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ENVOYS of the Captain had lunch with John Birt at the BBC last week. Conversation, on Mr Birt's clear and specific request, was entirely off the record. Don't worry, though, nothing terribly exciting. Actually, the most interesting aspect of the occasion was Mr Birt's lunching practice. He drank only water and ate only cottage cheese and lettuce, while everybody else was given fancy chicken and the trimmings. You may find this independent frugality admirable, evidence of a man mith a fierce, almost saintly, sense of mission. I'd rather have a host who made you welcome by at least sharing the same tucker, not one who makes you feel guilty about a bit of warm chicken. But this pale form of lunchmanship is catching on all over. Bound to be of American origin. It also reminds me of the Maharajah of Benares, whom I met shortly after he had entertained the Queen at his palace on the Ganges. The Maharajah is from a fiercely orthodox sub- caste of brahmins; strictly, only brahmins are acceptable eating companions for brahmins. So, I asked, had he eaten with the Queen? He was surprised by the question. Of course not, he said. He ate later and alone.