A bloke spends just two months in jail, and then plans a new career helping prisoners turn their lives around. Praise-worthy or opportunistic? The sight of Chris Huhne – a chubbier chap than the match-fit fellow who received an eight-month sentence for perverting the course of justice – telling us he had been through a "humbling and sobering experience" made me feel slightly nauseous.
I wish him luck, and hope the rest of his sentence (he has been tagged and must remain indoors between 7pm and 7am) passes without incident, but the sight of this astonishing personality change in such an ambitious man fills me with deep suspicion. Former Tory minister Jonathan Aitken, who served a sentence for perjury in 1999, has been in regular contact with Huhne, and assures us that the former energy minister has had a real change of heart.
Nevertheless, I don't think eight weeks' porridge turns you into a social worker or a shrink, and it belittles all the training and expertise that such dedicated people acquire. Huhne's ex-wife Vicky Pryce is no better – released after serving two months for the same offence, after she had taken Huhne's speeding points, she's writing a book entitled Prisonomics, focusing on how the prison system treats women. A respected economist who advises top companies and government departments, she has already written a book about the Greek financial crisis entitled Greekonomics.
The timing of her announcement couldn't have been more opportunistic. They both spent 10 years deceiving the world about what really happened the night Huhne was captured on a speed camera. Now, they want to rebuild their careers.
I once taught in a primary school for a television series. It was a revelation – but it didn't turn me into an expert on the National Curriculum. I worked in Barnsley Hospital for another series about the NHS. I met amazing people, but all I gained was a snapshot of life at the coalface of care.
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling wants prisoners to "engage" with their own rehabilitation. Unless inmates are literate, going straight is a pipe-dream. Punishing people without educating them achieves nothing. Locking up women who have not committed violent crimes (the vast majority) and removing them from their children is pointless too. These women need help to get off drugs and learn social skills. I don't think Chris Huhne can come up with any magic solutions for helping prisoners – it requires a political will, and sadly the Tories are desperate to please right-wing voters.
Dancing to Gatsby's tune
As a teenager, my copy of F Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby was well thumbed – this haunting story of a lonely misfit clearly rang a few bells. Returning to the novel recently, the first thing I noticed was the elegance of the prose. Less is more, allowing readers to construct their own vivid pictures of the mysterious hero in his "pink rag" of a suit, alone in his mansion.
Reviews of Baz Luhrmann's new movie have been less than kind – the main criticism being that it's too brash, too over-burdened with design and set dressing. With impeccable timing, Northern Ballet's version of Gatsby arrived at Sadler's Wells in London last week, on the last leg of a UK tour. With clever use of a mash-up of music by Richard Rodney Bennett, it looks ravishing and the dancing is captivating, Once again, though, the spirit of Fitzgerald's multi-layered fable about decadence and identity remains elusive. There's a confusing subplot involving soldiers and a lost love that could easily be stripped away, but this show remains a terrific entertainment, and there's talk of it returning next year.
Facing up to Barbie TV
Never mind women in the boardroom, do we need quotas for equal representation on television? Lenny Henry was complaining last week that the Bafta awards were too white. If the rate of change remains slow for black and ethnic performers, older women in factual programming and the news fare worse, as a recent survey shows.
Of all presenters, 24 per cent were men aged over 50 and just 5 per cent were women. I can't get worked up about this – and I'm a 60-plus female lucky enough to be employed in the fickle world of the media. It's not as simple as age or sex. It is about recognition and empathy with viewers.
Julie Walters complains about "charming dinosaurs" such as John Simpson and the lack of comparable females. Fair enough, but too many women on telly project a fake version of their age. They fib about cosmetic surgery; they're on constant diets, signing up to the male agenda of what's attractive. There are too few Mary Beards and too many Barbie dolls. I want more people, black and white, old and young, who exude character on the box, and less vacuous prettiness perkily packaged.
The farce that's so right
The Whitehall Theatre – now Trafalgar Studios – played a big part in my love of farce. As far as Dad was concerned, Brian Rix was a comedy genius, and our family would troop off regularly to the Whitehall to spend an evening crying with helpless laughter at yet another improbable comedy with scantily clad women rushing in and out of bedrooms. In 2009 I went to an enjoyable revival of the black romp by Joe Orton Entertaining Mr Sloane, starring Mathew Horne and Imelda Staunton. Last week, I was reduced to tears of joy at the Trafalgar by the Mischief Theatre group, performing The Play That Goes Wrong. Forget theatre of the absurd, this is theatre of the abysmal. A group of young actors execute a classic farce about amateur dramatics with split-second precision, and a wealth of malfunctioning props. I haven't laughed so much for years – I think I'll go and see it again, which is more than I can say about Merrily We Roll Along, the much-praised Stephen Sondheim revival, which is just too wordy and arch for its own good. A good farce really sets you up for the rest of the week.
Not much merit in this Order
Last week, the Queen met members of the Order of Merit at Buckingham Palace. This distinguished group exists "for the promotion of culture" and is open to the great and the good from 16 countries in the Commonwealth.
Of the 22 members, two are from the monarch's close family: her husband and her son (at 64, the group's youngest member). It is scandalous that only one woman – Lady Boothroyd, the first female Commons Speaker – is considered worthy of membership. I can't imagine why David Hockney and Sir Tom Stoppard felt comfortable joining something so firmly rooted in the Stone Age.