airport.

British Airways called the plan "unfortunate," while the British Airport Authority said it was concerned about the "impact on both passengers and staff."

Such heavyweight opposition could derail the late-running idea during its present consultation period, though there may be a compromise hatched with the Piccadilly line, which serves Heathrow, having different opening hours to other lines.

Austin Powers has become the new model for wannabe spies.  Photo copyright Entertainment Films.MI5 Seeks Babysitters
- Managers of young spooks wanted at secret service

MI5 is on the look out for managers to control the battalions of new spies recruited last year.

The "varied and stimulating" jobs have been advertised in national newspapers and on the internet under the slogan "see all of your best work go unnoticed."

Last year Britain's secret service began recruitment of at least a thousand new spooks, most of whom are believed to be young university graduates.It is felt these young whipper-snappers need the firm hand of control, possibly a bit like M and Q in James Bond.

A warning for readers thinking of applying for one of the management jobs at MI5 - don't go blabbing. "Please do not even discuss your application with anyone other than your partner and/or immediate family," as MI5 puts it.

Future tube journeys might bring more chances to chat, thanks to the installment of phone transmitters.  Photo:  Harper Smith.Tube Network Goes Mobile
- Phone transmitters to be installed in stations first

TUBE travellers will be able to use mobile phones on the London Underground network within three years, mayor Ken Livingstone has announced.

"We know that many Londoners would like the convenience of being able to use their mobile phones at Tube stations throughout the Underground network," Livingstone said.

The first step in Livingstone's plan is to have transmitters in station concourses by 2008, with connections to tunnels and trains arriving at an unspecified later date.

Some politicians fear mobile phones could be used by terrorists to set off bombs by remote control, but London Underground denied the security risk would be increased.

"We have robust procedures in place for dealing with unattended items on trains and stations," said a London Underground spokesperson.

Patti Smith debuts as artistic director for this year's Meltdown, on the South Bank in June. Photo: Rita AntonioliGovernment Admits Camilla Will Be Queen
- Government Admits Camilla Will Be Queen

CAMILLA Parker Bowles is to assume the title 'Queen' after she marries Prince Charles and after he has become King, the government has confirmed. Previously, the royal family has said Camilla would go under the name 'Princess Consort', but the vagaries of constitutional legal precedent appears to make this unlikely.

"The royals knew she would become Queen, but they wanted people to think she wouldn't. Now the truth is out," said Andrew Mackinlay, the Labour MP whose question in parliament drew the government into admitting the labelling rules.

It seems it would require changes in the law of all 17 countries over which the British royal family holds constitutional monarchy status for her to be able to reject the title 'Queen', an eventuality deemed extremely unlikely. Although polls suggest the public is broadly in favour of Charles marrying Camilla, the royal family is thought to be worried that making Charles's long-time lover Queen would prove unpopular.

Patti Smith debuts as artistic director for this year's Meltdown, on the South Bank in June. Photo: Rita AntonioliMeltdown Made for Patti Smith
- Singer favours festival that will challenge 'material times'

PATTI SMITH is the artistic director of this year's Meltdown Festival, held on London's South Bank in June.

In recent years, Meltdown has carried the artistic director signature of leading rockers such as Nick Cave, David Bowie and Morrissey, each charged with bringing together performers and artists from a range of disciplines, from music and poetry to art and movies.

In those terms, Smith appears a good bet. "I never think in terms of labels," said the singer best known for the legendary album Horse. "I just see rock as a raw art form that belongs to the people, but has possibilities of merging with poetry, politics, the spiritual and the revolutionary."

The Beatles recording at Abbey Road Studios. Photo: Copyright EMI RecordsCome Together for Abbey Road Festival - Famous studio opens its doors for the first time for film treats

ABBEY ROAD studios, most famous as the place where The Beatles made their album of the same name, opens its doors for visitors for the first time ever this weekend.

The reason for the opening up is the Abbey Road Film Festival which runs from this Saturday, the 19th of March until the 3rd of April. Over 150 films have had their music scored at the famous studios and selections from that prodigious list form the programme for the festival.

First up is Raiders of the Lost Ark, which was the first movie scored at Abbey Road in 1981. Other highlights include screenings of all three Lord of the Rings films, The Talented Mr Ripley and A Hard days Night, which brings us back to The Beatles.

Click here for more info...

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother at Walmer Castle.17/03/05
Queen Mother Memorial for The Mall
- Brown supplies cash for statue

THE MALL is to get a new monument, Chancellor Gordon Brown announced in his budget yesterday.

The monument will be in the form of a statue of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who died three years ago, aged 101. "It is right to honour the life and service of the Queen Mother with a permanent memorial to her," Brown told Parliament yesterday. The Chancellor is to supply the necessary UKP2 million for the statue from public funds.

The Queen Mother was one of the most popular royal personages of all time and, for many, represented the kind of reserved determination associated with a certain kind of Britishness.

Huge crowds turned up for her funeral and it is expected many will visit the statue which is likely to be designed and built within the next two years.

Newly released government papers have confirmed that Princess Diana and her boyfriend Dodi Al Fayed switched cars at the last minute before their fatal crash in 1997.Official Papers Show Diana's Car Was Switched
- Conspiracy theories boosted by memo

NEWLY released government papers have confirmed that Princess Diana and her boyfriend Dodi Al Fayed switched cars at the last minute before their fatal crash in 1997.

The car-switch theory has been one put up by some conspiracy theorists, who feel the first car may have been deliberately put out of action and the second car tampered with, causing the high speed crash in a Paris road tunnel.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, a memo addressed to Prime Minister Tony Blair, sent within hours of Diana's death, has been released, though its author remains a mystery.

The memo reads: "The Princess and Dodi Al Fayed arrived at the Paris Ritz yesterday afternoon. When they left the hotel late last night they were surrounded by a number of journalists. They tried to leave quickly but the first hire car failed to start. The second car then left the hotel at speed."

To confuse the issue, a later memo sent by then British ambassador to France Sir Michael Jay, says Diana and Dodi switched cars to avoid the press, not through any breakdown.

There is an ongoing official investigation into Diana's death led by the former chief of the Metropolitan Police.

Black cabs might soon be offering their passengers four tv channels along with the regular fare.  Photo by Harper Smith.15/03/05
Black Cabs to Get TVs
- News, comedy, sport and music promised for passengers

LONDON'S black cabs will feature TVs from next month after a new company called Cabvision agreed to pay each driver UKP750 a year for the privilege of installing its equipment.

