Literary London taken in by cluster-bombs 'fib'

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The Independent Online

Just when literary London had started to kiss and make up, along comes another scandal over the publishing industry's links to the arms trade.

Last month, AS Byatt, Ian McEwan and a dozen leading authors wrote to the TLS urging colleagues to boycott the imminent London Book Fair because its venue, the ExCel centre, also hosts Britain's biggest arms fair, Defence Systems & Equipment International (DSEi). The letter said authors would be indirectly supporting the sale of weaponry ranging from "tanks to cluster bombs".

At the time the event's organiser claimed this statement was untrue, and that Byatt and McEwan had failed to check their facts.

"There were no cluster bombs at DSEi," said a spokesman. "They were not displayed and not offered for sale. Reed Exhibitions has taken the decision to ban them from display, publication, or marketing in any form."

A month down the line, and this statement - which helped to persuade many leading authors to attend the Book Fair - turns out to have been a porky pie. The official catalogue for the last DSEi fair at Excel, in September 2005, has fallen into Pandora's hands. On page 182, a Canadian firm called International Custom Products advertises "aircraft deployed cluster bombs". Asked to explain this discrepancy, Reed Exhibitions said: "Our original statement was meant to infer that cluster bombs would be banned after 2005."

* Not for the first time, Sir Roger Moore's famous eyebrow is about to be raised quizzically towards the sky.

A fellow Bond veteran, Geoffrey Palmer, will this week launch a gratuitous and unprovoked attack on the likeable old smoothie.

With splendid disregard for the saccharine conventions of show-business, Palmer will use the TV show Grumpy Old Men to question Sir Roger's acting abilities.

The assault features in an episode of the forthcoming series that discusses recent developments in cinema. "In our day, we had actors that could actually act," says Palmer.

"There was Rod Steiger, Sidney Poitier, and Roger Moore ... Well, maybe not Roger Moore so much."

Friends of Sir Roger, who has no "previous" with Palmer, are mystified by the comments.

"Roger has never claimed artistic greatness," says one.

"But he's still got a knighthood under his belt, unlike that old bore Palmer."

* The left-wing journalist Richard Norton-Taylor, a former "firebrand," is on the verge of joining the establishment. He has applied for membership of the Savile Club, a swanky Mayfair haunt with stuffy rules that (among other things) forbid women from joining.

Splendidly, the application is causing some back-biting. "Norton-Taylor applied last year, but he hasn't been admitted yet," I'm told. "Word has it that he's been blackballed by right-wing members, who don't want a 'pinko' in their midst."

The man himself insists that the Savile is prepared to have him as a member, though. "I put it on hold," he says. "I'm still making up my [own] mind whether to join."

* The BBC is reluctant to let us forget the bad old days of Tory sleaze, so brace yourself for Shirley Porter: The Movie.

Our national broadcaster intends to buy the film rights to Nothing Like a Dame, a biography of the disgraced former leader of Westminster Council.

The screenplay will be by Deborah Moggach, who recently met the book's author, Andrew Hosken.

"For 2008, BBC drama is getting 30 famous writers to do films about each of the last 30 years," I'm told. "Deborah was given a year in the 1980s. She's asked, and been given permission, to do something on Porter.

"It'll portray her as a sort of Cruella De Vil character, who Margaret Thatcher actually thought was pretty pushy and ghastly."

Moggach's last film, Pride and Prejudice, starred Keira Knightley. But Porter is unlikely to be able to watch herself get the Hollywood treatment.

She now lives in Israel, having been convicted in 1994 of swindling taxpayers out of almost £50m.

* Victoria Beckham isn't the only bit of transatlantic "posh" to take the fancy of the American hip-hop svengali Damon Dash.

Sources in the booze industry report that Dash has become a regular customer of London's smartest wine merchants, Berry Brothers & Rudd.

He recently strolled into their store in St James's and spent a "four-figure sum" on vintage armagnac.

"It wasn't surprising to see someone spanking that much cash at Berrys," reports an onlooker.

"But the appearance of Dash's 'entourage' in such an olde worlde setting caused moustaches to twitch."

Incidentally, Dash - who hails from the mean streets of Harlem - isn't the only unlikely patron of the firm, official supplier to Her Majesty the Queen. Last year, I revealed that wine buff Johnny Depp was attending its "tasting" events.

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