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Opera headhunters zoom in on the zoo

My man in the crush bar at Covent Garden tells me that the Royal Opera House is having a Gotterdammerung of a time finding a new general director to succeed Jeremy Isaacs next year.

It appears that front-runners such as Brian McMaster (Edinburgh Festival and ex-Welsh National Opera), Anthony Whitworth-Jones (Glyndebourne) and even the ROH's own opera director, Nick Payne, have turned the job down. Others, like one very eminent international opera director, have been told with touching diplomacy that they are not being offered the job, but to stand by in case someone better doesn't turn up.

In desperation, the interviewing panel (the current chairman, Sir Angus Stirling; his successor, Peter Gummer; and the board members Baroness Blackstone and Sir James Spooner - not a professional opera/ballet figure among them) have turned to a firm of headhunters. Their recommendation? Dr Jonathan Gipps, the 48-year-old director of London Zoo.

Dr Gipps is not instantly recognisable as diva-friendly, but perhaps his book The Ecology Of Woodland Rodents may well have allusions to the backstage conditions at Covent Garden.

A good line in beef, but where's the joke?

How not to handle the beef crisis. A series of brief, easy-to-follow lessons by Lord Lucas, the Government's spokesman in the House of Lords, drawing on his personal experience at a Back British Beef luncheon in Ashford, Kent, hosted by the National Farmers' Union and attended by representatives from every sector of the beef industry.

1. Tell the assembled slaughterers, farmers, renderers and auctioneers - all completely mystified as to how the destruction of cattle over 30 months old is going to work, two days into the scheme - that you know they are confused, but it's ''hard cheese, the most important thing is that the scheme is up and running'', even if only on paper.

2. Point out that Ashford has had three cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human equivalent of BSE. And how terrible it is, just as the 270 guests are tucking into their pounds 16-a-head rib of beef.

3. When joking that they have been expecting Lord Lucan, by misreading the "n" at the end of his name for an "s", remark: ''There's someone who knew a thing or two about culling cows.''

4. Expect to get a laugh. (It is possible you might be disappointed on 3.)

Mad cows and English theatre

Mad cow disease does have one virtue. It can be used as the scapegoat for anything. Rupert Rhymes, chief executive of the Society of London Theatres, moans in the Stage newspaper under the front-page headline 'BSE blamed for West End slump': "We and other organisations are readjusting our projections for the number of tourists coming in this year. Terrorism is a factor in the short-term and so are health scares, which are affecting people from mainland Europe. With BSE, they are wondering whether it is safe to eat British food." And there was I, unschooled in the complexities of the tourist and meat trades, thinking there just weren't many good shows on at the moment.

Drummer gags. You can't beat 'em

The viola players may be the joke section of the symphony orchestra, as I observed yesterday. But I see the world of rock music has its own target, the drummers. The June edition of Q Magazine supplies the top 10 drummer jokes. Example: What's the last thing a drummer says in a band? "Hey guys, why don't we try one of my songs?"

In the main, though, it seems to be poor old Ginger Baker (above), once of the supergroup Cream, who has become the fall guy: What is the difference between a chiropodist and Ginger Baker? A chiropodist bucks up your feet. Ginger Baker fans should write to Q Magazine direct.

Secret desires of Labour women

There are some odd secret fantasies to be found in today's issue of She magazine, where celebrities say which film roles they hanker after. Anthea Turner says: "I would love to have starred in When Harry Met Sally because I, too, like making a scene in restaurants." This would be impossible, of course, as that was the scene of the fake orgasm, and there is nothing fake about Miss Turner. More believable are the secret desires of two Labour women. Clare Short chooses Jo, the heroine of Little Women - there were no men in the house to shut her up when she spoke out of turn. And Glenys Kinnock MEP (above right) chooses Thelma (Geena Davis, above left) from the film Thelma and Louise, because "she proved how much inner strength women who are 'written off' can find". The result, I recall, was a brief life of crime followed by suicide. Most encouraging.