The IoS Diary (18/12/2011)

Strictly entre nous
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The Independent Online

The BBC's reporter Nick Higham was respectful of the late Christopher Hitchens in his Radio 4 report on Friday morning, apart from referring to him as "an alcoholic". While it's unlikely to be taken as a compliment by anyone, Hitchens was particularly keen to resist the term, notwithstanding his prodigious intake. When discussing the matter with a colleague a few years ago, he would protest that he had never failed to meet a deadline, nor submitted an article that was below his peerless best. Even after a long evening's drinking, he would cheerily accept commissions from editors in London and, in often as little as 15 minutes, would file a flawless, fluent and thoughtful 1,000-worder before turning in. When an astonished commissioning editor called to thank him for the rapid turnaround, he replied: "You won't tell anyone I can do it so fast, will you? It would devalue my currency."

If you get a last-minute invitation for Christmas lunch with Jay Rayner, be prepared to stoke up quickly and stop as soon as he does. He recently rounded on other diners for eating too slowly, so showing a lack of lust for life. This sweeping statement attracted a comment from an octogenarian, who in turn received from Rayner a reply so venomous that it has etched its way to a wider audience. Unmoved by the older man's observation that age, failing teeth or "a number of ghastly malfunctions" can affect eating habits, Rayner spat: "Have you always been this pompous, patronising, joyless and tiresome, or did it just come with time?" Odd that Rayner, who goes on to cite work done by his late mother, agony aunt Claire Rayner, should take such a hard line on the elderly. Three years ago, mother and son spearheaded a campaign for Sense, a voluntary organisation which supports older people who are deaf, blind or have other sensory disabilities. Taste, it would seem, never came into it.

God moves in a mysterious way. The success of Rev on BBC2 has turned the spotlight on Shoreditch church in east London, where the series, starring Tom Hollander, is filmed. Hollander's smoking, drinking, swearing parish priest has already done wonders for the Church of England's po-faced image, and the vicar of St Leonard's, Rev Paul Turp, upon whose ministry the show is partly based, is happy with the media attention. "Last year, in the bleak midwinter, we had 440 come to the carol service," he tells my man in the pews. Tonight's service is gearing up for at least as many worshippers. The church's union with the performing arts continues next year, when a professional theatre company takes up residence. Even so, the inspiration for Rev confesses: "I am praying for a third series." Also giving thanks will the vicar of St Bartholomew the Great, the Rev Martin Dudley, location for a royal wedding spoof, the most-watched viral campaign of 2011. All that exposure, and £3,500 in the kitty. God rest ye merry, gentlemen....

Always embarrassing when the boss turns up at the staff Christmas party. Even more so, if the boss happens to be the Chancellor of the Exchequer who not only popped in to raise a glass with Downing Street staffers, but also tore up the dance floor to the latest tunes from the hit parade. George Osborne was said to particularly enjoy Lady Gaga, songstress behind that anthem to inherited wealth, "Born This Way". Could an unlikely dance pairing emerge with that other cabinet cavorter, Vince Cable? "He was throwing some serious shapes," says our mole by the buffet.

The high drama of the great train robbery is perfect movie material. Or so film executives thought in the late 1990s when they contacted Christopher Pickard, a writing associate of Ronnie Biggs, to see if he would agree to his story being retold on the big screen. They began by asking to relocate the train robbery from England to the US, as this would play better with their viewers, Biggs reveals in his new autobiography, Odd Man Out: The Last Straw. "There were other questions and clarifications until it reached the point of casting, when the studio executive told Chris that they were thinking of approaching Wesley Snipes to 'play the part of Ronnie Biggs'. It was at this point that the penny dropped. The studio thought my story was fiction and not fact. We didn't hear from them again." Snipes did end up behind bars – for the slightly less glamorous crime of tax evasion.

The earnest innocents at Radio 3 love their music, but words are not a strong point. After pianist Imogen Cooper's sizzling performance of Ravel's Piano Concerto on Thursday night, soloist and conductor Thierry Fischer, as convention dictates, fell into each other's arms. Presenter Catherine Bott gave us a blow-by-blow account of their clinch: "Not just handshakes," she trilled, "but proper French kisses!" Ooh, la la!!

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