Diary Eagle Eye

Leaving the trains and the strains

I hear that Roger Salmon (below), who recently announced that he will be resigning as head of the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising in October is planning a period of convalescence. It seems that the strain of organising the sell-off of British Rail's passenger services for the past three years and dealing with the Labour transport spokeswoman Clare Short, who politely called him "a rat leaving the sinking ship", has convinced him of the merits of monastic life. When he leaves his post in October, the former Rothschild director is going to spend a month on a course of meditation.

Patron of the arts, no questions asked

High morals at the high tables of Oxford. But a more pragmatic approach is being adopted at the London Symphony Orchestra.

Earlier this month, Gert-Rudolph Flick withdrew his endowment of pounds 350,000 for a chair at Balliol College because some of the old members of the college had been pointing out with some asperity that his grandfather, for whom the chair was named, had been a Nazi employer of slave labour. Happily for music lovers, however, the LSO is less troubled by such ethical matters.

The orchestra is to take on the winner of a young conductors' competition, held at the Barbican in London tomorrow, as an assistant conductor. It is a prestigious, biennial event - its patron is the Prince of Wales, and the jury boasts many distinguished musical names, including the conductor, Daniele Gatti. The occasion is being financed by the striking Donatella Flick, the society spouse of Gert-Rudolph, awarding pounds 15,000 to the winner out of her own pocket.

Described variously as "dazzling" and "daffy", Donatella is renowned for her ambitions as a patron of the arts. Doubtless, her husband's recent academic rebuff caused much distress, but she need have no fears with the LSO.

"I haven't the faintest idea where her money comes from," declared a lofty Clive Gillinson, managing director of the LSO. "And quite honestly, that's all there is to say about it." Not a Balliol man, clearly.

Mad cows in the Saudi silly season

Anyone who thinks there has been sensationalist reporting of the "mad cow disease" story here should read the front page lead story of the Saudi Gazette, the English language newspaper of Saudi Arabia. It starts with ironic lyricism: "Over the centuries, a green land of luxuriant herbage and a healthy livestock nourished the legend that beef as much as beer was a national birthright of Britons. It may now be killing, not ennobling hearts but rotting brains ... The butchers in the entire continent have displayed boards on their shops that British beef is not sold there, so that they may smoothly continue getting on with their business, luring the already hesitant customers."

Thus into its stride the Saudi Gazette continues in forceful if lateral fashion: "On the other hand, 60,000 Muslim women's flesh was adulterated by Serbian butchers and the heinous crime was video-recorded and sold at all British video shops at pounds 1,000 per cassette. The shopkeepers displayed the boards on their shops indicating that those cassettes are sold at their shops just to lure the sex-thirsty customers belonging to the Jewish and Christian communities."

I hope there is no Saudi equivalent phrase for "it must be true, it's in the papers".

Cliff is taken for a ride in Dublin

Sir Clifford Richard is finding that Heathcliff The Musical is a hazardous business. Having already banned the critics from his forthcoming portrayal of Emily Bronte's hero, Sir Clifford, I gather, has now found that this acting lark has dangers even worse than critics - directors.

Frank Dunlop, the former head of the Edinburgh Festival who is directing Heathcliff, has been rehearsing with Sir Cliff in Dublin. Needing to go across town, Dunlop, forgetting for a moment that his leading actor is rather better known than some of his leading actors of yesteryear, took an astonished Sir Cliff on the top of a bus. Within minutes he was mobbed by crowds thinking it was a remake of Summer Holiday - the 1960s film where Cliff Richard and friends took a double-decker across Europe.

What are they talkin' 'bout?

So those old-fashioned parents in the Sixties were right after all. You really can't understand a word those pop groups are singing. It is, as they say, official. For the first time ever, a rock concert is to have opera-style surtitles. The surviving members of The Who will perform their 1973 rock opera, Quadrophenia, at an all-star concert in Hyde Park on 29 June in aid of the Prince's Trust on a bill including Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton. And, Pete Townshend, composer of Quadrophenia, says he will be having surtitles so that those attending can follow the story. Myself, I always found Roger Daltrey's vocals completely intelligible. Now, surtitles for Bob Dylan ... that could be quite helpful.

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