Pandora

YESTERDAY AT the Old Bailey, two men who admitted that they had tried to blackmail Mohamed Al Fayed with videos of Bugs Bunny and Sinbad the Sailor were released without prison sentences. According to the Press Association report: "The would-be extortionists claimed the innocent videos, bought at a motorway service station, contained material that would cause huge embarrassment to Mr Fayed".

Obviously this farcical crime was doomed from the start. Even if the Harrods owner was an avid cartoon fan, a connoisseur of Bugs and Sinbad, would this have disconcerted him? Certainly not. Mr Fayed has made it abundantly clear during the past year that he will not succumb to any attempts to embarrass him. Least of all his own.

WHERE DO you go to write a modern "western" if you are one of Hollywood's hottest, hippest director/screenwriters? Amsterdam, of course. At least, that's where Pandora's spies have spotted Quentin Tarantino in recent days. The director of Jackie Brown and Pulp Fiction is said to be planning to stay holed up in the city for several months plotting his next film opus.

No doubt he could find plenty of cinematic inspiration in Amsterdam's picturesque urban landscape, with its lovely canalside saloons and fragrant coffee houses.

WHERE DO First Ladies go to lunch in August? Yesterday Lady Thatcher joined her old friend Nancy Reagan on the fashionable island of Martha's Vineyard, off Cape Cod, as guests of Katherine Graham, owner of the Washington Post and Newsweek. Hillary Clinton and Chelsea are due to arrive on the island later this week. Meanwhile poor Cherie Blair, marooned out in dusty old Tuscany, didn't even make it to the Hamptons this summer.

THE ART market is cruising at the moment, fuelled by, of all places, Las Vegas. The millionaire casino tycoon Steve Wynn is on a spending spree as he prepares to open his new high-roller oasis, Bellagio, on the Strip on 15 October.

With an overall art budget said to be $400m, Wynn has just returned from Europe bearing Van Gogh's Woman in a Blue Dress, Matisse's Michaela and works by Degas, Picasso and Giacometti, all worth a total of $40m. Earlier this year he spent an equal amount on modern American paintings by Jasper Johns, de Kooning, Lichtenstein and others.

Pandora has nothing but admiration for this attempt to infuse the synthetic neon-and-plastic culture of Vegas with authentic artworks, but one niggling question does arise. The "theme" of Wynn's Bellagio hotel and casino is said to be the Renaissance. Didn't this take place in Italy? A few centuries before Jasper Johns, or even Van Gogh, created their masterpieces? OK, so it's the Renaissance "Vegas-style".

VICTOR LEWIS-SMITH has written an amusing letter of complaint hilariously marked "FOR PUBLICATION" complaining about Pandora's item of last week in which his words were quoted. "I did not behave like some sort of prima donna when your reporter telephoned me - out of the blue - on my private home number. I'm quite used to being phoned, although I'm thinking of changing my line to a premium 0898 number so at least I can make 60p a minute on the deal. After all, I buy the soar-away Independent every day. Am I now also expected to contribute to its column inches gratis and for free?"

According to the self-effacing TV critic and comedy writer, his opinions "have a current market value of about a halfpenny a ton." Even at that generous rate, Pandora estimates that the highly prolific Lewis-Smith must be earning a hefty annual sum.

MADONNA YESTERDAY firmly denied the report in one tabloid that she was married in London last week, in a Jewish cabbala ritual, to a man called Tony Bird. In fact, she has been catching up on her reading. She was spotted recently with a copy of Karen Salmansohn's very helpful book How to Make Men Behave in 20 Days or Less Using the Secrets of Professional Dog Trainers. Fair enough, since it was undoubtedly a man who first said "Life's a bitch".

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