History men hone insults

Sarah Bradford, the viscountess whose biography of the Queen earned its noble author an unaccustomed flurry of flak last week, is to face her critics in public, I can reveal. She has been persuaded to take part in a debate at the Royal Society of Literature on 22 February with her fellow royal historians Hugo Vickers and Philip Ziegler. The topic is "Royalty and restraint: should royal biographers observe a special set of rules?"

It should make for an evening of polished insults. The viscountess's book - which claims that Prince Philip had two close extramarital relationships and that a former lady-in-waiting killed herself because she was sacked - has reportedly lost her the esteem of some of her peers.

Vickers, for one, is puzzled by what he describes as the "surprisingly gossipy" extracts in a broadsheet paper. "I myself," he says, "believe you have to play by special rules, because otherwise you just can't get the access."

The evening should clarify whether or not Sarah Bradford used the royal archives for her research. "It seems that she has gained a lot of material close to the palace, so one assumes she got a certain amount of access to the archives," says Vickers. "And yet, if you do that, you have to sign a document stating that the Queen can see, and amend, the book prior to publication."

Potential gatecrashers from the media should heed Vickers's warning: "The RSL is a distinguished, learned group. The last thing we want is Sky TV cameras."

Off at sunset

Channel 4's weekend music programme The White Room featured the young turks of rock music, Blur, and the man who all but invented the genre, Little Richard, now well into his sixties and creaking a little as he climbs on top of his piano.

Although they seemed to viewers to have been on the show together, Blur and Little Richard never actually met. Little Richard recorded his set last Friday afternoon; the other acts performed before a studio audience on Friday night.

The man who gave the language awopopaloopopalambambam, and twice renounced rock'n'roll to become a Christian preacher, has converted to Judaism and told Channel 4 he would not perform on a Friday night, the start of the Jewish sabbath. So he rocked and he rolled at two in the afternoon, showering a hastily convened makeshift studio audience with religious tracts as he did so.

Times change

Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells may think twice in future before reaching for his pen. He may find he receives some unwanted communication by return of post. One letter writer to the Times last week received junk mail from two organisations.One, from a travel agent, began: "It was a pleasure to read your recent letter to the Editor of the Times and I hope that you will find the information contained in this letter useful ..."

Annie's angst

There was one scene from Friday's Commons launch of a new political TV soap opera that I would have no hesitation in putting into the script right away. The Tory MP Michael Brown, adviser on Annie's Bar, was busily telling journalists about the true identities of certain characters in the series. This brought a scowl to the face of one onlooker, Derek Draper, formerly known as the spin doctor's spin doctor (he used to advise Peter Mandelson). "He's giving too much away," muttered an agitated Draper, under his breath.

Brown was oblivious. "And here's another hint," he continued. "If you were to think that one of the characters was Peter Mandelson you wouldn't be far wrong."

At this, the old "master-protect" button went off in Draper's brain. He marched up to Brown, put an arm round him and swept him away.

Out of puff

Some employers ban smoking and tell the addicts to like it or lump it. Some allow them a room to gather and blow smoke at each other. Only a publisher would give them their own personal analysts. The bosses at Macmillan are offering their 600 staff either nicotine patches or hypnotherapy sessions to smooth the transition to a nicotine-free zone. Authors wondering why it takes so long for their manuscripts to be returned now know. The editors are all in therapy.