The Feral Beast: Stop press! Call the midwife!

Gripping yarns

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The Independent Online

Alexandra Shulman says she bans staff from working from home, claiming people are more productive in the office. But the Vogue editor omits to mention the origins of her hardline position. According to my source in the Vogue House loos, Shulman owes a lot to a particular episode of "presenteeism" early in her career. In 1984, Shulman was a 26-year-old features assistant on Tatler. Mark Boxer, then editor, was apparently unenamoured by her scowling presence, and suggested she might do better by filing articles from home. But her parents said on no account: Milton Shulman and Drusilla Beyfus, both journalists, knew that not being in the office meant you were soon forgotten and sacked. So Shulman ditched the surly face and stayed. Within months she was promoted to features editor, and presided over Tatler's infamous sex issue. A job at the Sunday Telegraph followed and she was later made editor of GQ. No doubt some of her mother's work ethic rubbed off on her. Beyfus once wrote: "I was always working right up to the delivery room. I was certainly filing an article as I went off to the Queen Charlotte hospital to have Alexandra. Then I drank a bottle of brandy to disguise the pain."

Every good boy

Sir Tom Stoppard is a regular presence in the West End, either raising money for the London Library or attending one of his plays. But the eminent author is apparently not so well known by the Bufton Tuftons of the Beefsteak Club. Standing in the foyer of the Tory watering hole recently, he was mistaken for the coat attendant. Says my spy: "Being the gentleman he is, he made no fuss and gracefully carried on taking strangers' coats and checking them in." I hope they tipped generously.

Coy party

Hot-under-the-collar Lib Dems are so frightened of being regarded as perverts that they have banned a lingerie shop from advertising at their spring conference. Vanessa Locke of Brighton's She Said boutique, which is "more fur coat than dirty mac", according to Tatler, says she has been banned from putting leaflets into goodie bags at the Brighton gathering, which starts on Friday. "I contacted the Lib Dems to see if we could put our leaflets into the bags," she tells The Argus. "A very sweet lady told me that it would not be appropriate at this time." It comes as five women accuse Lord Rennard of inappropriate groping. A Lib Dem spokeswoman confirms: "Until the results of the investigation are known, we do not think it would be appropriate for these leaflets to be put into delegates' bags." It's bad news for business. "We know we do a great trade during all party political conferences so we thought it would be a great opportunity," Locke rues.

Bigger beasts

No word from columnist Bruce Anderson over the Lord Rennard affair. The wardrobe-sized Tory would normally be ready with an opinion on a Lib Dem scandal, but has written not a peep about the party high-up one wag described as a "human octopus". Some still recall Anderson's heyday as political editor of The Spectator, when he was a regular at the Thursday lunches. After one particularly well-refreshed occasion, Anderson conducted an inspection of the building's secretarial staff. Kimberly Fortier, the mag's energetic publisher, took control by herding Anderson back into the dining room and locking him in until the moment had passed. Given the sex scandals that followed, Bruce was the least of their worries.

Belgian sparkle

Apropos last month's diamond heist in Belgium, when robbers made off with $50m worth of gems from the tarmac of Brussels aiport, an intriguing twist has emerged. For it happened exactly 10 years to the week after an Italian gang stole $100m worth of jewels from an Antwerp vault. The 2003 burglary was the stuff of legend, having taken years of preparation, and cracking what had been considered Antwerp's most impregnable vault. The only glitch in an otherwise perfect crime was the discovery of a bag of rubbish containing receipts for tools used in the heist, and a half-eaten sandwich containing Leonardo Notarbartolo's DNA. He was convicted and imprisoned in the US in 2005, and film-makers toyed with putting his story on to the big screen. Now, the Art Hostage blog reports that he was released on parole in 2009, and flew to Europe on 29 January. There's no suggestion Notarbartolo was involved in the Brussels heist, but as it happens, he was in the city that day – under arrest for something else. Molto strano!

Table manners

Roaming hands do not only belong to obese men, a reader points out. She tells me of a dinner at which the late Anthony Burgess, author of A Clockwork Orange, was present. Towards the end of the evening, the woman on his left put her hand on his knee, signalling her intentions. Burgess, being happily married, had no intention of responding. As it happened, the woman on his other side had similar ideas, and soon slipped her hand on his other knee. Eventually Burgess, desperate to go to bed, put one woman's hand on top of the other and bid them goodnight.

Dr Who?

David Aaronovitch was rather pleased with his own joke on the radio yesterday: he said James Naughtie might have trouble pronouncing King Cnut. This was a reference to the time the Today host made a spoonerism of then Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt. But egos in studios shouldn't throw stones: in the same breath, Aaronovitch addressed fellow guest Antony Beevor as "Geoffrey". Beevor was too polite to pick him up, but the Beast has no qualms. Geoffrey Beevers is a Doctor Who actor; Antony Beevor is a well-known historian. Got that, um, Daniel?

Winston's cure

Diana Cooper's beauty and wit were legendary, but even she struggled to jolt Winston Churchill out of his notorious black dog moods. Her son, Venice-preserver John Julius Norwich, recalls an occasion when the Churchills came to dinner at the Gritti Palace off the Grand Canal, where the Coopers were living. "I'm sorry, Diana, but Winston's in a very black mood," whispered Clemmie Churchill on arrival. "And indeed he was," says Norwich. "Scowling furiously across the table, answering my mother's ever more frantic efforts at conversation with an angry grunt. His depression spread over the whole table, and before long we were all reduced to an embarrassed silence." The only cure was a glass of champagne, and five minutes later, Winston was singing music-hall songs. Norwich has plenty more anecdotes in his review of the refurbished Gritti in the new issue of Condé Nast Traveller. As for the hotel, he tells you all you need to know in a two-word pay-off: "Minimalists beware."

Moggach's best exotic Marigolds

Deborah Moggach hit the jackpot when her novel These Foolish Things was adapted for the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. But it hasn't gone to her head, says her boyfriend Mark Williams. At the launch of her book Heartbreak Hotel, he recalled how, after a festival he organised, the cleaners didn't turn up to tackle the temporary loos. Without a moment's hesitation, Moggach snapped on her rubber gloves and scrubbed them herself – all 30. Lottie Moggach, Deborah's daughter, has a debut novel out in July. I'm told she cleaned up too, after a bidding war between 11 publishers.