The Feral Beast: Red-faced over Hitch tribute
Something of the night
Sunday 28 October 2012
Christopher Hitchens was never one to shy away from controversy. Now, 10 months after his death, he is still capable of causing a rumpus, for plans to erect a statue in his memory have sparked an unseemly row. The British Humanist Association wants to install a permanent memorial to the late journalist and polemicist in Red Lion Square in central London. But the application has met with objections from Labour councillors. One, Awale Olad, said he would rather quit than allow it. "I would resign before I'd ever support the bust of a pro-war Islamophobe," he rants in an email to the BHA. Another, Julian Fulbrook, says: "My main problem is that Hitch left for the United States in 1981 so any link with Red Lion Square would have to be fairly tenuous." Red Lion Square was chosen because it was one of Hitch's favourite spots in London and next to Conway Hall, the scene of many radical debates. It is already home to statues of philosopher Bertrand Russell and politician Fenner Brockway, and has a memorial to a victim of the Lockerbie bombing. Fulbrook adds: "I also rather doubt that, in the long and possibly cruel march of history, any sort of case could be made out for Christopher Hitchens, even sporting his third-class honours degree from Oxford, as in your words, 'one of the world's greatest minds'." As he points out, central London is already full of statues to the dead, before suggesting some locations more relevant to Hitchens: "Portsmouth? Somewhere in the US?"
Felix Dennis has already as good as lost the thousands he put up as bail for Julian Assange. Now the maverick publisher has had his fingers burnt by another Australian headache, the down-under edition of The Week. I understand that Dennis has quietly pulled the plug on that venture, closing it only four years after it was launched. The magazine, which collates the best bits of journalism from the week, has been a massive success in Britain since it was founded by Jolyon Connell in 1995. But the Australian edition, launched in 2008, failed significantly to improve on its initial circulation of 25,000, and the 199th edition, out last week, was its last. Staff, who were putting together the 200th edition when they were told, held a wake for the magazine at a Sydney pub.
Letts have a go
George Entwistle and Helen Boaden may never recover their authority at the BBC, even if they survive the Jimmy Savile scandal. But who else can lead the corporation? Step forward Quentin Letts, the scabrous Daily Mail sketch-writer who threw his hat in the ring to be director-general back in January. "I hesitate to put my name forward again," Letts tells me. "Because the situation is so serious and I am so easily smeared by the Islington left as a joke figure. But the BBC this country loves must be wrenched out of the grip of the ratings chasers. Value-lite egalitarianism landed the BBC with freaky Jimmy Savile, and its bureaucrats are unable to see that ratings chasing and grottification form the path to hell. It gives me no pleasure to say that I was right – but I bloody well was." This newspaper first revealed Lett's intention to stand, and he submitted a formal application to headhunters Egon Zehnder, who were well rewarded for their search. "As for Egon Zehnder," adds Letts, "they should pay back all the money they were paid to 'find' George Entwistle."
A celebrated Wiltshire pub that starred in a BBC documentary, and was given a £400,000 Lottery grant, has called in the receivers. The Barge Inn at Honey Street near Devizes is a favourite among crop-circle enthusiasts, and has a room dedicated to the phenomenon. In 2010, it was taken over by a community group, which was seen as a potential model for other struggling pubs, and last year, it was the subject of an hour-long episode of Village SOS, hosted by Sarah Beeny, which followed the trajectories of six communities awarded Lottery money. But despite hosting a festival starring singer Laura Marling, called Honeyfest, the pub closed on Monday. The Barge Inn Community Project had used half the lottery grant to buy a 20-year lease. But chairman John Brewin says the summer failed to generate the revenue needed. "It's very sad," he tells me. "We had inadequate revenue from the day we started." They also struggled to register the business for VAT, which has left them facing a bill of £100,000. A Lottery spokesman said: "Funding this project did present some risks, especially as the group were a newly formed organisation that had not managed a lottery grant before. We felt these risks were appropriately balanced against the outcomes we were seeking to achieve: inspiring rural communities across the UK to take positive action to tackle local problems or answer local needs."
They don't come more professional than Nick Robinson, the BBC's political editor. But an anecdote in his new memoir, Live from Downing Street, shows how slick young things can make television a little dull. One of his first jobs was on The Pamela Armstrong Show, a long-forgotten daytime chat show. "One of my first jobs was producing a cookery item with the formidable septuagenarian Fanny Cradock. We had been warned that Fanny had always liked a drop of the cooking brandy. What we hadn't banked on was how alarmingly the pans would shake when she picked them up. I suggested to Fanny that the viewers would enjoy it more if we showed her teaching Pamela Armstrong how to cook. She spotted my ruse and protested that she'd never been so insulted in her life. I last saw her being carried off the set by burly security guards. What filled Fanny's slot I can't recall." She never appeared on TV again, and Robinson went on to become a master of the double entendre. But wouldn't we rather have seen Fanny rattle her griddles?
Art of fakery
Mystery still shrouds the question of whether the Queen knew Anthony Blunt was a spy when Master of the Queen's Pictures. Alan Bennett's play about Blunt's time at Buckingham Palace, A Question of Attribution, seems to suggest she did. In a key scene, the Queen and Blunt have this exchange. HMQ: "So if one comes across a painting with the right background and pedigree, Sir Anthony, then it must be hard, I imagine – even inconceivable – to think that it is not what it claims to be. And even supposing someone in such circumstances did have suspicions, they would be chary about voicing them. Easier to leave things as they are in every department. Stick to the official attribution rather than let the cat out of the bag and say 'Here we have a fake.'" Blunt: "I still think the word 'fake' is inappropriate, Ma'am." HMQ: "If something is not what it is claimed to be, what is it?" Blunt: "An enigma?" The truth could be stranger than fiction.
Wilde for the book, Gyles
Hugh Bonneville and Joanna Lumley were among friends of Gyles Brandreth celebrating the launch of his latest Oscar Wilde mystery. The party was at the Cadogan Hotel, where Wilde was arrested, and guests included the current gaoler of Reading Gaol. Brandreth told of his dismay at finding one of his novels in a second-hand bookshop in Paris, with a dedication he had written to a friend. "When this happened to George Bernard Shaw," said Wilde's grandson Mervyn Holland, "he bought the book, added 'with renewed admiration', and sent it to his friend again."
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