The edge - Amanda Platell

The real "John Humphrys Problem" is how the <em>Today</em> programme imagines it will maintain its i

Surely it was John Humphrys at his sardonic best when he described the weekend's attempted assassination of his career by new Labour's spin machine as "a storm on a cruise ship". There could be nothing more serious than the claims, leading right back to the door of Alastair Campbell via his former deputy in No 10, Tim Allan, that Humphrys had contravened the BBC's strict guidelines for staff on public speaking. Nor anything more ridiculous than the overreaction of the BBC's chief executive, Mark Thompson, in reprimanding him, even if it was a mere slap on the wrist.

The allegations by Campbell's confidant Tom Baldwin - that Humphrys, in an after-dinner speech on a cruise ship, had ridiculed senior Labour politicians, implied that all ministers are liars and contradicted the BBC's official apology over the Andrew Gilligan affair - were serious enough for the BBC's chairman, Michael Grade, to demand immediately an inquiry into what the Times called "the Humphrys Problem". The Times itself, incidentally, said in a leader that Humphrys was "perfectly entitled to hold and express his views".

But about one thing Baldwin is right. There is a Humphrys Problem. I know this from first-hand experience working as William Hague's spin-doctor and regularly having to contend with the toughest man in British political broadcasting. Having arranged the interview with the Today programme, I would always try to find out the night before who would be conducting it. If it was Humphrys, we had a problem. An interview with him always required more work, more scrutiny of the issues involved, more political danger. If it was James Naughtie, there was less of a problem. If it was anyone else, we could relax.

The real "Humphrys Problem" is how the programme imagines it will maintain its intellectual integrity and rigour when he finally retires, which now looks as though it will be sooner not later. A Today without John Humphrys is like the Beatles without John Lennon, communism without Marx, Pride and Prejudice without Darcy - unthinkable.

It used to be the adage that a woman could not be too rich or too thin. This led to some pretty unsightly millionairesses in various stages of eating disorders. Yet now there seems to be emerging another sort of successful, wealthy woman who believes you cannot be too rich or too fat. Enter one of television's highest-paid female stars: Fern Britton.

The comely Britton, weighing in at somewhere around 16 stone, I would guess, judging by her latest beach bikini pictures, is one of a new line of women who claim they are happy being fat. Suspending disbelief, I can applaud any woman not obsessed with the body beautiful and possessing the confidence to enjoy her fulsome figure. It's only when she starts claiming she is also healthy, as Britton does, that we realise she is kidding herself.

It is a sure sign that a celebrity is losing the plot of their own life novel when they start holding press conferences to promote themselves, then refuse either to let the media in or allow them to ask questions. No one was surprised when the bestselling Jeffrey Archer convened a press conference after his election as Tory candidate for mayor of London, then refused to take questions. As we discovered, he had a lot to hide. But when the even better-selling J K Rowling pulls the same trick at the unveiling of her portrait at the National Portrait Gallery, we can only wonder at her sanity or her vanity.

And on the edge of reality . . .

- It was wrong of the New York Times to pan Coldplay's latest album, X&Y, and describe them as "the most insufferable band of the decade". They were around in the Nineties, too.

- The footballer Wayne Rooney's fiancee, Coleen, has had a tennis court built in the grounds of their new home but is declining to learn the gracious sport. "It's wot posh people 'ave in dere gardens," she says - by which I am given to understand she means the Beckhams.