Stage set for a Bottomley farce

Bad news for the MP for Surrey South West. The constituency's treasured Redgrave Theatre has just received grievous news from the funders at South East Arts - no funds are available to reopen the theatre.

This has led to much gnashing of teeth in Farnham, and bad-mouthing of the South East Arts bods and their ultimate masters at the Department of National Heritage - ruled, it has to be said, by the MP for Surrey South West, one Virginia Bottomley.

This is hugely embarrassing for Mrs Bottomley, who has supported the campaign to reopen the Redgrave, which closed, after 20 years, in January last year. She had also praised Waverley Council's Herculean fundraising efforts.

"I rang Mrs Bottomley a week ago, when I got the first whiff that the SEA might be withdrawing their assurances of support after a year of watching us sweat to raise funds at a time when our budget was cut by over pounds 1m," says Anna Thomson, the council's leader. "Mrs Bottomley was appalled and said: 'Of course the theatre must be saved.'

"Obviously, now I will be going back to her to see what suggestions she has."

Flagship hits the rocks

Triumph has clearly gone to Panorama's head. The BBC's flagship documentary series, covered in glory last week at the TV awards for the Princess of Wales interview, was by Tuesday busy wiping the egg off its face.

On Monday night, 5 million viewers sat down to watch Empress on the Rocks. Instead, they were treated to a distinctly non-award-winning hiatus - and then shown an old repeat. What could possibly have gone wrong?

"Oh, just a minor technical fault, that's all," is the breezy official BBC response. "A little problem with the soundtrack."

Er, that's not quite the whole story, according to my source. There was indeed a soundtrack problem, but staff had given themselves just an hour to edit it. Then the equipment didn't work. Then they couldn't find anyone to mend it. With panic reaching fever pitch, frantic minions dashed to put on a standby programme, only to discover that they couldn't find the tape. Cue muddle, music and red faces all round.

When they finally found something to stick on, it was a documentary called Salvaging Babies.

Salvaging oil tankers had been what viewers were really after. Doubtless there are a few BBC technicians now busy salvaging their jobs.

Break for young Major

It seems that the self-effacement of our Prime Minister knows no bounds. At a reception given yesterday by his former employer, Standard Chartered Bank in Bangkok, he was reintroduced to his former friend and colleague Lionel Mee. Mee was the man who carried the stretcher bearing the wounded Major on to the VC10 that was to take him out of Nigeria after his car accident in 1967.

Major therefore gave a little speech about their time in West Africa. "Nigeria" he said, somewhat understating the case, "was in a volatile situation." The bank had therefore asked for volunteers to work there. Six were selected. "I have since come to the conclusion," the PM said, "that the reason for my selection was that I was, in fact, expendable."

Prince of hyperbole

The Prince of Wales has been focusing on the problems of bad communication recently. No, this is nothing to do with his divorce from the nation's leading spin doctor, but his participation in a stunt by the Plain English Campaign.

The campaigners are planning to bury a time capsule, packed with examples of the "ordinary" English of the past 25 years. The Prince offered his very own pastiche of hyperbole. It goes: "It was when I was still a juvenile future constitutional figurehead substitute that I first became sensitised by mother-tongue abuse awareness."

Make what you will of that.

Invisible revolutionaries

There was a nasty moment when I arrived at London's Reform Club on Wednesday night for the launch of The Blair Revolution by Peter Mandelson and Roger Liddle. I thought I had come to the wrong place. The room was packed with Lib Dems. There was scarcely a Labour bod in sight (and certainly not Tony Blair), but pieces of paper hung everywhere quoting John Major: "I have not read the book, but it sounds an extremely good buy ..."

Eagle Eye

Pop star memoirs: no sleaze shock

Poor old publishers Random House are in a pickle again with another of their celebrity writers. Fresh from a disastrous courtroom bout with Joan Collins, they have now fallen out with the pop star Lisa Stansfield. Their line in Ms Stansfield's case is simple: she had better dish a lot more dirt in her autobiography or they'll dump the whole thing.

I can only presume that Random is eager for details about Ms Stansfield's disastrous whirlwind marriage at 21 to an Italian film-maker and her outings with fellow Dublin-based celebrities such as Bono, Van Morrison and Shane McGowan of The Pogues (she is now happily married to musician Ian Devaney).

"We thought there would be lots of showbiz gossip," says a Random House source. "The original proposal was for a very glitzy book, but the material just didn't appear."

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