Passengers will be able to choose from news, comedy, sport and music channels, with adverts providing revenue for Cabvision.

From April, Cabvision plans to install its TVs in 1,000 black cabs in its first year of operation and hopes to have done the same for a further 3,000 within three years.

Alternatively, passengers will still be able to ignore the TVs and enjoy the traditional well-informed political views of cab drivers.

The original Disney animated film Peter Pan.  Photo  © Disney. Peter Pan Given New Life By Hospital
- Great Ormond Street chooses award-winning author to write sequel

GREAT ORMOND STREET Hospital, recently in the news for its financial problems, has chosen award-winning children's author Geraldine McCaughrean as its future money-spinner.

McCaughrean is to write the official sequel to Peter Pan, the rights to which were left to the famous children's hospital by its author JM Barrie. Over the years since Barrie's death in 1937, Great Ormond Street (GOS) has earned millions of pounds for its pioneering work on a range of children's medical conditions.

However, a large chunk of that money has come in the way of earnings from the many films made on the Peter Pan theme and most of those films have been made in the US, under whose laws GOS's rights will run out in 2023. GOS hopes the sequel will replace the future lost revenue from the lost boys' story. McCaughrean, winner of the Whitbread Award with Not the End of the World, won a competition to write the new story in the face of stiff competition from a hundred other authors.

"I want the Peter Pan story to have a theme of exploration," said McCaughrean. "I haven't got much further than that yet, but I have given myself until the end of the year to finish it."

In the sample shown to judges, the first line of the sequel is, "I am not going to bed."

St. Patrick's Parade Goes Straight to Trafalgar Square
- Plenty of other London venues ensure it has no monopoly on the festivities

TRAFALGAR SQUARE hosts the main St. Patrick's Day celebrations in London this year.

On Sunday the 13th, the square marks the end point of the St. Patrick's Day parade, featuring bands and floats that kick off their march from Hyde Park Corner and move through Piccadilly and Regent Street.

"I want to see London's St Patrick Day celebrations to grow each year to stand alongside those seen in cities like New York, Boston and Chicago," said London Mayor Ken Livingstone, who has come under much flak for his promotion of the Irish event.

Critics point to the relative neglect of English patron saint, St. George's Day, but the Mayor has moved some way to accommodate such concerns and can point, in any case, to the 400,000 people of Irish descent who live in London.

St. Patrick's Day itself is on the 17th of March and events are scheduled to go ahead all the way from Saturday the 12th through to that date, with sound stages at both Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden featuring a variety of Irish singers and dancers.

Click here for more info...

Midnight Hour for New Gameboy
- DS launches tonight, ahead of rival from Sony

GAME fans will be queuing up outside shops in London tonight, ready for the midnight UK launch of the Nintendo DS, the latest in the Gameboy series of handhelds.

"We know that customers want it as soon as it's released - and that means the minute, not the day," said Robert Quinn, of Game, the biggest chain of computer game stores in the UK. "We're working round the clock so that our customers will be the first to play the DS."

In fact, quite a few DS's have sneaked their way into London well before today, thanks to the product's 2004 launch in Japan and the blessings of shopping over the internet.

The main selling point for the DS is its dual screen (hence the name), one of which is a touch screen allowing for the development of a different kind of gaming

But Nintendo, until now massively dominant in the handheld gaming market, faces a fierce competitor in the shape of Sony's PlayStation Portable, or PSP, a more powerful console which is due out in the UK in the next few months.

In Japan, where both machines were unleashed last autumn, the PSP has so far outsold the DS, despite retailing for nearly double the price. In the UK, those prices are about UKP100 for the DS and and a predicted UKP170 for the PSP.

Travolta Drops Diana Hint
- Star plans to reveal all in forthcoming book

DID HE or didn't he? That's the question on everyone's lips after John Travolta dropped hints about his relationship with Princess Diana.

Travolta, in London for the premiere of Be Cool, was talking about his forthcoming autobiography when he said: "It will include a lot of things I've never discussed with anybody. I guess for readers in England the most interesting thing is going to be the stuff about Princess Diana."

That Travolta and Diana enjoyed a strong friendship is common knowledge, but the full extent of that friendship is still unclear.

Be Cool is the sequel Get Shorty and goes on general release on the 1st of April.

Banking on the success of millions of flights, including the Valentines Day Flight (pictured), London Eye today celebrates five years running - and guaranteed running until 2027.Five Years High and Rising
- Champagne reception for London Eye birthday

SOME 18 million visitors after its launch in 2000, the London Eye celebrates its fifth birthday today.

Now one of London's most famous tourist attractions, the Eye was originally planned as a temporary ride and would be closing for business this year if officialdom hadn't seen sense and guaranteed its existence until at least 2027.

To commemorate the occasion, visitors today are being offered a glass of champagne (or orange juice), marking "the beginning of a new phase for the London Eye which will grace the capital's skyline for years to come," as a London Eye spokesperson puts it.

Click here for info & tickets...

Londoners 'Want 4x4 Tax'
- Survey reveals strong support for punitive charge

THE IDEA of slapping a big Congestion Charge on 4x4 cars is backed by 80 per cent of Londoners, according to a poll taken by campaign group the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s.

When London Mayor Ken Livingstone canvassed the same idea last year, transport administrators said its implementation would probably cost more than it brought in and the scheme was quietly dropped.

But the Alliance, backed by Greenpeace, wants to put the charge at UKP20, which might change the sums. "A UKP20 charge would make the cost of driving inefficient vehicles reflect the damage they do," said Mark Strutt of Greenpeace. "London is one of the most progressive cities in the world, so let's lead the world by driving gas-guzzlers off our streets."

The Alliance's poll involved 5,000 Londoners and reflects similar findings in ad-hoc surveys taken by some of London's radio stations. It comes as the Mayor consults the public over his plans to increase the general Congestion Charge from UKP5 to UKP8.

Supporters of 4x4s point out that off-roaders represent only 3.5 per cent of London's traffic and are therefore not a major threat to the environment.

