The Feral Beast: Close call at Russian Embassy

Every one's a cracker

Actors and conductors have been known to savage members of the audience whose mobile phones go off during a performance. So who on earth dared to leave their phone switched on as Valery Gergiev was unveiling the prestigious new Mariinsky II, at the Russian Embassy on Tuesday? To illustrate the calibre of artists and productions on offer at the spiffy new £400m opera house, Gergiev, its artistic and general director, chose to play an extract from Verdi's Attila, with the mighty young bass Ildar Abdrazakov in the title role. But as the Hun roared, there came that all too familiar buzz. Nervous hands frantically reached for pockets, but the truth was soon out: the phone was Gergiev's own. Easily done, you see, maestro.

Sound of silence

Art Garfunkel, one half of the great Simon and Garfunkel, has released a double CD of his greatest solo hits, called The Singer. It's a poignant moment for the 70-year-old, as he has been suffering from stiffness of the vocal cords for the past two years, forcing him to cancel concerts. But I gather there is an added sadness to the compilation, as he has been forbidden from including three key songs, at the request of his ex-partner Paul Simon, with whom he had a famously difficult relationship. When The Beast telephones to ask if that's the case, he confirms it is. "Correct. There's no Homeward Bound, no The Boxer and no Mrs Robinson. They were all going to be on there originally. But I held back their inclusion at the request of Paul and the label." So, will there be a follow-up including them? "It has to do with Paul Simon whether I can do a The Singer 2 compilation." Come on, Paul – it could be just the bridge this troubled water needs!

Saints alive

Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh was overrun with tourists after Dan Brown included it in The Da Vinci Code. Now, residents of the Warwickshire village of Warmington should brace themselves for a deluge of Archers fans. For it has emerged that theirs is the real Ambridge parish church. The secret got out on Radio 3 on Friday, when the Rev Canon Adrian Daffern was a guest on Petroc Trelawny's breakfast show. Daffern is priest of Bladon, Oxfordshire, where Winston Churchill is buried, and an enthusiastic organist. He revealed that when The Archers needs organ music for a funeral or a wedding, it's recorded on the organ at Warmington. It came about because that was the home of the late Norman Painter, who played Phil Archer. He was the parish organist both in real life and in The Archers, and soon after he died, Daffern got the job. "So do you get to go The Archers' Christmas party?" asked Petroc. "I've never been invited," he replied, "If anyone's listening, I'd love to." "Actually," added Petroc, "Given BBC cuts, I doubt there is one."

BBC scapegoat

The BBC has been criticised for not sacking anyone over the Savile affair. But it seems they did have one rather surprising scalp in sight – Meirion Jones. As he was the producer of the doomed Newsnight programme, you would have thought he would have been a hero of the saga. I hear that friends of Jones asked three journalists to write to the Pollard inquiry, to correct an erroneous impression that Jones had been leaking stories about the BBC's refusal to run the Savile allegations. Jones hadn't, but the BBC were clearly looking for a fall-guy, and Jones needed to clear his name, which he did. "The BBC was on the verge of making a very serious accusation," says my source. "They seem to have been more worried about the PR aspect than the actual allegations of child abuse." Hard to believe!

Sit-vac Hall

Stuart Hall, the veteran football commentator, has lost his column on the Radio Times after being charged with indecent assault. This follows his suspension from the BBC, where he presents on Five Live on Saturdays. Now the Radio Times, which was sold by the BBC last year, has dropped him too. Hall, 82, who faces charges relating to incidents from 30 years ago, is baffled when I call. "It's all a matter of conjecture," he tells me. "You'll have to ask them why [they've dropped me]." Hall became a household name in the 1970s and '80s as the host of It's a Knockout. He later bought the rights off the BBC, and made a fortune touring the show worldwide. Hall's column is missing from the Radio Times's Christmas bumper issue, despite the glut of football in the schedule. "It was an editorial decision, and we're not going to comment on the specifics of the case," says a spokesman. "We have no plans to use him until the court case is completed."

Life's just fine

So much for the world ending on Friday. The lack of an apocalypse left the 200 journalists who had flocked to the French village of Bugarach looking pretty silly. They were there to follow up rumours that aliens would be dropping in to save anyone on the mountain. But perhaps the aliens were kept away by France's famously fearsome bureaucracy: the mayor had issued a decree banning anyone or anything from setting foot on the mountain for the 72 hours preceding The End. One local was asked by a sniggering radio interviewer "So, what will happen if a defiant flying saucer appears on the mountain?" Without missing a beat: "He'll get an ¤80 fixed penalty like everyone else."

Paper plates

James Harding's departure as editor of The Times has sent a chill howling through Wapping, as tongues wag of a merger with The Sunday Times. But Rupert Murdoch knows how to keep the worker bees happy: I understand he has dispatched a team to go out and splurge £400 at Waitrose on goodies for all Times staff working on Christmas Day. The money has been spent on charcuterie, fruit, and a load of crackers. Not the tug-bang variety, but the ones you eat. A sensible choice – dry biscuits send a suitably arid message in these belt-tightening times.

Palace pox

Obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr John McGarry amused himself at a Buckingham Palace garden party by noting the visible medical disorders of the other guests. Writing in The Oldie, he reports there was a "thyrotoxic bishop", "an obviously acromegalic councillor", and royal flunkeys with raging dandruff. So far, so disgusting. But his most astonishing claim is that he spotted his "first case of tabes dorsalis for over 30 years". According to my medical dictionary, tabes dorsalis is described as "a rare neurological form of tertiary syphilis". Syphilis at the palace? Surely some mistake!

With one bound, I was online

The 39 Steps is to get a 21st-century makeover. An interactive version of John Buchan's spy thriller will go on sale in March. Faber has teamed up with software developers to come up with the concept, which is being billed as bridging "the gap between literature, film and gaming". The idea is to navigate your way through the story, interacting with it as you go. This will do no harm to the West End adaptation of the book, going into its seventh year. Fuddy duddies worried about a high-tech version should remember Alfred Hitchcock completely rewrote Buchan's book for his 1935 film.

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