Media Diary: Matthew Norman

What a Dickens of a scriptwriter!
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The Independent Online

Little has given this column more satisfaction lately than the shining of the spotlight once more on that absurdly underrated renaissance man Mike Read. You'll have read in Friday's newspaper that the one-time Radio 1 warhorse hopes to revive Oscar, his Wildean musical which closed after one performance on the London stage in 2004, off Broadway.

And that isn't the half of it. "I'm a very long way down the road with my Great Expectations movie," reveals this musical David Lean manqué. "I've finished the 20th draft." This sounds intriguing. "Well, it's a natural follow-up to Oliver! No one's done Oliver since Oliver!" Did Polanski not have a crack? "Yes, and that was fine, but it wasn't a musical. In fact, I've talked to Roman about directing my film. He read the script and was very keen. But there are problems with him getting into the US or Britain."

Ah, of course, that conviction, in absentia, for unlawful sex with a minor, and the danger of being extradited from here. "Mm. So now I'm turning to Stephen Frears. I've spoken to his people." Well, he's a hot property since The Queen. "Yes. And I gather Helen Mirren can sing a bit. She'd make a great Miss Haversham." Ever the hard nosed realist when it comes to his career, Mike acknowledges the difficulty of turning even the strongest score and script into a movie, but we wish the Stephen Sondheim du jour the very best. In the meantime, he can be heard each weekday, in the Essex area, broadcasting on The Big L, the station cited above a building society office in the coastal town of Frinton-on-Sea.

* WHEN HE'S not doing that, Ready's in town helping Boris Johnson's mayoral campaign. He was a runner for the Tory nomination himself, before selflessly withdrawing for the good of the Party, and is bullish about Boris's chances. The problem for Boris, it seems to me, is that the bullishness is justified. Boris is now joint favourite with Ken Livingstone. And yet, and yet ... a feeling in my bones says that London Mayor – a highly technical, demanding job that would cost him the best part of £500,000 per annum in lost income from his newspaper and after dinner speaking work – is the last thing in the world Boris wants to be; that his primary intent is to lose with enough honour to rebuild his front-bench career; and that if he looks like winning as 1 May approaches, he will contrive one of those hilarious gaffes to ensure that he doesn't.

* IF THAT seems far fetched, please remember that I am the talented soothsayer who a) foresaw that Boris wouldn't run at all; and b) confidently predicted, on the comment pages 10 days ago, that Hillary Clinton would deliver a graceful concession speech last Wednesday after her fatal loss to Obama in Texas. So think on.

* EARLY IN the new year, we expressed concern for Nigel Newton, the preppy American who runs Bloomsbury from London (directly modelled on the Dan Aykroyd character in Trading Places, he is thought to have sung in an Ivy League barber shop choir). Life after Harry Potter isn't easy for the publishing house, what with profits warnings and all, and Nigel's ability to handle the stress remains in doubt. His MD in the US has hurriedly departed, as has her deputy, and Nigel will want to reassert a grip forthwith. Still, the man who paid a fortune for David Blunkett's straight-to-bargain-bin memoir has learnt the value of thrift. Bloomsbury's Christmas party was a bring-your-own-bottle affair. Touch wood there are enough staff left to justify holding another.

* DISTRESSING NEWS, in the lead item of his Sun column, that the parking fee at Kelvin MacKenzie's Surrey railway station has ballooned from £3.50 to a fiver a day. Kelvin is right to rail at Elmbridge Borough Council for "this disgraceful rise", especially when "nearby Wraysbury station doesn't charge at all." What's so perplexing here is the refusal of Kelvin's MP Philip Hammond, whose other economic duties begin and end with being George Osborne's No 2 in the Tory treasury team, declines to concern himself with the scandal. Will these people never learn?

* SONY RADIO awards organisers are directed to last Thursday's Today programme. At 7.12am, discussing the Liberal Democrat referendum vote disaster of the previous night, Jim Naughtie ridiculed the idiotic notion that he struggles with the distinction between interviewer and interviewee with such casual elegance that the engraver might as well start work on his golden mic now. When his interviewee posed a rhetorical question, Jim leapt into answer it only to be interrupted. "Hang on, you've put the question, let me ..." said Jim, keeping any trace of rancour from his tone. Quite magnificent.

* RETURNING TO the revival of Mike Read's Oscar, finally, a word to the management of the Shaw Theatre on the distant outskirts of Islington, where the musical was originally staged. The reason the 2004 run narrowly failed to challenge The Mousetrap by extending into a second performance, so Ready reminds us, was serious technical problems with the sound. The Shaw happens to be the London venue for favourite columnist Jon Gaunt's Q&A roadshow. If there is any hint of a repetition on 27 April, the night of our Leftie Liberals For Gaunty outing, I will not be answerable for what ensues.