Irvine's Munchkin orgies rile disability campaigners

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The Independent Online

* Irvine Welsh is celebrating a noisy addition to the list of interest groups offended by his literary oeuvre. A month shy of its European premier, disabled rights groups have launched an unlikely campaign against the Scottish author's play Babylon Heights.

The show, which opens in Dublin, portrays the backstage "debauchery" of four of the "dwarfs" who played Munchkins in the film The Wizard of Oz. It has caused offence on two fronts. Disability groups reckon the script is disrespectful, citing PR bumf that describes: "wild Munchkin sex orgies, drunken behaviour and general dwarf debauchery".

They are also upset by the decision not to cast disabled actors in title roles. Instead, the set will feature over-sized furniture.

Supporters of the Restricted Growth Association, Britain's biggest such group, plan to picket theatres in protest at the play.

"This is just another example of the media ridiculing the lives of people of restricted growth, who are already disadvantaged," it says, in a statement.

"It's disappointing that theatre needs, for the sake of entertainment, to be disrespectful and irresponsible. If you changed references to people in wheelchairs, this wouldn't be allowed. Why is it allowed with people of restricted growth?"

Welsh's publisher, Vintage, said: "Babylon Heights in no way meant to ridicule any persons of restricted growth. If anything, it highlights the spirit of discrimination that prevailed during the filming of The Wizard of Oz."

* Like many before her, Demi Moore may regret doing business with Britain's clunking film industry.

A couple of years back, the Hollywood beauty said she'd be visiting London and Cornwall to make a thriller called Half Light.

Although the flick was eerily reminiscent of Ghost, Moore's greatest hit, it was not a successful career move. In the US, Half Light went straight to DVD. Over here, after three weeks in cinemas, it has amassed box office reciepts of just £51,300.

"It's a total stinker, probably the box office turkey of the year so far," says an industry insider. "Moore must be gutted."

It's a far cry from 2004, when Simon Franks, the executive producer, compared Half Light to The Others: "Demi's hoping this will have the same effect on her career as that one did on Nicole Kidman's."

* Selina Scott - still, after all these years, Pandora's favourite auto-cutie - has lost none of her bite. Asked to detail "pet hates" in a magazine interview, Scott, 55, lays into various (unnamed) male television presenters.

"So many shows drive me crackers," she says. "My particular bête noir at the moment is the elderly men who appear on history programmes, waving their arms around constantly to emphasise every point.

"I just think 'give me strength!' So much of television is celebrity-oriented; it's the 'look at me, look at me' syndrome I simply can't bear to watch. And broadcasters are as much a part of it as anyone else."

Scott, speaking to Heyday magazine, neglected to name the "elderly" broadcasters in question. The veteran arm-waver (and history show host) Peter Snow may view this as cowardice.

* Al Gore, star turn at this year's Hay Festival, will not be rushing back to the Welsh marches. That, at least, is the view of Vanity Fair's editor, Graydon Carter, who pitched up to watch Gore at the literary event.

"The organisers of the festival thought I might like to stay at an 'organic' inn nearby," Carter informs readers. "I came to understand that the term 'organic', when applied to a place of lodging, is code for scratchy toilet paper, thin towels, low water pressure, and spotty service.

"I further learned that they'd put the former vice-president up there as well. And that the bed in his room was a futon."

Carter's hosts are mighty upset. "He behaved like a bit of a pampered yank," said one.

* A footnote to David Cameron's criminal justice campaign, launched this week under the slogan "hug a hoodie".

Yesterday, ITV's press office supplied the Tory leader with a DVD of their new reality show Bad Lads Army.

Apparently, Mr Cameron's office asked to view the show's first episode, in which various ne'r-do-wells are made to undergo 1950s-style National Service training.

"We received a call asking for a copy to be biked to Cameron's office at the House of Commons," reads a press release from the broadcaster. "Perhaps the Tory leader has done an about turn on his 'hug a hoodie' campaign, and is considering the benefits of tough love for the nation's yoof."