Diary: By 'eck, Ginny drops her aitches

An heritage secretary uses a h-word. Is Virginia Bottomley (below) living up to the highest precepts of her cabinet post and safeguarding our linguistic heritage, or is she starting an academic controversy?

Opening the Alton Towers Hotel this week, Mrs Bottomley, who has tourism in her portfolio, said: "Now Alton Towers is the first theme park in the UK to build an hotel."

It would seem that she is the only member of the Cabinet to use "an" before an h-word; and it could, with luck, become an idiosyncrasy to rival the Prime Minister's disdain for the boring word "want" when it sounds so much more individualistic as "wunt''.

The Chambers Guide to Grammar and Usage: "the h-less (or virtually h- less) pronunciation, while not common and now rather old fashioned, is not wrong.... The simple rule is to make the choice between a and an match your own pronunciation of such h-words."

Nicholas Gisborne, English language adviser to the faculty of English at the University of Cambridge, says his own father uses the phrase an hotel, but he would not expect anyone under 40 to be familiar with it. "It is entirely optional but an hotel is stylistically marked as being more formal and has a use restricted to the older generation," he says. A tricky one for Mrs Bottomley: delight the campaigners for traditional English but risk bewildering the younger voter.

When fact is stranger than pulp fiction

My story yesterday of Italy allowing young children to see the violent movie Pulp Fiction because they regard it as a cautionary tale has an echo on these shores.

The indefatigable charmer, Michael Winner (he of the seduction technique "Come on, let's get a move on") also believes violent movies serve a social purpose. Of his Death Wish films, which have shown women being violently attacked, he says: "It doesn't mean you're saying `Go out and attack women.' You're saying: `This is awful, so protect yourself.' "

All these well-meaning moralists making cautionary tale movies, and we never realised.

A brush-off for the Turner Prize?

I am sorry to learn that Waldemar Januszczak, Channel 4's commissioning editor for music and arts, is not having his contract renewed by Stuart Cosgrove, the new controller of arts and entertainment, following an outbreak of artistic differences between the two men. The loss of Januszczak will be mourned in the Tate Gallery, which has been able to rely on him to ensure not only Channel 4's sponsorship of the Turner Prize, but abrasive defences of the avant-garde artists involved (and even more abrasive attacks on their detractors) in his other role as a newspaper art critic. It will be interesting to see whether Channel 4's sponsorship of the prize survives Januszczak's departure; and if it does, whether the broadcasters will improve on last year's coverage -which managed to finish just before the announcement of the winner: a piece of avant-garde performance art in its own right.

Master of suspense gets into real estate

Jose Macicior, a Spanish-born antiques dealer, has found a way of selling his flat in the Cromwell Road, west London, without having to pay a percentage to an estate agent. Just as he was about to put the flat on the market, a Japanese film company informed him that it was once owned by the film director, Alfred Hitchcock (above). Mr Macicior, who had hitherto been unaware of this, has enterprisingly invited film magazines to come and write about the pounds 105,000 flat, whose post-Hitchcock discovery price might be a little higher, and put the owner's name and phone number in their articles. No estate agent has been employed. So here we go. Yes, it has a rear window; with five flights of stairs, prospective buyers might suffer from vertigo; there is no shortage of bird life in the area; oh and watch yourself in the shower.

Eagle Eye

Sarah sells her soul for a hat collection

It's long been a mystery why fashion houses choose only vacuous supermodels to display their collections and ignore the far more lithe and sensuous bodies of leading dancers. The Royal Ballet, with stars such as Sylvie Guillem and Darcey Bussell, could earn a pretty penny on the side by hiring out their dancers. I'm pleased to see that the company's rising star Sarah Wildor is already spreading her sartorial wings. Designers at Bermona saw her dance in Manon, and are using her to launch a new collection of extravagant hat creations.

Bermona's managing director, Janis Anderson, uses language as extravagant as her hats when she says of Wildor: "She has the most wonderful eyes, which brings to mind the saying that they are the windows of the soul, but there is also a serenity and calmness about her which is quite breathtaking." Quite. The windows of the soul are somewhere underneath that hat.

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