Matthew Bell: The <i>IoS</i> Diary (31/10/10)

A universal benefit

Much chatter in Oxford about who might succeed Michael Scholar as president of St John's College. Aged 68, the former civil servant has been head of Oxford's richest college since 2001. One name on the fellows' wish list is Tony Blair, one of the college's most famous alumni, who would certainly bring glamour and an international contacts book with him. The only stumbling block could be that Sir Michael's son, Tom Scholar, was Gordon Brown's chief of staff. Others are touting Lord Mandelson as a contender, though he might be more suitable for Balliol, the left-leaning college next door, whose master, Andrew Graham, is also 68 and may be departing soon. At high table last week,one wag said that, in these straitened times, the man they really need is Wayne Rooney. Who needs influence when there's cash?

Why was the Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard writing in The Sun yesterday about Afghanistan? The Murdoch red-top seems an unlikely place to find the Welsh-born Labor politician arguing in favour of keeping the troops in place. Could it have anything to do with a visit paid by Rupert Murdoch to Gillard in Canberra on Thursday? The meeting represents a thaw in relations between Murdoch and her party, which is reported to be "at daggers drawn" with his title, The Australian. I've mislaid my copy, but presumably David Cameron does the bridge column.

A new director is being sought for the Edinburgh Television Festival. Headhunters are sending emails round asking for suitable candidates, droning on about the need to have "a proven ability to drive an organisation in new directions". Yawn. But are they hoping only to lure smart London types? The email stresses this is "mostly a London-based job". Och no!

The Duke of Kent put in a star turn at the biennial meeting of the P G Wodehouse Society at Gray's Inn on Thursday. The prince gamely got up after a jolly dinner to join Tim Brooke-Taylor, and Hal and Lara Cazalet, members of Wodehouse's family, in a dramatisation of a Wodehouse yarn. Alas Richard Briers, the society's president, was too ill to attend, but the prince performed, as I'm told he always does. "He asks us," whispers one Roderick Spode, "not the other way round."

A tragedy of middle-aged men turned out to worship Bruce Springsteen in London on Friday at a screening of a new documentary about him. Rob Brydon, the singer Badly Drawn Boy and Tony Gallagher, editor of The Daily Telegraph, were among those at the BFI Southbank who queued up for five seconds in the presence of the man they call "the Boss" after the screening. Badly Drawn Boy admitted he was supposed to be on holiday in Wales with his wife and children, but couldn't resist the chance to meet Springsteen. Some were surprised how relaxed the rocker seemed, chatting to the press and then making a surprise appearance at a public screening. Others felt a little sorry for the film's director Thom Zimmy, who had flown over from the US for the premiere, but managed only three words before the stampede.

Despite being one of the nation's biggest landowners, the National Trust could find itself homeless. The charity's director, Fiona Reynolds, tells me the lease on its magnificent offices in Queen Anne's Gate is due to expire, and it has yet to find a new home. The house it currently occupies is a fine example of Queen Anne architecture, on a street which is gradually being converted back from offices to residential use. Neighbours include Sting and Trudie Styler; even so, demand for property is high. "We're looking for somewhere where we can combine office space with something the members will want to visit," Dame Fiona told me at the launch of Simple Pleasures, an anthology of short essays edited by the trust's director of communications, Ivo Dawnay. Dawnay is the husband of Rachel Johnson, editor of The Lady, which has masses of empty space at its eccentric Covent Garden HQ. With all the hoo-ha going on at The Lady, what better visitor attraction could they want?

Facebook has been accused of many evils, but what is it about the dead French actress Sarah Bernhardt it doesn't like? Author Duncan Fallowell finds himself in a bizarre stand-off with the social networking site after it repeatedly refused to allow him to post his review of a new Bernhardt biography. "They blocked it, saying the content was abusive," he says. "I've tried several more times. Same every time." Bernhardt was a colourful figure: "She always travelled with a coffin, dabbled in lesbianism, and played the lead in Hamlet." She also had her right leg amputated when it developed gangrene after a stage fall. As status updates go, that seems pretty tame.

m.bell@independent.co.uk

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