"Tulipmania" at Hampton Court Palace.  Mother's Day weekend Friday 4th to Monday 7th March 2005.  More than 20,000 tulips will be displayed in the historic Queen's Apartments, some in reproduction blue and white Dutch porcelain pots, specially commissioned by Historic Royal Palaces and made in Makkum, Netherlands.  Photo by Nigel Iskander/HRP/ 04/03/05
Tulips From Hampton, Ma'am
- Mothers Day floral tribute at the Palace

20,000 tulips are the stars of Florimania!, which takes place at Hampton Court this weekend.

Timed to coincide with Mothering Sunday, Florimania! features what Hampton Court Palace officials call a "fabulous floral feast of the senses."

The main display is in the Queen's Apartments and is grouped around 40 arrangements inspired by 17th-century horticultural horticultural design styles. Making up the invasion of tulips will be almost all of the 120 varieties of the famous Dutch spring-time flower.

As well as the floral eye-feast, visitors will be able to make their own posies and also learn flower arranging techniques from top florists, all as part of the usual entry fee to Hampton Court Palace.

Florimania! runs from the 4th to the 7th of March.

Click here to buy tickets...

New Plans for Ally Pally
- Live venue and shops key parts of UKP30 million scheme

ALEXANDRA Palace is set for a UKP30 million refurbishment, with the aim being to turn it into one of London's leading entertainment venues.

"This is a once in a generation opportunity to ensure it is a landmark that continues to attract Londoners in large number and to make it a place that everyone in the capital can be proud of," said Keith Holder, one of the management team running the Palace and surrounding park.

There have been plenty of plans for the Palace, which sits in a great hill top position in north London, which have not come to fruition, but it is believed this new scheme is more realistic than some. As well as installing facitlites to turn the Ally Pally into a modern live venue, part of the complex will become a retail area.

Queen Gives Music a Medal

- Award announced on day Her Majesty asks Clapton what he does for a living

THE QUEEN is to sponsor a new award for musical achievement. Known as the Queen's Medal for Music, the award judges' committee will be chaired by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies.

News of the award came yesterday when Her Majesty hosted a music event at Buckingham Palace which featured a host of established and up and coming musicians including Jamie Cullum, Humphrey Lyttleton and Bryn Terfel.

Also on duty was Eric Clapton, whose conversation with his sovereign perhaps explains why Maxwell Davies and not the Queen herself will be in charge of the Medal.

"What do you do?" the Queen reportedly inquired of Clapton, following it up with, "Have you been playing a long time?" Old Slowhand straight-batted back with: "It must be 45 years now."

The Queen's Medal for Music will be awarded annually on music patron saint, St Cecilia's Day, the 22nd of November.

Tower of London officials are using drastic measures to ensure the  future of the monarchy.1/03/05
Royal Defenders Under Aerial Attack
- Oliver Crowell and pals threaten Tower ravens

SOUTH LONDON republican crows are being shot dead by royal raven-keepers in a desperate bid to save the monarchy.

The ravens live in the Tower of London and legend has it that if they leave, the royal family will be no more. But the ravens have recently come under increasing attack from huge flocks of crows who swoop across the nearby Thames at feeding time to steal the meat of the royal mascots, whose pampered existence leaves them ill-prepared for such battles.

"The crows are scavengers and they will eat and compete for food with the ravens which is stressful for them," said a spokesperson for the Historic Royal Palaces. "There are about 200 which fly in every morning. If we don't keep them at a certain level there is concern about the multiplication of numbers."

Raven-keepers have resorted to the typical tactics of those in power - brute force, this time in the shape of guns which are brought out on a weekly basis to take out crows, with particular attention paid to the rebel leaders known as alpha-birds.

"There are more and more crows coming," said the Historic Royal Palaces spokesperson. "Every Sunday morning, the raven master goes out at 6am with a .22 air rifle. The most he has ever got in one day is 12."

At the moment it is legal to defend domestic birds from attack by wild birds, but there are rumours the Department for the Environment is looking at changing the law to stop any birds being shot.

Tower Tandoori  is a well-known London tradition, despite its lack of celebrity chef.US Mag: Best Restaurants in the World Are in London

- Diversity and quality praised in Gourmet

LONDON has the best restaurants in the world, according to the foremost food magazine in the US.

"We were blown away," said John Willoughby, editor of Gourmet. "What London has that other cities don't right now is high-quality food at all levels. The kind of diversity and gastronomies that you can lay your hands on in London is happening very quickly and very impressively."

The magazine reports that the range and quality on offer in London is more impressive than in its main competitors, New York and Paris. Such was Gourmet's level of appreciation that it has devoted a whole issue to eating out in London.

"I worked in Paris for three years and was teased about fish and chips," said Gordon Ramsay, one of London's big-name restaurateurs. "A lot of people have worked hard to change things in the last ten years."

Sex Museum for Soho

- Trocadero to house new carnal pleasure palace

WHAT might be called a second natural history museum is to open in London, but in contrast to the animal-centred exhibition halls of South Kensington, the new venue is to concentrate entirely on the sexual behaviour of homo sapien.

The sex museum will be erected in the Trocadero Centre following the granting of planning permission by Westminster Council, the local authority in charge of the Soho area, which has long been associated with the wider sex industry.

Little flesh has so far been put on the scheme, at least in public, especially since the museum's backers have adopted a seemingly coy approach to their project, calling it a "reproductive health and sexuality museum."

A cafe is part of the planned museum complex, as well as what are enticingly called "corporate entertainment facilities".

Madonna Helps Tate Modern

- Singer lends Kahlo paintings to summer exhibition

THE WORK of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo is to be the main summer exhibition at the Tate Modern and one of her biggest fans, Madonna, is helping out.

"She was a very colourful person and moved in high society in Mexico and that's reflected in her work," said the Tate Modern's Ruth Findlay. Kahlo had polio as a child and started serious painting only when she suffered an accident that left her unable to conceive. "A lot of her work deals with suffering and blood," said Findlay.

Kahlo was married to fellow painter Diego Rivera and is believed to have had an affair with Leon Trotsky. She died in 1954.

Kahlo's paintings - usually classed as Surrealist - are as colourful as her life and 60 of them will be on show at the Tate Modern from June. Madonna is a Kahlo collector and has agreed to lend the exhibition two of the artist's paintings - Self Portrait with Monkey and My Birth.

