The Feral Beast: Helena's secret passion

New gatekeeper, Mr Mitchell...

Helena Bonham Carter, Sam West and Michael Gove will be among those listening to the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy reading at Foyles in London today, confusingly, at the launch of a book based on an app. On iF Poems, you can listen to verses being read, or record them for others to hear. Now it's being turned into a hardback. According to Tim Burton, in The New York Times, Helena will be wanting to get home in time for Downton, revealing she's a fan. But is he? Bizarrely, he likens it to "a morphine injection". Yet another accolade for Julian Fellowes.

Gove eyes 'free Eton' for his boy

Boasting alumni such as Hilary Benn and Polly Toynbee, Holland Park School is sometimes known as the "socialist Eton". So there was much eyebrow-raising when Michael Gove made a visit to the London comprehensive last week, not in his capacity as Education Secretary but as prospective parent. I can disclose that he is considering sending his son to the school, as the Goves live in the catchment area. Gove himself was both state and privately educated, although most of his friends went to Eton. The move would be unusual for a Tory minister; figures show that 50 per cent of Notting Hill residents send their children to fee-paying schools. Controversially, the local council has just spent £60m on a swanky new building for the school. Only last year, Mr Gove was attacking architects for "creaming off" money that could be better spent on teaching. That should make him popular at the school gates.

Officer class

Actor Bertie Portal is much in demand for his plummy tones; he once starred in a Merchant Ivory spoof called Stiff Upper Lips. Earlier this year, he took a break from acting to row across the Atlantic, raising an astonishing £400,000 for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust. Giving a talk at the Royal Geographic Society last week about his heroic endeavour, which included capsizing and running out of oars, he revealed that he and his rowing partner, James Cash, would while away the hours by debating Bond girls. Despite his upper-crust credentials, he admitted the food he craved most during the 59-day ordeal was "not champagne or lobster but a cheese and tomato sandwich in really naff white bread". Asked which Bond girl won, he said: "Ursula Andress, of course."

Air Cate

Cate Blanchett dented her popularity in Australia last year, when she popped up on telly to advocate a controversial "carbon tax". The Oscar-winning star of films such as The Talented Mr Ripley is a committed environmentalist, but was dubbed "carbon Cate" after she started lecturing her fellow Australians, who are among the world's worst polluters. So what will her critics make of news that a British theatre troupe is flying out to appear at the Sydney theatre where she is co-artistic director? After spotting Sasha Regan's all-male cast at Wilton's Music Hall, she has asked them to take their Pirates of Penzance out to Australia next year. Blanchett is a fan of Wilton's, the shabby-chic east London venue, and is a regular theatregoer. Next year will be her last season in her role at the Sydney Theatre. Let's hope audiences are too wowed by the performers to make a song and dance about their air miles.

Biggins's turn

Christopher Biggins may be a favourite on the pantomime circuit, but he's less popular when he sits in the stalls. The larger-than-life actor was at the opening night of Sandi Toksvig's new anti-war play, Bully Boy, and spent much of the evening roaring with laughter. Though the play has its comic moments, the humour is used in a moving way, and those who sat near Biggins couldn't concentrate because of his guffawings. One theatre critic wrote afterwards: "Had there not been so many luvvie witnesses, I would happily have throttled him." It's not the first time Biggins has fallen foul of the critics: in 2006, Mark Shenton of the FT dedicated a whole blog posting to his "near-hysterical, hyena-like braying" at a first night, noting that "no envelope has ever been opened without him being present". Shenton added the same was true of Su Pollard, "a whole show in herself whenever she's at one (since she's rarely these days actually in one)". As it happens, Pollard was at Toksvig's play, too, screeching away. Is it time for her and Biggins to be put in a box of their own?


Nigel Farage hailed Lord Stevens of Ludgate as a "giant of Fleet Street" when he welcomed the Tory peer's defection to Ukip last week. The former Express chairman is now Ukip's third representative in the upper house. But for a newspaper man, Stevens can be surprisingly sensitive: he hates any reference to his late wife's book, Woman as Chameleon, which advised women: "Always kiss your husband's body, starting with his toes." When Melissa, Countess Andrassy, subsequently died by choking on a peach, The Daily Telegraph duly reported the toe-sucking in its obituary. Stevens threw an almighty wobbly, and it took some time before the Telegraph's proprietor, Conrad Black, could calm him down.

Put Downton

Viewers of last Sunday's first episode of the new series of Downton Abbey were gripped by the arrival of Cora's American mother, Martha, played by Shirley MacLaine. She and Maggie Smith compete to see who can produce the most withering put-down. But some were distracted by a brief mention of her surname: Leveson. What could Julian Fellowes be trying to tell us? That the man tasked with thrashing out the future of newspapers is about to put a rocket up the old system, just as Martha does at dusty old Downton? Let's not get carried away: her name is, in fact, Levinson. Still, have we discovered Downton's first nuance?

Hot chefs

Antonio Carluccio has thrown down the oven glove to Jamie Oliver. At the launch of a new branch of Carluccio's in Bath, within breadstick-lobbing distance of Jamie's Italian, the chef said: "If it were an operation for just churning money, I wouldn't be interested. I've kept myself away from the cheap circles who do publicity for supermarkets. I'm not earning the money, but, for me, it is more important to keep my standards and people's respect for my food." Carluccio, 75, opened his first restaurant in 1999, but this is the first branch in Bath, where Jamie's Italian has enjoyed enormous success since 2008. Carluccio is clearly enjoying the prospect of a peppery rivalry, saying: "When I came here 37 years ago I saw many restaurants doing Italian food but I call it Britalian. Spaghetti bolognese doesn't exist – it's tagliatelle bolognese." And will Jamie be welcome? "Carluccio's accommodates everybody who likes good food, good manners and good ambience." Buon appetito!


Andrew Mitchell's extraordinary behaviour could come straight out of a P G Wodehouse novel. Bertie Wooster is forever getting into trouble for insulting policemen, most memorably by pinching a bobby's hat. And his friend George "Sippy" Sipperly is arrested for assaulting an officer at the Boat Race. One little-known fact about Mitchell is that he was once a UN peacekeeper. But even Jeeves might struggle to get him out of this pickle.

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