Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary (28/08/11)

Never one to shirk off, even for bank holidays

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Operas at English National Opera may not always be sung in English, according to its 36-year-old music director, Edward Gardner. In an interview with Norman Lebrecht to be broadcast on Radio 3 this week, Gardner gives his strongest indication yet that he is prepared to tamper with the ENO's sacred unique selling point.

"I wonder if in a few years we might possibly look at doing an original language opera," he says, risking the wrath of ENO's most traditional supporters. Speaking about the pitfalls of translation, he adds: "There is something lost – I'm not going to deny. It's a compromise. The allure of the language, especially Italian can get a little bit lost, and you're hopefully replacing it with something more immediate."

The first step may be to perform an opera in two languages. "My big idea is to do an Ariadne in two languages – with the comedic scenes in English, the opera itself in German."

ENO was founded by Emma Cons, a Victorian philanthropist who staged popular operas for the poor in English. And yes, that is the sound of her spinning in her grave, in English, of course.

Novelist Philip Hensher will provoke a backlash against homosexuals if he keeps writing such graphic gay sex scenes, says the ex-Sunday Telegraph editor Peregrine Worsthorne. A heated exchange between the writers has been running in the letters page of The Spectator since Worsthorne slammed Hensher's latest novel for its "unseemly anatomical accounts" of provincial orgies.

To those who remember Worsthorne's stance on homosexuality in the Eighties, this may come as no surprise. But he insists he is not homophobic, simply that he finds Hensher's sex scenes "hard to believe" and "depressingly impersonal".

"Philip Hensher and Alan Hollinghurst are two of our greatest contemporary writers," he tells me, "and of course I believe in free speech. But reading Hensher's latest novel I was shocked by all the grisly detail. It's completely unnecessary."

Worsthorne adds that far from being anti-gay, he has "spent much of my time in the gay world", and was recently named a gay icon by a magazine. Hensher, meanwhile, doesn't seem to be taking Worsthorne too seriously: "I really don't give a toss," he says.

A group of poets hoping to rescue The Travel Bookshop need to wake up to the realities of running a small business, says its founder, Sarah Anderson.

Made famous as the venue where Hugh Grant meets Julia Roberts in the film Notting Hill, the bookshop is closing, despite becoming a Mecca for fans of the rom com.

Anderson, the author of a moving account of growing up with one arm, Halfway to Venus, sold the business after 25 years in 2004. "Of course I am sad it's closing," she tells me. "But it's just too tough to run an independent bookshop these days."

Last week, TV presenter Ben Fogle and a number of poets volunteered to run the shop for free until a new owner was found. But staff costs are not the problem, warns Anderson. "Everyone dreams of running a bookshop and sitting there writing poetry all day," she says. "The reality is rather different. Rates and rent have gone up, and no one can compete with Amazon."

Speaking of Fogle – why doesn't he put his money where his mouth is and buy it? Earlier this month he was trying to buy Taransay, the Scottish island where Castaway was filmed. We're sure the bookshop is up for a lot less than £2m.

Much buck-passing between the British Council and the Foreign Office, over who knew what about Hana Gaddafi. She is the adopted daughter of Colonel Gaddafi, who he claimed had been killed by the US in 1986, with all the propaganda value that entailed.

But, last week, Irish Times journalist Mary Fitzgerald found a certificate from the British Council dated 19 July 2007, showing "a Hana Muammar Gaddafi had completed an English-language course at its Libyan centre, achieving an A grade". A British Council spokesman denies that they failed to alert authorities at the time, saying the British Embassy would have known. "It's certainly not something we would keep a secret," he says. "The embassy would have been aware. But there's a possibility that she was a different daughter, who was adopted and renamed in memory of the Hana that was killed, which is not unheard of in Libya."

It premiered on Friday at the Edinburgh Television Festival, but the hilarious Channel 4 film, Comic Strip, The Hunt for Tony Blair, will not screen on TV until October – on the day the Chilcot report on Iraq is made public.

Featuring Jennifer Saunders as Margaret Thatcher, the ludicrous plotline sees Stephen Mangan's Blair end up in bed with Thatcher. But it has subtler touches: the theatre where the denouement takes place is called The Chilcot.

m.bell@independent.co.uk

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