Arts and Entertainment

Nina Stibbe moved to London in 1982 to work as a nanny for Mary-Kay Wilmers, the editor of the London Review of Books. In the years following, she wrote letters home to her sister in Leicester, and Love, Nina is the result.

Smut, By Alan Bennett

Smut is a curious mix of the Alan Bennett we know of old, whose clucking, mid-life Northern treasures - Thora Hird and the like - divulge their secrets in gently subversive sotto voce, and the Alan Bennett we are coming to know, post-cancer scare, who might one day be seen as late, uncloseted Bennett, with sex increasingly on the brain.

Stand-out stand-up: comedians name their favourite funnyman

Daniel Kitson, a comic virtually unknown to mainstream television audiences, today received the ultimate accolade when he was declared the funniest man in the business by his contemporaries.

Seeing Stars, By Simon Armitage

From a talking sperm-whale at the outset to a sighting of Martin Amis in a surreally-enhanced Yorkshire at the end, Simon Armitage's new collection consists of funny, quirky, piquant prose poems.

Book Of A Lifetime: Red Shift, By Alan Garner

As a teenager, in the mid-1980s, I picked up Alan Garner's 'Red Shift'. It looked like other Garners I had read: a children's fantasy. But 'Red Shift', with its passionately bickering adolescent lovers and its vertiginous plunges through the wormhole of time, shook me to the core every time I read it, and still does.

Streetwise I'm not, says a chastened Alan Bennett

Playwright describes for the first time what happened when he fell for a scam and had £1,500 stolen from him

Buried In Books: A Reader’s Anthology, By Julie Rugg

Many readers of this section will share Julie Rugg's anguish about arriving home "with a blush and bag that is just a little too heavy". Her useful advice for hiding second-hand book purchases from your partner is to "spread them on existing piles of books... a method learned from the tunnellers in The Great Escape." Buried in Books would be a fruitful addition to any booklover's pile. Exploring this delightful anthology is akin to rummaging in the better sort of second-hand bookshop.

Desmond Barrit: 'Im making a Habit of being Richard Griffiths

It is slightly frightening seeing a show when you know you are going to take over a role. Actors are like magpies – they pick everything up that they think is clever. Of course, you want to reinvent a role and not repeat what the previous actor did. The fact I have taken over from Richard Griffiths twice – both in The Habit of Art and The History Boys – mystifies me because we are very different.

Cultural Life: Andrea Levy, Novelist

'It doesn't feel like cinema is catering for me so mostly I get things out on DVD and watch them on my humongous television'

The Diary: Shane Meadows; Alan Bennett; Playboy Bunny; Handel; Alice Walker

A degree of credit for British director

Polar Bears, Donmar Warehouse, London

Mark Haddon made his name with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a novel about the break-up of a marriage as seen through the eyes of a teenager with Asperger's syndrome. When I heard that he had written Polar Bears, a play about the stresses of loving a female with a bipolar disorder, my first cynical reaction was to wonder whether he has started to collect disorders for creative exploitation across the art forms.

First Night: Behud <i>(Beyond Belief)</i>, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Bhatti revisits drama that became a crisis

Johann Hari: Alan Bennett and the question of innocence

In his new play, [Bennett] takes his dark analysis of pederasty further

Philip Hensher: Gaffes that can be a boon to Cameron

Peter Hobbins is a member of the Conservative association in Orpington, Kent, and a local councillor. In the past, he was a Conservative Party candidate, failing to win the Rhondda seat in the 2001 General Election. He was struck by the changing nature of aspiring Tory politicians, and put his thoughts in a series of e-mails to fellow Orpington conservatives. Candidates included, he said, "a Mr Dilon Gumraj and a Zerha Zaidi and others ... not one of them has a 'normal' English name ... Maybe I should change my name to something foreign – how does Petrado Indiano Hobbinso sound to you?" Startling stuff, and Mr Hobbins has been suspended from the party forthwith.

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