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Not censors, just Central Office

THE CENSORSHIP of a recent Michael Portillo speech by the Treasury is only part of a concerted campaign by the Conservative Party to eradicate unhelpful mentions of the Government's 'back to basics' campaign. The latest example is the Young Conservative magazine, Campaigner, which had planned a 'back to basics' cover for an issue to be published this weekend. That was before Conservative Central Office intervened.

Now all you will see is a portrait of Gordon Gekko - the fictional businessman played by Michael Douglas in the 1987 film Wall Street (relating to the old, old story of speculators and British withdrawal from the ERM).

The cover envisaged by the magazine's editor, Ian Smedley, was to have lampooned the B 2 B phrase 'in a Sex Pistols sort of way'. A word from Central Office and the idea was discarded - although this is denied by Central Office and Smedley himself.

'We did draw up such a cover,' the 23-year-old Cambridge graduate explains. 'But then we drew

up another which we preferred. There was never any question of censorship.'

One of Smedley's friends assures me, however, that he originally said his first cover was banned by CO officials. Prompted by my request to speak to the editor, Central Office spoke to Smedley before I spoke to him myself, and alerted him to my line of questioning. 'They weren't necessarily very high-up officials,' the friend adds. 'They were just part of the system.'

JONATHAN MILLER's new production of Der Rosenkavalier at the English National Opera may have been hailed as a great success - it is his first British production since he swore, five years ago, that British audiences were too conservative for him - but for at least three members of the audience on Tuesday's opening night, it was an unmitigated disaster.

A dramatic shaft of light silhouetting the entrance of the characters in the last act (which runs for a mere 61 minutes) also blinds anybody sitting in the box to the left of the stage as you face it. Or it did then. Sunglasses, I am informed, would have come in handy.

You can't eat it SIR Terence Conran has a dream: a multitude of Marco Pierre Whites, Raymond Blancs and Roux brothers clad in white hats at his new London school for chefs, learning how to perfect that steak tartare or sauce bearnaise.

'It won't happen for a while yet,' Sir Terence said yesterday. 'But when I get some more money,' (read: everybody stops stealing my pounds 7.50 ashtrays from Quaglino's) 'it is an idea. People are serious about food now - and I don't think that training on the job is necessarily enough.'

'What about Prue Leith's cookery school?' inquired a colleague. 'It was very good when I attended.'

'Ah yes,' replied Sir Terence, 'and look what happened to you.'

NOT an obvious soulmate of Geoffrey Dickens, Dennis Skinner has asked me to make clear that he did not take part in a conversation about homosexual protestors with the large Tory MP on their way back to the House of Commons from a television interview. He was walking several paces in front of him, making conversation impracticable.

Mystery story

MY NOTE last week about the apparent unwillingness of Writers' Monthly to pay its contributors has prompted several disgruntled authors to air their grievances. The latest is Ken Norris, who sent a 271-page novel for assessment by the magazine's Reader Criticism Service. A year later, and despite repeated requests, his manuscript had not been returned and he went to court. Representatives from the magazine failed to appear. Is anybody there?


4 February 1890 Beatrix Potter, aged 23, records in her diary a visit to the Royal Academy: 'Mr and Mrs Gladstone came in directly after we did, and I took a good stare at the old gentleman as the rest of the company seemed to be doing so, without putting them out of countenance. He really looks as if he had been put in a clothes-bag and sat upon. I never saw a person so creased. He was dressed entirely in rusty black, like a typical clergyman or dissenting minister, and has a wrinkled appearance of not filling his clothes. Indeed he seemed to be shrunk out of sight inside them, in the same fashion that some gray wisps of hair straggled from under his old hat. But very waken, not to say foxy, the old fellow looked, what there is of him. He made straight for his own portrait by Millais, and stood in front of it, a shocking daub it is and does not do him justice at all, for however one may dislike him, undeniably he has a face one would notice unknown in a crowd.' Two and a half years later, Gladstone became prime minister for the fourth time.