Hunt lobby accuses National Gallery of 'rewriting history'

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* They've been enraged by figures from across the celebrity spectrum, but now the hunting, shooting and fishing lobby has its most unlikely target yet: the urbane National Gallery director, Charles Saumarez Smith, left.

* They've been enraged by figures from across the celebrity spectrum, but now the hunting, shooting and fishing lobby has its most unlikely target yet: the urbane National Gallery director, Charles Saumarez Smith, left.

Later this month, Saumarez Smith's gallery launches an exhibition of paintings by Britain's greatest equine artist, George Stubbs. Strangely, not a single scene of hunting has been included among its 67 pictures.

An epic row is now in the offing with critics, led by Country Life magazine, accusing the gallery of "rewriting history".

Yesterday, the Country Life editor, Clive Aslet, blamed an attempt to suck up to the Government and "second guess" its agenda for the arts.

"Charles Saumarez Smith of course said he didn't know anything about this policy. But we know it exists, because one of his press officers talked to us about the exhibition, and said they couldn't possibly use hunting scenes because they'd offend people."

In a statement, the National Gallery said: "In the context of this exhibition, where many private owners have lent with generosity, difficult choices have had to be made concerning which pictures to request."

* Amid the back-slapping, Sir Elton John bowled a little-noticed "googlie" to Sir Bob Geldof at this week's Live8 press conference.

Noticing that Geldof is keen to get the Pope to turn up to his G8 protest in Edinburgh, John launched into a criticism of the Vatican's role in world affairs.

"I just wanted to ask about the involvement of the Church, and the Catholic Church in particular," he said.

"I mean, when you take into consideration their views of contraception, and how this affects the spread of Aids, and therefore, well, it adds to the general poverty of this region, doesn't it?"

Geldof nimbly dodged the question, but there are growing signs that John - who is due to headline the Live8 concert in London - won't be happy letting it lie.

Yesterday, John's publicist told me that, aside from the HIV issue, "there's also the issue of the Pope's views on the gay fraternity".

* I hope David Lodge isn't about to find himself on the receiving end of a noisy student "protest". To my surprise, the influential novelist, right - who moonlights as an academic - has come out in support of tuition fees.

"At the moment, people who could afford to pay are getting away with it," he said at a party organised by Penguin.

"Where I teach, some students turn up with money, cars and so on. Some are very affluent, and it seems to me that we can't keep up a decent standard of education and expand intake with the system as it is."

Unless we learn from France, home of student unrest. "In Europe, there are these giant lecture halls, filled with hundreds of students," he adds. "But you'll never catch sight of a lecturer."

* Melvyn Bragg provides a touchingly literary response to the demise - reported by Pandora yesterday - of the National Academy of Writing. As the president of the organisation, he admits: "Things ain't what we'd hoped they'd be".

"It really is very sad," he writes. "This was to be a truly democratic entry point, and as such has been seized on by many aspirant writers.

"A number of generous novelists and poets have given time and energy to it, but down in the engine room, the oil seems to be running out."

Elsewhere, the academy's demise is blamed on the decision to locate it in the cultural power house of Birmingham. "I'm not quite sure what they wanted to achieve by having its headquarters here," says local councillor John Alden.

* Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat president, has fallen victim to the petty crime-wave afflicting London's chattering classes. In Bermondsey recently, a young male (possibly wearing a "hoodie") relieved Hughes of his rubber charity wristband.

"I was wearing it to support proportional representation," he says. "He looked me in the eye and asked if he could have it. I thought 'the more, the merrier,' so parted with it."

Hughes - speaking at the Sternberg Interfaith Awards - currently sports no fewer than three rubber bands on his trendy wrists. They endorse electoral reform, support for the homeless, and Make Poverty History.

Asked about reports that the latter have (oh, the irony!) been made in Third World sweatshops, he adds: "I'm wearing it with a certain amount of trepidation, but we have to see if there's any proof."

pandora@independent.co.uk

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