Too much of a good thing

When Professor Stephen Haseler, head of the Common Sense Club, held a dinner in a private room at London's L'Etoile restaurant 10 days ago to celebrate the republican cause, he certainly did not expect two startling repercussions. The first was that a team of photographers from the Sunday Times and the Observer burst in, unannounced, and the dinner became the focus of debate in those papers.

The second was that he - and his nine guests - were asked by the producers of Granada's World in Action to repeat, at Granada's cost, the entire evening so that the event could be caught on camera for Granada's forthcoming series on the growing republican cause. Tomorrow night the guests (who include the PR guru Brian Basham; Denis MacShane, Labour MP for Rotherham; the royal biographer Anthony Holden; and Peter Wilby, editor of the Independent on Sunday) have been invited to regroup at L'Etoile and endure a meal with wines ranging from pounds 15 to pounds 50 a bottle.

What hardship! They will have to choose from a menu that includes such delicacies as foie gras, ravioli with escargots and wild mushrooms, sweetbreads, and creme brulee a l'orange. They will have to linger over coffee and port. They may even have to savour a cigar or two as World in Action bustles around, insisting that the spirit of the original evening be retained.

Strangely, however, not all the guests find such a prospect enchanting. "I won't be going," MacShane tells me firmly. "I have another engagement which I can't break, but personally I think we shouldn't turn ourselves into a media circus. One dinner is enough."

BBC bans parties

I have bad news for Alastair Campbell, Peter Mandelson (pictured), Charles Lewington and all the other party political spin doctors - security has been tightened at the BBC's Westminster offices in Millbank, to prevent you entering the newsroom.

The extreme measures have been implemented following a complaint by Lord Cocks, the ex-Labour chief whip and now vice-chairman of the BBC governors, in the Lords. He did not name names but said that "the increasingly desperate tactics of the parties to intimidate news editors into favouring their political cause" had led him to believe no other course was open to him.

Interestingly, he did not accuse one party more than any other and, sadly, he did not enlighten us as to what those "desperate tactics" might be.

Personally, I feel very sorry for Mr Campbell and co. They are only doing their jobs. And I have the sneaking suspicion that Lord Cocks, dear man, might not feel so strongly on this matter if he had not once been a political manipulator himself. "When I was chief whip," he tells me, "I would occasionally sit colleagues down with instructions to make repeated telephone calls to telephone poll numbers in order to distort the results."

I am shocked! But Lord Cocks assures me that he knows Alastair Campbell would never do a thing like that! "This," he says, "was old Labour."

Bonkbusters minus the bonks

Insiders at the BBC tell me that one Basil Comely, presenter of the Bookmark programme about Jilly Cooper that appeared at the weekend, may never recover from the stress of the past few weeks. It seems that his programme - Jilly Cooper: the bonkbuster years - has caused more rehashing than any other. The reason? I'm told that BBC executives felt his programme contained too much sex and not enough literature.

Such was their angst that last week that poor Comely was even asked to "darken" a bare nipple in one scene (apparently it was too sensuous when pale). The Beeb executives would do well to note what Jon Bate, my English tutor at Cambridge and now the King Alfred Professor of Literature, said in my first term. "All great literature," he said, grinning, "is mainly about sex."

Tate of the art speech

Publishers throughout London are wiping their brows with relief after a very nasty near miss. Before last Wednesday several had been highly tempted to buy - for an extortionate pounds 15,000 - the text of Nick Serota's speech to the National Gallery. (They assumed, given that Serota is president of the Tate, it was going to include intriguing details about the new Tate gallery being built on the South Bank). There was one considerable drawback, however - the purchaser was not allowed to read the speech before it was delivered.

Thank heavens this put everybody off! On Wednesday, Serota duly delivered his great speech. Suffice it to say that its subject - gallery curatorship - sent a handful in the audience into a gentle slumber. Even Serota's own publicists, Thames and Hudson, now admit that the text will not sell for pounds 15,000 any more. "It wasn't,"admitted a spokesperson eventually, "what you could call a laugh a minute."

Eagle Eye

Art of this world

It has always been a fear of traditionalists that as computer capability improves, human creativity will diminish. In the art world, it seems, that nightmare has finally arrived. The work of the "Artmachine", a mysterious combination of a computer, some flow charts and a book, is currently occupying exhibition space hitherto reserved for artefacts designed by the human brain in London's Institute of Contemporary Art. This is not to say that all manual labour has been completely done away with. The Artmachine comes up with a "creative task", which is then carried out by its owner, a former submarine builder, Keith Tyson (pictured). "Most artists," Tyson observes, "develop a style, but the Artmachine is completely against this idea. It forces me to work in video, painting and sculpture, as well as processes that I wouldn't normally consider as being artistic." Neither would many other people. Tyson's tasks to date have included knocking down a national monument and posing as a stand-up comedian. I'd say the Artmachine has been paying too much attention to Damien Hirst.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Letter from the Education Editor: This shocking abuse of teachers should be taken seriously

Richard Garner
Brand loyalty: businessmen Stuart Rose (pictured with David Cameron at the Conservative conference in 2010) was among the signatories  

So, the people who always support the Tories... are supporting the Tories? Has the world gone mad?

Mark Steel
War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?