Monday 28 December 1998
JOHN BIRT'S visit to the Groucho Club a few nights before Christmas caused a stir in the club originally founded as a writers' and publishers' hideout, now the favourite watering hole of television stars and independent producers, from Lenny Henry to Stephen Fry to Vic & Bob. The BBC boss was a guest of his administrative assistant Katie Kay, a Groucho member, who settled him into a quiet corner table in the upstairs bar. "It seems very reasonable," the notoriously cost-conscious Birt told Kay later as she paid their bill. When this overheard remark was circulated later, a number of members' eyebrows were raised. The Groucho's cocktails are excellent, but nobody before ever called them inexpensive.
AFTER BOWING to Tony Blair and Sir Edward Heath's appeals to allow the Branson balloon flight to proceed over its territory, China announced sternly on Christmas Eve that it would ban any more round-the-world balloons from crossing its borders. This is bad news for Branson, and the competing Cable and Wireless, Breitling Orbiter 3 and Spirit of Peace balloon teams, since virtually all northern hemisphere global balloon routes must cross over China. However, Pandora hears that at least three other teams are planning a southern hemisphere circumnavigation for next summer in the race to be the first to blow around the globe.
THE PANDORA Prize for the most surprisingly witty Christmas card goes to the National Audit Office. Printed to appear like a genuine NOA report on the "Ministry of Merriment", the card documents the "cost over-runs, delays and irregularities in the production of Christmas presents". An accompanying "press release" reports: "Asked to account for 500,000 X- rated imported videos, Santa said, `I know it looks bad, but at least I did obtain three quotes before purchase, as previously recommended by the NAO'."
THE MOST eagerly-awaited Western film for years is about to open in America - a film that was originally the brainchild of the late Sam Pekinpah - and its unlikely director is Englishman Stephen Frears (pictured). Over the past weekend, a storm of publicity has appeared about The Hi-Lo Country, a tale of two old-fashioned cowboys in modern New Mexico, and Frears, the north London resident whose credits include My Beautiful Launderette, Prick Up Your Ears, Dangerous Liaisons and The Grifters. Frears told The New York Times: "I had to literally learn everything... Western films are sort of half mythology, half what it was like in the West." He toured New Mexico for weeks before shooting began and, on the set, confesses to often thinking of Clint Eastwood. "What would Clint do now?" he asked his assistant.
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Rarest Beanie Baby of them all could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
- 2 Ben Affleck asked TV chiefs to hide slave-owning ancestry, new hacked Sony emails published by Wikileaks claim
- 3 Driving while dehydrated can be just as dangerous as drink driving, study suggests
- 4 Farmer told to tear down mock-Tudor castle after hiding construction behind hay bales
- 5 One Direction: Louis Tomlinson launching his own record label, has already 'signed two acts'
Better Call Saul creator Peter Gould on the creative concerns of a prequel, season 2 and the mind-numbing realities of the small courts
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
One Direction: Louis Tomlinson launching his own record label, has already 'signed two acts'
Tidal CEO leaves Jay Z's music streaming service only a month after it launched
Star Wars 7: The Force Awakens: Luke Skywalker actor Mark Hamill admits he was suspicious of 'Star Trek guy' JJ Abrams
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate