Matthew Bell: The <i>IoS</i> Diary (27/03/11)

Always springs forward, never falls back
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The Independent Online

Spencer Neal, publisher of New Statesman, is leaving the magazine after nearly 15 years. It is unclear what he is going on to do next. He is one of the left-wing weekly's longest serving staff members, having joined in 1997, soon after Geoffrey Robinson rescued it from bankruptcy.



"It's a wrench," he says. "But I have been there a long time. Any longer and people would mistake me for a Middle Eastern ruler. I feel proud of what I have done, which is effectively to transform it from a struggling small business into a successful multi-media company."

Two years ago, Robinson sold the Staggers to Mike Danson, who has integrated it into his larger media empire. Circulation is steady at just under 27,000. Neal says he has plans, but refuses to disclose what they are. He says he will not be replaced because he is "irreplaceable".

His last day is this Thursday. "The past 15 years have been a privilege and a joy, but I am very much looking forward to 1 April."

Remember The House? After that memorable documentary revealed strife at the Royal Opera, things were never quite the same at Covent Garden.



So what next for English National Ballet, after last week's Agony & Ecstasy, the BBC's devastating exposé of Wayne Eagling's working practices, as artistic director? Cameras revealed how dancers had no idea what they were supposed to be doing, only minutes before the opening night of Eagling's new production of The Nutcracker.

Eagling was seen making radical last-minute choreography changes and then being rude and bullying to staff. Telling off the stage manager, he said: "People will think that's my idea. It doesn't say Kerry produced this shit idea."

A spokesman for the ENB, which is largely publicly funded via the Arts Council, downplayed the embarrassment. "It was a brand new production and by opening night it had been finished. With all productions there are always tweaks, it's just not usually in the public eye."

Asked if Eagling's position was under review, he said: "No. Certain people have their own personalities."

Bob Crow, the Millwall-supporting trade union leader, was once asked if he had any posh friends. "Not that I'm aware of, unless they are keeping it very quiet," he said.



How curious then that he reveals in an interview in this weekend's Financial Times that his brother is a very rich stockbroker, living in a smart part of Berkshire. "He's made a lot of money," says Crow. "We're good mates but we're chalk and cheese."

But just how different are they really? The FT interview took place at Rules, the swanky Covent Garden restaurant that specialises in fine seafood and game. The bill for lunch with no wine came to £130.

As the hack writes: "[Crow] is so familiar with the menu he hardly bothers to look at it before ordering a crab salad and halibut and chips." Isn't life grand?

The BBC acted quickly to avoid causing offence in the wake of the unfolding Swindon murder case.



The fifth episode of a Women's Hour drama, Cottonopolis, was pulled on Friday because it was about a missing woman and a taxi driver who wrongly comes under suspicion. The chief suspect in the murder of Sian O'Callaghan is a taxi driver. No doubt it was the right decision, but it must have been a blow to the play's author, Michelle Lipton.

She has written about how difficult the series was to write, because it all hinges on the sixth episode, which brings together several storylines. That was due to be aired on Monday, but a BBC spokesman says it will be postponed indefinitely.

Poor Derek Smith. He's the unfortunate No 10 press officer who became the butt of much mirth last week, after sending lobby hacks an email blathering on about UNSCREW 1973. It seems an over-zealous auto-correct function had rewritten his otherwise innocuous press release about a UN Security Council Resolution. Smith had to write to all hacks apologising for the confusion over the bizarre acronym. Sometimes it's quicker just to spell things out.

It's two fingers to Vanessa Whitburn, the editor of The Archers, who killed off Nigel Pargetter in that over-hyped New Year episode.



Now Graham Seed, the actor who played Nigel for 27 years, has become the first actor to be awarded the Radio Broadcaster of the Year award, at last week's Broadcasting Press Guild Awards. Picking up his gong, Seed was embarrassed as one of his early appearances was played. "My performance hasn't changed much at all – no wonder they got rid of me," he quipped.

But Seed has been in a sell-out production of Emlyn Williams's Accolade at the Finborough Theatre, and is thought to be the only actor whose profile has been raised by leaving The Archers.

m.bell@independent.co.uk

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