Tales of the City: How to get ahead in waxworks

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The intrepid spy story of the week is the theft by the Serbian government of Churchill's fingers.

The intrepid spy story of the week is the theft by the Serbian government of Churchill's fingers. It's true. Serbia's Deputy Minister of Culture, a chap called Vladimir Tomcic, is also the owner of the nation's new wax museum. Concerned that the quality of his wax might not be fine enough for the stars of Serbia's long and distinguished history, he called a couple of henchmen. He told them to fly to London, to mingle incognito with the tourists in Madame Tussauds and, when the attendants' backs were turned, to shave off a sliver of Madame T's wax, and smuggle it home in a false-bottomed suitcase so that Vladimir and his backroom staff could examine its properties and replicate them. But; and duh! - that's henchmen for you; his "shave off a sliver" was translated in their heads into "break off a finger." So they did. Two, in fact. It's amazing they made it through Customs.

The Serbians have confessed and apologised. They think the fingers are from the model of Churchill, though it might be Roosevelt or even Stalin. Serb henchmen can't be expected to tell one Yalta conferencer from another (although you can usually tell Churchill's fingers by the enormous cigar between them). I'm concerned, however, by the response of Diane Moon, from Tussauds, "It is hard to identify exactly which statue was targeted," she said, "as we get fingers broken off all the time." What? And does it stop at fingers? Can there be a trans-continental organisation of wax limb fanatics, furtively adding every week to their collection of Blair thumbs, Beckham ears and Kylie buttocks?

Glass ceiling for women drinkers

The pub Landlord, Al Murray's famously boorish alter ego, would be puzzled by the British Beer and Pub Association's initiative to offer women in pubs a third of a pint of beer, served up in a dinky wine glass. At the beginning of his Edinburgh Fringe gigs, the Landlord would furiously seize pint glasses from the hands of women rash enough to have ordered such an unladylike measure, and say: "pint of beer for the gentleman, dry white wine for the lady. I'm not saying it's right, it's just The Way Things Are."

The BBPA are hoping to persuade British girls to cease their chronic Sauvignon habit and turn to beer as a sophisticated alternative, which they can sip in tiny quantities, as if imbibing nectar. This seems to suggest a tragically naive view of women and drink. Among the girls I know, the beer drinkers wouldn't consider imbibing anything less than a pint; it would be making a fool of their intestinal tract. The idea that they might return home, Bridget-Jones-style, after a hard day in the TV production office and think "God that was hell - what I desperately need is a very tiny amount of a refreshing lager-style beer" is, frankly, not on. The wine drinkers, meanwhile, cannot stand beer at any price. They complain it tastes of soggy, disintegrating bread, of tarry water and over-dunked biscuits. Try to convince them that a few fluid ounces of Bombardier or Old Peculiar is a classy aperitif and you'll get a sock on the jaw.

If you could get any of the wine-drinking sorority into a pub at all (as opposed to a Soho club), they would greet the invitation, "So darling - fancy a third?" with the contempt it deserves. It's like the uproar that has broken out in Munich since the beer festival organisers decided to serve the stuff in plastic cups that you can't crash together during the "Horst Wessel Song". There are rules about beer. It's not about sophistication, it's about volume. Women who think it's disgusting will never be convinced otherwise. Beer cellars are for clinking steins, not plastic containers. I'm not saying it's right, it's just The Way Things Are.

Rather good

Americans woke this morning to life without Dan Rather. The veteran CBS anchorman hung up his squawking earpiece last night, after 24 years presenting the television evening news. I'll miss him. Whenever I visited the States, his craggy features were always on TV, growling with saloon-bar scepticism, snarling with hilariously obvious political bias at Republicans as he talked in extraordinary Texan proverbs that you could swear he invented himself. ("If a frog had side-pockets, he'd carry a handgun." "If you try to read the tea leaves before the cup is done, you'll get yourself burned." "Don't taunt the alligator until after you've crossed the creek.")

I spent election night last November in a Caribbean hotel TV lounge (just one American guest turned out to watch the fate of his country being decided) and marvelled at the stream of metaphors that flowed from his lips. "This race is hotter than a Times Square Rolex," he growled, as if reporting from the Kentucky Derby. Turning to a fellow pundit with Democrat sympathies, he asked, "Joe, I know that you'd rather walk through a furnace in a gasoline suit than consider the possibility that Kerry would lose Ohio..."

A gasoline suit? Where did he get this stuff? But my favourite Rather story began on a Monday in September 1986 when, for no obvious reason, he signed off the broadcast with the single word, "Courage." His predecessor, Walter Cronkite, used to leave with a neutral "...and that's the way it is". This was different. This was bordering on the alarming. Next night, he growled it again. His producer told Rather to damn well consult him if he was going to change the script. On Wednesday he said it a third time. Rival broadcasters had fun signing off with " mazel tov" or "hot dogs".

On Thursday, Rather changed tack and said " coraje" (the Spanish for "courage" - one of the news stories had come from the Mexican-American border), and the phone lines were jammed. When there was news of an air crash in Pakistan, the producers in the control room prayed, "oh God, don't let him say 'courage' in Pakistani." Next week he'd dropped his gruff directive and the nation breathed again. What a guy. I just can't imagine Huw Edwards gazing at the camera at the end of a bulletin and intoning the words, "steady on"...

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