Some nuptials and a cremation Will Heritage Secretary Stephen Dorrell become 1995's Mr Blobby? The year ahead in the Arts will be tricky, predicts Mark Lawson

In the last couple of years, clear cultural patterns have begun to emerge. In every 12-month period, there is published a Number One bestselling volume of diaries by someone called Alan: Alan Clark in 1993, Alan Bennett in 1994. Also, one obscure figure rises to improbable celebrity purely as a result of the shape of their body: Mr Blobby in 1993, Elizabeth Hurley in 1994.

THEATRE / The 1995 Wish List

The 1995 Wish List: Helen Mirren, as rumoured, will star opposite Patrick Stewart in the revival of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

BOOK REVIEW / Recommended

Under my Skin by Doris Lessing, HarperCollins, pounds 20. A stirring and very impressive volume of memoirs by the eminent novelist, which moves through the spirit of the age. Interview by Natasha Walter, 15 October.

BOOK REVIEW / Oh marvellous, marvellous: 'Writing Home' - Alan Bennett: Faber, 17.50

ALAN BENNETT still habitually strikes the pose of being - to borrow a phrase from another Yorkshire writer, David Nobbs - second from last in the sack race. One entry from his journals - selections from which are the centrepiece of Writing Home, his first long book of prose - gloomily approves of the title used by another lugubrious playwright, Peter Nichols, for his memoirs: Feeling You're Behind. Bennett confides that he, too, feels lapped by flashier talents. Another entry records his position as 'the only western playwright not intimately acquainted' with President Havel of Czechoslovakia.

THEATRE / A star for theatre's New Age: Is Mark Rylance the finest actor of his generation? His supporters are diverse: a Broadmoor inmate, Alan Bennett and now Paul Taylor

The most flattering review Mark Rylance can ever have received came not on Broadway but in Broadmoor, and from someone who could claim a certain expertise. The top-security hospital was playing host to the RSC, who had just mounted a one-off performance of Ron Daniels's 1989 production of Hamlet. This was the version in which Rylance, famously clad in filthy striped pyjamas during the 'antic disposition' scenes, took the role of the Prince by what you'd have to call brainstorm. After the actor had taken his bows, one of the inmates rushed up to him and said, in hats- off tones, 'You were really mad - take it from me, I should know, I'm a loony.'

TELEVISION / Writers still stuck on the margins: As Channel 4, nudged by Alan Bleasdale, makes space for dramas by four debutant writers, Jasper Rees explores the increasingly limited options available to would-be followers of Bleasdale, Potter, Plater and Bennett

In a caricature of the rigid hierarchies on a film set, a cartoonist would represent the executive producer at the top of the tree, the producer just underneath, then the director and the script editor, followed by the actors. The camera crew, the sound and lighting people, the continuity girl, the best boys and dolly grips, costumiers and make-up, caterers, the secretaries, the tea boy. Down at the bottom, at the start of the ecological chain which generates this employment, is the writer, because in the beginning is the word.

Flat Earth: Bird-brained

A GRIM week for pigeons. First there's Alan Bennett, most gentle of our playwrights, telling his diary how he hit one over the head with an axe. Then the Swiss Army decides to decommission 30,000 messenger pigeons, with no mention of their fate. What can a pigeon of a certain age and military bearing do once it's been thrown on the scrap heap? Worst of all, however, the news from Iran, where 12,000 pigeons that had been fouling the domes and minarets of the holy city of Qom have been beheaded. Now we know the mullahs of Qom are a touchy lot, and that to mess with them, so to speak, is pushing your luck. But beheading? I don't know, it just sounds so . . . complicated. You can almost see the 12,000 little blindfolds before your eyes . . .

BOOKS / Danger of being nice: The case of 'Bennett's Lug'; or how Alan Bennett's tough and very witty diaries reveal the sharpest ears in Britain

AT ONE POINT in his rueful, unfailingly entertaining diaries, Alan Bennett contrasts himself with certain hard-nosed contemporaries who 'get themselves disliked but make money. Whereas I prefer to be liked and thought a nice man. But I'm not. I'm just as bad as the rest of them, only I don't like to show it.'

