That's the spirit! Mortimer in awards ceremony clash

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The Independent Online

* Ah, awards ceremonies! Occasions for industry types to gather excitedly for feasting, drinking and celebrating a vicious scrap (surely "their contemporaries' achievements"? - Ed.).

Splendid to hear of an unlikely fracas at The Savoy on Monday. The bonhomie at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards was shattered when Penny Mortimer, wife of Rumpole creator Sir John, went nose to nose with Lady Cromer, the sister of the late newspaper baron Lord Rothermere, as guests took their places for dinner.

Cromer discovered that she and the champagne-loving Sir John, 83, had been seated next to one another.

"She was very rude and announced loudly that she couldn't possibly sit next to my husband," Penny tells me. "She was trying to claim that she'd sat next to John on a previous occasion and that he'd got incredibly drunk and had fallen underneath the table.

"When I told her she was talking rubbish sheaccused me of slander. But it was untrue. John believes she has confused him with someone else." The pair were separated and reseated.

Sir John describes his writing routine (and legendary love of Krug) thus: "Champagne lifts the spirits at any time of the day, so I have a glass first thing. I get up at eight and write around 1,000 words before lunch. Then it's time to get drunk... and go to sleep."

Pandora notes the author's impeccable behaviour. But I can't help recalling the time he bragged about drinking a young boy band under the table. Attaboy!

* The words "bad" and "sex" are not wholly uncommon in articles about Courtney Love (although not necessarily together, the lawyer adds).

So it's appropriate that the lipstick-smeared rocker has agreed to present tonight's Bad Sex In Fiction Awards at the In and Out Club in St James's Square. (Breathless readings obligatory.)

"We have a long tradition of rock star presenters: Mick Jagger, Sting and Marianne Faithfull," says an organiser. "We're delighted Courtney is coming. She's smart and sexy. And she's got a book out."

Iain Hollingshead's "Oh Jack" passage in Twentysomething must stand a chance - likewise Irvine Welsh's violent Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs ("When she's done, she tears away from me like we were two strips of Velcro").

Congratulations to Will Self, however, on a record third nomination, for his account of "Dave and Phyl... having sex in her cottage outside Chipping Ongar".

Cold shower, anyone?

* Fair to say that guests found Felix Dennis in his customary buoyant mood at the launch of his new anthology, When Jack Sued Jill: Fairy Rhymes for Modern Times.

The publisher, former felon and notorious hedonist - ranked No 84 on the Rich List with £715m - was overheard telling a female guest to pull her "dress down and breasts up", and that "modern women ought to wear bin bags with eye-holes."

He added: "Look, I'm ugly, I've got a bald patch, and I'm fat." (And looks like a Lord of the Rings extra.) "But the fact is, I've got the biggest dong, I mean I'm immensely well hung, as well as being extremely rich. And if you believe that, there's a bridge in Westminster I'd like to sell you."

And he's never married!

* Another small setback for David Cameron's ambrosial ecologist Zac Goldsmith - who may, as I reported several weeks ago, have to rely on an older Tory MP retiring to get into Parliament at the next election.

One of those on the rumoured shortlist of "targets" was Devon member Anthony Steen, 67. He writes Pandora a faux-outraged letter, announcing his reselection. "I'm lying in my hospital bed! I'm too old to move!" he chortles when I call. Steen adds that Goldsmith would have to be "catapulted" into Totnes over his lifeless body.

"Many MPs in their 30s don't do their jobs - they are busy promoting themselves. And some in their 40s should have retired long ago. I'm very fit and travel 800 miles a week.

"I have another 30 years to go."

* Izvestia proffered one of the less plausible explanations for the death of Alexander Litvinenko. The Russian newspaper, perhaps after conversing with "friends of Vladimir Putin", claimed: "British PR men ordered the sacrifice of Litvinenko to make a noise." A not particularly subtle reference to Lord (Tim) Bell (whose firm handled media inquiries about Litvinenko) and his client Boris Berezovsky, the exiled Russian oligarch so critical of Putin.

The peer somewhat unsurprisingly denies ordering assassinations in his lunch hour. "The living proof of the dirty tricks campaign is that they are now doing it to me," Bell says. "In a way it supports what has been said about the Russian government." Cue close watching of one's soup. And staying away from the office umbrella stand.