Click here for more information

Will Smith broke the world record for film premieres, yesterday, for his film Hitch.  Photo copyright Columbia Tri Star.23/02/05
Smith Breaks Premiere record

- No hitch as star takes in three openings in 12 hours

WILL SMITH earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records yesterday by making the most premiere appearances ever in the space of 12 hours.

"I've had a beautiful day," he said. "The reaction from people has been great, and I'm so grateful they came out to see me in the snow."

As well as appearing at the traditional London premiere at Leicester Square for his new film Hitch, Smith braved the icy weather to show his face at premieres in Birmingham and Manchester.

Smith is one of the hottest acting properties in Hollywood, having starred in such blockbusters as I, Robot and the Men in Black films. Hitch, in which Smith plays an expert in dating techniques, also scored well at the US box office and is widely expected to do the same over here.

"I love being able to meet my fans. It's the reason I do what I do," said Smith. "They got me in the Guinness Book of World Records - I like that! It's kind of cool."

Hitch is released in the UK on the 11th of March.

Heath Swimmers Create a Splash

- New charges anger regulars of Hampstead's ponds

CAMPAIGNERS are planning their next move after the authority that runs Hampstead Heath pledged to stick to its guns to start charging for the privilege of swimming in the heath's ponds.

"A modest self-policing charge, UKP2 a visit, is perfectly reasonable thing to ask people to pay," said Tony Halmos of the Corporation of London, which runs the heath and which made its final decision on the matter yesterday.

Demonstrators turned up at the heath to try to change the minds of Halmos and his colleagues, but to no avail. "Swimmers are very angry because they believe there's a long tradition of free swimming, and we want that maintained," said Elizabeth Block, of the Kenwood Ladies Pond Association.

The Corporation of London argue that the heath's three swimming ponds cost UK500,000 a year to maintain and that the new scheme will bring in about UKP130,000 a year. The idea is that the new money, plus funds from newly announced parking charges, will be used for other projects on the heath.

Opponents of the charges are likely to step up their campaign and they do appear to have an ace up their sleeve, since the UKP2 charge is an honesty-box one.

"They have no intention of putting a farthing in a box until they are satisfied the heath is well run," said Peter Cuming, of the Hampstead Heath United Swimmers' Association earlier this month.

Making tube trains run later is the primary idea proposed in a public consultation, beginning tomorrow.Talks Begin on Late Night Tube Trains

- Londoners consulted over weekend time changes

LATE-NIGHT Tube trains on weekends move a step closer tomorrow when a public consultation into extending running hours on the Underground begins.

The idea is for trains to run an hour or two later on both Friday and Saturday night, probably until two in the morning, to make life easier for people enjoying a night out in town.

The snag is that essential maintenance work would still need doing, pushing back the time of the first train the next morning.

"There are definitely upsides that will benefit a lot of people late at night," said Brian Cooke, of London Transport Users Committee. "But people will be inconvenienced in the early morning, and we are concerned that some of those people are essential workers and people on low incomes who have to get to work."

Under the late-night running scheme, trains would start at 7.00 on Saturday morning and 8.30am on Sunday. Despite the likely objections of some weekend early risers, polling evidence suggests the consultation exercise will reveal a big majority in favour of late-running.

The London Outdoor Adventure Show offers information and equiptment for sports of all extreme. 18/02/05
London Goes River Deep, Mountain High

- Sport taken to the extreme at Olympia

WEATHER-beaten adventure might be the furthest thing from our minds in a cold February, but visitors to an exciting show at Olympia this weekend get to sample the wild outdoors under the safety of a roof.

The Outdoor Adventure Show is at Olympia for the first time and is now 30 per cent bigger than before, with an assortment of exhibitors showcasing the latest ideas for extreme sports, including rock-climbing, white water rafting and kite-buggying.

The show starts on Friday and runs through to Sunday and features star names such as writer Tony Hawks and ace-adventurer Sir Ranulph Fiennes. The show is organized into two action zones, the Mountain Adventure Zone and the Coastal and River Zone; both have plenty of opportunities for visitors to get involved in some of frankly crazy sports.

Click here for more information.

Chelsea Top the London Money League

- Blues move above Arsenal off the pitch as well as on

CHELSEA have overtaken Arsenal as London’s richest club and look to be capable of going past Manchester United for the world money crown.

"Chelsea will not think that future overall leadership is beyond them," said a report by accountancy firm Deloitt on the incomes of the world’s leading football clubs.

In the financial year 2003/04, Chelsea’s tills rang up UKP143.7 million, compared to Arsenal’s UKP115 million. Manchester United, at the top of the global pile, took UKP171.5 million. Chelsea’s performance ranked fourth in the world, a leap from tenth spot the previous year, while Arsenal also gained position, going from seventh to sixth.

Given that Chelsea announced debts running into tens of millions of pounds recently, the report might raise a few eyebrows, but it concentrates not on spending but on the earning power of each club, which means things like ticket sales, TV money and merchandising.

It is likely that in the year after that covered by the report, Chelsea’s figures will look even better given their on-field success. Arsenal will probably have to wait until their long-awaited move to the new stadium at Ashburton Grove before they can hope to challenge Manchester United and Chelsea in the income generating league.

The only other London club on the list of the top twenty richest clubs in the world was Tottenham, which was rated 14th at 66.3 million.

London investigators will use cutting-edge technology to rehash the death of Diana. 16/02/05
Laser Technology Helps Diana Detectives

- Video-game style computer model to be used in investigation

INVESTIGATORS looking into the death of Princess Diana have visited the Paris tunnel in which she died, using laser equipment to gather more clues. A team from the Metropolitan Police took readings inside the tunnel and will now construct a 3-D video-game style representation which they say will "enhance understanding" of the high-speed car crash that led to the Princess's death.

The investigation team is led by former Met chief, Sir John Stevens, who began his study as part of the inquest into Diana's death.

Despite other investigations and official denials, dark rumours and conspiracy theories have done the rounds ever since the crash that killed not only Diana but her then boyfriend Dodi Al Fayed and the car's chauffeur Henri Paul.

Click for LondonNet's Archives of Diana conspiracy theories...

London welcomes 2012 inspection teamCrunch Time for Olympic Bid

- Welcome mat laid out for inspection team

FLAGS in their thousands, all flying London's claims to the 2012 Olympic Games, await the International Olympic Committee inspection team as they arrive in the city today.

