The Telegraph 2024-02-21 10:30:23

The Office’s ‘Big Keith’, actor Ewen MacIntosh, dies aged 50

Ewen MacIntosh, who starred as Keith Bishop in The Office, has died aged 50.

The actor and comedian who was known as “Big Keith” on Ricky Gervais’ sitcom was renowned for his character’s Scotch egg scene.

In the now famous exchange between Big Keith and Tim Canterbury, played by Martin Freeman, MacIntosh takes a large lingering bite out of a Scotch egg when Freeman discusses performing a sexual act on himself.

Ricky Gervais said the death was “extremely sad” in a tribute to MacIntosh.

He wrote on X, formerly Twitter: 

Ed Scott, a friend of Macintosh, wrote on X: 

Mr Scott, who is the chief executive of production company Dodged A Bullet Music, added: “Ewen was so full of empathy, kindness, and integrity and above all a really good man. 

“Sending love to his parents Sara and Ewen Sr, his brother Colin and his family, as well as his many friends and fans.”

JustRight Management confirmed the death of MacIntosh in a statement shared on social media.

It said: “With great sadness we announce the peaceful passing of our beloved comedy genius Ewen MacIntosh.

“His family thank all who supported him, especially Willow Green Care Home.”

The Office podcast Out Of Office also posted a tribute, saying the actor would “always be fondly remembered firstly as a great guy, but also as a key part of the greatest British sitcom of all time.”

It added: “An excellent legacy to leave. RIP.”

Ex-Post Office boss ‘was told to stall on finances’ in unearthed memo

The former chairman of the Post Office was told by a top civil servant to “hobble into the election” and not to “rip the band-aid off” in terms of finances, an alleged unearthed memo shows.

Henry Staunton wrote a note on Jan 5 last year saying that Sarah Munby, the then permanent secretary at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, had cautioned him that “politicians do not necessarily like to confront reality”.

The note, seen by The Times, showed Ms Munby telling Mr Staunton “now was not the time for dealing with long-term issues”, it is claimed.

Mr Staunton emailed it to himself and then forwarded a copy to Nick Read, the Post Office’s chief executive, the next day.

Mr Staunton discovered the memo in his personal emails on Tuesday and then shared it with The Times, it is understood.

It comes after the former Post Office chairman, 75, gave an interview to The Sunday Times claiming he was told to stall compensation payments to victims of the Horizon scandal to help the Conservative party’s electoral hopes.

More than 900 sub-postmasters and others were wrongly prosecuted between 1999 and 2015 owing to the faulty technology.

However, yesterday a government source said that Post Office finances did not include postmaster compensation which is government funded, adding: “Staunton is either confused or deliberately mixing up the two issues.”

Mr Staunton claimed he was told to “limp into the election” to save the government money.

“It was not an anti-postmaster thing, it was just straight financials,” he told The Sunday Times.

A government source said: “The long-standing issues around Post Offices finances are a matter of public record and do not include postmaster compensation which is being fully-funded by the government. Henry Staunton is either confused or deliberately mixing up the two issues.

“Even if we trust the veracity of a memo he wrote himself, and there’s not much to suggest we can, given the false accusations he made about the Secretary of State in his original interview, it’s time for Henry Staunton to admit his interview on Sunday was a misrepresentation of his conversations with ministers and officials and to apologise to the government and the postmasters.”

Mr Staunton’s claims drew criticism from Kemi Badenoch, the Business Secretary, who said the allegations were “completely false”.

Her department then published a letter from Ms Munby to Mr Staunton upon his appointment as Post Office chairman which set out three objectives including “reaching settlements with claimants” in the Horizon scandal.

The new memo calls into question Mrs Badenoch’s denial of his claims.

Mr Staunton’s meeting with Ms Munby took place a month after he took over the Post Office role from Tim Parker in December 2022.

His memo claims he told Ms Munby he “had been on over a dozen public company boards and not seen one with so many challenges”.

The note highlighted that the board had identified a shortfall of £160 million as of September 2022.

It said: “Sarah was sympathetic to all of the above. She understood the ‘huge commercial challenge’ and the ‘seriousness’ of the financial position. She described ‘all the options as unattractive’. However, ‘politicians do not necessarily like to confront reality’. This particularly applied when there was no obvious ‘route to profitability’.

“She said we needed to know that in the run-up to the election there was no appetite to ‘rip off the band aid’. ‘Now was not the time for dealing with long-term issues.’ We needed a plan to ‘hobble’ up to the election.”

According to the memo the meeting ended with Ms Munby telling Mr Staunton that Grant Shapps, who had replaced Kwasi Kwarteng as business secretary, was “nice and easy but not interested in meetings… We should expect him to be ‘pushy and demanding’.”

Ms Munby, who is now permanent secretary at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, denies Mr Staunton’s claims. 

