John Walsh

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Indy Lifestyle Online
If there were an award for being the most talked-about name in Fleet Street, Mr Dominic Lawson, the new editor of the Sunday Telegraph, would walk off with it. Everybody, it seems, has a Dominic story to tell. About his phone call to Mary Kenny, to try and stop her resigning (he discovered her at the hairdressers, sitting under a blowdrier, and tried, through the trichological hum, to hold her to her contract until she pointed out she didn't have one). About how he fired the Sunday Telegraph's pregnant features editor simply (he explained to her) to make room for Rebecca Nicholson, his Spectator colleague; how he fired Alexander Chancellor, the saintly editor of the Sunday Telegraph Magazine (and the man who first employed him at the Spectator), then wrote to say how much he admired him; how he threw a staff Christmas party at his home but failed to invite anyone from the features department (also, perhaps apocryphally, how he stipulated that his guests should neither smoke nor refer out loud to Frank Johnson, his successor at the Spectator); and how, when no thank you's were forthcoming the next day, he put the word around that "expressions of gratitude" to the editor would be welcomed. The hapless Lawson is now "oscillating with paranoia", I'm told by an insider, as his staff await his next move with eager curiosity.

I've read dozens of pieces about George Michael, the singer with the Desperate Dan chin and the attitude problem about record companies. Will his millions of fans like the new single? Was his court action against Sony bad for his image? Is he a moody genius or a petulant prima donna? Is his new haircut a mistake? These are important issues that require a full airing in yet more arts pages, but I cannot join in. For my only encounter with him was a good six years ago, when I was leaving the Meridian Hotel in London's Piccadilly. It was lunchtime, and no vehicles were parked at the kerb except an anonymous white van. As I walked past, the passenger door burst open and G Michael jumped out. A vision in trainers and shades, he did a weird skip like a featherweight boxer, hands held out in a defensive, back-off gesture. Thus protected, he described a perfect circle in the road, checking all points of the compass for crazed fans bent on rending his trousers. Apparently satisfied (he looked me up and down and decided I was no threat), the Greek songbird disappeared ("Whew! That was close!") into the hotel. I looked about. Nobody, not a single person, was moving for a mile in any direction.

Congratulations to Belinda Harley, former assistant press secretary to the Prince of Wales, on becoming literary editor of the Daily Express. Ms Harley, she of the blackcurrant eyes and entrancing beauty spot, knows the literary world well, through her pre-Highgrove incarnation as boss of a publishing PR company, where her underlings were amusingly known as the Harlettes. But her bookish associations stretch further back, often with a romantic tinge - she was courted by Martin Amis and introduced to casinos by the Earl of Stockton, when he owned the Macmillan publishing house - right back to Oxford days, when the rumour that Ms Harley was scheduled to appear with nothing on in a student production of Tennessee Williams's Camino Real had us callow undergraduates turning somersaults in the quad.

Of biographers and their subjects (especially living ones) there's no end of strange stories. Here's one about John Campbell, the distinguished and award-winning author of the life of Edward Heath, which drew loud huzzas a couple of years ago. Sated with politics, Campbell told his publisher, Richard Cohen, that he wanted a break from Lords and Commons and wished to indulge his other passions, drama and cricket. Splendid, said Cohen, why not write a biography of the cricket-loving dramaturge, Harold Pinter?

Duly approached, Pinter expressed approval and agreed to meet Campbell in a pub to discuss a modus operandi. But something went disastrously wrong during their meeting and Pinter wrote afterwards to say he'd changed his mind and wouldn't co-operate in a biography after all. A second letter said that, furthermore, Pinter had instructed his friends and associates not to co-operate with the aspirant Boswell. The famously discreet and inoffensive Campbell was bewildered. Then he got a third letter from the irascible Harold, saying that, further-furthermore, he was now contacting Faber & Faber (who do his plays) to suggest they commission a rival biography, presumably to scupper Campbell's evil plans.

To this day, Campbell has no idea what was said during the fateful pub encounter to provoke such a ferocious response from the master of the minatory pause. But the story has a happy ending. Michael Billington, the Guardian's chortling drama correspondent, has just finished the Pinter biography (ie, the approved, Faber version). And John Campbell has just picked up a pounds 100,000 advance from HarperCollins to write the life of Baroness Thatcher - having learned his lesson that, compared with theatrical cricket- lovers, politicians are a doddle.

Can there be some perverse relationship between the manufacturers of London buses and the designers of the advertisements emblazoned on their sides? Nothing else would explain the succession of gross images that process up and down my local high street. Every bus, you see, features a large bolt or flange that pokes through the paper on which the advert is printed, and always manages to land in some oddly strategic place. Last autumn, we had a jeans ad in which the bolt landed squarely in a young woman's crotch. Then came the face of a model advertising make-up, with the bolt apparently attached to her upper lip like a cold sore. At Christmas, some bloke could be seen urging the appeal of a macho lager, with the bolt on his finger like a knuckleduster. Now, on the side of the Number 3 hurtling down Brixton High Street, you get a large St Bernard dog rearing up on its hind legs and showing off a bolt-enhanced canine erection. Creative advertising is one thing; but this prolonged game of pin-the-dick-on-the-donkey has got to stop.

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