The Feral Beast: Broken by The Da Vinci Code

Headlining every week

Dan Brown and his publisher Random House have been sensationally accused of sending a rival author to an early grave.

Michael Baigent was left destitute after losing the case he brought against Random House for copyright infringement in 2006. Writer Graham Hancock says the protracted legal battle "cost Michael Baigent his life" – the 65-year-old author died earlier this month of a brain haemorrhage. Baigent was the co-author of a 1982 non-fiction book, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, which investigated the same conspiracy theories upon which Brown's later novel, The Da Vinci Code, is based. With Richard Leigh, Baigent's book explored the theory that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had had a child together. Brown's novel made him one of the richest writers in the world, but Leigh died soon after the case finished, and Baigent sold his home in Bath to pay the £3m legal fees.

His daughter Tansy said her father had to have a liver transplant because of the stress. "Since then he has been living in rented accommodation because he lost all of our money and had nothing," she said. Now Hancock, a writer and journalist, says: "In my opinion Dan Brown and Random House cost Michael Baigent his life by fighting this action all the way through to his utter financial ruin and allowing him to be deprived of every penny he had earned through his years of hard work, creativity and innovation... they have their hundreds of millions of dollars from the success of The Da Vinci Code but it is Michael who rightly should be remembered."

A spokesman for Random House said: "We were very sorry to hear of the death of Michael Baigent but have no further comment."

Discord

Musicians will tinkle out period tunes to accompany the National Gallery's new exhibition, Vermeer and Music. But art critic Brian Sewell has upset the tulip-cart by suggesting one of the paintings isn't genuine. Only 35 pictures by the Dutch master are thought to exist, of which five have been assembled: two belong to the gallery, while the Queen and Kenwood House have each loaned a piece. The fifth, A Young Woman Seated at the Virginals, is on loan from an anonymous New York collector. Now Sewell has dismissed it as "very doubtful", and says it must be discounted as "a tasteless mishmash" of those in the National Gallery. The painting, dated 1670, was bought by Las Vegas billionaire Steve Wynn for £20m, but has since changed hands. "The gallery must be rebuked for lending credibility to so nasty an imposter," Sewell sniffs. But Betsy Wieseman, Curator of Dutch Paintings at the gallery, strongly defends it when I call. "[It] is considered an authentic work by Vermeer for good reason," she tells me. "Over the past several years it has been subject to rigorous technical examination and expert assessment. The materials and techniques used in the painting are identical to those found in other works by Vermeer of the period; indeed, the canvas on which it has been painted is from the same bolt as Vermeer's painting The Lacemaker, in the Louvre." So it's Double Dutch ….

Minor miracle

Rumours reach me that cost-cutting at the BBC could see the end of Choral Evensong on Radio 3. According to my man in the pews, the broadcast from a different place of worship each week is expensive to make, and managers have toyed with axing it. All areas of the BBC are currently under pressure to make savings in their output. But losing the Wednesday afternoon service, repeated on Sundays, would be a major break with tradition: the first radio evensong came from Westminster Abbey in 1926, making it the longest running outside broadcast in the world. "No decision has yet been reached, but it's on the cards," whispers my source. But a spokesman denies it: "Radio 3 has no plans to cancel Choral Evensong. We remain committed to reflecting choral evensongs from across the country each week." Phew!

Reds and blues

When Fiona Millar ruled herself out of the race to succeed Glenda Jackson as Labour candidate for Camden, some wondered if it could be because of negative associations of her husband, Alastair Campbell. Now the husband of Sally Gimson, who is running for the seat, has sought to make clear he will have no influence over his wife.

Writing to the Camden New Journal, Andrew Gimson, a high- profile Tory journalist, says: "You suggest people might think it a drawback for Sally Gimson to be married to me. So I would like to reassure any of your readers … that although I have Tory tendencies I have been unable, in the last 21 years, to change a single one of Sally's political opinions." Sounds like a healthy marriage!

Write-off

Much intrigue has surrounded the mass exodus of staff from Granta, the literary mag owned by Swedish billionaire Sigrid Rausing. Several editors suddenly left last month without explanation. Now, Rausing has sought to quell speculation about an uncertain future, and says she will be taking over day-to-day running of the business.

"John Freeman, editor of Granta magazine, has decided that it's time for him to go," she writes in a blog. "Deputy editor Ellah Allfrey, after thinking long and hard about it, sadly also decided to go. A few other people are leaving, some because of redundancies, others, coincidentally, to go to other jobs elsewhere. It's a big shake-up. Some of it was planned and some of it wasn't." Several weeks since the upheaval, she admits she is still looking for a new editor-in-chief. Surely someone wants to work there?

Lemon balm

Jeanette Winterson was only 23 when she wrote Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. Thirty years on, she has written a story about lemons, which appears in the magazine Stylist. They commissioned four writers to pen stories inspired by "the latest summer scents". Winterson struck lucky: she was sent a bottle of Granada Eau de Parfum by Oscar De La Renta, retailing at £105. Her story is about the sea, lemon trees, sex on the beach and, er, perfume! Isn't life grand?

Pas de gays

Our man in Paris, Peter Ricketts, is flying a rainbow flag over the British embassy this weekend, in support of the city's gay pride march. But no such gesture is taking place at the French embassy in London. "I know nothing about this," shrugs a baffled receptionist when I call. Nul points! Only 20 years ago, then prime minister Edith Cresson caused much smirking when she said 25 per cent of Englishmen were homosexual. Now Parisians are much more relaxed: they have legalised gay marriage before us, and have their first gay mayor. Give it a few years and they'll be drinking English wine. Now there's a real vice anglais.

Cheryl at 30 – it's the XXX factor

Happy birthday to Cheryl Cole, 30 today. The former Girls Aloud singer is said to be celebrating in Los Angeles with her boyfriend Tre Holloway, and has flown friends Kimberley Walsh and Nicola Roberts out there to "down champagne and shots". Sources say Cheryl is happy to have reached this landmark, but one wonders why she felt the need to flee the country. Her time in America hasn't always been happy: in 2011 she was sacked from X Factor after viewers were left puzzled by her Geordie accent. At least "champagne and shots" is part of the universal language.

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