The Telegraph understands funding for compensation payments to postmasters comes from HM Treasury Reserve. It is thought the department draws funding from HMT at Supplementary Estimates. 

The Post Office does not receive an allocation for compensation to be used because it is ring-fenced under separate funding agreements, it is understood. 

Only Mordaunt could beat Starmer at next election, say Tory voters

Conservative voters believe that only Penny Mordaunt could beat Sir Keir Starmer at the next election, a new poll suggests.

Ms Mordaunt, the Leader of the Commons, was the only candidate backed by 2019 Tory voters to give the party a better chance of winning a fifth term if she replaced Rishi Sunak.

But a majority of those planning to switch their support to Reform UK said ousting Mr Sunak and installing Suella Braverman, the former home secretary, would make an election win more likely.

The figures come in the wake of the double Conservative defeat in Thursday’s by-elections in Kingswood and Wellingborough, while the party continues to trail Labour by around 20 points in the polls.

The survey of 1,500 people who voted Tory in 2019, conducted by Deltapoll and Helm Partners Ltd, a strategy consultancy, found that 38 per cent agreed with the statement that the party would have a better chance of winning the election with Ms Mordaunt as leader than Mr Sunak, while 31 per cent disagreed.

Kemi Badenoch, the Business Secretary and current bookmakers’ favourite to succeed Mr Sunak, was backed to improve the Tories’ electoral prospects by just 17 per cent of respondents, with a net score of minus 20.

Mrs Braverman had a net score of minus 29, although this rose to 43 per cent among those intending to back Reform, while Lord Cameron scored minus 10, Jeremy Hunt minus 20 and Liz Truss, the former prime minister, minus 69.

The polling also found that 2019 Tory voters wanted income tax cuts to be Mr Hunt’s top priority at the Spring Budget next month – a policy backed by 64 per cent.

Increasing state spending was supported by 41 per cent, 36 per cent were in favour of further cuts to National Insurance and 32 per cent wanted Mr Hunt to cut inheritance tax.

The Deltapoll figures showed that 54 per cent planned to vote for the Tories again, with 14 per cent intending to switch to Labour and 13 per cent to Reform.

Sixt per cent of 2019 Conservative supporters said the Government had done a poor job since December that year, but two-thirds agreed that it had faced problems no other party would have handled any better.

Greg Cook, the associate senior counsel at Helm Partners, said: “Our poll starkly quantifies the fragmentation of the Conservatives’ winning coalition from 2019, which resulted in the collapse of their support in Kingswood and Wellingborough.

“But the number who have switched to Labour is far short of what Keir Starmer needs to win an overall majority, and Labour is relying on winning over more undecided votes and continued Tory losses to Reform.

“Sunak faces a dilemma – there is a clear strategy which might appeal to those Reform switchers, but it is so at odds with the mainstream view among the rest of the Tory coalition that its adoption is likely to lead to further losses to Labour, which would be much more damaging.”

It came as a separate Deltapoll survey showed that Mr Sunak’s approval rating has plummeted further in the wake of the by-election losses, with the gap between the Prime Minister and Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, now the widest it has ever been.

BT Tower to be transformed into a hotel in £275m deal

The BT Tower will be transformed into a hotel after the telecoms giant inked a £275m deal to sell the London landmark.

BT has agreed the sale to MCR Hotels, which owns and operates 150 hotels across the US, including the TWA at JFK Airport and the Sheraton in Times Square.

The Grade II-listed tower in Fitzrovia was completed in 1964 and opened for operations by Prime Minister Harold Wilson the following year.

For decades it served as a crucial broadcasting hub, transmitting TV and telephone signals from London to the rest of the UK.

However, BT has been moving services away from the tower as part of a wider switch to its fixed and mobile networks. The tower’s microwave aerials were removed more than a decade ago.

The company still operates some services from the tower – predominantly in TV and broadcasting – but these will be removed over the coming years.

As part of the deal, MCR will make phased payments as remaining equipment is removed from the building.

The sale will hand a new lease of life to the tower, which rises 189 metres above London and was the UK’s tallest building until 1980.

The building was open to the public until 1971 and featured a restaurant on the revolving top floor.

Public access ended that year when a suspected IRA bomb detonated on the 31st floor. No one was injured in the attack, but the damage took two years to repair.

Since 1984, the suite at the top of the tower has been used by BT as corporate hospitality space and for charity events.

In 2009, the tower’s 360-degree LED screen, dubbed the “information band” was launched. It was used to display a countdown to the London 2012 Olympics, as well as to carry messages during national events such as during the pandemic.

The building, which was technically classified under the Official Secrets Act until 1993, has been used as a hotel just once before. In 2018, four guests were given the chance to stay in tents on the 34th floor of the skyscraper for one night.

