Matthew Bell: The IoS diary


Boris Johnson has been at pains to put his colourful past behind him, as Cole Moreton relates on pages 28 and 29, but I hear news of an episode in the mid-1990s when Boris was a little careless about his attributions. While preparing a newspaper column, Boris asked to see a lecture given to Gresham College, in the City of London, on the constitution, by the historian Professor Peter Hennessy.

The professor's work had been helpful to Boris in the past for at least one previous article, and so impressed was Boris with Hennessy's talk this time that he decided it should be represented in his piece. In his enthusiasm to spread Hennessy's words of wisdom, though, he omitted to offer attribution to the Professor. Hennessy will not discuss the matter and regards it as closed, but I am told he was "furious" about it at the time, and used one or two decidedly unparliamentary terms to describe the thrusting Boris. The mayoral candidate was as reticent as ever with the 'IoS' and his office did not return my calls last night.

Silvio and Tony would bear hug when they met, but will it be the same with Gordon? According to Peter Oborne, the PM is not averse to a man cuddle, as he witnessed at a recent reception at Lambeth Palace. "At a late stage of the evening, under the benign gaze of the Archbishop, Frank Field stepped forward and embraced Gordon Brown, who responded in kind. It was a moving and blessed moment between two honourable men who have been at odds for more than a decade and yet proved they could forget their differences." Pass the paisley hanky.

The author Kingsley Amis was amenable to anything as long as he managed to get a good lunch out of it. He would even entertain advertising executives at 'The Spectator', according to Rory Knight Bruce, who recalls initiating advertising lunches there in his newly published memoirs 'Red Letter Days'. 'Fat Lady' Jennifer Paterson, the cook, "loathed the lunches, which she had to cook, feeling they were beneath her. Kingsley Amis was marvellous with her, refusing to speak, and stopping in mid sentence with one of his stories, if she came into the small, cramped dining room, to produce another wobbly fish mousse starter".

William Hague's 'succès d'estime' as a biographer of Wilberforce and Pitt could now be trumped by his wife, Ffion Jenkins. She has written her first book, a look at the many women in Lloyd George's life, due out in June, which I'm told promises a lot more sex and scandal than her husband's doorstop tomes. According to the publisher, "There were many private scandals in a life devoted to public duty. Ffion Hague illuminates his complex attitude to women. Her own interest stems from the many parallels in her own life." What's that? Is there something we should be told?

Equally mystifying is Ffion's decision to adopt her husband's surname for her publishing debut. When they married in 1997, Ffion declared she would be keeping her maiden name for professional reasons.

In June Andy Coulson will have earned his first £270,000 as the Tories' communications director. Eyebrows were raised at the appointment of the former 'News of the World' editor last year, and party members have been wondering what he has done to earn his keep. Now finally it seems the investment is paying off, as insiders at Downing Street are holding Coulson responsible for having spun the image of the Prime Minister as a "ditherer".

Leaks from No 10 suggest that the Prime Minister has become "obsessed" with Coulson, who he believes has been fuelling rumours that he is depressed and on the verge of stepping down. Gordon Brown has been described as a ditherer 53 times in British newspapers in the past two months.

When the diarist Joan Wyndham died last year she was the last of a bohemian set that included Quentin Crisp, Philip Toynbee and Dylan Thomas. Now a fan of the eccentric writer has adapted Wyndham's memoirs of a life hard lived into a one-woman play. Maggie Contreras, an actress from Los Angeles, opens 'Love Lessons' at the Finborough Theatre in north London tomorrow.

"I fell in love with Joan's diaries. They are so raw – sort of elegantly crass," says Contreras. "My research is continual – I look like Joan and am currently even living in her house, which is full of sculpture and old cats. It's surreal."


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