The Feral Beast: Dust-up is more than academic

Playful, but with sharp claws
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The Independent Online

As bookish spats go, it's a hum-dinger. Historian Tom Holland has lashed out after his acclaimed new book was demolished by American academic Glen Bowersock in yesterday's Guardian.

London critics have lavished praise on In the Shadow of the Sword, which Simon Sebag Montefiore declared "unputdownable", and a "brilliant tour de force". But Bowersock, an ex-Harvard and Oxford professor, says it contains several factual inaccuracies, and calls the book "irresponsible and unreliable" for its conclusions on Islam.

Most damning of all, he suggests the book was marketed differently in the Netherlands "to profit from recent Dutch anxiety over Muslim immigrants".

Now, Holland has hit back with both barrels, dismissing the assault as a "de haut en bas display of willy-waving". He tells me he plans to publish a robust defence and calls Bowersock a "renowned academic bruiser".

"He is imputing motives to my Dutch publisher which he simply cannot know about," he says. "I find it deeply offensive. Most academics have shown great generosity to me, even if they do not agree with my conclusions. From his Olympian heights he thinks he has the right to squash the presumption of anyone who dares to differ.

"I can assure you that my publisher and I have gone to tremendous efforts to make the book as unsensationalist as we could."

An artist's rights are unsinkable

Re-releasing the film Titanic for the centenary of the ship's sinking was probably the easiest few million James Cameron has ever made. Except that he forgot about the Artists Rights Society.

The society has written to the millionaire director demanding compensation for his use of Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. A reproduction of the picture appears in a key scene, in which we see Rose, the heroine played by Kate Winslet, unpacking in her cabin.

This is cinematically important, as her ownership of a Picasso tells us she is rich and up-to-the-minute in her tastes. According to The Art Newspaper, a copyright infringement was filed after the release of the original film in 1997, and quickly resolved. But someone forgot to take the scene out of the new 3D version of the film. "Artists' rights have to be negotiated and cleared, and this is a new use of the work," says Theodore Feder, the chief executive of the society. We're all for artists being paid properly, but isn't this pushing it?

Yet another burning issue for Hunt

Another headache for Jeremy Hunt, as he struggles to keep his job. Upmarket fireplace-maker David Black has accused the Culture Secretary of failing to act over a controversial partnership he discovered between English Heritage and a rival fireplace-maker, to create "the English Heritage Fireplace Collection".

Black claimed the deal gave his rivals an unfair advantage, and broke competition law. His own company, Thistle & Rose, is based in the Scottish Borders and makes intricate, Robert Adam-style fire surrounds in wood.

English Heritage went into partnership with Acquisitions of London, but the tie-up was dropped in 2010. Now, Black wants closure, and has sent a detailed report to Hunt. "Mr Black's concerns are clearly a matter for English Heritage to address," says a spokesman for Hunt, "and we see no reason to intervene."

Note of discord in the Mumsnet household

A case of pots and kettles? Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts is outraged at being accused of having no "hinterland" by her own husband. "I nearly clubbed him over the head with a frying pan," she says, "because where does one find the time?" Clearly it struck a nerve, as she has set up the Mums-net Academy, a lifestyle school for child-obsessed mothers. Apparently she thinks they can chill out by learning pasta-making at £100 a day. Only in Islington.

But just how big is her husband's hinterland? Roberts is married to Ian Katz, deputy editor of The Guardian, who has spent 25 years longing for the top job. Now I understand he has taken up piano lessons. No doubt The Guardian's ivory-tinkling editor Alan Rusbridger will be delighted.

Latest stop on Humphrys' world tour

John Humphrys is back in Greece, ostensibly to report on the parliamentary elections for the Today programme. Only last November he was there to report on the eurozone crisis. This is odd because the BBC has a full-time Athens correspondent, Mark Lowen.

As it happens, Humphrys owns a luxury villa within driving distance of the capital. Last month, listeners were left puzzled by Humphrys' taxpayer-funded jaunt to Liberia. Large segments of the Today programme were made over to him describing the view from his mud hut. The BBC got rid of Ed Stourton for being too posh. What's the policy for when a presenter gets too grand?

Anything that Boris can do...

Rachel Johnson has been signed up to write a column for the Daily Mail. The former editor of The Lady has had more time on her hands since promoting herself to editor-in-chief, and has been in talks with Paul Dacre. Her brother, Boris Johnson, has a £250,000-a-year contract with The Daily Telegraph, the Mail's big rival. Dacre is known to have one of Fleet Street's biggest cheque books, but Johnson is being unusually coy. "That is utter cod!" she says when I suggest a Boris-sized figure. "I wish!"

Octogenarian adventurer drops anchor

An 86-year-old man who crossed the Atlantic on a raft has put it up for sale, to give someone else a go. Anthony Smith, the first presenter of Tomorrow's World, completed the 2,763-mile voyage from the Canaries to the Bahamas last year.

Before starting, he lost the ability to walk unaided, having been run over by a van. He named his raft the An-Tiki, after the Kon-Tiki, on which Thor Heyerdahl crossed the Pacific in 1947.

Fellow adventurer Robin Batchelor, who taught Sir Richard Branson to fly a hot-air balloon, and helped build the raft, is helping with the sale. "Anthony feels he's done the job he wanted to do," he tells me. "He's an amazing man, like a grown-up Tom Sawyer in his shorts." Bidding has topped £1,000, and it's got nine days left on eBay.

Charlie keeps his chin up

Charlie Brooks was in bumptious mood at the Ritz last week, when I ran into him at a glittering Tatler party. The racehorse-trainer husband of Rebekah Brooks deftly tackled the elephant in the room by mentioning it first. "The debate we should be having is, did the News of the World cause our celebrity-obsessed culture, or did our obsession with celebrities cause what the News of the World did?" When I asked how Rebekah was feeling ahead of her appearance at the Leveson inquiry this week, he quipped that she was probably more concerned about her three bail notices.