Arts: Arts Diary

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THIS column wins no prize for politic correctness. OK, this column wins no prizes, period. But it is becoming increasingly hard to see any reason other than political and literary correctness for the pounds 3O,000 Orange Prize for Fiction. The women-only award was established three years ago to bring attention to female authors. With the pages of Company magazine featuring a group of twentysomething women novelists commanding six-figure book deals, Helen Fielding's benign gaze continuing to look down from the upper reaches of the bestsellers lists where Bridget Jones has taken up residence and the reigning Booker winner of the female gender, it's unclear how much of a battle really needs to be fought here.

But the shortlist itself does not suggest a crisis of unappreciated women striving to make their mark in a male-dominated literary world. Pauline Melville is on the list for a book that has already won the Whitbread first novel award; Carol Shields is a hugely successful Pulitzer Prize winner. This suggests a confusion of purpose among the prize's organisers. The broadcaster Sheena McDonald, who is chairing the judges this year, said: "It's a very rich shortlist ..." I guess she may have been referring to the wealth of talent, but on the other hand ...

MEETING the balletomane, Lord Eatwell on Tuesday as he was appointed chairman of the Royal Ballet, I was reminded of his deliberations last year on "real" and "disguised" unemployment. The former Labour economics spokesman in the Lords had claimed the true level of unemployment was 12, not six per cent, as people doing jobs below their potential - such as an accountants selling hamburgers - were not in "real" employment.

He has plenty of scope for further research at Covent Garden. There is the sacked director of sales Keith Cooper earning a crust as a waiter; the former chief executive Mary Allen tending her garden; a deposed box office manager running a record shop.

Even Lord Eatwell, it seems, as Royal Ballet chairman and president of Queens College, Cambridge, is not in what he sees as the most "real" employment. "When I see old pals carrying their red ministerial boxes, I do feel a bit envious," he told me a little forlornly.

THE revival of Peter Shaffer's farce, Black Comedy, has prompted many memories in print of the original Sixties' production at the National Theatre. There have been many references to the young Maggie Smith, Albert Finney and Derek Jacobi in the original cast: but none to the lightly- gifted actress who played the fluffy deb in the show, Louise Purnell. She was a mainstay of Laurence Olivier's company, portraying a definitive Abigail in The Crucible among many other roles. But she left acting for domesticity, and with no film successes seems to get forgotten whenever critics reminisce in print.

WHEN Sliding Doors had its premiere on Monday it was noted that the Arts Council had refused to give the movie any lottery money. It's far from being the Arts Council's only failure to pick a winner. In his new history of the council, Richard Witts reveals that it turned up its collective nose some years back when urged it to invest in Cameron Mackintosh's new venture.

The worthies on the council laughed heartily at the preposterous idea. Whoever heard of making a musical out of T.S. Eliot's cat poems?

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