The sale forms part of cost-cutting plans at BT, which aims to strip £3bn out of the business by the end of 2025.

In 2019, the company sold its former BT Centre headquarters for £210m and moved into a new building in Aldgate. It has also set out plans to reduce the number of offices in its estate from more than 300 to around 30.

‘Confused’ pensioner with Alzheimer’s died after being pushed in bank queue, court hears

A “confused” pensioner with Alzheimer’s disease died after she was pushed over in a bank by a 26-year-old who was angry she had held up the queue, a court has heard.

Myra Coutinho-Lopez, 82, was a regular customer at Lloyds Bank in Howardsgate, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, and was well-known to the staff, but sometimes became confused because of her illness, Luton Crown Court heard.

She died on Dec 16 2021, 10 days after she had been pushed to the floor of the bank by Courtney Richman, after the 26-year-old had a “catastrophic loss of temper”, the court heard.

Mrs Coutinho-Lopez had gone to the bank on Monday Dec 6, but had forgotten she had already withdrawn money on the previous Friday, prosecutor Martin Mulgrew told the jury.

“Mrs Coutinho-Lopez became worried and asked the cashier to show her the balance,” he said.

Another member of staff also came over to try to reassure her, he said, and a queue formed.

‘Move out of the way’

The court heard that one customer, Courtney Richman, said: “There is nothing they can do. Move out of the way.”

It was alleged that Ms Richman became more angry and added: “Hurry up – people don’t have all day.”

Another customer, who had been using a cash machine, offered to help the elderly woman. As she walked the 82-year-old away, Ms Richman is alleged to have said “oh thank God”, and sarcastically applauded.

When Mrs Coutinho-Lopez passed Ms Richman in the queue she told her: “Don’t speak to me like that – you are very rude.” She swung her handbag and struck the defendant, the court heard.

Mr Mulgrew said: “The defendant reacted in a wholly inappropriate and unreasonably violent manner. She angrily pushed Mrs Coutinho-Lopez forcefully to the floor of the bank. She struck the floor with some force.”

He went on: “The red mist descended on this defendant and she reacted in a wholly inappropriate fashion to this vulnerable old lady.”

Mrs Coutinho-Lopez suffered fractures of her left upper arm and thigh bone and bruising to her left upper arm, wrist, the tops of her fingers, and around her rib cage.

As well as Alzheimer’s, she suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

“If you push an 82-year-old woman to the floor of a bank there is going to be some risk,” said Mr Mulgrew.

“The prosecution say she unlawfully assaulted her and as a result of the fractures fatty substances were released in her body that caused damage to her lungs and brain,” he said.

In a prepared statement at the police station, Ms Richman said Mrs Coutinho-Lopez was being rude and directed her anger towards her and hit her. She said: “I was shocked and instinctively pushed her away. I feared she was going to assault me. I used open palms.”

Ms Richman denies manslaughter and another charge of inflicting grievous bodily harm.

The trial continues.

Lyle’s Golden Syrup attacked by Christians over logo change

Church of England members have attacked Lyle’s Golden Syrup over a rebrand that “eradicates” the Christian messaging in its logo.

The company has replaced the image of a dead lion being swarmed by bees with a more modern depiction of the animal’s face and a single bee, in its first rebrand in almost 150 years.

The product’s dark green tin and golden lion packaging is a reference to the story of Samson killing a lion, and the original logo includes the biblical quotation: “Out of the strong came forth sweetness.”

It is the world’s oldest unchanged brand packaging, and holds a Guinness World Record, having remained almost identical since 1888.

Lyle’s said the branding, created by the product’s founder, Scottish businessman Abraham Lyle, has been “revitalised for the modern UK family” in a move to “refresh the brand’s legacy to appeal to a 21st century audience”.

However, it has angered some traditional Christians who are calling on the company to rethink the decision, saying they feel that there is perhaps no longer “a place for Christians in the UK”.

Tate & Lyle Sugars, which owns Lyle’s Golden Syrup, apologised for the upset caused and said religion played “no part” in the decision to change the branding. 

‘Ditching tradition’

Sam Margrave, a member of the General Synod, the Church of England’s legislative body, said: “Bible stories have appealed to families for millennia.

“There is nothing modern about ditching tradition or sidelining Christian messaging. I enjoy Golden Syrup with my pancakes on Shrove Tuesday every year.

“I am sure the Lyle business doesn’t mind benefiting from sales and Christian branding every Easter, so why do they feel the need to eradicate their connection with their Christian founder’s iconic logo which tells a story that works for every generation? Did they ask anyone if they were offended by Christian messages?

“My Muslim, Jewish and friends of other faiths love that we are a Christian country and have a Christian heritage. Let’s celebrate our Christian stories and history. I hope Lyle will rethink this move. It does lead to the question, is there a place for Christians or Christian messaging in the UK anymore?”

Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, said: “The Bible is the source of hope and joy and what inspired the founders of the company to make the best syrup in the world. The signature verse of Tate and Lyle’s Golden Syrup points to the eternal.

“They have traded the enduring appeal of their brand for a momentary fad. It’s not worth it and is actually very sad.”

The Book of Judges details Samson killing a lion with his bare hands before returning to the carcass a few days later to find a swarm of bees had created a hive in its body.

In the story, Samson then took honey from the hive, and fed it to his parents without telling them where he got the honey from.

He later asks guests at his wedding to solve the riddle: “Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet.”

A version of the riddle was chosen for the logo of Lyle’s Golden Syrup, and has remained on the tins ever since.

The rebrand will take place across the full product range, excluding the classic tin, which will retain the original illustration.

‘Fresh redesign’

James Whiteley, brand director for Lyle’s Golden Syrup, said: “We’re excited to unveil a fresh redesign for the Lyle’s Golden Syrup brand.

“While we’ll continue to honour our original branding with the heritage tin, consumers need to see brands moving with the times and meeting their current needs.

“Our fresh, contemporary design brings Lyle’s into the modern day, appealing to the everyday British household while still feeling nostalgic and authentically Lyle’s.

“We’re confident that the fresh new design will make it easier for consumers to discover Lyle’s as an affordable, everyday treat, while re-establishing the brand as the go-to syrup brand for the modern UK family, featuring the same delicious taste that makes you feel Absolutely Golden.”

Gerald Mason, Senior Vice President of Tate & Lyle Sugars, apologised for the upset caused.

“We are very proud of the history and biblical link to our Lyle’s tin, and have absolutely no intention to change it in any way,” he said.

“Religion played absolutely no part in our decision to try something different on our syrup bottles – a product format where we regularly use different approaches to our brands.

“It makes me sad that we might have unwittingly upset people today, and I want to apologise for that. But please be assured the story of Samson and the tin isn’t going anywhere.”

British nuclear missile ‘misfires and crashes into ocean’

A Trident nuclear missile misfired and crashed into the ocean near the submarine that launched it during a test last month, it has been reported.

It is the second misfire in a row,  with a test launch of a Trident missile by the Royal Navy off the coast of the US in June 2016 also reported to have been a failure.

The missile’s first stage boosters did not ignite during a test launch by HMS Vanguard on January 30, and it fell into the ocean and sank, the Sun reported.

An anonymous source quoted by The Sun said: “It left the submarine but it just went plop, right next to them.”

The Ministry of Defence confirmed an “anomaly” that was “event specific” occurred during the test off the coast of Florida, but refused to provide further information on the grounds of national security.

It is said to be the second misfiring in a row, with a test launch of a Trident missile by the Royal Navy off the coast of the US in June 2016 also reported to have been a failure.

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps and First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Ben Key were both on board the submarine during the test, according to the newspaper.

An investigation began into what went wrong, and a search was ordered to recover the top-secret technology from the seabed, it was reported.

The test, which involved a dummy warhead, was the last before the £4 billion submarine re-enters service after a seven-year refit in Plymouth.

The Ministry of Defence said all tests had been passed and insisted that it has “absolute confidence” in the nuclear deterrent.  

A written ministerial statement on Britain’s nuclear deterrent is expected to be laid in the House of Commons by Mr Shapps, according to Wednesday’s order paper.

Shadow defence secretary John Healey said: “Reports of a Trident test failure are concerning.

“The Defence Secretary will want to reassure Parliament that this test has no impact on the effectiveness of the UK’s deterrent operations.”

Vessels to be replaced

A submarine carrying nuclear weapons has been on patrol at all times since 1969 as part of the UK’s continuous at sea deterrent.

The Royal Navy has four Vanguard class vessels which fulfil this role on rotation. They carry around 140 crew, as well as Trident ballistic missiles.

The ageing vessels, which have been in service for 30 years, are set to be replaced in the 2030s by the Dreadnought class, which are currently under construction.

In November, a Vanguard class submarine was reported to have had a near miss after a gauge malfunctioned and left it sinking towards an unsafe depth.

An MOD Spokesperson said: “HMS Vanguard and her crew have been proven fully capable of operating the UK’s Continuous At-Sea Deterrent, passing all tests during a recent demonstration and shakedown operation (DASO) – a routine test to confirm that the submarine can return to service following deep maintenance work.

“The test has reaffirmed the effectiveness of the UK’s nuclear deterrent, in which we have absolute confidence.

“During the test an anomaly occurred. As a matter of national security, we cannot provide further information on this, however we are confident that the anomaly was event specific, and therefore there are no implications for the reliability of the wider Trident missile systems and stockpile. The UK’s nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure and effective.”