Prolific writer and commentator John Walsh contributes columns to the paper as well as writing features, interviews and restaurant reviews. He has been editor of The Independent Magazine, literary editor of the Sunday Times and features editor of the London Evening Standard.
Thursday 30 November 1995
I was charmed to hear of a discussion that took place between officials of the American consulate in Belfast, and a chap from the city corporation. Confirming the imminent arrival of the Prez, the consulate suggested that he'd be delighted to do the tree lights. "I'm afraid he can't," said the Ulsterman, "We've already got someone to do dat." The consulate staff were nonplussed. "Who?" they inquired (John Major? Gerry Adams?). "It's de Power Rangers," said the Belfast jobsworth. "Listen pal," one American replied, "We're talking here about the President of the United States." "I know dat," said the implacable Hibernian. "But an awful lot o' people will be disappointed if dey don't get de Power Rangers ... And they cost us seven t'ousand pounds."
Five minutes of pulling rank later, the President's men prevailed.
Spliff-toting rock bands, Trekkies, Sumo wrestling, Fiat trade launches - the Royal Albert Hall has taken a few knocks to its dignity in the past six years, most of them at the hands of its energetic chief executive, Patrick Deuchar.
His plans to erect a pounds 15m pedestrian piazza under Kensington Gore, linking the hall, the Royal College of Art and the Albert Memorial, have been consistently derailed by the philistines on the Albert's board. Now Mr Deuchar is presiding over another first for the Hall - he's got into bed with Harvey Goldsmith, the heavyweight king of concert promoters, and they're installing a circus for a dozen performances in January.
It's the Cirque du Soleil, that Canadian gang of supertroupers who perform feats of batso calisthenics and take themselves terribly seriously as a kind of adrenalinated commedia dell'arte. At the launch party on Tuesday, at the Canadian High Commission in London, I expected to see strongmen and acrobats tumbling across the diplomatic shagpile ("The ambassador's parties are noted in society for the presence of clowns in their Krazy Kar...") but we had to settle for watching them on television. Nervous voices suggested that the Hall was not, perhaps the perfect venue for a circus. Those flying-saucerish acoustic baffles that have hung from the ceiling for decades could spell disaster for any high-flying Canucks unlucky enough to cannon into them. Is Deuchar worried? "No no," he said. "It'll be just fine. And the people who always complain they can't see the show from the upper circle will be confounded."
Patrick, I asked, of all the complaints you've had about bringing the hall into disrepute, whose were the most vocal? It turned out to be neither the rock band nor the SF weirdos. "It was when we had the Bolshoi in and staged them in the round." That was offensive? "People were outraged. Ballet in the round, you see. They hated it. Apparently it's just not on to have to look at ballerinas' bottoms."
Friends who sat in at the Irish Times literary awards in Dublin last week report three pleasing sights. One was the weird spectacle of a President - the republic's most famous constitutional lawyer, Mary Robinson - who actually reads books and speaks about them with critical insight.
Another was the sight of the 75-year-old, blind Paddy Devlin, he who founded the SDLP with Gerry Fitt only to see all his public thunder stolen by John Hume, picking up the non-fiction prize, and proving that you don't need to be part of Ireland's youth explosion to win things; third was the sight of the new Nobel laureate, Seamus Heaney, tucking his napkin into his collar before attacking his dinner, a gesture favoured by ploughmen and aristocrats from time immemorial.
Last week I mentioned the Mystery of the Stolen Letters. A month ago, the writer Fay Weldon was burgled and the only thing taken was correspondence with her former agent Giles Gordon. Now I learn that, not 24 hours after the Weldon blag, another of Mr Gordon's clients, Sue Townsend (of Adrian Mole fame), had her place broken into. Ms Townsend is no stranger to burglary. But this time they turned her house upside down, took her favourite fax machine and threw her files all over the place in a frenzy of frustration. What were they looking for? It may be relevant to point out that Ms Townsend's letters from Mr Gordon cannot be found at her home; they're all at her office in nearby Leicester. What did Giles Gordon make of his status as felon-magnet? "If two of my clients have been burgled," he says cheerily, "that leaves only 71 to go. Presumably the culprit is a literary agent manque." I should warn the villain that there's little point in trying to burgle Buckingham Palace. The Prince of Wales ceased to be a client of Gordon's six months ago.
An outbreak of unrestrained dancing, singing and communal glee has greeted the sad news that the journalist Stephen Glover has been fired from the London Evening Standard. One of the three co-founders of the Independent, and the first editor of the Independent on Sunday, Glover decamped to the Standard, from which redoubt he fired off increasingly bilious and spittle-flecked weekly salvoes of contempt about his old newspaper's management, sales, design, redesign, personnel, features, destiny and anything else that occurred to him. The sleep of junior Independent reporters was haunted by dreams of Glover's hangdog, saturnine features, as of a permanently pissed-off undertaker, coming through the night to remark on their shortcomings.
He irritated many other people in his impossibly superior and bitchily critical media column - among them, the Standard's new editor-elect, Max Hastings. While not officially in the driving seat until the New Year, Hastings cracked yesterday and is said to have snarled, "I don't care how long [Glover] sits there, I'm not giving him anything to do!" Glover departs with a rumoured golden kick of pounds 100,000 but his immediate future seems stable. He's contracted to write regularly for Hastings's old paper, the Telegraph, and a media column for the Spectator. Poor Max (and the rest of us) will have to endure Glover's attacks for a while to come, albeit from a peashooter.
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