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Dame Angela in a tight spot

Does the Government approve of late payment of debts, or does it not? It is getting mighty hard to discern.

As I reported last week, Michael Heseltine, the Deputy Prime Minister, has championed the late payment of debts to small firms (a method, he said, that kept his own publishing firm afloat), while the Treasury minister Angela Knight, in a speech last week, told small business owners that she disapproved, and was aware of "the problems caused by late payment of debt".

Now I have uncovered a letter - which Angela Knight sent to the director- general of the Confederation of British Industry - explaining about one particular late payer: Her Majesty's Treasury. There had been a drop in "prompt payment percentage", she admitted, but added: "This was undeniably regrettable, but not exactly the crime that it has been portrayed as."

It's all very confusing, not least to Labour's Treasury spokeswoman, Barbara Roche. She says: "Angela Knight on the one hand thinks late payment is a bad thing and on the other that her department's practice of paying a quarter of its bills late is 'not the crime it has been portrayed'.

"One would be tempted to comment that this was the perfect example of saying one thing and doing another."

What the Dickins ...

Though no fashion expert, I was, until yesterday, under the mistaken impression that Dickins & Jones, the Regent Street clothes store, boasted a clientele rather more Lady Thatcher than Lady Di. But never underestimate the winds of change.

This year, for the first time, Dickins & Jones will be providing the costumes for what is arguably high society's most fashion-conscious event - the Berkeley Dress Show. This catwalk display, held in April at the Savoy, marks the opening of the debutante season.

Never in its 44-year history has the show gone for such a "mumsy" choice. The organisers traditionally opt for trendier, younger stores, such as Harvey Nichols. The garments chosen usually hang best on 18-year-old models.

So why was D & J chosen this year? A conscious shift of image to reflect a more sombre, mature mood among today's debs, perhaps? Apparently not.

"Somebody on the committee knew someone here," a spokeswoman explains. She assures me, moreover, that a whole new range of designers has been taken on, so do not expect to see this year's debs decked out in A-line three-quarter-length skirts and bobbly cardigans.

Too smart to be a penguin

I see that class politics hasn't entirely vanished from the new Labour Party. The slightly "left of new" MP Harry Barnes was invited to speak in a debate at University College, London, on the motion "This House has no confidence in Her Majesty's Government." When Mr Barnes heard that the debate was a black-tie event, he refused to attend. He explains: "I accept that if you want to say something radical, wear conventional clothes. But the amount that people dress up in penguin suits is often in inverse proportion to the quality of their arguments."

As it happens, his absence probably won't affect the outcome. The motion has only been lost at the university twice in the last 167 years.

Postman last with the news

Book-prize winners traditionally celebrate their success at sumptuous awards dinners, followed by plentiful media attention and bookshop publicity.

But what happens to the losers? If the experience of the first novelist Stephen Blanchard is anything to go by, not a lot.

The Bookseller magazine reports how Mr Blanchard received a letter in November bearing the good news that he had been shortlisted for the Whitbread first novel prize.Some weeks later, he was on the phone to the Booksellers' Association to find out how his book's sales were going, and thought to wonder aloud when they might be making the announcement about the Whitbread prize.

An embarrassed official on the other end of the line had to break the news of the result that the publishers, the agents and the Whitbread organisers had all neglected to tell Mr Blanchard about.

If they couldn't manage a place at the awards dinner, a phone call would have been something. Or even a letter. Especially a letter, perhaps, as Mr Blanchard is, by day, a postman.

That's rich, 'Ambrosia'

There are few better examples of exaggeration, poetic licence and pure fiction than the quotes that producers rip out of context from newspaper theatre reviews to put on hoardings outside the theatre and in advertisements in the same amazed newspapers. Henceforth, the Eagle Eye will be trained on these unscrupulous half-truths that the world of theatre inflicts on passers-by.

What better place to start than the execrable Fields of Ambrosia, the musical about an executioner that closes after the briefest of runs and has been offering punters their money back in the interval.This flop boasts outside the theatre: "Stunning Score - Sheridan Morley". Mr Morley was indeed taken with the score, only surprised that it belonged to "this appalling musical". It also read: "You would be a fool to miss it" - Daily Telegraph. What the Daily Telegraph in fact said was: "The show is clearly doomed but you would be a fool to miss it. It is one of the all-time great bad musicals."

Shortage of space on the billboards, I suppose.

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