Matthew Bell: The <i>IoS</i> Diary (14/03/10)

Where every night's a first night

The British are said to be at their best in a crisis, and so it proved at the English National Opera on Thursday when the tenor John Tessier was struck with a sore throat. In a further blow, his understudy was also ill, and it looked as though there would be nobody to sing the lead in The Elixir of Love, directed by Jonathan Miller. Hearts sank as the news was broken to a packed Coliseum, but the Blitz spirit soon kicked in as ENO went on to announce that a Brazilian tenor, Luciano Botelho, who had recently sung the part in Italian, had been tracked down to France and had flown in that afternoon. And so it was that a smouldering Nemorino wooed Adina in Donizetti's original Italian, while Sarah Tynan played with his emotions in English, with some memorable Anglo-Italian interchanges, much to the audience's delight.

Drama and intrigue is by no means confined to the opera house, least of all when the stakes are as high as victory at a general election. I gather chief Tory spin-doctor Andy Coulson was responsible for limiting damage from the Ashcroft scandal, urging the non-dom donor to admit his status the day after Cameron's speech to the spring conference. Insiders say Coulson was always anxious to resolve the time bomb as soon as possible, but questions remain over how much Cameron knew and when. Coulson and touchy-feely strategy director Steve Hilton now share an office, in a move aimed at promoting better team communications.

The National Trust has got in on the genealogy craze by teaming up with leading family tree website The NT's director general, Fiona Reynolds, had her roots dug up to mark the occasion, but, disappointingly, there were no unpleasant surprises. Fittingly, she hails from a line of honest, rural folk. Much spicier is the family of the director of communications, Ivo Dawnay, a former Sunday Telegraph hack. I have it on good authority that his grandfather was fond of horse-whipping. Watch out!

Classicists returning to the work of Kenneth Dover after his death have found his most tantalising book impossible to get hold of. Dover, one of the most distinguished scholars of the last century, broke new ground with a book on Greek homosexuality, but in 1994 became notorious for his autobiography, Marginal Comment. Choosing to write it in the spirit of Platonic candour, the book includes the memorable marmalade-dropper that, at 64, he and his wife "enjoyed some of the best fucks of our life". He also wrote of a fellow Oxford don that he wished "to kill him without getting into trouble". Time for a reprint.

It was considered too rude for Book at Bedtime, but Roger Lewis's hilarious Seasonal Suicide Notes could still make it on to the BBC, if a TV adaptation is given the green light. A production company has pitched a six-part series of the splenetic tirade against philistinism to BBC4, with some objects of Lewis's bile playing themselves. But the future of BBC4 is uncertain: Tory culture spokesman Jeremy Hunt bemoans its £100m annual cost. "I am not hopeful about living long enough to see anything happen," Lewis says in typical maudlin fashion, when I call. But he reveals that Stephen Fry's company Sprout Productions has expressed an interest in buying the book for a film. Let the bidding war commence.

Tories, again.... Christopher Chope MP has caused a rumpus by single-handedly blocking a Bill that would clamp down on debt sharks in Africa. But he's not all bad: on Wednesday he demanded to know why there would be no debate over the £23bn excess expenditure the Government plans to write off for 2008/9. This is the largest amount ever to be written off, yet there will only be a vote. How extraordinary.

Rona, Lady Delves Broughton, is furious at losing her battle with heritage bods over exposed brickwork on her Kensington house. After months of wrangling they have said no. And she has been ordered to re-plaster her home, bought with the £3m she inherited from her late husband. Sir Evelyn Delves Broughton left only £5,000 to his daughter, the troubled Isabella Blow, who ended her life in 2007.