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 27 April 1995
Of all the lachrymose, tactless, tasteless, gruesomely insensitive displays of emotional mismanagement, American-style, that were on display at the service, this took the biscuit - worse than having the country star Kurt Johnson sing "Tears in Heaven" (the song Eric Clapton wrote for his dead son, who fell out of a skyscraper window), even worse than having the congregation applaud the entrance of the rescue service's tracker dogs. As far as I could see, the teddy idea was to enable the cameras to identify the bereaved parents, like exhibits at a freak show, for the benefit of ghoulish viewers. Kindly disposed observers told me: "It was probably the governor of Oklahoma's wife's friends who thought it would be a nice touch." But as the arena emptied, the sight of so many chairs bearing discarded (thanks, but no thanks) teddies told its own eloquent story.
News of a shocking encounter reaches me about Brian Behan, third brother down in the notorious Dublin family of playwrights, songwriters, drinkers and blarney purveyors. Mr Behan has a new play on at the Brighton Festival (25 May at the Pavilion, if you're in the neighbourhood). It's called Halleluja, I'm a Bum, after the famous old American hobo folk song, and features a shiftless individual called Doran who joyfully embraces the temptations of indolence and sloth while managing to keep a jump ahead of a workaholic inspector from the DSS.
One of the play's many strenuous rants is about the House of Commons, an establishment for which Mr Behan, a staunch cradle republican, has little respect. At one point his alter ego opines that it's high time the Commons was privatised; that its members "could profitably be hung up as spare sperm-bags"; and the whole law-making enterprise closed down and replaced by "a reasonably honest computer".
Appearing on Southern Counties Radio to promote his masterwork, Behan found that one of his co-guests was the Tory MP for Spelthorne, David Wilshire. Not being one to miss an opportunity, he regaled Wilshire with Doran's views of the redundancy of Parliament. "For God's sake," said Wilshire, "What do you think we sit around doing all day?"
"Bonking yer secretaries," retorted Behan.
"That," said Wilshire, after a silence in which you could hear yoghurt curdle, "is a slur and a libel and I will sue both the BBC and you."
"You'll get feck-all out of me," snapped the unstoppable Behan, "me bein' an ould age pensioner ..."
I'm afraid the show disintegrated a little after that. Nice to know the old Brendan spirit lives on.
The last screenplay to be completed by Dennis Potter before he died was neither Karaoke nor Cold Lazarus, the two plays with which he famously hoped to join together the warring families of BBC and Channel 4. It was, or is, called White Clouds, and tells the story of a girl who is kidnapped by a psychopath while being led to believe she is taking part in an elopement. It will be directed for television by Rufus Sewell, the handsome actor last seen as Seth in Cold Comfort Farm.
Potter's capacity to wind up his collaborators continues from beyond the grave, it seems. White Clouds is based on the novel Cara Massimina by the award winning Verona-based writer Tim Parks. Leafing through the screenplay has not, however, been unmitigated joy for Parks, who couldn't help spotting that Potter had made one important adjustment. "He's completely changed the ending," he said. "In the original, the girl is killed because she refuses to co-operate with her kidnapper. In Potter's version she recovers and there's a dream sequence about losing her memory. I've got to persuade the director to drop the dream stuff."
Why? "Because otherwise," says Parks reasonably, "I won't be able to get the sequel filmed. The sequel's called Mimi's Ghost. It's going to be bloody inconvenient to hang a plot on the ghost of someone who's never died ..."
The junior villains in my part of south London are getting very enterprising. In front of me in the queue at Lloyds Bank this week, a deeply implausible teenage entrepreneur in a purple track suit was trying to open a bank account. No, he explained, he had no actual money, as such, to put in it at that very moment; he merely wanted to open it and would fill it with cash in due course. OK, said the sweetly co-operative teller, sign here. " 'Course I'll need to take out a few quid," the bank's newest investor explained, "just to tide me over, like." I'm afraid that's impossible, went on the teller, unless we have some details about the nature of your employment, date of monthly pay cheque and so forth ...
A hurried conversation followed between the track suit and his leather- clad friend. After a lot of nodding, the tracksuit returned. "Can't do that," he said. "The, er, nature of me employment means I 'ad to sign the Official Secrets Act. So I can't divulge no de'ails abou' it."
Extraordinary how the urgency of his financial needs seemed to evaporate, minutes later, as a burly security guard bore down on him.
Insider magazine was launched this morning with a champagne breakfast for 200 at Scott's in Mayfair. The brainchild of Tim Satchell - former sidekick of Nigel Dempster, quondam diarist on every paper in Fleet Street, unreconstructed sexist and chronic wearer of yellow socks - the new monthly gossip sheet is jointly sponsored by Time Out and John Bird, founder of the Big Issue, so its street credibility is high. "Radical chic on the outside," promises the chortling Satchell, "but pure metropolitan naughtiness on the inside." Hmmm. A cursory glance at the gossip on offer reveals an amusing story about the young Jonathan Aitken visiting his terrifying uncle Lord Beaverbrook, a good joke about the difference between John Birt of the BBC and Stalin of Russia, and several photos of unprepossessing- looking people at parties. Is it enough to shift 80,000 issues to gossip- starved metropolitan readers? Good luck, chaps.
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