Arts and Entertainment

Of all the subjects for a thrilling tale of espionage, war and diplomacy, ping-pong seems an unlikely contender. All the more intriguing then is the story behind a détente between America and China in 1971, which occurred seemingly out of the blue after 22 years of hostility.

'Voice of Rugby' McLaren falls silent aged 86

There was a kind of hush all over the rugby world last night. Bill McLaren, the great voice of rugby union, died yesterday morning, aged 86. It is eight years now since the former schoolmaster hung up his microphone in the BBC television commentary box, but for half a century his gentle Borders burr – painting a vivid picture of the game he played, taught and loved – made him not so much a national as an international institution. From Hawick, his beloved home town in the Scottish Borders, to Invercargill, the southernmost tip of All Black country, McLaren and his words were fondly cherished. He was an MBE, an OBE, a CBE and, in what proved to be the final year of his life, the subject of a huge Facebook campaign for a knighthood.

Legendary commentator Bill McLaren dies

Rugby union commentator Bill McLaren has died aged 86.

Matterson vows to continue after loss of finger

The Castleford coach, Terry Matterson, intends to carry on regardless despite the loss of a finger in an horrific training ground accident.

Varekai, Royal Albert Hall, London

Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, Cirque du Soleil has become the biggest brand in world circus. "Brand" is the word, because there's something very corporate about this Canadian company's approach to circus. The performers are spectacular: Varekai includes some astonishing feats, from intricate balancing acts to Russian swings. The framing show is blandly predictable.

Observations: Book club open to browsers

If you thought book clubs were a bunch of people sitting around, discussing what they had read the night before, you'd be wrong – well, about this book club, anyway. Since it opened in London's Shoreditch in the autumn, visitors to the Book Club, which describes itself as taking an intelligent approach to social activity, have taken part in talks, cultural happenings, workshops and the odd unconventional club night.

Blair boots the Blues past Toulouse

Cardiff Blues 15 Toulouse 9: Kiwi full-back kicks four penalties and wing Halfpenny another to bring misfiring French giants down to earth

Lives Remembered: Eric Dehn

Eric Harold Dehn, my former colleague at Bristol Grammar School, was a remarkable man, of short stature but huge personality, who was born in 1916 and spent his working life between 1939 and 1976, apart from the years of the Second World War, as a French teacher at Bristol Grammar School. His teaching methods were idiosyncratic, conducting the whole of an 11-year-old's first lesson entirely in French and giving each boy a French name based on his surname, for example, but he gave the same care and attention to the pupil having trouble with French verbs as he did to the potential Open Scholar.

The Sketch: Lords bowled over by Sugar's maiden speech

Lord Sugar's debut in the Lords can't be called a maiden speech. It was more demi-mondaine, with a touch of street-walker, a bit of pole dancing and one of those tricks that Thai strippers do with a ping-pong ball.

Travel challenge A new year get-together in England

Every week we invite competing companies to give us their best deal for a specified holiday. Today: a self-catering break over the new year. Prices are for seven nights' rental (commencing 28 December) for properties that sleep at least 10 guests.

Sarkozy challenged over claims of smashing Wall

President Nicolas Sarkozy became embroiled in a bizarre verbal ping-pong match yesterday after he announced that he had personally helped to demolish the Berlin Wall on the first day of its fall 20 years ago.

Observations: Give the Coraline puppet masters a hand

More often than not, when we watch a film, we don't give too much thought to the amount of work involved in putting it together. Which, refreshingly, is something that director Henry Selick decided to fix during trailers for his latest stop-frame animation film, Coraline, which hit our cinema screens earlier this year. To highlight just how meticulous the process can be, he flashed a few facts fleetingly across the screen: thousands of hands for puppets were each made by hand, a forest of cherry blossoms made of popcorn, five miles of gold thread for a five-inch wig and 3,500 flowers that all light up.

Brian Ashton: Coaches must go with the flow, free of jargon

Tackling the issues

Evra defends Ronaldo's character

Manchester United defender Patrice Evra has leapt to the defence of former team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo, insisting the Portugal star is portrayed unjustly by the media.

Observations: How cinema's inside man manages to do the right thing

Spike Lee was on typically rambunctious form at The Independent Interview on Monday at London's BFI. In a wide-ranging discussion, guided gently and not always successfully by David Lammy, MP, the director covered everything from the release of Do the Right Thing 20 years ago and the racism of critics, to how Barack Obama is coping with a post-election onslaught from "redneck crackers" ("The euphoria of him winning has gone. He's under attack"), and the changing face of cinema, where funding is scarce. "Unless you're Spielberg, Lucas or Tyler Perry, it's hard to get a film made." Nevertheless, the single-minded director (he demands final cut on all of his movies) revealed that he had turned down big-budget directing jobs in the aftermath of his most successful film, Inside Man. "Every available bank-heist movie that had been lying around was dusted off and sent to me".

Pixar: The real toon army

Toy Story, Wall-E, Finding Nemo – and next month, Up. How does Pixar stay on top? The secret's in its incredible studios in California. Guy Adams takes an exclusive tour
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
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Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
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exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
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Burgundy, the River Rhone & Provence – MS Swiss Corona - seven nights from £999pp
Lake Maggiore, Orta and the Matterhorn – seven nights from £899pp
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Istanbul Ephesus & Troy – six nights from £859pp
Mary Rose – two nights from £319pp
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn