Diary

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The Independent Online
Tories liberal with the facts

To chimes from the Birmingham City Hall clock, and artistic shots of 'a city that still carries its heritage with pride', last Wednesday's Conservative party political broadcast went on to eulogise 'the heritage of the architect of its progress' - camera zooms in on a monument of some local bigwig - 'the Conservative Joseph Chamberlain'. The first faux pas of the local government election campaign - because Chamberlain, a celebrated mayor of the city, was at that stage in his career not a Conservative, but a Liberal.

As Duncan Brack, the Lib Dems' policy director, seethed yesterday at the misappropriation - 'it's amazing that the Tories can't find a local government reformer of their own' - Conservative Central Office and Saatchi & Saatchi, the agency shooting the commercial, mounted a damage limitation exercise.

A Saatchi spokesman blamed the Conservatives, who, he said, had given strict instructions for Chamberlain's inclusion, while a man at Conservative Central Office wondered whether the Diary wasn't being a tiny bit too literal. 'He was a Liberal who saw the light . . . a Conservative when he died.' Anyway, the man continued: 'The only cabinet he was in was a Conservative cabinet.'

Wrong. While he did serve in Arthur Balfour's and Robert Cecil's cabinets between 1895 and 1903, he had by that time already served in Gladstone's cabinet as - here's a title with a modern resonance - president of the board of trade.

Any frostiness in Anglo-German relations resulting from the cancellation of the football match between the two countries has melted in Cliftonville, Kent, where children at the local primary school have discovered a message in a bottle washed up on a nearby beach. Adam and (appropriately) Chance, two American-born children who live in Germany, dropped the bottle with a request for pen pals into the sea off Ostend last October, and correspond regularly with the entire Class 5P.

Frozen out SHORTLY to appear at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, in a one-man show about his life, Sir John Mills will relate the following anecdote about the filming of The Big Freeze, an Eric Sykes comedy shot in Helsinki. Sir John - who played an ageing actor who poked people with his umbrella, a part he had 'been waiting to play for years' - recalls how the short- sighted Sykes excused himself from a dinner with colleagues, demanding a solution to a problem by the time he returned. Minutes later he resumed his seat, and waited, and waited. Blank stares all round. As he leaned closer, four confused-looking Finns hoved into view - to the mirth of his colleagues, sitting two tables away.

'Are you a person of strange and indefensible habits?' asks a candidates' advice guide sent to Tories before the last election. In a covering letter, the book's editor, Anthony Steen, thanks MPs who came up with ideas for the book - including David Ashby, he of the two-in-a-bed money- saving exercise in France.

Puzzled in Prague ON A visit last week to Prague, where his novel Fatherland is being filmed, Robert Harris recalls in the Spectator how he asked the director whether his people had come up with an ending (a realist, he knew the film would deviate somewhat from the book). 'Oh yes,' came the reply, 'the Maria von Hagen solution.' 'Who's Maria von Hagen?' asked Harris, bewildered. 'The new character,' came the breezy response. 'Hasn't anyone told you about her?'

Innocently posing for photographs next to a model of Concorde outside Heathrow Airport at the height of last month's mortar attacks, a group of rock musicians became a temporary source of concern for the police - if only because of their name: Terrorvision.

A day like this

8 April 1910 Mary Berenson writes: 'When we got home, BB (Bernard Berenson) found a letter that made him perfectly furious. A big Paris dealer had sent 2,000 francs and an enormous photograph, asking him to write on its back the opinion he had already expressed when he saw the picture in their shop, that it was a portrait by Moroni. As BB had never seen it, and as in any case it wasn't a Moroni, he at once returned the money and told them they were under some delusion. Last night came a letter partly bullying, partly cringing, saying that the dealer, his son and his nephew all distinctly remembered BB's pronouncing the picture a Moroni, and that, on this guarantee, they had sold it to Sir William Van Thorne who now required BB's written guarantee and that they would pay BB 15,000 francs and more for getting them out of the business. BB replied that he could accept no presents from them. It is rather disgusting to have one's nose rubbed in such cheating.'

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