Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary (20/11/11)

Waved through at every border


As the actor who played Matthew "Twinge" Crawley in Downton Abbey, Dan Stevens knows how to make a comeback (The heir to the house made a miraculous recovery after being paralysed). Now, the 29-year-old actor is involved in a real-life revival, this time of a fabled Edwardian cricket team. Stevens is among a gang of bright young things who plan to revive the Allahakbarries, an amateur team founded by Peter Pan author J M Barrie. Arthur Conan Doyle, P G Wodehouse and A A Milne were among several talented writers coerced into playing for the team, so named in the mistaken belief that Allah Akbar meant "Heaven Help Us" rather than "God is great". Literary agent Charlie Campbell is reviving the idea, and has assembled 11 literary types to take part, including novelists William Fiennes and Tom Holland. Campbell has lined up fixtures next season in Corfu and Croatia, and has his eye on Lord's. Quite why Stevens, an actor, is playing is unclear. But having just written a book about scapegoats, Campbell may have a special role for him in mind.

Molly Dineen, the Bafta-winning documentary-maker, has spoken of her regret at making a party political broadcast for Labour during the 1997 election campaign. The maker of films about farming and hereditary peers was granted intimate access to Tony Blair in the months leading to his landslide victory. Now, she has released unseen footage of Blair and Alastair Campbell, as part of a short about the making of her film, for the third volume of a boxed DVD set out next month. "I think, in hindsight, you probably shouldn't make a party election broadcast if you make documentaries... It was very naïve of me, because people assumed you were a party apparatchik, and I was absolutely outside of it", she says in an interview on the DVD. Dineen will be talking about her films next Tuesday at the British Film Institute with Mark Lawson, who calls her "the leading film-maker of her generation".

Last year, a Tory peer claimed a mysterious organisation called Foundation X wanted to invest £5bn in the British economy, with a further £17bn to come. Lord James even arranged a meeting between the "emissary" of the foundation, one Alan Ashbourne, with Lord Strathclyde, the leader of the Lords. In the end, the Government said no thanks. Now we can reveal why. A Freedom of Information request has shown just how potty the story was: Ashbourne claimed the organisation was sitting on some 750,000 tons of gold bullion worth $30trn (£19trn). A civil servant later queried this, saying no more than 200,000 tons of gold has ever been mined. Ashbourne, later revealed to be Cheshire businessman Alan Barr, said he was acting on behalf of a former US general. But he would release the funds only if he could deal with the PM personally. Presumably it was about then that alarm bells started to ring.

Fans of Mrs Merton, the spoof interviewer who pioneered the "So, what was it that first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?" line of questioning, will be delighted by Craig Cash's revelation on page 30 that he is in talks with Caroline Aherne (aka Mrs Merton) about writing some new material. For years, Aherne has kept a low profile, having battled with drink and psychological problems. Among her fans is film director Michael Winner, who once appeared on The Mrs Merton Show. He recalls the experience in his new book, saying he was paid £8,000: producers struggled to persuade guests to come on. But they were aware of Mrs Merton's drinking habits: "I'm in the dressing room and I hear endless calls to get Caroline her Wincarnis, which is a kind of alcoholic wine drink." Although Winner is famously indiscreet, and got a roasting on her show, he kept mum at the time.

Daredevil adventurer Ben Fogle has discovered a challenge he can't face: swimming in shark-infested waters. The Castaway star has worked with many dangerous creatures, and visited some of the most extreme corners of the planet, running across the Sahara and getting frostbite in the South Pole. In 2008, he was bedridden for three weeks after catching a potentially fatal flesh-eating bug in Peru. But in Australia last week, Fogle met his match, filming a new series for the BBC. He was due to do a 30-metre dive off the west coast, to visit a shipwreck, when he chickened out. "I simply couldn't go through with it," he said yesterday, explaining that the recent shark attacks had put him off. "Here in Australia, the sharks had set out their terms, and agreeing to them seemed too much of a risk when I have a wife and children at home." Aww, bless!

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