Gambon, the Garrick and a row over 'favoured sons'

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The Independent Online

Last week, the club announced the result of the third Garrick Milne prize, a biennial portrait competition. A picture of Michael Gambon by the modish painter Stuart Pearson Wright won the £20,000 award.

This result has prompted accusations of a "fix", since Gambon is actually a member of the Garrick. The club - which keeps the winning work for its collection - now stands accused of using its prize to purchase cut-price pictures of favoured sons.

If true, this would contradict both the spirit and rules of the competition, which say that any painting can win the gong.

"Nothing in the rules says you must paint a member, but I could have told you months ago that one would win," says one (unsuccessful) finalist.

"It's a fix: the Garrick keeps a nice painting, and also now owns the copyright. They're using the competition to cherry-pick work they'd otherwise have to commission."

Five hundred artists entered the award, paying a £20 fee. Since it was inaugurated, only one winning entry has not featured a club member.

Despite this, organisers deny any fix: "Gambon won by united decision of the judges. Although they're all members of the Garrick, there's no policy that the subject must be one, too."

* Mariella Frostrup, a prize adornment to the judging panel of many a literary award, has developed mixed views about such gongs.

"It's all tokenism. How can you say that one book is 'better' than another? This is really all about marketing," she says.

"A prize-winner sells books, though I suppose if it draws attention to books, it is a good thing to that extent."

Frostrup was speaking at the launch of Salman Rushdie's Shalimar the Clown, which was itself eliminated from the Booker Prize yesterday.

Perhaps that was just as well, since - ignoring protocol that requires judges to keep views to themselves - the panel's chairman, Professor John Sutherland, had given Shalimar a glowing review in Monday's Evening Standard.

"At his best, he has produced some of the most sublime fictional prose of our time," he enthused. "Shalimar finds him, in my judgement, writing at his best."

Presumably, the good Prof couldn't get his fellow panellists to agree with him.

* The furore over Graham Lord's unflattering biography of John Mortimer hasn't died down quite yet.

Jenny Bailey, one of many former lovers unmasked in the book, is highly upset after Mortimer gave an interview to a Sunday newspaper saying he "could not recall" having slept with her. She has now written to the paper, claiming: "Mortimer would say that, wouldn't he?"

Lord has an interesting theory as to why Mortimer should seek to deny this particular fling, despite having owned up to all the others in the book.

"The reason for John's denial is that when he had the affair (she was 23, he 46) he was already married to his current wife, Penny," he says. "He's always pretended to her that he's been utterly faithful, but Jenny says this is quite untrue."

* The comedian Matt Lucas owes his "big break" to Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer, who employed him to bash a drum on the quiz show Shooting Stars.

By way of a return compliment, Lucas has just made a tribute documentary about their 1990s sketch show Vic Reeves' Big Night Out, to be released on a DVD of the programme.

Ironically, it emerged during filming that the (then-unknown) Lucas was originally unimpressed by the show.

"On the first night it was on telly, Channel 4 had 17 complaints," Reeves tells me. "I didn't know him at the time (we didn't work together until he was 17) but it now turns out one of them was from Matt.

"He'd rung up to say the show ought to be taken off the airwaves. Fortunately, he later became a fan."

* The sight of a pensioner, Michael Winner, wearing fishnet stockings and an apron (and speaking like a girl) in a car insurance advert has caused merriment in sitting rooms across the land.

Fortunately, the great man's new squeeze Paula Lombard has heartily endorsed the cross-dressing exercise. "I thought he looked great as a woman," she tells me. "He looked cute. Just like someone's older sister. He made a very authentic woman, didn't he?"

Lombard, 39, right with Winner, was speaking at the launch of the self-help book Everything I Know About Men I Learnt From My Dog.

Asked about the book's title, 69 year-old ladies' man Winner says: "I think it's rather an insult to dogs. Men are awful: arrogant, nasty creatures."

pandora@independent.co.uk

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