A question of etiquette, and a £35 party invitation

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The Independent Online

Chroniclers of manners and etiquette risk mockery should they commit a social faux pas.

Step forward the writer and BBC Radio 4 broadcaster Simon Fanshawe, a former presenter of That's Life!

In June he published The Done Thing: Negotiating the Minefield of Modern Manners, a well-received guide criticising boorish rudeness and etiquette snobs alike.

Several friends of Fanshawe were surprised, then, upon receiving invitations to his 50th birthday in Brighton in the new year, to be asked to cough up £35 for the pleasure of attending.

"I'm thinking about sending a Debrett's-style reply beginning, 'Thank you for your invoice'," chuckles one.

It is only courteous to call Fanshawe to see how this fits into 21st-century civility. His initially pleasant demeanour erupts without warning. Readers of a nervous disposition should look away now.

"Would you please fuck off and tell me who gave this to you? How dare they! Would you please tell me who the fuck it is?" Pandora politely declines to do so.

"I don't give a shit what they are laughing at," he continues. "You can fucking tell them they need not come. They're not welcome. Please tell them." (Presumably Pandora won't be asked to take the ex-guest's place?)

Fanshawe calls me back later: "I was so shocked. I want to apologise for my reaction. It's a bit like when you go to a party and think you know everybody, then someone's handbag gets stolen.

"It's a big, private party with food, drink and a band. If I was a millionaire I'd pay for it all, but sadly I'm not."

Sorry for asking!

Spitting image gives Portillo the hump

Phwoar! Check out the eyelashes on that! Etc.

Still no word from the celebrated naturalist and former child actor (in a Ribena advert) Michael Portillo on his liaison last week with Teifet, "the best known camel in Britain".

"Teifet is very laid back," says the beast's owner. "Michael had ridden a camel before so he didn't seem fazed by it."

Repeated, quizzical calls to the political pundit (who has tracked meerkats and now champions the hyacinth macaw) remain unanswered. Anything to do with one TV critic's description of him as a person whose "physiognomy seems to belong to some branch of the camel family"?

Says the would-be Dr Dolittle's assistant: "There's no way that Michael is available to talk today as he is very busy travelling."

Balanced on a hump somewhere sandy in the fierce glare of the desert sun, of course.

'Oona's out of the race'

Last month, Pandora revealed that Dr Rupa Huq, sister to Blue Peter presenter Konnie, is angling for the Labour nomination to fight George Galloway MP in Bethnal Green and Bow at the next election. Rupa would, a local activist reported, be "the ideal Bengali tigress to tame Galloway's pussycat".

Crucial to her chances is the withdrawal from the contest of the previous incumbent, Oona King. And it seems that Konnie may have let the proverbial mog out of the sack.

"Oona King is quite cool," says the presenter. "My sister met with her the other day and she says that she's so normal and nice and down to earth.

"Oona King's not going to run again, I don't know if that's known, but she's not."

Many thanks! Ms King did not return messages asking for comment.

Prop music

Three weeks ago, I reported that Lord (Dickie) Attenborough was to be petitioned by Britain's leading drama students over the proposed scrapping of the Props Department at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, over which he presides.

Rada's principal, Nicholas Barter, told Pandora then: "One or two alumni have certainly written to me."

So forgive me if I step o'er the bounds of modesty, but good news should always be celebrated.

"They were furious about the leak," says a Rada insider. "There was so much fuss that they were forced to tell staff in a meeting last week they are now going to preserve Props after all.

"We are relieved because it is pretty integral to tuition. And it's good to see them eat humble pie."

Alan being a right B'Stard

With just two weeks till the West End curtain lifts on The New Statesman: Alan B'Stard's Extremely Secret Weapon, yesterday's open auditions for the parts of Tony and Cherie Blair were always likely to be haphazard.

Lead actor Rik Mayall was unimpressed with the calibre of those who graced his stage. "Rik's exact words," says a spokesman, "were, 'They're shit.' He wanted people who looked good in bed, and didn't think any of them would be. Some didn't even look like Tony or Cherie. He will have to make do."

The 1980s stage play Anyone for Denis? - about the Thatchers' home life - received the backing of Maggie and spouse, who saw it and held a reception in Downing Street. Will the Blairs grant this new production their blessing?