Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary

Orbit of the other Time Lord


It's rarely advisable for politicians to make pronouncements on the arts, but shadow Arts minister Ed Vaizey is throwing caution to the wind and calling for Harold Pinter to be commemorated at Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey. "This might seem an unorthodox suggestion from a Conservative MP," he ventures, "Memorials to Dame Peggy Ashcroft, Noël Coward, Herbert Read and John Betjeman, to name a few of the 20th-century figures there, are already in place." But as we all know, Pinter twice turned down a knighthood, and it seems unlikely he would have wanted to be canonised in that most establishment of mausoleums.

It must be a full-time job for the head of the British National Party working out whom to despise most, but Nick Griffin has a scheme. In an interview with 'Ma'ariv', the Tel Aviv daily paper, Griffin declares that "four million Jews would be preferable to four million Pakistanis", and declares he has "no time for anti-Semites". But it's hard to keep up by the time he gets going on Bernard Madoff. "He didn't steal OUR pensions funds," he says. "He mostly stole from Jewish charities. He may be a Jewish crook, but his Jewishness is irrelevant." Any clearer?

Pictures splashed over last weekend's tabloids of Prince Edward using a stick to break up a couple of Labradors immediately had the RSPCA investigating him for cruelty. So when he went shooting again on Friday, it can't have been by chance that he spent time patting the same dogs, with pictures of the love-in duly appearing the next day. The palace denies having anything to do with the rescue PR stunt, saying, "We never release photos of royals on their private estates." Indeed, both sets of pictures were taken by the paparazzi firm Albanpix, which is based close to Sandringham where the prince was shooting. There were sneers at the time, but how grateful the family must be now that Edward married a former PR girl.

Parodist Craig Brown recently claimed to be behind Simon Heffer's blimpish column in 'The Daily Telegraph', but even he could not have made up yesterday's offering. "About once a year I watch television," he announced, before condemning the BBC for "bowdlerising" 'The 39 Steps' in its recent adaptation. The crime? To have removed the book's disobliging lines about Jews and "dagoes", and, worst of all, axed the line the Heff had been panting for – "the magnificent moment when Scudder tells [Hannay] 'you're a white man!'". While readers were left puzzling over what was so magnificent about it, one's eye was distracted by a photo of the explosively fat Mr Creosote adorning a piece by Heffer headed "It is every Briton's right to eat pork pies". Perhaps it is all a joke after all.

It's not been a great season for Plymouth, having won only one out of six matches in the Championship. But that's no bother to lifelong supporter and ex-leader of the Labour Party Michael Foot, who at the fine age of 95 went to watch his team lose against Arsenal in the FA Cup yesterday. The match was the source of some tension as much of Foot's family, including great-nephew Tom, are Arsenal supporters. "The fixture has been our main talking point since the draw a few weeks ago," says Foot Jnr. But such is Foot Snr's dedication to the Pilgrims that years ago he persuaded residents of his street in Hampstead, north London, to rename it Pilgrim's Lane. "It is the best name for a football team and it seemed like the best name for a street too," he explains.

Whatever his faults, you could not accuse John Humphrys of lacking in self-esteem. The 'Today' programme's Welsh terrier boasts in an interview with 'Q' magazine that one female former Cabinet minister has told him it was his grilling that cost her her job, although he refuses to disclose who she is. It was, of course, Patricia Hewitt whose demise as health secretary in 2007 can be traced back to a memorably tense exchange over mixed-sex wards. It followed the publication in The Independent of the diaries of Patricia Balsom, sister of my colleague Janet Street-Porter, who woke up in hospital to find the man in the opposite bed standing stark naked and masturbating. Listeners were disgusted and Hewitt's career never really recovered.

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