On my first trip to the Big Apple in 1975, I was in time (just) to see Jack Dempsey's joint on Times Square, which I believe was the original for Mindy's in the Runyon stories

There can be no stage musical with a more romantic opening song than Guys and Dolls with Nicely-Nicely Johnson prodding his racing paper and bellowing into the auditorium:

I got a horse right here,

Its name is Paul Revere...

In his sensational revival of the show, due to occupy the National Theatre's Olivier stage for the next three months, Richard Eyre sets the scene for this poignant ditty with a galerie of Runyonesque characters as devious as their adopted home turf of Broadway, the only thoroughfare on Manhattan which refuses to conform to the island's rigorous grid-plan. (It follows the course of an Indian forest track.) The stage pollulates with flim- flam artists, gunsels, thimble-riggers, corner boys, crap-shooters, hookers, sidewinders, geeks, stumblebums, hustlers and gorillas, all chivvied along by a trio of New York's Finest.

But what took my breath away were the dozen or so neon signs which glow feverishly above this frantic menagerie. In the theatre programme, Eyre says the idea came as "divine intervention" one day in Paris when he discovered a book called Let There Be Neon by Rudi Stern, who declared, "Neon is writing with light". As well as providing illumination, the staccato urban poetry of the adverts is perfectly in tune with the fast-talking characters of Runyon's Broadway: "Planter's Peanuts: A bag a day for more pep", "Take the Rock Island Rocket to Chicago" and, best of all "I'd walk a mile for a Camel". This appears above a working replica of the famous "Smoking Man" which, for many decades, puffed real smoke into Times Square.

Seeing this phenomenon in operation, while on my first trip to the Big Apple in 1975, I was surprised by two things. Firstly, the figure was dressed in modern clothes (I had only ever seen photographs from the Thirties), and, secondly, he blew smoke-rings - a refinement beyond the technical capabilities of the National Theatre. I was also in time (just) to see Jack Dempsey's joint on Times Square, which I believe was the original for Mindy's in the Runyon stories. It had already closed down and, in Manhattan's unsentimental fashion, was shortly to be demolished, but the pugilist's name still gleamed over the shuttered door in art moderne stainless-steel lettering.

The milieu which Damon Runyon stylised so brilliantly and romanticised more than somewhat can be glimpsed in an exhibition of photographs from New York's Museum of Modern Art currently at the Victoria & Albert Museum. One of the stark works by the lensman Weegee shows a guy apparently slumbering in the front seat of his car on a suburban street. But the presence of several great-coated cops and a photographer wielding a bulky Speed Graphic camera hints at the drama revealed in Weegee's terse caption: "Harry Maxwell Shot in Car, 1936". Another snap, "Cafe Society, New York, 1943", reveals the sort of smoky, boozy, rackety nightspot where Runyon would have felt much at home. "The idea of Cafe Society was all right, except for the cafe," recalled a fellow denizen. "What actually ruined the whole goddam thing was alcohol and noise." Similarly, Runyon himself was a far less appealing character ("cruel and steely-hearted", according to one study) than his stories suggest.

When Mrs W first visited New York with me five or six years ago, I knew she would not be disappointed - there is no more electric place on earth - but, nevertheless, I was slightly concerned that the modern city might prove a trifle staid for one who was well-versed in the adventures of Sky Masterson, Harry the Horse, Rusty Charley et al. I needn't have worried. Even before we emerged from the airport bus into the ghastly Port Authority Terminal on 40th Street, we saw half a dozen policemen, equalisers in mitts, in hot pursuit of some miscreant. "Wow," exclaimed our New York friends, when we reached their Upper West Side apartment, "we've lived here 17 years and never seen a policemen pull his gun. How lucky can you get?"

One of the earliest American photos in the V&A exhibition is an eerie study by Edward Steichen of Rodin's statue of Balzac. It may have been this monumental casting, 12 feet in height, which a BBC team was almost sent to film sometime in the Eighties. One of Balzac's sprawling human comedies had been adapted for TV and the producer thought that Rodin's portrait of the great man would be ideal for the credit sequence. Tickets for the US were purchased, visas obtained, bags were packed, when a secretary happened to remark that she believed there was another casting of this masterpiece in her home town. Instead of heading stateside, the film crew were less than overjoyed to find themselves dispatched to the Kodak Building in Hemel Hempstead.

Though by no means Tony Blair's biggest fan, I found my feelings warming to him last week when he was filmed in a south-London joinery workshop sawing away at a lump of two-by-four. Intended to be a wholly innocuous photo-opportunity, it inadvertently revealed that the champion of New Labour is no horny-handed son of toil. "That bloke," sniffed Mrs W, "hasn't the faintest idea how to hold a saw." While some may see such cack-handedness as something of a defect in the leader of the People's Party, I view it as an incomparable asset. Tony is clearly one of us, the maladroit gang for whom wood is always chock-full of knotholes, chisels are imbued with deceit and mallets ingrained with perverseness.

Insanely, I was forced to learn the dread trade at school. "Come on, boysh," the sibilently challenged woodwork master would urge, "plane and shet-shquare." No matter how long I planed my lump of timber, its corners would never conform to the 90-degree authoritarianism of the set-square. Shavings piled up around me, while my classmates would cackle: "Sir, sir, Weasel's making a pencil." Even in the simplest exercises, my dove-tail joints flew apart, my mortice-and-tenons were less than tenacious.

After two years, I finished my first piece. While everyone else was presenting their homes with toilet-roll holders or foot-stools, I proudly delivered four pieces of wood formed into a square (to be honest, more of a parallelogram) with three holes on one side. After admiring the varnish, my parents asked what it was. "A test-tube rack, of course," I squeaked resentfully. Though my father bravely tried to use it as a pipe-rack, the object proved to be irredeemably unstable. A year later, when others had graduated to staircases and bookshelves, I produced my second, equally pointless creation, a pen- tray. After that, I switched to chemistry. I have never since laid hand on plane, vice or fret-saw and I'd advise Mr Blair to follow suit. All he needs to do now is reveal a detestation of sport and a pathological untidyness, and I'll know he's a true soulmate.

The January issue of John Kennedy Jr's political monthly George (it's to do with Washington, you see) comes in a choice of two covers. For Democrats, Claudia Schiffer pouts winningly while wearing nothing more than a Clinton- Gore sash. The Republican version has Claudia as a luscious loser in a Dole-Kemp sash (with a black polo-neck) and dabbing at a glycerine tear. Inside, the supermodel gives readers the benefit of her political wisdom in a Q & A page entitled "If I were President". To the question "Your greatest weakness would be?", she gives the bizarre response: "I'm a fool for Kissinger's accent." In fact, the ponderous strategist talks in an almost impenetrable Teutonic growl. Like him, La Schiffer is a child of the Fatherland - you don't suppose she speaks the same way, do you?

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl

First look at Oscar winner as transgender artistfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month

TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel

film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Oscars
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
music
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
film
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
architecture
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower