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The Independent Culture
One does not usually think of film studios as trying to kill off their actors, but Sir Alec Guinness seems to be an exception. In My Name Escapes Me: The Diary of a Retiring Actor, published by Hamish Hamilton on Thursday, he reveals a hair-raising escape from death while making The Lavender Hill Mob in 1951.

In the Ealing comedy co-starring Stanley Holloway, Guinness played a bank clerk involved in a nefarious plot to smuggle gold out of England by melting it into models of the Eiffel Tower. He notes: "Ealing Studios never succeeded in killing me in spite of some quite good tries, the first of which was during the making of Lavender Hill. Rehearsing a brief scene in which Stanley and I were required to escape from the top of the Eiffel Tower, the director said: 'Alec, there is a trap door over there - where it says Workmen Only - I'd like you to run to it, open it and start running down the spiral staircase. Stanley will follow.'"

Guinness duly did as he was told and raced dizzily down the steps only to screech to a halt on realising that the steps had broken off halfway down. "I sat down promptly where I was and cautiously started to shift myself back to the top, warning Stanley to get out of the way.

" 'What the hell are you doing?' the director yelled. 'Down! Further down!' 'Further down is eternity,' I called back."

In a unique appointment, the London Mozart Players has appointed the Northern Irish poet Martin Mooney to be writer in association for the orchestra. It is thought to be the first time that a British orchestra has worked with a writer in such a way, rather than appointing a composer.

Mooney, 32, is the author of Grub, a full-length collection of poems which won the Brendan Behan Memorial Award, and a short play, Baltic Exchange. He joins the LMP for two years from next Tuesday and will be devising full evening programmes for festivals and concert series combining his own writing and other texts with music.

One of his projects will be to write the text for a children's piece aimed at five- to nine-year-olds, but his general brief is to break the mould of the traditional concert format.

Peter Godwin this week won the 1996 Esquire/ Apple/Waterstone's non- fiction award for Mukiwa, an account of his surreal upbringing in Rhodesia, among witch doctors and leopard-hunting, not to mention civil war and tribal atrocities. The BBC documentary maker was awarded pounds 10,000 and pounds 5,000 of computer equipment.

Previous winners include The Railway Man by Eric Lomax, In Pharaoh's Army by Tobias Wolff and When Did You Last See Your Father? by Blake Morrison.

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