The Feral Beast: Baroque around the clock

By royal charter

Listeners of Radio 3 have grumbled for years about "dumbing down", with the playing of shorter pieces of music and presenters who speak like primary school teachers. Now, there has been an explosion of anger against the BBC's classical music station, sparked by the Baroque Spring and a day dedicated to Comic Relief.

Listeners have taken to messageboards to register their complaints, many saying they have abandoned Radio 3 for rival Classic FM. "Well done Radio 3. You have now destroyed whatever vestige of a reputation as a serious arts broadcaster the station once had," runs a typical comment. Among the more cringe-making features was a Top of the Baroques popularity contest, and bulletins from a Smashey and Nicey-style pop station called Baroque FM. Radio 3 has become involved with Comic Relief in the last couple of years, even though it is not required to by the BBC.

"They're enjoying themselves more than the paying audience," said one listener. "Can anyone imagine any other serious arts broadcaster, in this country or elsewhere, descending to this level?" asked another.

Listening figures for Friday are not yet available, but a BBC spokesman pointed out they had received a lot of positive reaction as well, saying: "Once again, BBC Radio 3 was proud to contribute to Comic Relief's fundraising through a day of high-quality and distinctive programming ranging from Composer of the Week Purcell to Baroque poetry and live music of Biber, Handel and Bach as part of the wider Baroque Spring Season."

Farron first

Tim Farron has emerged from the bus crash of the Lib Dems to set himself up as a possible new leader. The 42-year-old Preston MP recently pulled the rug from under Nick Clegg by apologising for Lord Rennard and his alleged "octopus hands" before Clegg had a chance. But is the young Turk getting ahead of himself? For I can reveal that he has already fallen into the trap of so many ambitious MPs, by taking gifts from a dodgy donor.

New figures released by the Electoral Commission show that Mr Farron trousered £20,000 last month from something called Brompton Capital. This anonymous-sounding outfit is owned by a company based in the offshore tax haven of Jersey. Its chairman is one Rumi Verjee, the multi-millionaire founder of Domino's Pizza. Mr Verjee is an enthusiastic supporter of the party, having already given more than £750,000 since the 2010 election. While there's nothing wrong with the donations, as they are properly declared, they don't help Lib Dem pledges to crack down on tax havens.

Still, it's not all bad news for Tim. Mr Verjee used to send his cheques to Nick Clegg, and has even stayed at Chevening, the Deputy Prime Minister's grace-and-favour country home. Now he's sending them to Tim. No wonder William Hill have slashed Farron's odds to 2/1 to succeed Clegg.

Fox news

On the subject of donations, Liam Fox has taken £7,200 from one Mick Davis. Known as "Mick the miner", Mr Davis is the super-rich boss of mining company Xstrata, and a big player in the British Jewish community. Nothing wrong in that, except he was also one of the millionaires who bankrolled the mysterious Adam Werritty. Fox's odd relationship with Werritty cost him his ministerial position. Still, who can say no to a few grand?

Grim up 'orth

William Hague learnt the hard way that being trendy was not for him, after he was widely ridiculed for wearing a baseball cap and claiming to have downed 14 pints as a lad. But councillors in his constituency town of Northallerton have a lot to learn. Four years ago they peppered the town with signs that used a small "n" for northallerton, to give it a "dynamic modern image". Now, after a local campaign, the council has slapped a big N over the little ones. But at night, the new letters don't reflect the light, so drivers are welcomed to 'orthallerton.' One councillor sums up: "It has made us look a bit stupid and not literate in any way."

Pax vobiscum

Rare silence descended on the BBC's rolling news channel immediately after the Pope was announced. Was this a moment of deferential cap-doffin? Er, no. The announcement had been made in Latin. "Habemus Papam … Franciscum," droned the voice, but the budget hadn't run to a Classicist that day. No English translation came, but older viewers who knew their amo, amas, amat were already on to St Francis of Assisi by the time help was at hand.

Polo mince

Red faces are nothing new in hunting shires, but it's the polo fraternity that look ruby-cheeked now. Lord Vestey, owner of Cirencester Polo Park, has admitted his family meat business supplied horsemeat to the catering firm Sodexo. Never mind that his title is The Queen's Master of Horse. What about all those polo ponies he and the Royal princes – Cirencester regulars – get through? Once his meat business funded the polo. Now it could be the other way round....

Blue moon

Blur and Oasis will bury a centuries-old rivalry when they play the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday. Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon will appear with Noel Gallagher (left) in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust. But any fears that Noel might be getting soft in his dotage are allayed in Shortlist: "I must have been asked to write songs for people about 20 times. 'Hey man – we should write some songs together.' Fucking write your own songs! I spent 46 years busting my arse to get here, slaving over a line in a song for a month. So no, I won't fucking write a song with you, you little prick. Fuck off!" A vintage performance.

Not so Klassy

Ping! A "newsflash" about Myleene Klass. The pianist-turned-sex kitten is promoting a new lotion. It's called Steam Cream, and she uses it "every day and everywhere". Really? "Even the most sensitive skin benefits from its calming ingredients," pants the email. "It can be used on the body, hands, feet and everywhere in between." Stop! Does Myleene have any class left?

Job done!

A victory for the Beast. Last week I revealed how celebrated novelist Sam North had been sacked from Exeter University's English department. Two days after my story, it reinstated North and promoted him. As he says: "On Thursday afternoon I was dismissed and given three months' notice; on Tuesday morning I was offered a permanent Senior Lectureship on the Education and Scholarship strand. I'm delighted, obviously, that in the intervening days the university sought and found a solution!" Happy to have helped.

Cover-up at the Courtauld

The Courtauld Institute is one of London's most venerable art institutions, but visitors have been alarmed to discover it takes a less than respectful attitude to its own artworks. As my picture shows, sculptures flanking the entrance have been kitted out with patriotic knitted sportswear. The Courtauld has in the past been criticised for its overenthusiastic restoration of paintings. "Perhaps there is a connection between the Courtauld's restorers and what the teaching staff do to the casts?" sniffs my source. Or maybe the students just thought they looked a bit chilly.

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