Captain Moonlight

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Breakfast show-down

Power struggles, that's what we like to deal with here on this column. This week: Liz Forgan, managing director, BBC network radio, versus Jenny Abramsky, controller of Radio Five Live, the new BBC sports and news network which goes on air at the end of March. Ms Forgan, says the Captain's man within, wants the new station to be 'bright, brassy, zappy,'; what is termed the Radio Bloke approach. Ms Abramsky, on the other hand, wants more gravitas, bottom, weight; what is being termed the Radio 4a approach. Tension reigns. Those working on Radio 5 Live tend to support Ms Forgan, on the grounds that the new network has to establish a clear identity and attract all those people currently deserting Radio 1. Meanwhile, the search for someone to present the key breakfast programme continues. Andy Kershaw, the wide vowelled Mancunian world music enthusiast, has turned it down; just about everybody else available has been doing 'hot- piloting', as the quaint phrase goes. I await an approach: Captain Moonlight's Breakfast Show has quite a ring to it, I thik you'll agree.

Here it is once more, Captain Moonlight's Catch Up Service, a vital digest of news you might just have missed during the past week. . . An earth tremor shook parts of North Wales on Thursday. It lasted for 30 seconds, measured 3.0 on the Richter scale, and was followed by a loud bang. There were no reports of injuries or damage. . . George the Duck is recovering from an injured foot after he was hit by a shopping trolley hurled into his pond at Farnham, Surrey. . .Scuff the terrier was trapped in a shed at Stoke Abbott, Dorset, for three days because he can't bark. . . Lord Hotham's labrador, Jackson, has been named the worst gundog in the land. . . Barry Manilow is sueing a radio station which boasts that it never plays his records. . .Carpet cleaner Chris Barnaby and Shirley Malerich were married in Southend yesterday dressed as vacuum cleaners. . .otherwise it was pretty quiet.

HARD TIMES, these, for spies. Problems with exactly who the enemy is, for one thing. And then there's this moving business, always very stressful. MI5 (Prop: Stella Rimington) is off to finely refurbished premises on Millbank. MI6 (Prop: Sir Colin McColl) is going into that big place by Vauxhall Bridge, the one that looks like a sandcastle with pretensions. How will they get in without being noticed, I wonder? More bad news last week there, too. Some of MI6's spies are being made redundant. I wonder if the package varies for double and triple agents. Actually, this might be the moment to reveal that the Captain has met Sir Colin at, naturally, a private view. He was a most amiable cove, wearing, I promise you, plus-fours, stockings, brown shoes which were strangers to the brush, and a tie with teddy bears on it. I have pondered long on the said apparel. Code? Some sort of message, obviously. Call me. Usual drill.

SO YOU weren't paying attention last week? Relax. Captain Moonlight's Catch-Up Service can help . . . An M2 sliproad closed for roadworks at Faversham, Kent, but the tarmac failed to arrive . . . Luigi Tachini, 61, an Italian angler, was drowned when he caught a large fish which pulled him into the water . . . An escaped camel was spotted in Pennington, Hants. Garage worker Audrey Richards said: 'A fellow pulled up behind me as I was going into the garage and said: 'Look, there's a camel.' I thought he was pulling my leg but when I looked round there it was.'. . . A Cumbria Tourist Board publicity photograph for the Settle- to-Carlisle railway in fact portrayed the funeral train of the late King George VI bound for Windsor . . . The world, according to the Fortean Times, the journal of strange phenomena, was 3.5 per cent stranger in 1993 than in 1992. Miracles, hoaxes and panics were all on the increase, while cases of spontaneous human combustion fell . . . The Cecil Parkinson Bar at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, has been renamed the Parkinson/Yeo Bar . . . The Eroticism in Finnish Films Festival opens at the Finnish Institute on Friday.

LISTEN, it's no fun being a big movie star. Sure, there's the adulation, the limos, the pool and the money, but sometimes you have to get up really early for shooting. And you can't blink during close-ups. And there's all those rare interviews you have to give.

Take Bobby De Niro, as some of us know him, presently singing like a boid about his directorial debut, A Bronx Tale. Bobby is currently filming Sir Ken Branagh's shot at Frankenstein. Bobby plays the monster. His make-up (I'm told) is so sensationally terrifying that Sir Ken is desperately keen that it is not seen until the film appears. Which is why off-set, the great American has to go around with a bag over his head. And his film was released in the same week as Schindler's List. Feel better now?

The golf courses that got away

THE CAPTAIN is not a golfer. He neither mashies nor does he niblick. Seems a decent enough sort of game, but, my dear, have you seen the clothes they make you wear? All those pastel-

coloured trousers and tight jumpers with diamonds on. Have you noticed, too, that everyone in the bar looks like Terry Scott? I know, I know, blind unthinking prejudice; but did you, perchance, see that programme on Northwood Golf Club, the one with people being hauled before the board and all manner of slights being taken about wives and lady golfers and flowers? You will probably have seen the aftermath, too: wholesale resignation by the said board.

What on earth, everyone wanted to know, had they been thinking about, allowing a documentary crew anywhere near them? Surely they must have known what would happen? Well, it so happens that there has come into my possession details of other clubs who were game. There is, of course, given what happened at Northwood, a great temptation to suppress this information. But, as you all know, the Captain has a higher duty: to the truth.

So pour out a stiff one, committee men everywhere. Here goes. Wisley, in Surrey, dearly wanted to be filmed. Harewood Downs and Flackwell Heath in Bucks also said yes, but Cicada, the film company, didn't take them up: 'Courses considered not up to scratch.' Wyke Green, Middlesex, was also agreeable. Moor Park, in Herts, very sensibly turned them down, as did Gerrards Cross, although there was a feeling it might be persuadable: 'This was really the one that got away. They were extremely snobby, but the course was beautiful.' Oh, I should have mentioned that some members at Wyke Green said the club had 'many ugly women' and suggested that the club should be renamed Dyke Green. Tee off, anyone?

Tory sense and sensibility

THE GOVERNMENT reels from one piece of misfortune to the next idiocy. In Russia, the Prime Minister cannot decide whether or not to wear a furry hat. Men in suits appear before us, offering explanations that bluster or falter or both. And then there is this calm woman who offers soundness and sympathy. Emma Nicholson is the Tory Agony Aunt, its acceptable face. Even the name of her constituency, Devon West and Torridge, is reassuring.

We meet away from the hotbed of lust by the Thames, in the soothing surroundings of her small home in Pimlico, in the upstairs sitting-room, where the chair with Country Living on it is matched by one bearing Country Life. Crisis? All these 'fusses' and 'flares' are a completely Westminster happening, the product of a 'self- feeding gossip shop', irrelevant to the electorate. 'It keeps Westminster bubbling, makes us all feel that members of Parliament have a valuable role in society, but actually what concerns the electorate is the size of the water bill and the value of the pound in their pocket.'

What the people 'in the club and the pub' want, she says, is an improvement in the economy, an unlocking of the gate for jobs. It was coming, of course, but there was this uneasiness with its tardiness. But wasn't the Government, well, a little disaster-prone? 'The word 'disaster-prone' has been going into my right ear from the media, but it has not been going into my left ear from the electorate.' And besides, she has this safety net: 'People are anxious not to be over-governed, which is why they have a natural break-off point when they see the name of a Labour candidate on a piece of paper.'

It is a mark of Miss Nicholson's composure that she can refer so naturally to her hearing: one of the things most people know about her is that she is partially deaf. She has been so since birth, as her voice, with its slightly irregular, deliberate cadences makes clear. If it is any consolation, they give her pronouncements a weight - and an uninterruptability - that Margaret Thatcher had to strain for.

Her background is reassuring, too: Hampshire, land, baronets, 17 forebears in the Commons before her. But she is more interesting than that. She knows Latin, Greek, a little Aramaic, and is learning Farsi, to read the Persian poets. She studied at the Royal Academy of Music. She has done much charity work - before entering Parliament she was Save the Children's chief fundraiser - but she has also worked in computers, in whose abuse and potential she remains expert. While Edwina Currie was writing her novel about whips and sex, Miss Nicholson was writing her book about the sufferings of the Marsh Arabs of Iraq and addressing the UN on its inactivity. She and her husband, Sir Michael Caine, former Booker chairman, are guardians to a napalmed boy, Amar, whom she brought back from Iraq for medical treatment.

Nor would it do to expect from Miss Nicholson either a defence of the parliamentary status quo or the cosy belief that the introduction of large numbers of women would automatically make it a better place. She wants nothing less than root and branch reform of the Commons - 'The Lords doesn't matter' - which would make it 'a main-line channel of communication, a highway down which knowledge can flow between the state and the elector'. To ask her what qualities women bring to politics is to invite the rebuke that gender should now be of no significance in the workplace.

So why isn't this formidable presence in the Government? Although in her fifties, she didn't enter the House until 1987. Despite a spell as a party vice-chairman, her search for a safe seat was hampered, it is said, by being named in her husband's divorce (which, pace the Finchley lay preacher, seems pretty small beer now). She did not get on with Mrs Thatcher, and was a forthright supporter of Michael Heseltine's candidacy for the leadership. The peak of her achievement is her present position as PPS to a junior minister at Agriculture.

'Why should I have the gift of office?' she says. 'It doesn't come to everybody.' She is, she tells you, after talking about shaking up the UN, and listing, at calm length, her many and various achievements, 'boringly normal. That's how I see myself, a dull unimaginative plodder'. This, for some reason, makes me ask if she would like to be prime minister. 'Not at the moment,' she laughs, not all that reassuringly.

THE WIT of Stephen Milligan has been but lightly touched on. Recently, though, he was asked about the change from journalist to politician. 'It's just like before,' he replied. 'Only with a lot more lobster.'

(Photograph omitted)

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