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Tony Blair gets animated!

Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, took a gamble yesterday by recording an episode of The Simpsons while Britain is still at war.

But he reckons it will pay off. Downing Street sources insisted last night that Simpsons fan Mr. Blair, who watches the anarchic animation with his children, agreed to appear in the show months ago.

And he felt it would be ridiculous to cancel, especially as it would throw the programme's schedule into disarray.

The sources said: "He's a big fan of The Simpsons. He knows he might get some criticism because of the timing but this was in the diary long before the war with Iraq began. We believe it will greatly benefit tourism and help bring Americans back to London."

The number of US visitors to the capital has fallen badly since the terrorist attacks of September 11. 2000, and the fear of more to come.

The PM will appear in the cult comedy for an episode set in Britain, provisionally called the Regina Monologues.

A cartoon Blair, complete with sticking-out ears and trademark cheesy grin. will give tips on tourism to Homer. Marge, Bart and Lisa during their visit to London in the episode. due to be screened on Sky In November.

The show's executive producer Al Jean and his team visited Downing Street to record three lines specially written for Mr. Blair, who had spent the morning at a passing-out parade of young cadets at the Sandhurst military academy.

Harry Potter author JK Rowling plays herself in the same episode, which appears in the 15th series of the hit show. Actor Sir lan McKellen also makes an appearance along with Monty Python's Eric Idle.

Mr. Blair will become the first British leader to take part. But US presidents are old hands - George Bush Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter have all made cartoon appearances.

And the long list of celebrities who have starred In the comedy Include U2 frontman Bono and Hollywood stare Jeff Goldblum and Elizabeth Taylor.
Emmy award winner Mr Jean had been on standby at his hotel since arriving In London on Tuesday.

At a press conference on Thursday he claimed he had no plans to include Mr Blair in an episode. "We'd love to get him but we haven't," he said. But it appeared yesterday this was merely a ploy to prevent any danger of the hush-hush recording being called off.

A special 300th anniversary edition of The Simpsons featured a spoof of Michael Jackson's notorious baby-dangling incident. In a flashback, Homer was seen dangling baby Bart off a balcony, as Jacko did from a Berlin hotel last year.

The milestone episode, entitled Barting Over, was shown in the US in February and will be broadcast in Britain over Easter.

And Simpsons creator Matt Groening is set to turn the series into a feature-length film in the next few years. He said the inspiration behind the project was the South Park movie.