The four days to come are make or break time for London's bid and the bid team have pulled out all the stops to convince the IOC representatives that the games should come to London. As well as visits to the major sites earmarked for the games, the IOC panel will also be given top-level hospitality including a dinner with the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

Most expert onlookers still believe that Paris is the favourite to clinch the 2012 Olympics, but there is some evidence London and New York are also in with a shout, with Madrid and Turin felt to be behind the leading pack.

"Technically, we have got the best bid. We've put the transport structure into the East End so we can move people from the centre of London to the Olympic parks in seven minutes," said Sports Minister Richard Caborn, confronting head on what some say is the weak spot of the London bid. The IOC report back on their findings in May, by which time London's chances will become clearer.

Click for more on London's 2012 Olympic Bid....

Mayor Ken Livingston plans to use London's blustery days to make things greener.14/02/05
Ken Plans Green London

- Wind farms among highlights of new environmental plan

KEN LIVINGSTONE has plans to make London self sufficient in energy with wind farms and solar power providing all the capital's electricity needs.

The London Mayor is due to launch an ambitious Climate Change Agency for London initiative next month, which is believed to contain a whole raft of measures designed to appeal to voters concerned with the environment.

Among the ideas thought likely to be included are a series of wind farms along the Thames estuary, incentives for businesses to install solar panels to their office buildings and new power stations fuelled by organic waste. Livingstone's pioneering Congestion Charge is also set to be expanded and its price increased from UKP5 to UKP8 in the continuing attempt to cut traffic and its associated pollutants.

Such measures would make London the greenest major city on the planet, but their popularity is not assured. On the weekend, only a few hundred campaigners gathered in central London for the worldwide demonstrations in favour of the Kyoto Treaty, a lower figure than that recorded by other international cities, and it is doubtful whether businesses would be happy to accept more costs in what is already one of the most expensive cities in the world.

Courtesy Ylva French Consultancy11/02/05
Beijing Visits London for New Year

- Chinese performers new entrants to annual celebrations

THE YEAR of the Rooster is welcomed this Sunday with the usual spectacular and noisy celebrations in and around Chinatown.

Not so usual is the introduction of over a hundred performers, many from the Beijing Opera, who will parade down Charing Cross Road from 11.00am.

At 12.00, attention switches to nearby Trafalgar Square where stages will be set to up featuring traditional Chinese music and dance. The entertainment on the square carries on until 5.30 and is punctuated by fireworks displays at 2pm and 5pm. Previous experience suggests the fireworks will be very loud.

In Chinatown itself, on Gerrard Street and the surrounding area, lion dancers, dragon dancers and food stalls will be there to scare and feed the kids. Or feed to the kids if they start to whine.

Charles and Camilla to Marry

- April the likely date for divorcees' royal marriage

PRINCE CHARLES and Camilla Parker Bowles are to marry, Royal officials have announced.

The wedding date has been set for Friday 8th of April and will be held at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.

Both Charles, the heir to the throne, and Camilla, have been married before; Charles, of course, to Diana and Camilla to Brigadier Andrew Parker Bowles. The couple's love for each other, however, stretches way back to the 1970s, before their first marriages.

Royalty is nothing without grand titles, and the one to be assumed by Camilla following the wedding will be Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall. Once Charles becomes King, Camilla gets an upgrade to Princess Consort. Usually, the wife of the heir to the throne is known as Princess of Wales and, when married to a king, gets the title Queen. Constitutional experts say changing that approach will require legislation to go through parliament.

Previously there have been rumours that the Queen was not keen on the prospect of her eldest son re-marrying, but today Her Majesty issued a warm public statement. "The Duke of Edinburgh and I are very happy that the Prince of Wales and Mrs Parker Bowles are to marry," the Queen said.

Brit Awards Clock Up 25 Years

- Franz Ferdinand among favourites for prizes

EARLS COURT hosts the annual Brit Awards tonight, with Mercury Prize winners Franz Ferdinand again in the running to scoop major honours.

Franz Ferdinand are one of a number of acts asked to perform live at the event. Others include Robbie Williams, Scissor Sisters and The Streets. Williams's song Angels is in the running for a special award for the best song of the last 25 years, which is how long the Brit Awards have been around. Rivals for the award are Leave Right Now (by Will Young), Love Will Tear Us (Joy Division), We Are The Champions (Queen) and Wuthering Heights (Kate Bush).

Over the years, the Brits have occasionally hit the headlines for odd reasons, such as the year the event was hosted by Sam Fox and Mick Fleetwood when autocue problems caused much hilarity and the year a Michael Jackson performance was interrupted by Jarvis Cocker baring his bum. This year, Babyshambles's singer Pete Doherty has claimed he plans to disrupt the awards.

Mixed Picture for London House Prices

- Some go up and some go down, say government surveyors

LONDON house prices rose by six per cent in the year to December 2004, according to government figures released today, but large parts of the capital are now seeing prices move in the opposite direction.

The borough of Camden posted the biggest gains, with an average rise in house price of 23 per cent. At the other end of the scale, Merton in south London saw a decline of 10.7 per cent in the last three months of 2004.

Prices in Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea, Wandsworth and Westminster also fell sharply in the last quarter of 2004, the government-run Land Registry reported, while Islington and Hillingdon saw solid gains.

The Land Registry figures are often seen as the most accurate of all house price measures as they offer a more comprehensive survey than those conducted by building societies.

Half a Million Back the Bid
- Olympic pledges reach landmark figure as IOC prepare to visit

London Olympics 2012 Support PosterTHE BUILD-UP to next week's inspection of London's Olympic bid gathered pace today with news that over half a million people have pledged support for their city's attempts to host the 2012 games.

Pledges have been handed in to the bid team by internet, text messaging and good old fashioned signatures as a way to counter impressions that Londoners don't want the Olympics.

Polls, ranging from 70 to 90 per cent depending on the exact wording of the survey question, have consistently shown huge backing for the games, but the International Olympics Committee are known to be concerned about a perceived lack of public support.

Members of that committee arrive in town next week to make what will be the final assessment of London's claims on the 2012 games and will make its final decision in the summer. As well as the pledges of support, London will be decked out in bunting and flags for the IOC's visit, though Paris is still favourite to land the prize.

