Diary

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The Independent Online
Our hero, once a little terror

SIR PETER de la Billiere, Britain's Gulf war leader, is everything we would like our national heroes to be. But it wasn't always so. As a teenager, Peter absconded from school, made elementary bombs, and became adept at smuggling drink.

The insight into this, until now, quite private man will surprise his former soldiers, who have hitherto only seen him as an SAS officer, an Arabist, and the man who masterminded the storming of the Iranian Embassy in 1980. But at a rally in Hertfordshire - reported in this month's Legion, the Royal British Legion's magazine - he revealed a different side to his character. Referring to himself in the third person, he said: 'He acquired explosives by underhand means and practised elementary bomb making. At school, his studies were his lowest priorities.'

Whether Sir Peter's rapid ascendancy in the Army - he left school at 16 - was due to his bomb-making skills is questionable. But Sir Peter is adamant that modern-day tearaways should not be censured. 'It's not a question of pontificating, some of them are bloody good people.'

ONCE a year, American literary escorts who accompany authors around the country on book tours have the chance to get their own back. In their gift is a Golden Dart award, which they present to the author they have found the most difficult to deal with. The present holder of the dart is, rumour has it, Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare, a feat I find hard to believe. I'm sure he also won the award in 1992.

The son also rises THE journalist son of gamekeeper-turned-poacher Sir Bernard Ingham is about to make a foray into his father's old territory. Ignoring any warnings by Baroness Thatcher's former press secretary against the iniquities of the trade, John Ingham is to enter the lobby on behalf of the Daily Express. He was shy about his advancement yesterday, but not so his father, who said: 'I hope he does very well. Good luck to him.'

Less fortunate than Ingham Jnr, however, is David Prescott, son of Labour's transport spokesman, John. He has failed, I hear, to get a job as press officer for the Wakefield Labour group. He is, however, making some money by doing casual work on national newspapers. 'I am a trained journalist and I am interested in politics,' young Prescott has been saying in a rehearsed fashion. 'The fact that I was not appointed (to Wakefield) must just mean that I was not the best person for the job.'

I HEAR of more Anglican converts to the Roman Catholic Church. Disillusioned with the edicts of their vicar, the Rev Bob Jackson, parishioners of St Mary's, Scarborough, have upped and left for the more accommodating St Peter's in another part of town. Did they object to women priests? Something less central to the Christian faith, I'm told. Mr Jackson refused to let them play bingo in the church hall, while the Roman Catholics have embraced them, sinners though they undoubtedly are.

Tour de Road Blocks

SOMEONE had to sponsor the Government's deeply unpopular traffic regulation Bill which, among other things, will authorise the blocking of English roads this summer as the Tour de France comes over the Channel. The man who pulled the short straw is Peter Atkinson, Tory MP for Hexham, who is still celebrating the Government's decision to bypass Haltwhistle, his constituency town.

Sceptical opposition MPs are musing about the link between the two events, but Robert Key, the roads minister, has put everyone's mind at rest: 'I hope he'll be remembered not only as the MP for the Haltwhistle by-pass, but the MP for the Tour de France as well.'

A DAY LIKE THIS

18 March 1932 Hilaire Belloc writes to Duff Cooper from Prague: 'Bohemia, at first sight, looks like a mistake and a great lesson in not letting Yankees dictate in Europe: for it was made through pimping to Wilson. There was no financial pressure as in the case of saving the Reich. It was mere 'self-determination'. The result is that the clique in power exaggerate the feeling absurdly. They make things as difficult as possible not only for the honest Germans who are the best element in the place, but for everyone but themselves. Their peculiar script and unpronounceable language is not merely official but the only one to be generally used. Of course German is native to masses of Slavs as well as to all Germans here, and carries the traveller everywhere as English does in Gaelic-speaking islands, but they don't take a childish pleasure in suppressing it for fuller use. The notices inviting Americans and English to change money are in Czech.'

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