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Cambridge men take a stand

IN A controversial display of loyalty to one of their leading lights (and disdain for the law) Cambridge University has decided not to fill a senior professorship, waiting instead for the present occupant to finish a prison sentence. Jean-Pierre Allain, Professor of Transfusion Medicine at the university haematology department, is serving four years (with two suspended) in France for his part in distributing HIV-contaminated blood to French haemophiliacs.

The case, however, was not clear-cut. As soon as Professor Allain discovered the contamination he says he warned his superiors. With one notable exception (who felt that his situation caused 'embarrassment' to Cambridge University), his colleagues both at Cambridge and on the East Anglia Health Board felt that he was wrongly convicted for his superiors' ensuing negligence.

The university has therefore decided to stand by him, and has retained him, nominally, as head of department. 'This is the very thing that universities were designed for,' says his acting deputy, Professor Robin Carrell, 'to preserve academics who are just trying to do their job.' Mr Allain's colleagues are now noting, with a certain pleasure, that French support for Mr Allain has grown steadily over the past three months. 'There is a good chance of an appeal now,' says Professor Carrell.

IN THE course of researching the above item, I rang Directory Enquiries for a telephone number for Cambridge University. 'Where's that then?' came the disconcerting reply.

Poised to succeed WITH little brouhaha, one of the most senior jobs in English ballet - artistic director, Birmingham Royal Ballet - has been advertised backstage at Covent Garden, and potential successors to the retiring Sir Peter Wright are already jockeying for position. The most likely candidate, according to a Covent Garden insider, is Jay Jolly, who danced with the Royal Ballet and has been administrative assistant with the company for two years. Other contenders, who should apply by the end of the month, are thought to include Galina Samsova, currently in charge of Scottish ballet (a very popular choice), and Maina Gielgud, who has done much to rehabilitate Australian ballet. If the company decided to promote from within, its principal dancer, Marion Tait, who must now be coming to the end of her career, could come into the reckoning. There is also David Bintley, who gave the company one of its greatest successes in Hobson's Choice, and the dancer Wayne Sleep. But my insider advises caution: they are both 'very long shots indeed'.

WHEN FOUR academics from the Bibliotheque Nationale and the British Library met at the French Institute in South Kensington, the most startling comment came from the British Library's Brian Lang: 'We have the capacity to expand and, yes, we have the development plans,' he said. ' If we had the vision, the funding almost becomes secondary.' This drew gasps of amazement from an audience more accustomed to dealing with National Heritage and Arts Council funding at the sharp end.

Classical confusion THE Desert Island Discs luxury chosen by the modernist composer Sir Harrison Birtwistle on Sunday was a Latin primer - so, as he put it, he could read in the original all those wonderful Latin texts he had only ever enjoyed in English. He has set Sappho to music, composed an opera on the myth of Orpheus, and written the incidental music to Peter Hall's production of Aeschylus's Oresteia, so it must have been a slip of the tongue when he added 'like Homer'.

AN international group of seismologists gathered in New Zealand yesterday, missing the action in Los Angeles. Not that the Kiwis were entirely without their problems: a minor earthquake was recorded there, but the seismologists were too annoyed with themselves for missing the LA quake, and went and missed that one as well.


18 January 1983: Stephen Spender writes in his journal: 'Got my pay cheque today. Thought I would celebrate by taking myself to a good restaurant. Walked home; thought about so many things. One of them was how some weeks ago in London I walked along Long Acre from Covent Garden where I had seen Gotterdammerung - alone as I thought, along the street I farted. It was much louder, after five hours of Wagner, than I had dreamed it could possibly be] Some boys and girls, rather charming, whom I had sarcely noticed, overheard me, or it, and started cheering. In the darkness I was more amused than embarrassed. Then a self-important thought came into my mind. Supposing they knew that this old man walking along Long Acre and farting was Stephen Spender? What would they think?'