Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary

Now Britain's got even more talent


The RSC uses buckets of "Kensington gore" stage blood in the new
Julius Caesar at Stratford-upon-Avon, and a very gruesome spectacle it makes. But have the RSC's blood and guts people done their research? At one point Darrell D'Silva, playing Mark Antony, throws a severed human head to a colleague. It sails through the air as light as a beach ball. The human head is in fact one of the heaviest parts of the body and is about the weight of a small bag of coal.

The Hay Festival in agricultural Powys always presents a bit of a challenge to those literary folk who want to wear the right thing without being thought to worry too much about doing so. "Literary casual" usually requires a crumpled and misshapen linen jacket for the men, and the women tend towards something comparably smart-boho. Black, though favoured by organiser Peter Florence, is considered a bit too London and lacks insouciance (although that didn't stop journalist Giles Coren). But the most ludicrous piece of overdressing was by literary agent Caroline Michel, who paraded through the tiny market town wearing six-inch platformed, peep-toe "shoots" (shoe boots), black leggings and a billowing, bright green silk "boyfriend" jacket. When in Rome...? She might just as well have been.

The revolution has come to Westminster, but how excited should we be? Not very, according to Martin Amis, who is writing a novel about that very subject. He has given his book the title The Pregnant Widow, a term used to describe the aftermath of a perceived revolution. "The phrase was coined by the Russian thinker Alexander Herzen," he explains. "He says that the dissolution of the old order should make the soul rejoice, but the frightening thing is that what the departing order leaves behind is not an heir but a pregnant widow, and that between the death of the one and the birth of the other is a long night of chaos and desolation." Something to look forward to, then.

New figures just published reveal that Tony Blair gave £6,000 to the Labour Party on 17 March. In addition to the £7,500 he donated on 11 September, this brings his total gifts to £13,500. Does that seem a lot or a little, given his relationship with the party and his current earnings? Hmmm.

More trouble for Jacqui Smith, Home Secretary (for now, at least). Michael Savage, the US shock jock who is on the Home Office's 16 "least wanted" list (alongside murderers and terrorists), is suing for defamation. Savage, whose show The Savage Nation has eight million listeners in the US, insists the allegations against him are "entirely false" and has hired lawyers in London. He has demanded that the Home Secretary removes his name from the list, "the payment of substantial sum in damages" and the publication of a further press release to "include a retraction of the allegations".

"Maybe Jacqui Smith just plucked my name out of the hat because I'm controversial and white – to counter-balance all the Arabs named on her list," says Savage. "It is totally preposterous, but it's deadly serious because she has made me a target."

Gerald Scarfe's latest book of cartoons has fallen foul of Chinese censors. "The book has a few male organs in it but my Chinese publishers refused to include them," said the veteran cartoonist, speaking at the Hay Festival. "When I asked them 'Why not?' they snapped 'Too big!'" Added Scarfe with a wry smile: "That's the way we are in Britain, I told them."

Is actor turned politician Glenda Jackson about to face a challenge from another woman keen to pursue a second career? The Labour MP held a public meeting in her Hampstead and Highgate constituency last Friday, and who was sitting in the audience and pointedly asking questions but Esther Rantzen, the avenging scourge of Luton South MP Margaret Moran? News stands for the local Ham and High were proclaiming that morning: "I want to be an MP – Esther." With boundary changes threatening Ms Jackson's 3,729 majority and Labour disastrously low in the polls, could this be the new career opening the presenter of That's Life is after?

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