John Walsh

So there I was the other night in a decommissioned bordello behind St Martin's Lane, run by an epicene Argentinian with a lisp. A cool party is in progress, to launch a book by Michael Coveney, the Guardian's incisive drama critic. Its subject is the life and work of Mike Leigh, the celebrated playwright and film director, whose low-budget, low-key movies win awards and open film festivals these days.

By the wall is Jane Horrocks, the blonde-waif actress most famous for playing the dimwit secretary in Absolutely Fabulous and for peeing on stage; she is talking loudly about how she is to host the Hundred Years of Cinema celebrations the next day. Alison Steadman, aka Mrs Mike Leigh, legendary as the yelpingly awful Beverley in Abigail's Party, has escaped early, but Brenda Blethyn is acting as a kind of stand-in at the bar; she explains that now she has hit 50, birthday celebrations should go on for a week. Across the room, the nation's richest literary agent is talking to Jim Broadbent, who for some reason is swarthily got up to resemble a benign Basque terrorist. People speculate about the likelihood of Leigh's new film, Secrets and Lies, opening at Cannes. Richard Branson drifts by. (What is he doing here? Has he put money in the film? "No". Is he buying the publishing house behind the book? "No". Is he, ah, buying the club? "No". So what is he doing here? "I was on my way to play Perudo in the dining room...").

In other words, this madly successful little group of people are as far from resembling the cast of a Mike Leigh film as it's possible to be. With one exception. After orbiting the room a few times, Mr Leigh himself comes over and is introduced. I ask about how he likes the book and other, similarly Torquemadan enquiries. He is the most hangdog man I have ever met. In a sudden silence, I say, of course I'm a huge fan of yours (which is true). Life is Sweet, High Hopes, Nuts in May, I've seen 'em all. Mr Leigh politely raises an eyebrow. "In fact," I conclude, stretching the truth a fraction, "I saw your very first film. It was, um, um, let me see -" (Mr Leigh offers me no help) "It was... Miserable Gits."

It was not. It was Bleak Moments. There is no worse faux pas, when addressing a famous director, than to get one of his titles wrong. Mr Leigh regarded me with loathing. I let out a desperate, whinnying laugh. Somehow, in the middle of this Party, I had turned into Beverley.

Revelation of the year is of course the news that Denis Thatcher is not the man we all took him to be. As his daughter Carol's biography, Below the Parapet, will shortly make clear, he played up to a falsely buffoonish image of himself for reasons of political expediency. According to the Sunday Telegraph, Mrs Thatcher and William Deedes (the "Bill" of Private Eye's "Dear Bill" letters) decided between them "that if Denis were to be seen, not as the shrewd, high-powered businessman he was, but as a cross between a saint and someone too stupid to understand the affairs of state, it would protect him from being seen as an eminence grise."

Well, blow me down. It must indeed require the patience of a saint for a shrewd, high-powered businessman to allow the tenor of his life to be decided for him by his wife and a know-all journalist. But I welcome the precedent that the book sets. I can't wait to read You're Never Fully Dressed 'Til you Wear a Smile by John Prescott, in which the warm-hearted, fun-loving, folk-singing Labourite explains his cunning ruse of scowling like a man with a mouthful of cinders until his party gets into power; or Hark at Me, Eh? by Liam Gallagher, in which the mild-mannered lead singer of Oasis explains how he was forced by the rest of the group to abandon his PhD on Emily Dickinson in order to impersonate an ignorant yob with a lager fixation. Or Moonlight over Cordoba, in which romantic novelist George Steiner....

I think I know the real reason for Liz Forgan's premature departure from the BBC. Last week, several department heads received a stern memo from the management. We have found out (it said) that you have been allowing people to smoke in your office. This is directly contrary to BBC policy. You know smoking is banned in Broadcasting House. You are a nasty grubby little person with disgusting habits and - oh, all right I made the last bit up. But the memo concluded by warning that, if it Happened Again, miscreants would be "called to meetings with Personnel" and, I dare say, given a sound thrashing with a knotted rope.

It's not just the peremptory tone of the document (directed, incidentally, to culprits at the top of the corporation as well as the bottom) that bothers the Beeb staff. It's the discovery that their surreptitious snout- incinerations are being spied on by some unknown surveillance system. Ms Forgan, an enthusiastic long-term smoker, must have seen the writing on the fag packet.

Disaster strikes in chill-out land. The Academy Club, a cosy basement in the heart of Soho where I have lingered, down the years, over far too many bottles of Pinot Grigio, is on the move. The Club's owner, Naim Attallah, the former Asprey MD turned literary impresario, has cast acquisitive eyes on the Academy's Beak Street rooms and wants them for his corporate HQ. So the Club and its 850 members (current sub: pounds 100 and worth it) are on the street, looking for a new home and a new backer.

"Naim's putting up pounds 25,000 of his own to invest in new premises," said the Club's secretary, Robert Posner, "but we could do with a fatcat patron, who would of course become an immediate life-member...." Since the Club ceases trading after 6pm tomorrow, all Academicians and friends are now piling into the place to drink the cellar (wines chosen by Auberon Waugh) dry. See you at the bar.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine