Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary (08/04/12)

For everything but rain
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Casting has begun for a new film adaptation of Swallows and Amazons. The BBC is behind the production, which is scheduled for release next year. It follows the success of a musical staging of Arthur Ransome's 1930 story, featuring songs by The Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon, which is touring after a West End debut. The surprise is how few screen versions have been made: one in the 1970s, starring Virginia McKenna, and one in the 1980s, with Rosemary Leach. Though both have retired, producers for the new adaptation should note that another big name also once starred: Julian Fellowes. He played the part of "Hullaballoo" Jerry, the baddy with a pencil moustache. The Beeb would be sure of a hit if it persuaded Julian to return to his acting career....

One of the most moving tributes to the late Christopher Hitchens came recently from his brother, Peter. The two writers famously never agreed on anything: Christopher was an atheist and one-time Trotskyist, Peter is a Christian and unwaveringly right wing. But it's good to see that Peter has gone back to celebrating their differences. Writing in the Mail on Sunday last week, Peter celebrated George Galloway's surprise victory, saying he rather liked the maverick MP, "because he says what he means and believes what he says". He added: "It is thanks to these qualities that he is a thrilling public speaker and devastating debater." Never more so than when locking horns with Christopher, an arch-enemy, who memorably chose rather more colourful words to describe Galloway: "He looks so much like what he is: a thug and a demagogue, the type of working-class-wideboy-and-proud-of-it who is too used to the expenses account, the cars and the hotels – all cigars and back-slapping. He is a very cheap character and a short-arse." No wonder Peter likes him.

Tomorrow sees an important anniversary in Conservative Party history: it'll be 20 years since it won a general election, in 1992. Cue much nostalgia for the good old days of John Major, who pulled off that surprise victory. Leading the Major reassessment is Peter Oborne, who admits he "looks back with regret and mortification" at his record from that time, when, as a junior hack, he piled in with criticism like everyone else. One person not reaching for the birch twigs is Anthony Seldon, the self-publicising headmaster of Wellington College. He has written to the Telegraph to boast that, in his biography of Major, he "took the unpopular line that he was a much better prime minister than most argued at the time". Writing to newspapers to say "I told you so" is not an attractive quality. It's particularly odd when, as Seldon admits, you are the "authorised biographer" of the person in question. It would be more surprising if he hadn't been pro-Major.

Millionaire lyricist Sir Tim Rice once admitted that he yearned to be a pop star. Now, he has shone a light on why he never got very far with it. In the 1970s, he sang with the inexplicably named Huddersfield Transit Authority. Unwieldy names work for some bands, but this didn't do much for him. He has written about this strange episode in a letter to Record Collector magazine. "I was thrilled to see a single by Huddersfield Transit Authority featured in the excellent article on the brilliant British sax player Tubby Hayes," he writes. "However Simon Spillett's piece stated that the vocalist on 'Runaway' was Terry Saunders, which is inaccurate. The vocalist... was me." Alas, Spotify doesn't appear to have a recording.

Eric Pickles could find himself on the wrong side of Selina Scott, who has waded into a planning row in the Yorkshire town of Malton. It's the usual story: council gives permission to supermarket on council site, netting itself £5m. As the minister for Local Government and Communities, Pickles will now have to rule. Scott likes a fight: she successfully sued Five when it reneged on an agreement to hire her to cover Natasha Kaplinsky's maternity leave. Backing the people of Malton, she quotes Oscar Wilde and "people who know the cost of everything, but the value of nothing". She's using every weapon going.

Ping! An email from Nigel Farage, leader of Ukip. He's worked up about George Osborne's plans for ministers to publish their tax returns. "When will it end?" he rants. "The last 20 years of tax returns? School reports? Medical records?" In his haste, Farage may not have double-checked the email's subject heading. It reads: "We will drive talent out of politics: Farage". Promise?