Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary (16/05/10)

Forever going to the palace

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A busy time for domestic staff at No 10, who are elbow-deep in soap suds ahead of the Camerons' move. A team of French polishers has come in to repair the many antique wooden desks, which have suffered from three years of mobile phones flying through the air. According to my man with the Pledge, there is one piece of furniture in particular, an oval table in a room overlooking Horse Guards Parade, next to the war room, which is thought to have been used by Gordon Brown, and is covered in scratches and gouges where it has clearly been stabbed by a pen. Happily, the Civil Service's French polishers are permanently on standby. No, really.

This time last year the BBC's Middle East correspondent, Jeremy Bowen, was reprimanded for making apparently anti-Israeli remarks. Now he is in a pickle once again for describing the current tension between the US and Israel as "enjoyable". In an article on the BBC news website he wrote that: "It has been an unusual and enjoyable new experience to be able to look on as the Israelis argued with their most important ally." Uh oh – the Israeli lobby is not happy about that. So Bowen has rushed out a correction, blaming an editing glitch, declaring he meant to say it had been enjoyable for the Palestinians, not for him. Oh, no, of course not – not at all enjoyable.

As the pressure mounts for Roman Polanski to be extradited, supporters of the disgraced director are saying he is too depressed to face charges. Two members of the French Academy visited Polanski last week and declared, "He is in danger.... We are really worried for him." Then Frédéric Mitterrand, the minister of culture, weighed in, saying, "I am worried for his health", and the online intellectual review La règle du jeu talked of "signs of serious depression which demand an immediate liberation [from the process]". Last week a British actress claimed to have been raped by Polanski in Paris in 1982, five years after the crime for which he is wanted was committed in Los Angeles. If he is ill we hope he has the luck of Ernest Saunders, one of the Guinness Four who was released from prison after claiming he had Alzheimer's, an untreatable disease. He later made a miraculous recovery.

Why did the New Statesman go to print a day early? The current issue of Jason Cowley's left-wing weekly came out on Wednesday – instead of the usual Thursday – and is full of history-in-the-making articles calling for Clegg to side with Brown. "Nick Clegg teeters on the tightrope of power," thunders a double-page editorial, and Mehdi Hasan's politics column pleads embarrassingly: "Don't betray us, Nick." Had the mag come out as normal, 24 hours later, they would have known the result, but it looks like Cowley thought they could sway Clegg in his decision-making by coming out early. Bless!

We're delighted that Mark Francois, the Conservative MP for Rayleigh, was re-elected, for no reason other than that his email address amuses us: The former shadow minister for Europe is not ashamed of seeming to support General Franco, even if it made communications with his Spanish counterparts tricky. Besides, says Edward McMillan-Scott, a friend and the vice-president of the European Parliament, "Mark is a Conservative nationalist, just like the common definition of General Franco."

Harold Pinter might have been a crotchety old fella but he did look after his wives. When Vivien Merchant came home from filming Alfie with a black eye, Pinter went ballistic, according to the film's director, Lewis Gilbert, in his autobiography. Merchant had asked Michael Caine to slap her for real during a scene, so she could give a bigger reaction, he recalls. "The morning after we filmed, the phone rang. It was Pinter. He wanted to know what the hell we were up to, because his wife had a black eye and an almighty bruise across her face. Hadn't Michael Caine heard of acting, he said. Slaps are to be faked!" Touching, but Pinter would later forget his manners when he heartlessly tossed Merchant aside for Lady Antonia Fraser.

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