High Speed Train:  in the newly proposed fast-speed trains to Glasgow, speeds could reach up to 186mph.04/02/05
New High Speed London-Scotland Rail Link Planned

- Transport minister 'raises eyes to the future'

LONDON to Glasgow by train in around three hours is the tantalising prospect held up by Secretary of State for Transport Alistair Darling for the not-too-distant future.

Speaking at a Future of Rail event, Darling said recent years had seen a necessary concentration on "fixing the problems of the existing network," but that it was now time to, "raise our eyes and look to the future."

That future is represented by a high-profile high-speed rail scheme that would first be run between London and Manchester and then on to Glasgow. It is envisaged trains would be of the same class as the forthcoming Channel Tunnel trains that, when introduced in 2007, are set to reach speeds of 186mph, a substantial increase on the newest tilting trains that run on the west coast line at 125mph.

At that high speed, Manchester could comfortably be reached in 90 minutes, three quarters of an hour less than the current service, and Glasgow in around three hours, nearly two hours less. Exciting stuff, even if the plan would be unlikely to be up and running within a decade. At least Darling's announcement of a government feasibility study into the project marks a vital first step.

Mandela Speaks at Trafalgar Square

- Anti-apartheid hero to call for end to world poverty

NELSON MANDELA speaks at Trafalgar Square today as part of the campaign against world poverty.

"Nelson Mandela's presence in London sends a clear signal from one of the world's greatest heroes that 2005 is the year when we strike a huge blow against world poverty," said Adrian Lovett of the Make Poverty History coalition.

"His presence is not only a rallying cry to the public to get involved, but serves notice to rich countries that the world will not put up with false promises, delays and hollow sound bites."

After speaking in front of thousands in Trafalgar Square, Mandela is to hold talks with the leaders of the G7 group of the world's richest countries, also in London.

Hotel 51 - Deluxe Suite02/02/05
Hotel Standards Plan Goes Countrywide

- Scheme raises 'confidence for visitors'

HOTEL standards across the country are to be given a boost thanks to a scheme first trialled in London boroughs Greenwich and Camden.

Called Fitness for Purpose, the scheme provides hotel owners and operators with a checklist of measures against which each establishment can be judged, covering areas such as cleanliness and safety.

"If an operator uses the checklist there will be confidence for the visitor that they will be in a safe environment." said Rosa D'Alessandro, Greenwich Council's tourism manager.

Fitness for Purpose is especially applicable to small hotels and bed and breakfasts, which have sometimes in the past suffered from a shoddy reputation.

London Hotels

Woman in White - photo by Manuel HarlanWest End Delivers Bumper Performance

- 2004 theatre revenues are highest since records began

LONDON's West End Theatres have defied the doom-mongerers by posting record receipts for 2004.

Box office takings across the West End were UKP341 million, the highest figure since records began back in 1980. Audience attendances were up on last year but marginally below the record of 2002.

2005 promises a wind of change across the London theatre scene with the promised break-up and takeover of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Group.

He has called in financial experts to advise on the future of the company which owns many of the West End's leading productions and theatre venues. It is understood that Webber now wants to concentrate on writing.

London Theatre Info

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Theatre Reviews

Countdown to Sci-Fi Film Festival

- West End cinemas host fantasy-fest for fourth time

THREE CINEMAS share the 4th London International Festival of Science Fiction and Fantastic Film, which starts this week.

The anchor venue is the Curzon Soho, with the Odeon Covent Garden and Odeon Panton Street also screening an exciting and varied selection of new and legendary sci-fi movies.

First up, at Odeon Panton Street on Wednesday evening, is Able Edwards, a film with a cryogenic theme backed by Steven Soderbergh, which is already famous in film circles for being "made on a Mac."

Other highlights are the world premiere of Slipstream, starring Sean Astin and Vinnie Jones and directed by David Van Eyssen, several screenings of the well-reviewed Primer and a series of all-nighters including one with all three Matrix films.

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Interview with David Van Eyssen

A Taste of Spain for London

- Variety of attractions this weekend at Viva Espana

FLAMENCO displays and Andalusian horse riding take centre stage at Olympia this weekend for the fourth annual Viva Espana show.

The event to promote living and holidaying in Spain, which goes right through the weekend, also features beach bars with tapas and free wine tasting as well as introductory Spanish lessons.

Opening hours are: Friday and Saturday 10am-6pm and Sunday 10am-5pm. Tickets are UKP10. Children under 16 get in free.

Tate Modern Plans Expansion

- New wing to 'complete original vision'

THE TATE MODERN could be expanded by up to 50 per cent if plans put forward by its director, Sir Nicholas Serota, get the go-ahead.

From its opening nearly five years ago, the Tate Modern has seen itself as a key part of the regeneration of the Bankside area and the new expansion plans reflect this attitude.

"This is completing our original vision," said Serota. "I think the most significant development will be that Tate Modern will no longer simply have a single face to the north looking over the Thames - it will gain a totally new face looking south into Southwark and south London."

The chance to expand the Tate Modern - the most visited modern art facility in the world - comes because an electricity sub-station right next to the present building, is to be revamped, leaving plenty of room for a new gallery wing.

Money is a big issue for the ambitious plans and Serota admits funding is yet to be sourced, but assuming the Tate Modern's huge success can draw in cash from government and private sources alike, the new wing is likely to be open by 2012.

Guantanamo Prisoners Come Home

- End of incarceration for last British detainees

THREE LONDONERS return to their home town today after spending three years locked up in Guantanamo Bay, the prison camp on the island of Cuba run by the US government.

Feroz Abbasi, Richard Belmar and Martin Mubanga, along with Birmingham's Moazzam Begg, are the last British prisoners of the notorious internment centre to be freed. They were never charged in court with any crime, and, they say, were tortured.

"We are delighted that the misery of these four men and the anguish of their families at last appears to be coming to an end," said a spokesperson for human rights group Amnesty International.

Mayor's Man Urges Cannabis Clampdown

- Jasper points to 'unacceptable' public dope smoking

ONE of the architects of the relaxed approach to cannabis adopted by London's police appears to have back-tracked on the live-and-let-smoke policy.

Mayoral adviser on the police Lee Jasper said: "If you see the extent to which cannabis is smoked outside schools, on London Transport, it's unacceptable. I think public use of cannabis, particularly in certain areas, should be subject to some sort of enforcement other than that which is currently used."

Police have also made noises about the softly-softly approach to cannabis use where users are generally let off with an informal warning rather than being cautioned, as was previously the case. "The reclassification has sent out a mixed and confusing message to police officers and members of the public," said a Metropolitan police spokesperson.

While it is easier to smoke cannabis, from May it will become harder to smoke tobacco as a leading pub chain plans to ban smoking in its establishments from the 1st of that month.

Explaining his decision, JD Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin said: "Half of smokers want to give up [smoking] and 25% of people smoke and they'll still be able to smoke in our beer gardens."

Pubs to Pay for Police

- Rise in licence prices and new fines to fund alco-cops

THOUSANDS of homes are to be built on the remains of the generally loathed Elephant and Castle shopping centre in south London.

The site is to be re-developed under the guidance of Southwark Council, which owns 80 per cent of the land involved, with houses and flats the centrepiece of the UKP1.5 billion scheme alongside new shops and a new boulevard complete with newly planted trees.

In place of the garish shopping mall currently on view, the site will feature two tall towers of over 5,000 homes as well as a market-style shopping area and a leisure centre.

Those are the plans in broad outline. To fill in the detail, the council next needs to choose a commercial property developer as a partner. Their decision must coincide with Multiplex, the company in charge of re-building Wembley stadium and St Modwen, and who now controls the present Elephant and Castle shopping centre.

Homes Plan for the Elephant

- New scheme for odd shopping centre site

THOUSANDS of homes are to be built on the remains of the generally loathed Elephant and Castle shopping centre in south London.

The site is to be re-developed under the guidance of Southwark Council, which owns 80 per cent of the land involved, with houses and flats the centrepiece of the UKP1.5 billion scheme alongside new shops and a new boulevard complete with newly planted trees.

In place of the garish shopping mall currently on view, the site will feature two tall towers of over 5,000 homes as well as a market-style shopping area and a leisure centre.

Those are the plans in broad outline. To fill in the detail, the council next needs to choose a commercial property developer as a partner. Their decision must coincide with Multiplex, the company in charge of re-building Wembley stadium and St Modwen, and who now controls the present Elephant and Castle shopping centre.

Ken Goes Up the Pole Over Gay Flag

- Rainbow symbol in Mayor/council spat

RAINBOW flags flown outside gay bars in Soho have become the latest material for argument between London Mayor Ken Livingstone and Westminster Council.

One of London's most famous gay haunts, the Admiral Duncan pub on Old Compton Street, once the subject of an anti-gay bomb-attack, is among those flying the flag, which has caused distress to Westminster Council.

The council say they have nothing in principal against the flags, but argue planning permission should be sought before they are flown.

Livingstone calls this approach, "deeply offensive to lesbian and gay people."

Today the council hit back, citing Livingstone's "red-carpet welcome for homophobic preachers," a telling reference to the mayor's willingness to share platforms with anti-gay Muslim clerics."

Andrew Lloyd-Weber 18/01/05
Webber's Theatres May Sell

- Really Useful Group receives a buy-out offer from an unnamed bidder

THE WEST END'S biggest name may be selling up, according to the Financial Times.

A potential bidder approached the Really Useful Group, the Webber-owned entertainment business responsible for managing publishing and production rights for his numerous West End musicals, hoisting the group's potential value to more than UKP 500 million, including Webber's copyrights, royalties and merchandising. Undisclosed private bidders have also separately expressed interest in four of the 11 theatres owned by Really Useful Theatres, including the Duchess, Apollo, Garrick and Lyric.

Although company officials declined to comment on the nature of the bids or the bidders, themselves, they did confirm that Ingenious Media, the boutique advisory business, is currently reviewing the Really Useful Group's future.

Ingenious chairman Patrick McKenna, a former chief executive of the Really Useful Group, said in a statement yesterday: "The process is in its formative stages and no decisions have yet been made."

The bids come during the burgeoning success of Webber's latest hit, Woman in White, and while the 57-year-old composer considers concentrating wholly on writing music, according to company officials.

In December 2004, however, Webber expressed concern for his theatre businesses and the state of West End Theatres.

"Everyone thinks we've got a fortune hanging around, but in actual fact the company's got a big debt," he said.

"I'm a very, very bad businessman and I don't think I've always been very well advised."

Ingenious hopes to finish the review within a few weeks, with the bidding likely to become more serious with the outcome.

West End Has World's Priciest Offices

- Survey puts London way ahead of global rivals

OFFICES in the West End of London are the most expensive in the world, according to a new survey by property consultants DTZ.

At UKP10,000 per work station per year, the West End is pricier than second placed Paris by some UKP2,500.

"Costs have risen, reflecting London's continuing popularity, despite fears that emerging office markets like India might undermine future growth," said Elspeth Lochhead of DTZ.

American cities saw their office costs fall relative to European business centres thanks to the decline in the Dollar, though Washington DC moved up to fourth place.

Tube Crime Dances to Classical Tune

- Piped music deters ne'er do wells, findings show

CLASSICAL MUSIC has helped reduce crime on the London Underground in a four-station experiment that is now set to be rolled out across the network.

"We have evaluated the trial and this system does prevent youth disorder as part of a package of measures," said John Strutton of London Underground.

Figures from Elm Park, Dagenham East, Dagenham Heathway and Hornchurch suggest reports of physical and verbal abuse have dropped by 33 per cent in the year and a half those stations have had classical music fed into ticket areas.

Now LU plan to extend the scope of the scheme. "It won't just be ticket halls that get the music, but also waiting rooms where youths congregate and may cause trouble," said Nicky Spiers of Meteronet, one of the companies that run the Tube system.

"We won't be linking this to platform speakers though - that's a captive audience and not everyone likes classical music."

Livingstone Offers Leg Up on the Property Ladder

- London to get cheap homes for key workers

Half-Price flats and houses are to be sold to key and low-paid workers in a new scheme announced by London Mayor Ken Livingstone.

"It's going to transform the volume of houses we produce and the quality of that housing, and give Londoners who have been left behind the chance to move into the property market," said Livingstone.

Under Livingstone's plans, various slices of government-controlled land in London will be used to build up to 50,000 new homes, many of which will be offered to key workers at half the market rate.

The government will own the freehold on these properties as a defence against profiteering, but without further safeguards it is hard to see how the proposed 99 year leases will be able to stop a nurse buying a flat for UKP100,000 one day, selling it for UKP200,000 the next and using the profits to give up her 'key' job.

