Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary

Always available for a fireside chat

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The surprise appointment of Will Gompertz as the BBC's arts editor continues to perplex. The new role is meant to be the equivalent of a Peston or Robinson – in other words, an experienced journalist breaking big stories. But Gompertz has only ever worked in PR, and I gather he is to be given six months' training when he starts in December on a six-figure salary.

The Beeb's press release claims Gompertz has been an adviser to several major arts organisations, but inquiries reveal these were mostly unpaid and somewhat cursory. The appointment wouldn't be so odd if the shortlist of 12 candidates had not been so strong, including Ekow Eshun, Sarfraz Manzoor, Razia Iqbal, Richard Brooks of The Sunday Times and Nick Glass from Channel 4. "It's not unusual for people joining a broadcast organisation to be given training," says a spokesman. Just as long as the taxpayer keeps coughing up.

***

It's getting nasty down at the National Archives in Kew. As revealed by the IoS earlier this year, leading historians and biographers including Antony Beevor, AN Wilson and Saul David are reeling because of plans to reduce opening hours, lay off specialist staff and reduce access to archives in a drive to cut costs. A decision is to be announced this week, and it seems chief exec Natalie Ceeney will go ahead, on the grounds she hasn't received a better alternative solution. But historian Nick Barratt, leader of Action 4 Archives, says nobody has been able to produce alternatives because requests for crucial information have been rejected. "We asked for a breakdown of how closing one day a week will save half a million and were told this information was confidential. How can we draw up alternative plans unless we have the information?" Barratt is cross that vital staff are to be laid off, yet management continues to recruit, currently advertising for a post at over £90,000. Ceeney herself is paid £140,000 – 50 per cent more than when she started, four years ago.

***

Among the stories omitted from William Shawcross's simpatico biog of the Queen Mother – on grounds of space, of course – is one concerning a letter, sent by the QM's husband, touching on the more intimate aspects of their honeymoon. The Duke, as he then was (later, George VI) wrote to a friend: "Everything was plain sailing, which was a relief. You know what I mean. I was very good!!" To whom did he send the letter? None other than to Louis Greig, his mentor and ... grandfather of London Evening Standard editor Geordie Greig. Piccolo mondo!

***

Puffy-frocked potter Grayson Perry popped up on the Today programme last week, lamenting to James Naughtie that a decline in ceramics teaching could lead to a dearth of new potters. But when the diary ran into him over champagne at Crockfords Casino he was quite dismissive of his own thesis. "Oh no, I don't really believe it," he laughed. "If anything, it's rather good there aren't more young potters. Less competition for me!" Best not tell Jim ...

***

The Grove Hotel in Watford is a swanky country house affair, and, being in prime footballers' country, is frequently used for England press conferences. So guests at a recent wedding should perhaps not have been surprised to find their ceremony being watched by four familiar faces. As the solemn vows were made, the figures of Fabio Capello, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and David Beckham could be seen watching with, I'm told, "particular interest" from a nearby balcony. Bless.

***

The show must go on. Or not, in the case of the first public preview of Mother Courage, the National's ambitious new rendition of Bertolt Brecht's anti-war play starring Fiona Shaw. Theatre-goers were astonished when director Deborah Warner came on stage after a long delay to say only two-thirds of the play would run, as there had been no technical run-through and it would be unsafe to perform the final scenes. Tickets were offered for another night but many stayed and watched what was offered. Wednesday's official first night has also been cancelled. When one plucky punter asked who to ask for a refund of his train ticket, he was told after a thought, "Nicholas Hytner". Let's hope the critics are more loyal than the staff.

m.bell@ independent.co.uk

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