Matthew Bell: The <i>IoS</i> Diary (30/01/11)

Still a world service

"No need to panic" screamed Channel 4 News on Friday, following the hospitalisation of Nelson Mandela. If only they had followed their own advice: when the news broke the day before, newsreader Jon Snow was despatched to catch the next flight to Johannesburg. It proved to be a futile exercise, but probably not as expensive as the BBC's: they sent 20 staff members, some travelling on business class. I'm told this went down like a cup of cold porridge with staff back home, given last week's announcement that 650 jobs are to go in the World Service to save money. "Working across BBC TV, radio and online, 20 staff are currently deployed in South Africa," a spokesman confirms. "A number of them travelled overnight business class, as they were expected to work as soon as they arrived in the country." Thing is, the hospital never suggested Mandela was close to dying, just that he was 92 and frail.

A new game has emerged of pointing out the prominent people who were left out of The King's Speech. The latest to speak up is Rosa Monckton, an old friend of Diana, Princess of Wales, who says she was surprised to find no mention made of her grandfather, Lord Monckton. As Edward VIII's lawyer, he played a vital part during the abdication crisis. This follows questions raised last week over why Sir Louis Greig wasn't portrayed in the film – he was the best friend and tennis partner of George VI, and is credited with having boosted Prince Albert's confidence before he became king. And then there is David Martin, the young BBC engineer who, as some pedants have wailed, edited out the stammers in the king's Second World War speeches, though he got no mention in the film. All good fun, but whatever happened to artistic licence?

As the superb film adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's novel Never Let Me Go opens in British cinemas next month, the weird decision not to award it the Booker Prize in 2005 should surely be revisited. The prize went to John Banville's The Sea, which, like the rest of the shortlist, has not been made into a film, and has sold under 200,000 copies – roughly half Ishiguro's sales. David Sexton, literary editor of the Evening Standard, was one of two judges who argued in favour of Never Let Me Go. But Rick Gekoski, who made the case for Banville, stands by his choice, and tells me he has no intention of seeing Ishiguro's film, which stars Carey Mulligan as Cathy. "It's too creepy", he says, "It's affective but a film about organically reared children farmed for their organs? At my age? No." Chairman of the judges Professor John Sutherland voted last, thus winning it for Banville. Does he have any regrets? "My opinion was my opinion. That's the essence of the Booker. It's not a consensual thing." The good news is Ishiguro doesn't hold a grudge, says Sutherland: "I saw him afterwards and he simply said, 'the goalkeeper went the wrong way'."

Authors with HarperCollins in America are alarmed to notice a "morality" clause has appeared in their contracts. It says the publisher has the right to cancel if the author's conduct "evidences a lack of due regard for public conventions and morals", and such behaviour "would materially damage the work's reputation or sales". Could the same be heading to these shores? A Harper's spokesman laughs the suggestion off when I call. Quite right – surely sales only go up if an author misbehaves here.

Much ooh-la-la-ing in Paris over immigration minister Eric Besson's new 24-year-old Tunisian wife, who, as I disclosed last week, has been advising Sarko on her homeland. But Sylvie Brunel, Beeson's ex-wife of 26 years, and a respected economist, gets in touch to point out that Berlusconi-style sleaze is rampant in France. "The moral of this story is that to succeed in politics, it's worth more to be a singer, a model or a gracious young woman and well disposed to the attentions of 50-year-olds, than to bother with Harvard or political sciences," she writes. We should be grateful "No-more-than-30" means something quite different in British politics.

Critics of the BBC's £150,000-a-year arts editor Will Gompertz will have to eat their words – he has broken a story. On Friday, he revealed that the Tate Modern's installation of 100 million porcelain "sunflower seeds" was a potential health risk, after lab tests showed they contained traces of lead. The story is particularly brave given that Gompertz's previous job was as head of PR for the Tate. Much as we hate to spoil a good story, er, didn't we already know Ai Weiwei's installation was a health risk, given that it closed very publicly within days of opening?

m.bell@independent.co.uk

Comments