Newspaper headlines: Mel B X Factor fears, Farage v Brand and porn protest

Instead of assessing the chances of rival competitors in this year's X Factor, tabloids are wondering whether former Spice Girl and judge Mel B will make the talent show's final.

The Sun says she's in hospital, with husband Stephen Belafonte "keeping a bedside vigil" as she battles a serious "mystery" illness. His wife was reportedly taken ill on Thursday having been photographed at events earlier in the week, apparently fine.

According to the Daily Mirror, the show is now in "chaos". It quotes insiders saying there's only a 90% chance of her appearing on Saturday's final, adding: "X Factor bosses were last night considering bringing a guest judge in to replace her."

"Olly Murs is being touted as a stand-in," reckons the Sun, recalling: "He was considered a back-up when [another judge] Cheryl [Fernandez-Versini] had strep throat earlier in the series - but he is also due to sing tonight."


'Questionable Time'

The papers have had time to digest the appearances of UKIP leader Nigel Farage and comedian Russell Brand on the BBC's Question Time, with the Daily Mail quoting viewers likening it to an episode of The Jeremy Kyle Show.

Its sketchwriter, Quentin Letts, remembers that "Question Time was once a forum for rapier wit and cerebral dialectic... Now the BBC, hooked on egalitarianism, promotes foaming demagogues and meretricious self-publicists." However, he adds: "You could not fault Thursday night's show for entertainment... it was every bit as good as the wrestling on Saturday afternoon in the 70s."

Ann Treneman, in the Times, complains that there is "officially, no escaping Nigel Farage... a never-ending, self-perpetuating news cycle" and suggests the show should be renamed Questionable Time. The Daily Express, as well as identifying a "blue-haired heckler" who screamed abuse at Mr Farage in the studio as a member of Kent International Socialists, says the UKIP leader's row with Brand spilled over onto Twitter after the show.

Noting Mr Farage's claim that he saw Brand having his chest hair straightened before the programme, the Sun has a question for "Russell the revolutionary". It asks: "Come the glorious day, when bankers hang from lamp post and the newly-enriched poor dance for joy... Can we all have a state-funded personal stylist for our chest hair?"

Anne McElvoy takes in the two panellists' "entertaining and stupid solutions" and argues in the Guardian that the pair are "more similar than they care to think: lords of modern misrule without a clue about the way forward". She writes: "The appeal of each is that they offer an easy-peasy solution, which will prevent us doing the hard stuff of working out how Britain deals with the tendency of modern, technologically-driven economies to exacerbate the gap between rich and poor and a fall in the value of wages shared across the western economies."

Several headlines zone in on the comedian's dig that Mr Farage was a "pound shop Enoch Powell". The Daily Telegraph quotes from letters from the 1990s it says show Mr Farage "personally begged" Mr Powell - the ex-Conservative minister best remembered for making a "Rivers of Blood" speech on immigration - to support his attempt to win a by-election, while the party also asked him to join as an electoral candidate. However, the paper says the UKIP leader would not be upset about this revelation.


Perfect conditions?

After a week of wild conditions - featuring "weather bomb" gales and "thundersnow" - the Sun takes the opportunity to explain some of the more baffling meteorological terms, such as sundogs, haboobs and supercells.

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And wintry weather makes the Daily Star's front page, which quotes forecasters predicting the "coldest winter in half a century" starting this weekend with temperatures "lower than at the North Pole".

The Times agrees that Britain is freezing, with thermometers expected to give readings as low as -8C (17.6F), but chooses a different location as a marker, declaring the UK "colder than Lapland".

The Daily Express renames the country "Brrrr...itain", while the Telegraph warns of "floods, ice and delays" to road and rail journeys. Regardless of snow and ice, stargazers are hopeful of a clear sky overnight, as the Geminids meteor shower reaches its peak at 02:00 GMT on Sunday, reports the Independent. It quotes Society of Popular Astronomy vice-president Robin Scagell saying: "We might not be far off perfect conditions in the UK."

Looking further ahead, the Mirror says things won't be much warmer over the new year, when an "Arctic blast" will "cling to our shores for four long weeks". It casts its eye back to the 1963 "Big Freeze" when the sea turned to ice, and pictures a pedestrian and cyclist on the Thames.


'Sitdown protest'

Some papers despatched reporters to the Palace of Westminster to view a protest against changes to pornography regulations banning various sex acts from UK-filmed online porn videos.

A "blushing" Oscar Quine describes for the Independent a "new take on the sitdown protest" during which participants - clothed - were encouraged to lower themselves onto the faces of fellow demonstrators. He notes how on the encouragement of a press photographer, one woman "resplendent in leopard-print leggings, and a red, fur-trimmed jacket - whipped her leg around into a position colloquially known as 'reverse cowgirl' to face Westminster Abbey".

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The Telegraph's Sarah Rainey describes a "pornographic pantomime of less-than-epic proportions" with just "a smattering of protesters, most of them middle-aged, clad in Lycra cat suits, fishnets and garish bikinis".

She writes: "At lunchtime there was a call for the face-sitting to begin. Mats were triumphantly laid out; camera phones poised. Silence descended. A meek young man offered to 'donate his face' to the cause. A girl he had never met before sat on it. Eventually around 30 pairs joined them... Nobody quite knew where to look."

The Independent notes there was discussion as to whether the cameramen were acting illegally in capturing the event until a lawyer provided reassurance. He then complained that the new rules represented the first step in an internet censorship campaign. "If it's legal to do, why can't it be watched?" he's quoted asking.

However, Janice Turner, in the Times, takes issue with the cause. "Pornographers, dominatrices, high-profile prostitutes and Liberal Democrats have argued that an authoritarian and prudish state is forbidding consenting adults from watching spanking, caning, 'water sports' and, yes, face-sitting... Except none of the above is really true."

All the legislation does, she says, is "ensure the porn you download at on-demand UK websites meets the same legal requirements as the porn DVDs you buy in UK sex shops" in that the scenes must not feature acts that would break British laws.


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