n THIS MEDIA business can be frustrating and thankless, let me tell you. Take Talk Radio, the new commercial radio station. There you are, on a mission to offend, packed out with characters called "shock jocks'', operating "at the edge" of broadcasting acceptability for a dozen days now, and people resolutely refuse to co-operate. Talk Radio itself claims that 150 complaints have been made to the Radio Authority, but this must be an innocent error. The Captain has the figures. Number of telephone calls about Talk Radio to the Radio Authority as I write: 10. Number of complaints: 3.
LITERARY struggles. For oh, ages now, it has seemed to me that, quite unfairly, actors - no names, no pack drill - have monopolised the market in the angst-ridden interview about the sheer bloody hell of creativity. The time for writers to strike a blow for their suffering, to reassert their pain, is long overdue. So I am delighted to bring you extracts from a gem of an interview with Hilary Mantel, conducted by Derwent May and published in the Times last week. May began by describing Hilary's "cool, comfortable drawing room'', which "suggests as soon as one steps in that she has an instinct for peace - and as if to confirm it, a woolly lion and a woolly lamb lie side by side in a deep armchair by the fire''. But, reported May, for all her air of outward serenity, Hilary is now held remorselessly in the grip of her need to write: "I'm never off duty - often I've been up half the night writing, and then I'm lying awake at dawn with my brain raging". And so on, including, "Am I as good as so and so? Where do I fit in? It could drive you mad trying to answer that kind of question - the Booker prize is annual hell . . ." May concluded: "It was time for me to return to London. But I could sense that, for Hilary, the struggle was already resuming - the long, unpredictable hours of thinking and waiting and then seizing the moment with all the powers she could muster when the words began to come again.'' Hell, hell. And, of course, something the Captain knows so well, so very well. Next!
n CAPTAIN'S CRIB: Useful remarks to be employed with the utmost confidence when a modish topic crops up. Courtesy of the Captain, no one will ever know you are not "with it". Even judges might find it useful. This week: Blur, a pop group, winner of four Brit awards. All the background you need: from Colchester, use the bagpipes. Only name you need: Damon Albarn. You say: "The important thing about Blur is they're all trained musicians. With that background, they're bound to outlast Suede and Oasis. Great to have the Mods back. Albarn's a very talented bloke, but if I was put to it, I'd rather have the Small Faces themselves, frankly."
A LOT of people, you know, like to knock that Tony Blair. But here is a man capable of magnanimity. Tomorrow it will be announced that Joy Johnson, at present the BBC's news editor at Westminster, has been appointed the Labour Party's director of campaigns, communications and elections. Already, there has been much Tory clucking and clever newspaper sneering that Blair must be unaware of Ms Johnson's impeccable socialist credentials. But he is aware, he is. The Captain can reveal that Ms Johnson popped in on the Blairs for a drink on Boxing Day and fearlessly revealed to Tony that she had voted for, er, that Margaret Beckett.
n I REALLY don't know why there's been all this fuss about a new comic strip showing Tonto punching the Lone Ranger on his granite jaw to teach the masked avenger a sharp lesson in political correctness. This is very old hat. Surely I cannot be the only fan who recalls when the pair were in dire danger from a large number of marauding native Americans. "Looks like we're completely surrounded, Tonto,'' said the LR. To which Tonto replied, without hesitation, "What do you mean `We', Whitey?''
BRRNNNG! It is my old friend Duane, chronicler to the demi-monde, the twilight world of celebrity, where the autograph hunter and the man from the News of the World are never far away. With news of Hugh Grant! Hugh, he tells me, arrived almost out of breath at the Downing Street reception for "British stars of stage and screen" last week. This, says Duane, was because he had been forced to stop and buy a tie on the way. A checked one. At Tie Rack. "I thought you could use a headline something like `Hugh Grant shops at Tie Rack','' says Duane. I thank him very much and replace the receiver, shaking my head slowly at the wonder of it all.
n THE CAPTAIN REGRETS: R Barry O'Brien, legendary Fleet Street byline, who retired last week. O'Brien spent more or less 37 years working for the Daily Telegraph. He led, among much else, with the Profumo story. Fastidious, cultured, an Oxford man, of distinguished Irish lineage, he had a way over the telephone with recalcitrant government press officers which has never been equalled, not least in volume, and which demonstrated the value of the above qualities. O'Brien denied being the model for Private Eye's Lunchtime O'Booze. He did, however, confirm a close acquaintance with Diana Dors, George Carman, C S Lewis, Reg Kray and Paul Johnson, with whom he was at school ("a rather aggressive boy who played in the First XV. But he had a pretty face and was regularly cast as the heroine in school plays''). Tempora mutantur; ave et vale.
SO, were you aware that last week was National Prune Week? I thought not. But, once more, I can help. It was organised by the California Prune Board, which, anxious to dispel custard and continence connotations, has been touring Britain in a purple bus bearing Miss Prunella and Miss Prunelope dancing to The Prune Tune. You should know that annual prune sales here, thanks to stoned prunes straight from the packet, are about 7,500 tons, up 38 per cent since last year, but still below the 15,500 tons we managed just after the war, that Yuba City, California, is the prune capital of the world, and that Michelle Pfeiffer swears by them. Actually, I like them with custard.
n SPOOKY Corner. In which the Captain brings you to a nodding acquaintance with fear and a close relationship with the uncanny. Come now to Marks & Spencer, Stockport, the returns counter. Not a promising start, I will concede, but wait. A customer from London who has bought her mother-in- law a pair of bedroom slippers, beigy-caramel, fluffy inside, not too much detail, not, you know, too fussy, just what she had always wanted, but a size six rather than a size seven, is seeking to exchange them. "I'm afraid we don't sell those at this store, Madam," says the assistant. Just then, our customer notices that the next attendant is dealing with another customer seeking to exchange a size seven pair of the same slippers, also bought elsewhere, for, yes, a pair of size sixes. What do you make of that? Now there's no need to be rude. Arthur Koestler built a whole career on this sort of thing.
Exclusive: Moonlight goes inside the KGB. My exclusive picture shows the shadowy "agent of influence" known only by the codename "Bear" being welcomed and sworn into the service by President Boris Yeltsin, who is wearing the chain of command. Keen-eyed readers may be able to spot a visual clue to the involvement of Michael Foot in the poster behind. So just who is this "Bear"? Well, up until now, all that has been known is that he smokes small cigars, wears Hush Puppies and likes jazz. Up until now. Now, Moonlight's KGB contact, Colonel Ivan Turipuoff, is prepared to name him, if the conditions are right. He suggests a rendezvous, Mr Witherow, under the third table from the back at the Gay Hussar. Come back, come back, it's really some figures from the Cologne Rosemonday carnival.
Photograph by ARND WIEGMANN/REUTERReuse content