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A fine show at the Tate

Unpleasant scenes mar one of the highlights of the cultural calendar: the private view of the Cezanne exhibition at the Tate Gallery. A ruddy- faced man, whom I discovered to be Paul Johnson, the polemicist and sometime art critic, was waxing rather unaesthetically about Cezanne's masterpiece Les Grandes Baigneuses. "These women are hideous," he said loudly to his rapt female companion. "They are repellent. They are disgusting. No one would want to take any of these girls out for dinner."

Warming to his theme, he went on: "Why do you admire these hideous women .... Is it that this poor tortured painter could not paint women?"

At this point, one onlooker, the distinguished art historian David Sylvester, who has written about Cezanne, could stand no more. "Who is this pompous ass?" he asked a colleague, and on being told that the speaker was no such thing, he was Paul Johnson, Mr Sylvester strode up to him and demanded angrily: "Paul, could you conduct your seminar in front of reproductions rather than disturb the marvellous peace of this room?"

Johnson and his companion, the BBC's Rosie Millard, looked aghast and showed an equally aghast Mr Sylvester their microphone. They were in the middle of recording an interview for this morning'sRadio 4 Today programme. I trust that Today will be fearless enough to include Mr Sylvester's interruption in the Cezanne critique.

Oldie fashioned?

To the Oldie of the Year Awards at Simpsons in the Strand: a most convivial gathering, spoiled only by the torrent of expletives from England's most venerated veterans. When the prize-winner, Richard Wilson (alias Victor Mildrew), picked up his trophy, he uttered lines such as "I'm buggered ..." and rather less printable phrases. It was meant to be a joke, lampooning his TV character, but not everybody in the throng appreciated the wit.

Lord Longford, 94, shook his head sadly. "I'm just too old-fashioned for this," he said.

It would appear that our redoubtable prison visitor had forgotten that only moments earlier, when it was announced that he and his wife, Elizabeth, had won the Oldie Partners of the Century award, his language was similarly hyperbolic. As the compere, Ned Sherrin, read aloud parts of a supposed Longford love poem, from him to her, the author giggled modestly, and sighed gently to those nearest to him: "What a load of crap."

Crossing over

A curious missive has been received by MPs. It concerns the pressing national issue of the replacement of a zebra crossing by a pelican on Millbank, a crossing used by the honourable ladies and gentlemen as they scurry from their offices to the Commons.

The letter is from the right-wing firebrand Teresa Gorman, who wants the pelican decommissioned and the zebra rehabilitated. She is agitated that cars now speed up to get through the lights, but used to stop at the old zebra. (Is it not amazing how MPs get these sudden flashes of insight into urban life when it happens to affect them?)

"I have written to the Serjeant at Arms," says Mrs Gorman in her letter, adding: "If you, too, agree with me, please write to the Serjeant at Arms as soon as possible and we may get something done about it."

In trying to organise a campaign of her honourable friends, Mrs Gorman signs herself Chief Shop Steward. Now, a stalwart Tory such as Mrs Gorman should know that the Government's trade union reforms insist on union leaders being elected, not appointed. Oh dear. Is this another case of Do As I Say, Not As I Do?

Film dubbing

The new film of Othello with Kenneth Branagh has been dubbed OJello in America, where the story of the Moor is being compared, a little dubiously, to the OJ Simpson affair. But I gather that the crew shooting Branagh's own film of Hamlet in Britain have come up with a nickname our Ken is even less happy about. It is known on the set as Die Bard With A Vengeance.

Wry of Ruislip

The first announcement that most of us heard at the tube station yesterday was "Because of adverse weather conditions ..." This pathetic phrase translates as "It's winter, comes every year, but we're still having problems with it." By the time I had waited an hour for a train, then found the doors wouldn't open, then eventually got on, only to be ejected because the brakes had failed, the station announcer at South Ruislip was taking a refreshingly realistic attitude to life. "Good morning, ladies and gentlemen and welcome to cock-up junction," he said.

If a documentary film is ever made about London Underground Limited's attempts to come to terms with winter, then Cock-up Junction should be its title.

Eagle Eye

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