Bennett's 'History Boys' gets the royal treatment

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Alan Bennett denies being an off-with-their-heads republican and even admits to having a "soft spot" for the odd (dead) monarch.

The Leeds-born writer's anti-establishment credentials are, in truth, impeccable. Most famously, he turned down a CBE and a knighthood for services to literature.

Student contemporaries at Oxford fondly remember Bennett's "My husband and I" lampooning of the Queen's Christmas speech, and when Her Maj came to see the groundbreaking revue Beyond the Fringe in 1961, he refused to excise the word "erection" from one sketch.

While age has sharpened his quill it has mellowed his radicalism, however. Because on 2 October, the film version of his award-winning play The History Boys will receive royal premiere treatment in London's West End.

Prince Charles and Camilla will greet paparazzi on the red carpet to endorse the flick, according to Variety.

Clarence House says it is unconcerned with Bennett's political leanings. "The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall saw The History Boys at the National Theatre and they thoroughly enjoyed it," explains a spokesman. "It is a gala premiere to raise money for the Prince's Trust."

Should the prince and the playwright find themselves awkwardly silenced as both reach for the same mini-tub of ice cream during the interval, HRH might care to ask Bennett why, in his play A Question of Attribution he portrayed Charles's ma as lacking taste. Fight!

Parliament pooches vie for top dog crown

Dog owners occasionally clash over tangled leads or a disputed deposit in the park, but Westminster Dog of the Year 2006 is, of course, a more cerebral affair.

"The competition is not about pedigree or political allegiance; it is good deeds that matter," explains a lady from the Dogs Trust. "We are open to journalists for the first time."

The political editor of The Sun, George Pascoe-Watson, leads the pack with four Irish Setters. And I hear that a controversial challenger has emerged in Elinor Goodman, the former Channel 4 political editor, with her Pointer, Florrie. "I hope Week in Westminster qualifies us," says Goodman, no longer a member of the Lobby.

Away from Westminster the hound has difficulty behaving, swinging from curtains and chewing through telephone wires. Behaviour not alien to some of Parliament's more colourful Homo sapiens.

New chapter for Haddon

Mark "don't mention the Curious Incident" Haddon has enjoyed the commercial success escaping many fellow authors, which affords him the luxury of dismissing the Booker Prize.

"Julian Barnes called it posh bingo, and I've benefited from not being on the shortlist more than I would have done being on it," he tells me at the Edinburgh Book Festival. "John Carey [chair of judges] made such a fuss about me being left off last year it was great publicity."

Haddon soon begins a two-month residency at the National Theatre. He has two play ideas, one of which "will definitely involve puppets".

And the writer has completed a BBC film, Coming Down the Mountain, about a boy who wants to kill his Down syndrome brother. "It will be funnier than you think," he promises.

Panto rant

Pantomime promoters ought to pay attention to that wise old crack, "He's behind you!" Talk about biting the hand that feeds you: comedian Norman Pace has unleashed an anti-panto rant.

"Anyone who says they love doing panto is lying," he steams. "You're doing four shows a day, at Christmas, which is the last time you want to be away from you family. Plus you usually get an infection and the kids heckle you.

"Celebrities do it for the money. A big star can make £100,000."

So ... you can see stormin' Norman as the villain in Aladdin at Eastbourne, from 15 December.

Tebbit teaser...

Unlike a bar of soap, Lord Tebbit foams more, not less, as he ages. In July, the peer, concerned about the supply of condoms in prisons, asked Her Majesty's government: what sexual activities are lags allowed to indulge in?

I'm unsure what level of detail Tebbit had hoped for, but he now has a reply from the fragrant Baroness Patricia Scotland QC - the lady who reduces Conservative peers to cooing. Sexual activity by prisoners "is neither condoned nor encouraged," she tells Tebbit, "as this would be inconsistent with the facts and purposes of custody". Sex in prisons is a reality, Scotland pointedly adds, and condoms are provided to "preserve the individual's health" rather than encourage promiscuity.

Someone open the doors to the Lords - it's getting steamy in there!