Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary

Like 'Question Time', but without the squirming

Share

Much excitement in the hills around Parma in northern Italy. Word reaches me that George Clooney was spotted at the luxurious retreat of Tabiano Castello. The talk is that Clooney is looking to snap up a little place of his own, after visiting the idyllic hilltop hotel. Sandwiched between the Apennine mountains and the Po valley, the 11th century castle – which has just been refurbished and is not thought to be for sale – would make an ideal retreat for the actor. His current squeeze, Elisabetta Canalis, lives only an hour away in Milan, and rumours of Clooney's house-hunting are fuelling speculation that the elusive bachelor may have found in "La Betty" a woman to get serious with. Clooney has a villa on the banks of Lake Como, and has spearheaded a trend for Hollywood actors to buy homes in Italy. Tom Cruise was reportedly thinking of buying a castle in Lazio last year.

Claims in a new authorised history of MI5 that Roger Hollis, the agency's former head, was not a Soviet spy are flawed, says the man who first suggested he might be. According to spookwatcher Harry Chapman Pincher, 95, Christopher Andrew's book does little to quell the suspicion that arose after he revealed in his own book, Their Trade Is Treachery, that Hollis had been recalled from retirement to be questioned by MI5 over his Soviet connections. "Christopher's book leans over backwards to destroy the case against Hollis just by saying 'it's not true'," he tells me. Hollis was investigated by a committee codenamed Fluency, after suspicions from other agents that there was a mole among them. According to Chapman Pincher, 300,000 files were destroyed by MI5, which may have included Hollis's evidence to the committee, never published.

Bookish types attending the British Academy's Literature Week were especially looking forward to Thursday's seminar, Contemporary Poetry in the Theatre. Speakers were to include Josephine Hart, Grey Gowrie, Frank McGuinness and Derek Walcott. But the Nobel Prize-winning poet pulled out, citing poor health. It would have been the first time Walcott would have appeared in public in the UK since he withdrew from the running to be Oxford Professor of Poetry in May, after a smear campaign against him. Earlier this month he withdrew from a Nobel conference in the US, also citing medical reasons. We wish him a speedy recovery.

Labour MP Paul Farrelly should be hailed as a hero of free speech after he highlighted the threat posed by super-injunctions, such as the one slapped on the reporting of his question in the Commons about Trafigura. But it seems his smuggling of that toxic question on to the order paper hasn't gone down at all well. Farrelly, formerly a journalist on this newspaper, now finds every question he tables is being pored over by senior figures, who are apparently at pains to find fault with them. How churlish.

It was standing-room only at the launch of Best Seat in the House, a collection of Frank Johnson's articles, at Christie's last week, attended by grandees including Lord Tebbit, George Osborne, Tessa Keswick and Michael Howard. Lady Antonia Fraser had the best seat, a dark green sofa due to be auctioned this week which was, in theory, out of bounds. Few guests were aware that the furniture was the estate of millionaire Spaniard Juan March, who was Franco's banker for many years. A biography of the shadowy figure recently revealed he received millions of dollars in bribes from Churchill, which were distributed to Franco's generals to persuade them not to side with Hitler. No doubt some of the money helped to fund March's taste for expensive furniture.

MPs have returned from the summer recess to find the House of Commons infested with mice. When SNP MP John Mason recently caught one in his office, he got on the phone to the Commons authorities to ask them to take it away. So imagine his surprise when they said they were unable to help, as they have no system for the removal of unwanted vermin from the building. Presumably they have to wait for an election.

m.bell@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: New Business Client Manager - OTE £35,000

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global technology company ...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager - Telecoms - OTE £23,000

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has bec...

Recruitment Genius: Front of House Team Member

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This strategic outsourcing and energy se...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an I...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Larry Fink, the boss of fund manager BlackRock , is among those sounding the alarm  

Not all discounts are welcome: Beware the myopia of company bosses

Ben Chu
Cilla Black lived her life in front of the lens, whether on television or her earlier pop career  

Cilla Black death: A sad farewell to the singer who gave us a 'lorra, lorra laughs'

Gerard Gilbert
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen