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Musical chairs

Wanted: one chairman for institution without a home in 1997 and the subject of a less-than-complimentary fly-on-the-wall TV documentary. Candidate must be able to cope with being called elitist, out of touch and middle class.

It may not appear the most desirable job in the world; but the Royal Opera House will need a new chairman when the present incumbent, Angus Stirling, steps down this summer. And for all its pitfalls there will be no shortage of candidates for one of the establishment's top posts.

The name to watch for may be Gummer - not John, formerly John Selwyn of that name, but his brother Peter.

Mr Gummer is known to be close to the Prime Minister, who must make this appointment. He is also chairman of one of the world's biggest PR companies, Shandwick plc. No problem there. His other role, though, may make things a bit sticky. He is, at present, chairman of the Arts Council's National Lottery Advisory Panel, the selfsame panel which recently awarded the Royal Opera House pounds 78m. Some of the smaller arts organisations that have missed out on lottery money may feel aggrieved if the man who has doled out the cash to the Royal Opera House ends up taking the chairmanship there.

Quite what one of these fly-on-the-wall documentaries would make of it all, I can't think.

Song of praise

I notice that the BBC trailer for the France versus England game in Paris this coming Saturday is accompanied by the song Dominique, a one-hit wonder for The Singing Nun three decades ago. A BBC spokeswoman explained this curious choice: "We wanted to show that the French could do something not terribly well and not always be stylish. So we put on this very unhip piece of music which is in French." Only problem is, The Singing Nun was Belgian. So that's insulting the French as unstylish, and the Belgians by calling them French and describing their only British hit as unhip. After all that, let's hope we win the rugby.

Funny stalk

The comedian Lee Evans may have stumbled on a suitable way to deal with that curious Nineties phenomenon, the stalker. The magazine Time Out reports that Evans spied Neil Sean, a chap who spends his time seeking out celebrities to have his picture taken with them. Evans told him he recognised him, which mortified Sean, who claimed indignantly; "But I'm supposed to be recognising you." This, I'm sure, would have been the best way to un-nerve the men following Madonna and Princess Anne - continually go up to them and hail them. A much more effective deterrent than a police caution.

Pet publisher

The publisher, Harper Collins, is not best pleased by the latest request from best-selling author of The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan. She has refused to visit Britain to promote her latest novel, The Hundred Secret Senses, unless the publishers find her a small dog as a companion.

Apparently back home in California Tan has acquired a small Yorkshire Terrior, known as Bubba, who travels everywhere with her. Whilst on tour he even gets his supper served off a silver tray.

She told her publisher she had almost decided not to come because she couldn't bring Bubba, but eventually decided that she could cope as long as a small British dog was found to keep her company.

The hunt is now on, although Harper Collins personnel department is not even sure that animals are allowed inside their building. "We prefer to water all the greenery in our atrium ourselves," one staff member observed.

Out of a job

Michael Heseltine's premature announcement of the unemployment figures on Tuesday had one unfortunate result. Yesterday there were no staff manning the Department of Education and Unemployment's information line. Callers were met with an ansaphone.

"I can only conclude," said an annoyed Labour parliamentary candidate who had wanted to know the figures for his constituency, "that things are so bad that even the Civil Service has lost people."

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