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David Cameron and William Hague got into similar trouble, but for exactly opposite reasons. If the Foreign Secretary had said “stupid person” or (admittedly a bit of a mouthful for an impromptu sedentary aside) “stupid Honourable Member”, he’d be home free. As the lip reading consensus was that he muttered “stupid woman” while Cameron was answering, or more accurately not answering, a hostile question from Labour’s Cathy Jamieson, he quickly became Twitter villain of the day.

Spam Queens and empty briefcases

WAITING FOR THE SUN: The Story of the Los Angeles Music Scene by Barney Hoskyns, Viking pounds 20

What's with all the fiddling about?

Everyone from Meat Loaf to McCartney has called for the violins. Michele Kirsch says pop's entanglement with strings can sound ropey

Making a mountain out of a molehill

HUGH GRANT starts with a stammer, and ends with a girl in his arms: a new film, but not a new role. "Excuse me, does anyone here speak English?" is Grant's emblematic first line in (and as) The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain (PG). Grant takes that one line of quintessential English insularity masquerading as inquiry, and turns it into an aria of hesitant charm - you wonder whether he'll ever finish. If Grant has developed mannerisms, then at least they are his own mannerisms. His stutter is second only to Woody Allen's. Like Allen's, it is not so much an impediment to speech, as a run-up to wit - the splutter before the engine roars into action. Tabloid notoriety may be the obvious link between Grant and Allen, but they both also have a way of manufacturing charm out of anxiety.

Shirley Bassey

(Photograph omitted)

GOING OUT / Jimmy Webb comes in from the rain

THE CAKE left out in the rain from 'MacArthur Park' was one of the most memorable (and apparently meaningless) images of Sixties' pop. Written as a concerto by Jim Webb, who also arranged and produced the recording, the song featured a pained vocal by a hot-foot-from-Camelot Richard Harris and a swirl of strings so overblown that a less histrionic performance would surely have been drowned out by the first chorus. It was the 'Bat Out of Hell' of its day, and Webb was a boy wonder to rival Phil Spector. A millionaire by the age of 21, around the time the song hit the charts in 1968, Webb had already written 'Up, Up and Away' (for the Fifth Dimension) and the first of his checklist of place-name songs for Glen Campbell ('By the Time I Get to Phoenix', 'Wichita Lineman', 'Galveston') as well as serving out a songwriter's apprenticeship at Tamla Motown. Since those glory days, Webb (now called Jimmy rather than Jim, as if the extra gravitas were no longer needed) has continued to write hits and compose for Hollywood and Broadway, and also to perform his own songs, which may well have been his real ambition all along. He appears in cabaret at the Green Room of the Cafe Royal, where he will perform solo, accompanying himself at the keyboard. Robbed of its orchestral bombast, the beautiful structure of 'MacArthur Park' should stand out all the more. But will Webb tell us what on earth he was on about? (Green Room, Cafe Royal, London W1, 071-437 9090, Tues-3 Sept.)

ARTS / Show People: Knob-twiddler to the vets: Don Was

'RECORD PRODUCER specialising in career rescue - will take on anyone in any genre. No case too desperate (not even Ringo turned away), but over-40s preferred. Spectacular results guaranteed. Impeccable references.'

I CONFESS / Jonathan Meades turns on the Electric Light Orchestra

I was dimly aware of ELO in the Seventies, but I only bought my first ELO tape in 1989 after I'd spent four weeks submerged in the Black Country culture for a documentary. It's my secret vice. Try playing their music in a room containing anyone over the age of eight and you can forget it. I listen to them in the car, and it's exhilarating. I am unashamed. Having missed out on them in my youth, it's not a case of nostalgia. I love their sheer mindlessness. It's low- level aesthetic bliss. They were the slickest pop group around: technical perfection and absolute vacuity. Apart from the basic falsetto voice and string sound, they are also winningly unoriginal.

Letter: Spector at the feast

Sir: In his article 'Underrated: the case for the mono button' (29 December), David Lister links the slogan 'back to mono' with John Lennon, further adding to the myth of the all-wise Liverpudlian.

CHRISTMAS PRESENCE / Nice and rosy and comfy and cosy are we: Phil Spector's Christmas album is the archetypal festive pop record, often imitated, never bettered. But, thanks to President Kennedy, it struck the wrong chord when it was first released in 1963

Phil Spector had it all mapped out. He would produce the ultimate Christmas album. He would use his favourite teenage pop stars. He would record a personal message for the closing track. He would call it A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector. And America would play the thing to death, year in, year out.

LYRICS / Spread the word, take the rap: Rappers have a new shock in store: they're inciting peace, love, the three 'R's and cholesterol-free diet. Kevin Jackson reports

At last, an American lawyer has had the guts to bring these foul-mouthed, psychotic, drug-crazed rap stars to book. The lawyer in question is Lawrence Stanley, a specialist in obscenity trials and recent winner of the august H L Mencken award; the book is Rap: The Lyrics (Penguin), which collects the words to 150 of the form's greatest hits. Thanks to Mr Stanley, hard-core rap fans will have the chance to find out exactly what their heroes were bellowing about even from the depths of the most impenetrable mixes, while pale, timorous liberals will be able to discover what has been going on in rap since about 1980 without having to endure the torture of actually listening to the stuff.

Shall Meek inherit the earth?: Margaret Thatcher, EMI, David Mellor, Tangerine Dream . . . none was spared when John Repsch campaigned to found a Joe Meek museum at 304 Holloway Road, Islington, London

JOE MEEK was known as the British Phil Spector. He recorded 'Telstar' with the Tornados (No 1 for five weeks in 1962). Remarkably, he did so in his flat at 304 Holloway Road in north London, home of RGM Sound, where the bathroom doubled as a vocal booth. He was hailed as a sound pioneer - until 1967, when he shot his landlady and then turned the gun on himself.

ROCK / Right up to his neck in it: The confusion, the therapy, the vicious snails - it's tough being

In rock and roll, attitudes have come a long way since the days when Ted Nugent would brag about his fondness for raw meat, and The Clash would take pot-shots at pigeons with air rifles. These days, things are a lot more equal between the human and animal species (except that the latter tend, on the whole, to make the more imaginative music). In Peter Gabriel's case, however, the tables are clearly turning. Not long ago, Gabriel was attacked by a snail. A big snail, admittedly, and possibly a turbo cossack snail, but a snail none the less.

ROCK / After Freud we rhyme

THE TIMES they are a-stretchin'. Tomorrow Peter Gabriel releases a set of new songs, six years and four months after his last one. If he'd only hung on nine more months, this would have been as long as the Beatles took to release all 12 of their LPs. To be fair, Gabriel had an album out in 1989 - the soundtrack to The Last Temptation of Christ. Even so, it's quite a wait. The only precedent I know is that of Dire Straits, who took from May 1985 to last September to come up with On Every Street, and paid the price: the album went double platinum, instead of the usual octuple.
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