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.

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Sport
The giant banner displayed by Legia Warsaw supporters last night
football Polish side was ejected from Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
news
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

£50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Junior Analyst - Graduate - 6 Month fixed term contract

£17000 - £20000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

SAS Business Analyst - Credit Risk - Retail Banking

£450 - £500 per day: Orgtel: SAS Business Analyst, London, Banking, Credit Ris...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone