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Last Updated: Friday, 7 November 2003, 17:49 GMT
Faces of the week
Faces of the week

Our regular look at some of the faces which have made the news this week. Above are Diane Abbott MP (main picture), with Sir John Mortimer, Fi Glover, Bobby Hatfield and Martin McGuinness (clockwise from top left)

Diane Abbott

The Labour MP, Diane Abbott is no stranger to controversy. But the recent revelation that she sends her son to a fee-paying school threatens to end her political career.

Until a few days ago, everything seemed to be going swimmingly for Diane Abbott, Member of Parliament for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.

Her credentials as a left-winger - she is against private involvement in the NHS, against UK military action in Afghanistan and Iraq and staunchly in favour of a ban on hunting with dogs - were clear for all to see.

And Abbott's status as the UK's first black woman MP and her tendency to rebel against the strictures of New Labour, made her an iconic figure for the Left.

All I can do is continue to campaign on issues around education and on gun crime
Diane Abbott MP
Today though, after admitting that she could not defend her decision to send her 12 year-old son, James, to the 10,000 a year City of London School, Miss Abbott is fighting for her reputation, her safe seat, and quite possibly for her political career.

"I knew as a public figure I would pay a price. I had to choose between my reputation, whatever reputation I have for consistency, and my son - and I chose my son. Obviously, inevitably, I have been very damaged by this."

Abbott's rise to prominence was rapid. Born in London in 1953, the daughter of a Jamaican welder and a nurse, she was educated at Harrow County Grammar School - once appearing as Lady Macduff to her fellow pupil, Michael Portillo's, Macduff - before reading history at Newnham College, Cambridge.

After graduating, she worked at the Home Office, the National Council for Civil Liberties and Thames TV before entering Parliament at the 1987 general election.

Together with her fellow north London MPs, Ken Livingstone and Bernie Grant, Diane Abbott was branded a "loony leftie" by sections of the press.

At first, Abbott's reputation was as a feisty firebrand, staunchly feminist and anti-racist, lighting up the Commons Treasury select committee with her relentless questioning.

Diane Abbott MP
Diane Abbott MP: Facing an uncertain future
Her straight manner was never better expressed than in a comment to the then governor of the Bank of England, Sir Edward George: "You're just an inflation nutter, aren't you?"

But the advent of New Labour transformed Diane Abbott from being a youthful radical in opposition to an often uncomfortable fellow-traveller.

She was removed from the Treasury committee following Labour's election victory in 1997 and turned her guns on her own party.

Central to Diane Abbott's concerns is her belief that, with its large majority, the Blair government sees the House of Commons as increasingly irrelevant.

"The honest truth," she has said, "is that if this government were to propose the massacre of the first-born, it would still have no difficulty in getting it through the Commons."

Political commentators have said that Diane Abbott has been relatively muted recently. But she still remains a highly controversial figure. For instance, she made the headlines after complaining that "blonde, blue-eyed Finnish girls" in her local hospital in east London were unsuitable as nurses because they had "never met a black person before".

And she was one of the first Labour MPs openly to criticise Peter Mandelson, Tony Blair's close confidant and formerly Northern Ireland Secretary, famously calling him a source of "poison" in the government.

Though cowed by the recent row over her son's education, Abbott has vowed to carry on "for the benefit of a whole generation of young men in our inner cities".

But, even though the prime minister, who sent his own son to a selective school, recently offered his support, it remains to be seen whether Diane Abbott's time at Westminster is nearly up.

Deep purple prose: Sir John Mortimer
Sir John Mortimer
The octogenarian writer, Sir John Mortimer, has revealed that he has become a fan of Deep Purple: no, not the old Hoagy Carmichael classic but the aging heavy rock combo. According to his recent memoir, Where There's a Will, the creator of Rumpole of the Bailey has attended a number of Purple gigs. Once asked if he was drummer Ian Paice's father, Sir John replied "Yes and I am very proud of him." Mosh on.

Fi's back!
Fi Glover
The former Radio Five Live presenter, Fi Glover, is set to return to the airwaves after a sabbatical in the United States. From January she will present Radio Four's quirky Sunday morning news show, Broadcasting House, currently hosted by the acerbic Eddie Mair. "Broadcasting House has been Eddie's programme," says Fi. "But I hope at least to be a mini-Mair." Perish the thought.

Martin McGuinness' lips are sealed
Martin McGuinness
Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness appeared before the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday, when 13 unarmed civilians were shot by British soldiers following a 1972 civil rights march. Mr McGuinness, a self-confessed former IRA commander, refused to reveal the names of IRA members and sympathisers. Leaving the court in Londonderry, he said: "I am prepared to go to jail. I would rather die than destroy my code of honour to the IRA."

Bobby Hatfield: Gone to rock 'n' roll heaven
Bobby Hatfield
Bobby Hatfield, the tenor half of The Righteous Brothers singing duo which scored worldwide hits with You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling and Unchained Melody, died just hours before he was due to appear on stage in the US. Hatfield, 63, and singing partner Bill Medley first performed together in southern California in 1962. While playing in a bar as part of a five-piece group called the Paramours, a black soldier shouted, "That's righteous, brothers." Thus was a legend born.

Compiled by the BBC News profiles unit's Andrew Walker


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