Matthew Bell: The <i>IoS</i> Diary (02/10/11)

A bumper harvest
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The Independent Online

Wallis Simpson had the opportunity to be called Duchess of Cornwall, but turned down the title as she thought it beneath her. This fascinating fact was unearthed by Anne Sebba, who has just published a new biography of Mrs Simpson, called That Woman. However, she did not include it in her book on the advice of her editor, who thought it would be "gratuitously offensive" to Camilla, the current Duchess of Cornwall. "It's true: my editor advised me not to include it," Sebba tells me. "I think he felt that it didn't contribute to our understanding of Wallis and would be gratuitously offensive." It's an astonishing bit of censorship by Weidenfeld & Nicholson, given how unlikely it is that the famously robust Camilla would take offence. Apparently, Wallis deemed Cornwall somewhat unfashionable and small-time, which, as Sebba says, "only shows Wallis's ignorance".

Michael Mansfield has promised to bite his tongue on controversial issues if he becomes Cam-bridge University chancellor. After Prince Philip stepped down, the maverick barrister is jostling against Brian Blessed, Lord Sainsbury and Abdul Arain, a Cambridge grocer. But Mansfield's outspoken views on issues like vivisection is at odds with the university, which has one of the three biggest animal research centres in Britain. "It's a valid point," he says. "But I see this as an opportunity to make change from inside." Mansfield wants higher education to be free for all, though Cambridge was the first university to charge the maximum £9,000. "If the university said, we don't wish you to express this view, I would absolutely accept it," he tells me. Cambridge must also decide whether to expel Charlie Gilmour, the son of Pink Floyd guitarist Dave Gilmour, who is in prison for rampaging during the student protests. Mansfield has previously criticised his "unduly harsh" treatment. "Sometimes you have to suppress your views for the greater good," he says.

Annie Lennox has, er, made an exhibition of herself at the V&A, with a room dedicated to her costumes and other ephemera. The singer's unique style was certainly in evidence at the launch party, where I'm told she produced her own magnum of top-quality bubbly for personal consumption, in preparation for being served the second-rate fizz that most London parties now serve. "At the end of Annie's speech, she invited people to come up and try her very expensive champagne," whispers one who was present. "I think it was because what the V&A was serving wasn't good enough. She even had a little man in braces to serve it. It was delicious."

Germaine Greer, Susie Orbach and Margaret Drabble will be speaking at Radio 3's Free Thinking Festival in Gateshead next month. The theme is "Change". What better opportunity for listeners to express their feelings on all the pointless change at Radio 3, such as the introduction of a totally meaningless classical music chart? Last week's breakfast show had celebrity chef Rick Stein sitting in, introduced by Rob Cowan every morning as a "restauranteur" (sic). On Friday, Stein informed us that the cello, which he used to play, is "really big". If Cowan stuck to music, and Stein to gutting fish, would we be any worse off?

Much excitement on today's Antiques Roadshow, which will feature a black leather jug made from the skin of Oliver Cromwell's horse. What's intriguing is how the current owner, Richard Hoare, a descendant of the Hoare banking family, acquired it. Press announcements from the BBC say the jug was originally deposited for safe-keeping with the bank, "and later fell into the ownership of the Hoare family". How, and how often, one wonders, do such items "fall into the ownership" of a bank?

A talk about the late Beryl Bainbridge at last weekend's Soho Literary Festival should have been subtitled "I remember it well". A N Wilson and Paul Bailey, both friends of Beryl, had somewhat differing memories of her. "One of the things I admired about Beryl was that she was never interested in literary gossip," said Bailey. "Are we talking about the same person?" asked Wilson. "Beryl loved gossip and was always going to literary parties. She was not immune to jealousy either and would call me up to complain that so and so had been given a £70,000 advance. 'I hate them,' she'd say."

Professional Yorkshireman and former school inspector Gervase Phinn provided the hilarity at last week's Oldie literary lunch. Best anecdote was the one about the headmistress of the St John the Baptist RC Primary School in Burnley, who answered the phone by saying: "Hello, this is the head of St John the Baptist."

m.bell@independent.co.uk

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