Cheltenham Festival: hapter & Verse

HILARY SPURLING's talk on The Unknown Matisse, the first volume of her biography, had the audience gripped. "During my research," she said, "I discovered a secret about Matisse, a sensational secret. One that it's impossible to guess." A hush fell on the auditorium. The audience craned forward. "And to find out that secret," she went on, "you'll have to buy my book." This eerily echoed Mail columnist Simon Heffer's disclosure about his new life of Enoch Powell. "I found a cache of 400 letters he'd written to his parents ,and they reveal a very different man from the Powell image," he confided. "But I can't tell you any more because I've sold the serial rights to a national paper." Any more of this and they'll start throwing rocks.


ON TO Ziegler and Mark Amory's talk about Osbert Sitwell and Lord Berners. Ziegler's description of the Sitwells as being "the Spice Girls of the Twenties" put them in a whole new light. But confusion reigned as Amory described Berners taking tea with Penelope Betjeman and her Arab in his sitting room. Her Arab? Was this perhaps some swarthy manservant? But no, Amory reassured us, it was merely her horse. As well as his tendency to dye pigeons in pinks and blues, Berners was renowned for his ugliness. A bald man, he once described himself as looking like a "diabolical egg". And when Rex Whistler had painted his portrait, he said of it "Alas, only too like him so it cannot give much pleasure".

Gina Rozner