Another potential problem with the scheme is the question over who constitutes a key worker. Some groups are bound to feel badly treated by the scheme and others, defined as key in year one, may then be seen as non-essential some years down the line.

Harry: I'm Sorry for Nazi Uniform

- Prince shame-faced after swastika gaffe

PRINCE HARRY is in hot water after being pictured attending a fancy dress party togged up as a Nazi.

The Prince, third in line to the throne, wore a uniform based on the Word War Two Afrika Korps, featuring a large swastika on its arm, to a friend's birthday party last week. Harry's timing couldn't have been worse, as the Royal family gets ready to represent Britain at this month's 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp in which over a million people were sent to their deaths by the Nazis during the 1940s.

After news that The Sun newspaper planned to publish the picture in today's edition, Harry and his aides rushed out an apology. "I am very sorry if I caused any offence or embarrassment to anyone," the 20 year-old said. "It was a poor choice of costume and I apologise."

In Harry's defence, Royal supporters have made the case that all 20 year-olds make dumb decisions and that the party was a private affair.

However, others have pointed out that Harry's choice of costume may not be so far removed from some of his family's social views.

Prince Philip has dished out a long list of racist sound bites over the years and Harry himself is reported to have said about a girlfriend that, "she's not black or anything, you know." Brother William once expressed support for the now defunct extreme right-wing Referendum Party, while certain members of the Royal clan are also known to have actively supported the Nazis in the run-up to World War Two.

Meanwhile, Harry's grandmother, the Queen, is also in trouble after saying she thinks Paris will win the right to hold the 2012 Olympic Games.

East London Gallery Paints Bright Future

- Extension is highlight of revamp for the Whitechapel

THE WHITECHAPEL GALLERY is to build an extension thanks to a UKP3 million grant from the National Lottery.

Described by delighted local MP Oona King as "a cultural landmark in east London for over 100 years," the gallery is one of the few in the area.

The lottery grant forms the is the anchor funding for a UKP10 million revamp programme which includes a new restaurant, book shop and a doubling of the gallery's exhibition space. Work is likely to start on the project this year.

London Art: LondonNet's guide to galleries and exhibitions in the capital.

New Mega-Barrier for the Thames

- Rising sea-levels cause government re-think over flood danger

LONDON could get a new, much bigger flood barrier in the coming decades due to rising global sea-levels.

The new sea-defence scheme would see a ten-mile long barrier built between Sheerness on the south of the Thames Estuary and Southend on the north bank. Planners say the project could also be used to harness the Thames's tidal power and provide a new road and rail link between Kent and Essex.

Recent floods in the north of England have helped put the spotlight on London's own susceptibility to freak weather conditions and doubts have been expressed over the life-span of the current Thames Flood Barrier, built thirty years ago.

"The Thames Barrier will continue to be operational after 2030, although the standard of defence it provides will gradually decline - which is why we are looking to maintain that standard," said Peter Borrows of the Environment Agency, a government body.

Fares to Carry On Rising

- Years of ticket price rises lie ahead for London travellers

THE RECENT London Transport fare rises were not, as many believed, a one-off, it has emerged.

Fares on some routes were increased by 40 per cent, while the normal single bus fare went up from UKP1 to UKP1.20. Now it seems Londoners can expect similar big rises over the coming years.

"There will probably be above-inflation rises next year and the year after," confirmed a spokesperson for Transport for London.

It appears London Mayor Ken Livingstone plans to use the the money from the fare rises to help fund his pet projects including Crossrail and the extensions to the East London underground line and the Docklands Light Railway.

Museum Road Strips Off for Pedestrians

- 'Naked Road' scheme planned for South Kensington

EXHIBITION ROAD could become the site of an ingenious traffic calming experiment in which all road signs, lights and markings are removed.

Kensington and Chelsea Council are considering the idea which comes from Holland where similar 'naked road' schemes have proved successful in reducing accidents.

The idea is that with no road signs or traffic lights, drivers are naturally more careful. "This is a form of psychological traffic calming which encourages drivers to slow down and think a lot more about pedestrians and other road users," explained the RAC.

Because of the famous museums sited on Exhibition Road in South Kensington, it is popular with pedestrians and the adoption of a 'naked road' system is seen as one way of improving the walker's lot.

Coe: Olympic Bid is on Final lap

- Prince touted as representative for decisive meeting

London's Olympic bid is on course to hit the finishing line first, according to Lord Coe, the man in charge of the city's attempt to win the right to hold the 2012 games.

Coe, himself a former Olympic gold medal winner, compared the bidding process to one of his races and London's position to that of a runner coming through the pack to clinch victory in the home straight.

"Now we are into the last six months and in no time we will be hearing the bell for the final lap," Coe said. "That is when we must kick for home."

To take the analogy a step further, the bell in this case is the visit next month of the International Olympic Committee evaluation team, whose report will be fundamental in deciding whether London is to host its first games since 1948. "We must ensure that the IOC evaluation commission goes away enthused with the passion, the style and the professionalism of a London Games in 2012,"

Coe said. "And we need help from the British public. We know there is enormous support, not just in London but throughout the country, for the 2012 Games."

After the IOC report, the final stage is the full IOC meeting in July during which the winner of the bidding process will be announced. There were rumours today that Prince William will represent London at the meeting as Prime Minister Tony Blair is booked to be hosting the G8 economic summit at the same time.

Tsunami: Blair Returns to Organise UK Response

- PM convenes meeting to thrash out aid package

TONY BLAIR is back at Downing Street today to attend a cabinet-level meeting on the Asian tsunami disaster, deflecting criticism that he should have returned from holiday sooner.

Many felt the Prime Minister should have cut short his winter break in Egypt to lead the government response to the catastrophe in which more than 150,000 people died, but Blair stuck to his original festive timetable.

Opposition party leaders Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy say they would have responded differently had they been in charge. Today, though, Blair goes into full-on emergency meeting mode, bringing together some of the governments top players including Deputy PM John Prescott, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and International Development Secretary Hilary Benn. The meeting is expected to thrash out the kind of long-term infrastructure aid package needed for the devastated coastal zones of south-Asia.

Meanwhile, DJ Mike Read is to organise a charity pop single in aid of the tsunami victims. Called Grief Never Grows Old, the song is to involve pop stars such as Barry Gibb, Jamie Cullum and Olivia Newton-John.


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