Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary (26/02/12)

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Hillary Clinton made a personal intervention to secure Jeremy Irons a US visa, I can disclose. The Brideshead Revisited star tells me he had to pull some strings when he discovered he was unable to begin filming in New York for Margin Call last year, because his work permit had run out. "It all happened very quickly, as I was cast only eight days before shooting began," he says. "To my horror, my visa had expired and, to complicate matters further, after I had been to the American embassy on the Friday, there was a public holiday on Martin Luther King Day the following Monday, and shooting was due to start on the Tuesday. So Mrs Clinton was part of an extraordinary effort to have my visa ferreted out of the embassy on the Monday night, so that I was able to fly on Tuesday and start shooting first thing Wednesday morning. Most producers would have just recast my role, because it was touch-and-go up to 12 hours before I walked on set." It's unclear how Mr Irons and the Secretary of State came to be on such good terms, but his charm is legendary.

Paintings by Rolf Harris, Ken Howard and Theo Fennell went for bargain prices to members of the Chelsea Arts Club last week, after a charity auction ended in some confusion. As I reported last Sunday, the works were being sold to raise funds for The Artists' Benevolent Fund, founded by J M W Turner. The silent auction was, in theory, open to members of the public, with bids being invited until Wednesday. But once the deadline had passed, organisers decided to keep the bidding open a bit longer, but inside a club room only. "We were outbid, after the deadline, with no chance to up our own figure, although we were prepared to go much higher," laments one non-member. "Someone inside the club certainly got a bargain. To be honest, it looks a bit cosy. This charity is for artists who fall on hard times, and it would simply have got more money if we had been allowed to stay in the race." The club was approached for an explanation, but answer there came none. One can only wonder how Rolf and friends feel about donating works that appear to have been flogged off cheap to club members.

Helen Mirren was famously duped into appearing in a porn film, when the makers of Caligula spliced already fairly raunchy scenes with actual pornography. It's traditional for all those involved, including Gore Vidal and Malcolm McDowell, to claim they were furious, but Dame Helen seems to revel in the memory of it all. "Every time I bump into her in Los Angeles, all she wants to do is talk about that time we shot Caligula," sighs McDowell, speaking to my man on the red carpet in Hollywood. "I try to keep it hidden away, but she loves it." McDowell, who you might have noticed playing the butler in The Artist, claims he was responsible for getting Mirren into Caligula, having promised her £100,000 for 12 weeks' shooting. "It was the biggest pay cheque she'd ever got, though the producers were thinking 'we can't pay her that much'." Happily for them, Dame Helen's never been shy about taking all her clothes off.

A recently published assessment of Greece is certainly frank: "The only known example of a state that's really been bankrupt since the day it was born... resources lent to it are wasted by its government without any gain for the people... it can't pay its debts, whilst its rich find ways to evade their obligations to the state." Except this freshly minted statement isn't having its first outing – it was written by Frenchman Edmond About, in his book Contemporary Greece, published by Hachette in Paris in 1863. Apparently this rediscovery has sparked much I-told-you-so-ing in Brussels.

John Penrose, the tourism minister, is valiantly undeterred in his efforts to keep churning out his entertaining blog. A few weeks ago, the diary wondered whether Mr Penrose might not have more pressing tasks, in the year of the Olympics, than to ruminate on the origin of the hors d'oeuvre on the DCMS website. The answer, it seems, is no. "I hesitate to mention all this, of course," he writes after a new posting about the word "centime", "for fear that all this airy nonsense will further upset The Independent on Sunday's Matthew Bell." Mr Penrose, who used to publish school textbooks for a living, then accuses the diary of suffering from "a fit of the vapors [sic]". Call me old fashioned, but if you're going to represent the Government in words, you might want to use a spell-checker. Something tells me Mr Penrose's blog could be a rich new seam.

m.bell@independent.co.uk

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