Diary

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The Independent Online
Hot news, if a little late, about the journalistic profession's own King Lear, Sir David English, editor-in-chief of Associated Newspapers. Last Friday he turned up in Dorset, to accept an honorary DLitt from the University of Bournemouth (which, although it's one of those phonus- balonus new universities, boasts a BA degree course in the inky trade). Sir David's connections with the town are numerous: he was born there, went to school there, had his first job there ... and was nicked by the police there.

As he told the thunderstruck audience, it was all because of a scam invented by his paper. To expose the laxness of security on British Rail, the Bournemouth Evening Echo sent its quaking cub reporter to the local railway station with instructions to pinch a few mailbags from the platform and return with his trophies. Unbeknown to young David, the police had coincidentally decided, that very day, to clamp down on petty theft on local transport. Lying in wait, they were delighted to see an obvious delinquent loading his van with purloined sacks, and arrested the miscreant on the spot. In court, English and the Echo were found guilty of "interfering with the Queen's Mail" and fined pounds 10,000, a whacking sum in the mid-Fifties. With massive chutzpah, the paper headlined the story "Bournemouth man arrested for train robbery", without mentioning that it was the Echo that had sent him off to do so.

Left-Hand/Right-Hand Ignorance Dept. Sheridan Morley, the ebullient host of Radio 2's Arts Show and omniscient commentator on all things filmic, dramatic and showbiznic, suffered an epic embarrassment this week. A month ago he was given the memoirs of Charlton Heston, In the Arena, to review for a Sunday newspaper, and panned it royally. Heaping scorn on the book, he reminisced about Heston's stage performance in A Man for All Seasons (in which "the most moving thing about his performance as Sir Thomas More was, in fact, his hairpiece"), mocked the "military efficiency" of the silver screen's Moses and concluded: "A terrible humourlessness pervades these memoirs ... he has never managed to shake off the image of a portentous head prefect." So far, so damning.

Picture, then, Sheridan's discomfiture on Monday morning, on learning that Charlton H was booked to appear as a guest on his radio show - yup, Ben Hur in person, sitting right there in front of him, seething with indignation, with only a microphone between them. It was, I suspect, with some relief that Morley received a curt message from the great man's press agent: "Mr Heston found your review at best unhelpful, and will not now be appearing on your show."

The consumer magazine Which?, with its happy blend of shopping advice and ghastly case-histories of personal suffering, is always an amusing read, though I sometimes wonder if they make it up. Now I know different. Two friends of mine, Alison and Andrew, make a star appearance in the next issue because of a horrible experience in a restaurant.

The place was a new centre for African cuisine in Deansgate, Manchester,and, along with four friends, Alison and Andrew went there for a birthday supper. No tables appeared to be ready for them, although they were the only diners in the place. They ordered starters and mains and couscous, then sat and waited. And waited. At length the first course arrived, but by the time midnight struck, the glories of African cuisine had still not appeared, and one couple had to go home to their babysitter. When the dishes finally came, they were cold as the grave, and were sent back to be reheated. The prawns rechauffees moved from frozen to overcooked and were like cotton wool. The birthday party began to complain. Then the bill was unceremoniously slapped on the table, service and all; it even included a charge for the couple who had decamped at midnight after eating nothing. The party refused to pay the full whack, and everything suddenly went ballistic. The female proprietor yelled abuse, then ran and locked the front door. She threatened to call the police but instead could be heard ringing a private "security firm". Then, from below the kitchen, three burly African plongeurs surfaced and took up threatening positions around the restaurant, with all the charm of the Gimp in Pulp Fiction. It was not a happy scene. Just as my friends were wondering if they were going to be mashed into a mirepoix of bone and tissue, the police arrived. The birthday girl went home in tears, a final hail of imprecations ringing in her head.

The name of the restaurant is Jowata's. It translates as "Wealth of Hospitalities".

The British tradition of silly clubs is going strong. I've just heard of the Useless Information Club, whose 40 members (they include Keith Waterhouse and Godfrey Smith) met for the first time at L'Epicure last week. After dinner, each member had to rise and tell the company some completely unexciting piece of news, something that could not possibly assist them on their voyage down the information superhighway. Some items were considered too interesting to be acceptable, and were gonged off (such as Waterhouse's reminder that when King Kong was released in 1933, it went by the title King Kong in every country in the world except Sweden, where kong means "king" and the film was therefore titled Kong King). Later, another diner informed the gathering that his mother-in-law's name was Gertrude. Unable to think of a thing to do with this datum, they declared him a worthy winner.

Ageing juveniles and character actors were out in force at London's Theatre Museum on Tuesday to launch Philip Hoare's life of Noel Coward. Among the crush in the plush were Nickolas Grace, fresh from the final Urquhart saga on television, Peter Ackroyd, the famously sober and restrained novelist and biographer, Ned Sherrin, the chortling impresario, and an anonymous female psychic who confided that it was her habit to send clay voodoo dolls through the post to people who displeased her.

Various Maughams, effete young diarists, wheezing luvvies and even Jane Birkin's mum (the first person to sing "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square") wandered through the museum's stately rooms and bore down on the beaming author.

Mr Hoare was beaming because his five years' devoted work had been rewarded beyond his wildest dreams. Graham Payn, Coward's devoted friend and executor, had just presented him with Coward's beautiful wristwatch, a Longines number with a strap apparently of beaten gold. Unfortunately, from where I was standing, it seemed to be 25 minutes fast....

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