The Feral Beast (7 July 2013)

On sexist rants, Kate's long-lost cousin, Thatcher's luck, Lendl's mum – and coffee enemas

Whatever happens on Centre Court today, one thing is certain: Andy Murray's game has vastly improved thanks to Ivan Lendl. The Czech former No 1 is credited with boosting Murray's confidence. But many had doubts the partnership would work when it was announced in 2011. Lendl was not thought to be a good communicator, and Murray had already had half a dozen coaches. Now the American tennis writer Michael Mewshaw reveals his theory behind it. "Lendl, like Murray, had a high-maintenance mother who got him started in tennis, but whom he needed to escape to reach his full potential," he tells me. "Lendl's mother had been a nationally ranked competitor whose career was cut short by Ivan's birth. She took Ivan to her practice sessions and tied the toddler to the net post. Later, as she coached him, their relationship remained so fraught that he tanked the matches they played and couldn't beat her until he was 15." Mewshaw, author of the acclaimed tennis book Short Circuit, adds that they also share a warped sense of humour. "Lendl has always been fond of jokes," he says, "but this went largely unreported because they were often aimed at journalists."

Correct use of the colon

Michael Gove has issued a reading list to civil servants at the Department for Education. He wants them to read the novels of Evelyn Waugh and Jane Austen to improve their writing style. Among his non-fiction recommendations is Gwynne's Grammar, by Old Etonian educationalist Nevile Gwynne. Gwynne is a colourful character: as well as championing the teaching of logic and handwriting, he is an enthusiastic advocate of the coffee enema. Evangelising on the effectiveness of this particular form of colonic irrigation at a London drinks party, he once enacted a partial demonstration. Never mind grammar – surely coffee enemas are what Whitehall's congested corridors need.

Lessons in busking it

Hats off to Libby Purves, who has been hosting Radio 4's Midweek for an astonishing 30 years. Ever the pro, she was unfazed when her star guest failed to turn up for the live talk-show on Wednesday. Busker James Bowen, who shot to fame after rescuing a cat, Bob, and writing a book about it, got stuck in traffic. Purves gamely carried on, processing her other three guests until James finally arrived, minutes before the end. It's not the first time a guest has nearly missed the show.

Another recent guest tells me her taxi drove to the wrong address, and she had no phone number to call. Should the BBC change firms? A spokesman says: "We use 15 or 20 companies, and from that list, the cheapest or quickest is chosen, depending on the job." One cab driver whispers that the BBC pays a couple of pounds less than other contractors, which will please those who attack the Beeb for profligacy. We've come a long way since the days of executives keeping the meters running over lunch. But are they going too far the other way?

Family secrets

The Duchess of Cambridge's baby will inherit the throne, whatever its gender. But female members of the aristocracy are still fighting for their right to accede. Among those is the author Lady Lucinda Lambton, locked in a legal row with her younger brother, the Earl of Durham, over an inheritance. Now, in a curious twist, it emerges the Lambtons are distant cousins of Kate through her mother's side, who came from the North-east. Much has been made of Kate's ancestry, which features miners and carpenters. But evidence has surfaced that her mother, Carole, is a direct descendant of Sir Thomas Conyers, who married a Lambton and had three daughters. The connection was made by Robert Innes-Smith, a former editor of Scottish Tatler. "They were flat broke, " he says. "Thomas met his wife in the Chester-le-Street workhouse."

Behind the scenes

The widow of the playwright Simon Gray, Victoria Rothschild, was among guests at the Faber summer party, who included Sir Tom Stoppard and the actress Fiona Shaw. To commemorate her husband's death, Mrs Gray has set up a literary charity called Give a Book, which does what its name suggests. Much chatter was about the shock literary story of the week – the dramatic toppling of Gail Rebuck and Victoria Barnsley as heads of Random House and HarperCollins respectively. Others had SW19 on their mind: Rothschild recalled watching Ivan Lendl play at Wimbledon in the 1980s. "He was a fantastic player," she recalls. "He had such a great bum."

Bit late for a recount

Karie Murphy, the woman at the centre of Labour's candidate-selection scandal, once posted a picture of Margaret Thatcher on Facebook and wrote: "Having a party when she dies." But she may have more in common with the Iron Lady than she thinks. When Thatcher's official biography was published recently, few people picked up on the extraordinary claim that she was originally selected for her seat thanks to a nifty-fingered local party official. Officially, Thatcher became parliamentary candidate for Finchley after beating Thomas Langton by 46 votes to 43. But Charles Moore's book features quotes from Bertie Blatch, the association's chairman, who said: "She didn't actually win. The man did, but I thought, 'He's got a silver spoon in his mouth. He'll get another seat.' So I 'lost' two of his votes and gave them to her." Moore goes on to write: "Thatcher probably (unknowingly) won her way to Parliament through fraud." How different life might have been.

Gentlemen of the court

Some raising of eyebrows over the BBC's Wimbledon commentary. Reporting on Murray's semi-final against Jerzy Janowicz, one unnamed live blogger wrote: "I'd imagine Janowicz is a fine lover – a big, bear of a man but with the hands of a miniature portrait painter." Blimey! Still, enthusiasm is preferable to sexism. During Five Live's coverage of yesterday's ladies' final, John Inverdale displayed his usual charm. "D'you think Bartoli's dad told her when she was little 'you're never going to be a looker'?" he is reported to have said. His remark was, no doubt, taken out of context, but the facts speak for themselves. Bartoli is a Wimbledon champion. Inverdale once captained a tennis team for the University of Southampton.

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