Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary

One Action Man never out of production


Peter Mandelson was among the friends of Robert Harris who turned up for the launch of his latest novel,
Lustrum, in Westminster on Thursday, along with Tina Brown, Lynn Barber, Anji Hunter and a crutch-wielding Adam Boulton. Mandy, to whom the book is dedicated, is godfather to one of Harris's children, an honour he shares with Jeremy Paxman, who was strangely absent. Also unable to attend was the film director Roman Polanski, who had very nearly finished production of Harris's novel
The Ghost when he was arrested by Swiss authorities. "People keep asking me 'isn't it difficult to defend Roman?'," says Harris, "but it's much easier than defending Peter."

Spare a thought for Louis de Bernières, the brilliant creator of Captain Corelli's Mandolin. The Norfolk author has developed a painful condition in his hand that prevents him from writing, drawing, or even playing his beloved mandolin. De Bernières is the latest in a list of famous names to suffer from Dupuytren's contracture, which prevents the fingers from fully extending, including Samuel Beckett, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Bill Nighy. Fortunately, it is curable, and De Bernières is bravely keeping his spirits up until an operation in February. In the meantime fans of his work can be getting on with his latest book, Notwithstanding: Stories from an English Village.

One person who hasn't gone off Andrew Marr since his probing of the Prime Minister's use of prescription drugs is the Daily Mail columnist Amanda Platell. The fragrant former press secretary to William Hague was spotted giving Marr what one onlooker described as "warm words of comfort" at the New Statesman party at the Labour conference. The unmarried Platell has become a regular guest on Marr's Sunday morning show.

The first day of The Times's serialisation of Christopher Andrew's official history of MI5 failed to deliver any earth-shattering revelations, but the book does get the thumbs-up from one of our most senior former spies, Oleg Gordievsky. The Russian defector tells me he was given access to the manuscript and saw Andrew working diligently within MI5 on several occasions over the past three years. "He is a brilliant historian and it is a very solid book," he enthuses. "Of course, he was not a real insider and there are secrets that will remain secret to which he was not introduced. He didn't expect to be either. But he looked at genuine documents, and lots of them. The book is full of lots of little revelations. And it's not just any other spy book – you know that everything in it is true because it's official, so it has authority." In the interests of full disclosure one should point out that Gordievsky's own books were all written by, er, Christopher Andrew.

The towering newspaper editor Sir Harold Evans hasn't lived in Britain for 25 years, which is probably just as well. Running into the spry journalist last week, I was regaled with stories of his experience of British incompetence while he has been in London to promote his autobiography. "Can you believe, the distributors have run out of copies already?" he said. "It's only been out five days and nobody can get hold of a copy." The source of the problem is, apparently, Waterstones's new hub distribution system, which has been responsible for many other books failing to hit the shelves for the crucial autumn books season. Earlier this year, the retailer announced 600 job cuts, thanks to the new system.

Jeremy Paxman claims to suffer from impostor syndrome, but it clearly doesn't affect Ed Smith. The former England cricketer is taking the term Renaissance man to new heights, having landed himself a job as leader-writer for The Times. It's the latest in a series of impressive career moves since Smith took a double first in history at Cambridge. Since the 1990s he has been a book reviewer and written for Prospect; in 2005 he wrote and presented a series on Radio 3 about classical music, sport and the shared experiences of professional performers; and for the past year he has filed a weekly column to The Daily Telegraph. "I'm very excited about it," he tells me, of his new berth at Wapping. "I can't wait."

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