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The Beeb's still smaller voice

FEW listeners who tune into the 'Thought for the Day' slot on Radio 4's Today programme will forget the moment when Rabbi Lionel Blue allowed his notes to be whisked away by the fan in front of him, leaving him speechless, probably for the first time in his life.

There have been other memorable moments, but how many more will there be? Yesterday, a BBC spokeswoman told the Press Association that the three-minute item which goes out at 7.50am will from now on be shaved, on occasions, by 30 seconds, to cover news stories. When I spoke to Radio 4, the tune had changed. There were no plans to alter the timing of the slot, I was told. Which spokesman or woman to believe? We will have to monitor the length over the coming months, but in the meantime, here are two clerical voices, one opposed to shortening the item, and one in favour of making things brief.

The Rev Bob Marshall, spokesman for the London diocese, thinks it would be 'tragic if this is the thin end of the wedge. Most broadcasting just asks for sound bites from religious figures: they're more punchy, but they're superficial'.

However, Philip Crowe, principal of the Salisbury and Wells theological college, remembers when the slot was five minutes long and 'encased' in religious music. He doesn't regret a further shortening. 'If you've got something to say you can say it in two-and-half minutes just as well as three.'

ASIL NADIR is elusive, as everyone knows, and so is his signature, at least the version that appears in a painting by Magnus Hammick at the 'Wonderful Life' exhibition at the Lisson Gallery in London. Instamatic Painting No 3 consists of a box containing Nadir's signature on photosensitive paper, which alters daily with exposure to daylight. Because of the nature of the photographic materials, the handwriting will have vanished by the end of the show in mid-October. Symbolic? 'Humorous,' Mr Hammick replied.

Tootle your horn 'YOU ARE invited to take advantage of the chambermaid,' said a note in a Japanese hotel. I also have an invitation. The Diary would like to hear other examples of 'foreign' English that may have struck readers as funny (or sad) during the summer. Two bottles of champagne or a bottle of single malt whisky for the best one to reach me before 31 August. To whet the appetite, here are a few examples already brought to my attention.

In a Bucharest hotel: 'The lift is being fixed for the next day. During that time, we regret that you will be unbearable.' A Bangkok temple decrees: 'It is forbidden to enter a woman even a foreigner if dressed as a man.' In a Moscow hotel room: 'If this is your first visit to the USSR, you are welcome to it.'

But my favourite so far is this advice in a car-rental firm brochure in Tokyo. 'When passenger of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage, then tootle him with vigour.'

IAN HISLOP assured this newspaper this week that under his editorship, Private Eye is a journal of record (well, at least a journal that prints stories only if he believes them to be true). In which case, perhaps he could tighten up on the accuracy of his MPs For Hire column. In the current issue, the column lists all MPs who are members of Lloyd's. The first is Robert Adley, Christchurch.

Mr Paten's howler DAN QUAYLE was ridiculed for spelling potato with an e on the end, but at least he wasn't in charge of America's education. John Patten, I trust, will be given fair treatment by teachers and press when he returns from his illness, but the Secretary of State for Education would be well advised to check on his spelling before he finds himself once more in the public gaze.

In a foreword to a Sunday Times book on the best 400 state schools published next month by Bloomsbury (which has corrected it), Mr Patten said he was 'commited' to more openness and accountability in education. He also said that under the Parent's Charter, test and exam results, truancy rates and what pupils do when they leave school or college will become 'publically' available.


12 August 1846 Caroline Fox writes in her journal: 'Jacob Bell took us to meet (the painter Sir Edwin) Landseer, who does not greatly take my fancy. Someone said he was once a dog himself, and I can see a look of it. He has a somewhat arrogant manner, a love of contradiction, and a despotic judgement. He showed us the picture he has just finished of the Queen and Prince Albert in their fancy ball-dresses. He deeply admires the Queen's intellect, which he thinks superior to any woman's in Europe. Her memory is so very remarkable that he has heard her recall the exact words of speeches made years before, which the speakers had themselves forgotten. He has a charming sketch of her on horseback before her marriage. His little dogs went flying over sofas, chairs and us - brilliant little oddities of the Scotch terrier kind.'