RADIO / English as she is spoke: Speaking in tongues - Robert Hanks reviews the airwaves

Is having English as your mother tongue a blessing or a curse? Before hearing the question wrangled over on The Great Language Debate (Radio 4, Thursday), the answer seemed to me that it was a blessing - it gives you access to Shakespeare and to airport announcements the world over. Afterwards the argument seemed more finely balanced. If your mother tongue were, say, Greek, then you would never have to listen to John Mortimer in full flow; and even if you did, it's unlikely you would appreciate the full awfulness of the experience.

FILM / Hi honey I'm homicidal: Adam Mars-Jones on ironic tastelessness posing as suburban warfare in John Waters' latest black comedy, Serial Mom

There's no more fragile hold on a movie audience than shock value - it can work for a single film, but it's tricky to parlay that into an entire career. You depend on people wanting to see what they don't want to see, and any potential cult following will be eroded from one side by disgust and from the other by jadedness. All things considered, John Waters has had a pretty good run for his money. When his film Polyester was accompanied by the gimmick of Odorama - scratch-and-sniff cards that you were supposed to activate at set moments to release a more or less gross aroma - most audiences did so, with groans of meek protest, as if they had no choice in the matter. They submitted willingly enough to the tyranny of Waters' tastelessness.

ARTS / Bennett and the betrayal of Englishness: Alan Bennett is increasingly seen as a comfortable English institution, but, as Paul Taylor argues in this extract from a lecture commissioned by the West Yorkshire Playhouse, the dramatist's own slant on Englishness is far from cosy

In July 1993, there was a press launch in New York's Russian Tea Rooms for the forthcoming US tour of The Madness of George III. Its author, Alan Bennett, was introduced to the assembled hack pack as, 'What we in England call a national treasure', a description which lands Leeds' finest flower in the same bracket as Longleat and the Queen Mother.

Everybody's talking about it: The TV chat show may be dead on its feet, but in theatres, arts centres, bookshops and galleries, they're talking the talk and it's far from cheap. By Miranda Carter

Last week, American feminists Naomi Wolf, Kate Roiphe and Erica Jong debated date rape; and 1,500 people turned out at the Logan Hall in London, to see them do it. Two days before, novelist Will Self packed a rather smaller venue at the ICA. In Leeds, West Yorkshire Playhouse recently boasted an audience of more than 500 for Alan Bennett. It filled for Peter Brook, too. While theatre producers, film distributors and publishers publicly deplore their declining sales and attendances (when did they not?), audiences are showing up for public talk.

THEATRE / Madly, deeply: Paul Taylor reviews the revival of Alan Bennett's The Madness of George III

THESE DAYS it's spin doctors who infest the game of politics; at the end of the 18th century, it was medical doctors - or, more to the point, quacks. If the monarch fell ill, then Parliament too had a funny turn, for the King was still the fons et origo of patronage and chose as his chief minister whoever could patch together a majority in the Commons. Royal sickness, therefore, spelt political crisis, since it meant that the unfilial Prince of Wales and hangers-on could start to get above themselves.

Meet the superyoung: Some people just never seem to look their age. Why? How? And can we all do it? Geraldine Bedell reports

'Youth's a stuff will not endure,' said Shakespeare, wrongly. Shakespeare had reckoned without the Superyoung - those irritating people who seem to age at a more leisurely pace than the rest of us. Where you probably have lines scooting over your face in every direction, the Superyoung have flawless complexions; where you have thinning lips and hair, theirs are beestung and luxuriant. And they are everywhere, these people: in politics - look at Peter Lilley, 50 this year; in trade unions: Bill Jordan is 57; in the theatre: Alan Bennett is 58, Honor Blackman now an unbelievable 67; Isabella Rossellini is still, at 40, what Lancome think women want to look like, and, dammit, Lancome are right.

BOOK REVIEW / Piles and piles in common: 'The Maker of the Omnibus: The Lives of English Writers Compared' - Jack Hodges: Sinclair-Stevenson, 20 pounds

IN Kafka's Dick, by Alan Bennett, there's a suburban housewife who has never read a word of Auden yet is fully au fait with the fact that the great poet never wore underpants. Accumulating odd details about the Lives rather than wrestling with the actual Works is what she and her husband mean by having literary interests. They'd be in seventh heaven with The Maker of the Omnibus, Jack Hodges's dottily detailed comparative study, in 92 subsections, of the lives of English (or, more accurately, British) writers, on the crawl from cradle to grave.
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