The award, worth pounds 25,000, is given to the best new play performed in Britain. The nine judges, who included a starry crew of the nation's most camp and chortling drama critics (Sherrin, Tinker, Morley, Billington) chose a shortlist of 10 plays. Among them were established names - David Hare, Peter Nichols - alongside new boys like Jez Butterworth, and the Lloyds people duly contacted them all, asking for photos and permission to reproduce snatches of their plays, should they be in the top three. To the judges' amazement, a furious letter arrived from David Hare, saying that unless he had won the prize (for his new play, Skylight) he had no wish to be mentioned in any prize context. He did not, if you follow me, want to be thought of as having been under consideration.
This was a bit of a facer. As things stood, Hare was unlikely to win (Sebastian Barry was the judges' favourite) but would be a high also-ran. How could he expect them to pretend he wasn't in the running? The judges talked to the event's organiser, Tony Ball, who wrote a stinging letter to Hare saying, Look, you can't tell us whether we can or can't consider your play; we'll just award it (or not) without your permission. The judges saw the letter and nodded approvingly. Nobody, nobody tells the cream of British thespiana what to do ...
At dinner, the judges scanned the programme for details of the lucky finalists, but of Skylight or its distinguished author there was no sign. Not a word. (The gap in the shortlist was covered by the fact that one play was written by two playwrights.) Somewhere between Mr Ball's letter and the prize dinner, Hare had got himself written out of the script. "A most extraordinary feat of self-airbrushing," one of the judges told me smartly. "A kind of auto-Stalinism."
Hats off to Serpent's Tail, the independent publishing house which celebrates its 10th anniversary on Monday. Its list has always been ultra-modern, international, avant-garde and tough as nails, especially writers promoted under the "High Risk" label. Looking at the line-up of authors appearing at London's ICA (for "Ten Years of Hell") on Monday night, I note they include the "literary terrorist" Stewart Home, who once tried to levitate the Pavilion Theatre, Brighton, as a protest against a Stockhausen concert; the film-maker Lynne Tillman, who wrote for Suck, the Dutch porn magazine; and the writer and dramaturge Neil Bartlett, who claims that, until offered a novel contract, he lived on the dole "spending half my time having sex and the other half in the British Museum" (but never, strangely, at the same time). It occurs to me that Pete Ayrton, the Tail's charming boss, has done us a great service by keeping this bunch off the streets.
Hellraisers aren't what they used to be, are they? You expect them to perform - the 93 Wild Turkeys before dinner, the personal crack dealer, the Desert Eagle automatic in the zip-up Louis Vuitton, the Testarossa soft-top crashed for tax purposes on the M25 - and they just want to be Mr Normal ...
Since Faber & Faber started publishing its cool 'n' groovy film books and screenplays (Quentin Tarantino went on a rapturously received tour, inscribing copies of Pulp Fiction for the trendy masses), the ladies of the publicity department have been confidently expecting some wild times at the hands of Hollywood's bad boys. But it's not exactly been a succession of crazy, Viper Room-style nights. (The highlight was probably the day, several months ago, when Johnny Depp, the not-unhandsome film star, parked his limo outside the company's front door and, surrounded by a posse of slacker dudes in jeans and woolly hats, invaded the place to hand in his introduction to the screenplay of Ed Wood. Invited to select a free copy of any Faber paperback, the mumbling crew departed with armfuls of Stephen Spender's poems. No one knows why.) So the girls were hot to trot when Robert Rodriguez came by the other day, to publicise his book Rebel Without a Crew.
Mr Rodriguez is an authentic tough guy: he funded his first film, El Mariachi, by booking into a clinic and letting the doctors perform experiments on him at $3,000 a time; he is the director of Desperado ("a rambling, implausible, derivative exercise in gratuitous violence" - Time Out) and a bankable name at only 27.
The Faberbabes took him to the Quality Chop House in Farringdon. Did he have a line of speed off the marble table? No, he had a steak. They took him to the Union Club in Soho for drinks. A quart of tequila? "No thanks," he said politely, "I'm not a big drinker." They brought in Ms Salma Kayek, the cigar-smoking vamp who stars in Desperado. Mr Rodriguez talked about his wife and new baby. They suggested a nightclub, a vibe, a rave. He decided on an early night in Nodland. At the Intercontinental, they led him briskly past the raucous, bourbon-swilling suits who were whooping it up after a local conference. I mean, you wouldn't want him falling into bad company, would you?
I'm used to receiving many things through the post: pleas for the name of my tailor, thinly disguised sexual overtures from aspirant reviewers, wistful inquiries from former schoolboys ("Are you by any chance the Johnny `Wanker' Walsh who fagged for me at St Jasper's?"). But I've never got a pair of socks before. A Mr Griffiths of Earith, Cambridgeshire, has kindly sent me a remarkable pair of "Ozone Friendly Socks" (100 per cent cotton) designed, apparently, for "The Aristocrate [sic] Man" and featuring a somewhat perfunctory sketch of a tree. I'm not sure how they work, environmentally speaking; but how gratifying to think one's footwear plays a major role in stabilising the Earth's wayward atmospherics. Why, I expect my favourite pair of BHS boxer shorts would solve the problem of global warming if they were waved in the right direction. ...Reuse content