My colleague John Rentoul, who is Blair's biographer, has had two replies from the Ugly Rumours frontman about whether he indulged. "I didn't do drugs," was the first bald response from the man himself, followed by a more evasive line from Alastair Campbell, Blair's press spokesman, that "if he had come across drugs, you can be sure he would have inhaled". This dig at President Clinton's delightful obfuscation that he smoked cannabis but never inhaled may in itself be a smokescreen. Rentoul's researches showed that Ugly Rumours attended many a typical Seventies party, where joss sticks glowed brighter than conversation. But everyone who remembers the band also recalls that the young Blair was a terrible singer. This alone may have prevented anyone from offering him a puff, and salvaged his reputation for Shadow Cabinet battles ahead.
Andrew Davies should be resting on his laurels after his BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Would that he were resting on his laurels, and not trying his hand at literary criticism. Writing about P and P in the Daily Mail this week, Mr Davies ventures into a series of character analyses which I would advise all A-level students to ignore. Here is a sample. "Miss Bingley is, I suppose, a bit of a power bitch from hell, Lydia is a real goer but Lizzie and Jane are pure gold, two types of the ideal woman, depending on whether you like your girlfriend to be lippy or not."
I can't wait for his pre-production thoughts on the BBC drama department's next project, Jane Austen's Emma. You remember, Emma, frigid snob and Mr Knightley, boring old fart. And both decidedly lippy.
In all the Beatles nostalgia, one exercise tickled the fancy. The new edition of the London listings magazine, Time Out, speculates on how the world would have turned out if The Beatles hadn't existed. There would be no Linda McCartney recipes, Cilla Black would be an unknown middle- aged housewife, Charles Manson would have spent Christmas at home, Yoko Ono would have been a Turner prize-winning avant-garde artist, there would have been no summer of love, and we would all be in blissful geographic ignorance of the Mull of Kintyre.
The most seismic sociological change, though, is that skiffle would have continued to capture the hearts and minds of Britain's youth, not having been so rudely displaced by the Mersey sound in 1963. I am sure that had The Beatles not occurred, Lonnie Donegan would have become the "fab one", his washboard would be fetching millions at Sotheby's, and we would now be hyping the Donegan out-takes, claiming Lonnie is Dead by playing "Putting on the Style" backwards, and discovering heroin allusions in "Rock Island Line".
The bookshop as pick-up joint remains an unlikely scenario in Britain unless one is turned on by the scent of mustiness in the smaller retail outlets or vinyl plastic in the larger stores. But I'm told that the giant bookstore run by the publishers Barnes and Noble in New York is the hip meeting place for aesthetically inclined singles. Two aspects, both crucially absent from our own Waterstone's, Books Etc, WH Smith et al, make the Barnes and Noble store so conducive to romance. One is that customers are allowed to sit at a long table reading possible purchases for as long as they like. The other is that coffee and cakes are served. Whether this adds to the shop's turnover, I'm not sure. But it beats evening classes and late-night openings at supermarkets. And one can always say one has to make a quick dash to modern fiction and never return. Which is difficult at dinner parties.
Instead of complaining about discounting and the demise of the net book agreement, our booksellers would be better advised to make the shops more romantic. Armchairs, tea and cakes, mulled wine in the winter, maybe even a string quartet. Sales will go through the roof.
Channel 4 news staff working at the ITN building have received a rare visitation from Michael Grade, the channel's chief executive. The sighting followed reports that BSkyB had bid to replace ITN as supplier of Channel 4 News. Media analysts who speculated on the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of the Sky operation would have done better to speculate on that far more germane factor, the personality clash. Michael Grade loathes Sky's ultimate boss, Rupert Murdoch. And so, to quell the speculation, Mr Grade blew into the ITN building, summoned the Channel 4 news staff together, informed them: "I have written to Rupert Murdoch and told him to get lost," and blew out again.
Poor Mariah Carey. Well, not literally, perhaps. But, the American songstress has been singled out for unchivalrous attack by the chairman of the giant BMG record company, John Preston. Mr Preston warned at a radio convention that radio in London was in danger of becoming a "bland soup" of adult contemporary music playing nothing but wall-to-wall hits from the likes of Mariah Carey. I suspect her enormously popular middle-of-the-road melodies are simply not to his liking. It is a matter of aesthetic taste. I don't for a minute believe his disdain of her has anything to do with the fact that she lives with one of Mr Preston's rivals, the president of Sony Music, Tommy Mottola.
A new board game, Riotous Applause, comes on to the market today. It tries to weave together several popular parlour games. Landing on one spot means you have to answer a quiz question, on another you have to perform a charade, on another indulge in creative speaking, etc. I chatted with a leading games agents at the launch yesterday. He said he receives 4,000 games ideas a year. Only two of those make it on to the market. It is thus, he estimates, 100 times harder to get a game accepted than to have a book published. Perhaps instead of the struggling novelist, the new romantic anti-hero should be a destitute board-game inventor, sitting in a pokey bedsit, cold and hungry, forlornly shaking the dice in his trembling hands as his brain searches fitfully for inspiration. "I've got it, a race around London, buying and selling property, a satire on the whole capitalist ethic ... oh damn, it's been done."Reuse content