12 JULY 2003, Page 11

1 w ith Silvio Berlusconi very much the man of the moment, thanks to his

unparalleled gift for knowing when to lighten a tense diplomatic moment with a bit of repartee, it's perhaps time to return to check on the progress of his libel case against that scurrilous gossip rag the Economist. Two years ago, he announced with great fanfare that he was suing the paper over a cover story headed 'Why Silvio Berlusconi is unfit to lead Italy', and which his aides described as 'infamous calumnies. . . an insult to both truth and intelligence'. How is the case progressing? Bill Emmott, the paper's editor-in-chief, seems quite unflustered: 'He did issue the writ, and the case is still rumbling through the courts in Italy. We are contesting it vigorously, as the saying goes, and I really do mean that. We're pretty confident.' The case is being heard in Rome, but Berlusconi is still trying to get it moved to his home turf, Milan.

The Guardian seems to have a downbeat estimation of its place in the public conversation, to judge by its new list of the 100 most influential people in the British media. It places its own editor, Alan Rusbridger, 38th, three places behind Ant and Dec, the presenters of I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!. His salary, he doesn't seem to mind his paper revealing, is £253,000 a year. Ranked 80th, incidentally, is Roger Alton, editor of his sister paper, the Obsewer. The Guardian saves his blushes and leaves his salary undisclosed.

El °flowing the publication of a blistering article in the Daily Telegraph deploring the fact that the hereditary principle no longer governs the admissions policy at Eton College, I come across a copy of that admirable institution's Yearbook —which gives a sense of the inmates' current frame of mind, A survey was conducted at the school to determine the most admired Old Etonian in history. Of 900 votes cast, the winner was the first Duke of Wellington (hearty, ruggerplaying type), just pipping George Orwell (moustache, probably a pinko) and Ian Fleming (probably not a pinko).

The Vole's nomination for greatest Etonian of all time goes to Tristan Cooley, however. 'Education should give children the time to work out what excites them and the opportunity to pursue it — something Eton used to do, and now apparently does not,' he writes in a letter for publication in response to the abovementioned article. Mr Gooley himself,

having worked out what excites him, certainly doesn't stint to pursue it, as another educational institution will bear witness. In 1998 Mr Gooley was expelled from Sandhurst after presenting himself for parade one morning stark naked. He was described as an 'independent spirit' by friends at the time.

While we're in the area, congratulations are due to young James Dacre, a contemporary of Prince Harry at the school. He won this year's Newcastle, Eton's most prestigious prize, awarded for the best essays in theology and ethics. It will doubtless have gladdened the heart of his father, the Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre — a man of formidable mental powers but not, generally, believed to be of a philosophical cast of mind.

Hooray for highbrows. How, we were wondering, would the London Review of Books top its brilliant — sorry, gnarly — recent article on skateboarding? Why, with a scholarly letters-page discussion of the song 'Personality'. Translated into Dutch, Jan van Luxemburg writes from the Netherlands to report, 'Cause you've got personality' became `Je bent zo leuk in je spijkerbroek' (You're so smart in your blue jeans'). Imentioned last week the long-standing friendship between Howard 'Mr Nice' Marks, the retired doyen of British cannabis smugglers, and Margaret Hodge, the soon-tobe-retired doyenne of scandal-hit children's ministers. Their connection is through Margaret's husband Henry Hodge, a Balliol pal of the spliff king, who now presides over immigration as His Honour Judge Hodge. Mr Marks says he still runs into Henry from time to time but hasn't seen Margaret since 1987. 'I think Margaret is better than most other Blairites,' is his view. 'Despite a significant income she sent her children to state schools.'

More jollity from the Internet search engine Google. Type in 'weapons of mass destruction' and hit the 'I Feel Lucky' button. Up comes an error screen, 'These weapons of mass destruction cannot be displayed. The weapons you are looking for are currently unavailable. The country might be experiencing technical difficulties, or you may need to adjust your weapons inspectors mandate. Please try the following: Click the Regime Change button, or try again later. If you are George Bush and typed the country's name in the address bar, make sure that it is spelled correctly (IRAQ).' And so on. . . .

Thus the Times on etiquette for the summer season: 'A morning suit should be worn to royal events such as Royal Ascot.

Morning dress is suitable for Ascot or country weddings but had form for funerals.' Naturally: it's 'morning', not 'mourning'. So, as if to prove the very point. Mark Thatcher pitches up at his father Sir Denis Thatcher's funeral in the fullest of morning-suit fig. Sir Denis, a dapper dresser in the postwar style, will doubtless be, if not rotating in his grave, at least bracing himself with a stiff snifteroo of the electric soup wherever he now resides.

Martin Amiss forthcoming novel, published by Jonathan Cape later this year, is called Yellow Dog. Its storyline — princess appears in porn film — is certainly likely to attract attention. So is it in a spirit of spoiling and sowing confusion that a rival publisher, Penguin, has chosen now to reissue, and promote like mad, Georges Simenon's classic detective story The Yellow Dog?

BDill Bryson called his latest book A Short History of Nearly Everything. What does he mean by 'nearly'? Judging by the fact that the cover of the book shows a map of the world on which the British Isles don't appear, I'd say he's leaving himself a little bit of wriggle room.