McCall Smith told to stop beating around the bush

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* Alexander McCall Smith's No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency novels are light of heart and touch, jocularly detailing the life of Precious Ramotswe, the first female detective in Botswana.

The author has been dragged into an ugly row, however, over the plight of the country's Kalahari Bushmen. He is accused of ignoring repeated appeals to speak out on the issue.

Human rights campaigners say that the Gana and Gwi tribes are forced from their ancestral lands into camps, where they have little to do but develop alcohol and drug addictions and catch Aids.

Their homeland contains diamond deposits, over which the South African company De Beers has been granted rights.

Colin Firth and Julie Christie have campaigned on the Bushmen's behalf, and Survival International says it has written to McCall Smith but never received a reply.

"We are very disappointed that he repeatedly refuses to comment on the best-documented case of human rights abuse in the country he is always being interviewed about," said the charity's spokeswoman.

When challenged, McCall Smith said there were "very complex reasons why I won't comment on that, connected with my position as an outsider to Botswana".

His upbeat style, he said, countered "the distorted view of Africa as a continent of complete failure", adding: "I have thought hard about [intervening] but it would be misunderstood. It is a very difficult issue for me. Thank you for raising it."

* When George Clooney went into business with Hollywood auteur Steven Soderbergh, it transformed him into one of the film industry's leading players.

But as is the wont of Clooney when it comes to relationships, he has decided to call it quits; the pair pull the plug on their production company, Section Eight, next March.

This breaks their eight-year working relationship, which began when Soderbergh plucked Clooney from (relative) obscurity on the set of the medical television soap ER, to star in the Oscar-winning movie Out of Sight.

Working together had "stopped being fun", the director said at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

"We just sat down one day and said 'no more'. It was a bit like The Beatles - let's get out after Abbey Road - although with less acrimony. The workload became too heavy."

* Ross Kemp may have restored his waning reputation as one of British television's foremost knuckle-draggers.

During filming for a documentary about the rise of the far right in Moscow, the former EastEnders actor was set ablaze by Russian neo-Nazis and then shot in a bizarre gun accident.

"It was an initiation thing," he tells Heat. "They pour petrol on your boots and attach a petrol rag to your back, then give you a ball-bearing gun and set you on fire. I got shot in the finger."

Kemp is now recuperating at home, and his next assignment is unlikely to present as many dangers. At the weekend, he is playing in a celebrity golf tournament in Wales. Rumour has it that Kemp's presence at the Murdoch shindig at Pebble Beach was so that he could get some much-needed practice in. Fore!

* Excitement for eggheads: the Natural History Museum has applied for a later licence to serve booze.

The museum last week sought permission to sell alcohol from 8am to 1am, Monday to Sunday, "and to 2am on 15 occasions per year". This (obviously) helps it "fulfil its operational requirements as an educational institution and corporate event provider".

The thought of coachloads of tipsy schoolchildren running around is mildly less disturbing than imagining pill-popping clubbers in the "Nineteenth-Century Taxidermy Ferrets" wing.

"The new licence is for awards ceremonies, catering events and parties," explains a spokeswoman. "People often have parties underneath the dinosaur."

* The Labour Party's eagerness to clutch the hand of big business, like a toddler on its way to the sweet shop, irks grassroots activists.

No sign of change at the top, however, despite the loans-for-lordships scandal. The corporate pamphlet for the cash-strapped party's conference next month flogs exhibition stands at up to £12,875 a time.

Hottest ticket (£500) is for the conference dinner (Guest of honour: A Blair). "When a complete table of 10 is booked," explains the leaflet, "Labour will invite either a senior member of the party or a celebrity to join the table."

Far be it for Pandora to suggest that ministers will, for £5,000 a time, be performing in a not-dissimilar fashion from Peter Stringfellow's table dancers.

No offence to Mr Stringfellow or his employees intended.

pandora@independent.co.uk

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