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Poet speaking, can I help you?

WHEN nominations are entered in January for the successor to Seamus Heaney, who recently delivered his last lecture as Oxford Professor of Poetry, there will be a female name on the list. If Ursula Fanthorpe's candidacy is successful, she will be the first female professor in the 300-year history of the chair.

The five-year post, carrying an annual salary in the region of pounds 4,000, requires its occupant - who need have no previous affiliation with Oxford - to deliver three public lectures annually and judge three university prizes; past holders of the title include Matthew Arnold, W H Auden and Robert Graves.

Ms Fanthorpe, now in her sixties, began writing in what she describes as 'middle life,' finding inspiration in her position as a receptionist in a Bristol hospital. 'No poet had been a receptionist before,' she noted, and set about correcting the imbalance with her 1978 volume, Side-effects.

Her prospective opponents are still a matter for conjecture: the Oxford-based poet James Fenton is a strong candidate, while Benjamin Zephaniah, the Rastafarian poet defeated last time round, may try again. Should Ursula Fanthorpe get it, however, an injection of radicalism is expected: 'There are a lot of minorities in need of rescuing,' she explained.

A HIDDEN agenda in ministers' sartorial considerations was highlighted by John Patten's recent declaration that, when Michael Portillo was struck by an egg in Liverpool, he was wearing 'his campaign suit'. Asked to elucidate, Mr Patten explained that he himself has a campaign suit, 'distinguished by sturdy and thick wool, being pretty impenetrable and very easy to clean'. He plans to wear it, he confided, next Tuesday, when he faces a 45-minute barrage of education questions in the Commons.

Round the bend

THE Resident, a new magazine for inhabitants of Chelsea, London, has already risked offending one of its more influential readers - the Hon Edward Cadogan, grandson of William, the 7th Earl of Cadogan and son of Viscount Chelsea. The family owns 100 acres in the area.

In the magazine's first issue, out last week, the literary agent Giles Gordon advised readers to visit 24 Cheyne Walk, describing it as 'the (former) home of Thomas and Jane Carlyle'. Embarrassingly, however, he identified the wrong address. 'He meant to write 24 Cheyne Row,' explains Resident editor, Melissa Larken. 'It transpires that 24 Cheyne Walk is the abode of Edward Cadogan. We have already sent a note apologising and hope that any visitors will be directed round the corner.'

But the Cadogans are capable of rising above such matters: 'I saw the magazine last week,' Lady Cadogan told me benignly. 'How's it doing by the way?'

PLANS FOR the fiftieth anniversary of D-Day on 6 June 1994 are steaming into troubled waters. The French do not like a suggestion by the Royal British Legion that 1,641 veterans, setting sail from Southampton next year to arrive in Cherbourg on 5 June, should receive special medals on board their ship HMS Canberra, rather than on French soil.

How serious the dispute is, seems difficult to evaluate. A Legion spokeswoman yesterday said: 'It is just a question of logistics. At the moment we are still discussing it with the French . . . and I don't want to discuss it with you.'

Scottish man's home

INVITATIONS to the 60th birthday party of bon viveur Sir Nicholas Fairbairn on Christmas Eve are suitably over the top: instead of 'at Home', he will be 'at Castle'.


9 December 1941 Joan Wyndham, a 20-year-old Waaf, writes in her diary: 'Our last night before the (Commissions) Board. I've had all my hair cut off, like a boy, and starched my collar extra stiff to impress the judges. Oscar says I look like a perverted choirboy. We wanted to celebrate so we decided on a gay night in Preston (the alternative being a dance at the local lunatic asylum). We started with tripe and onions at the Plaza, absolutely divine, with loads of chips. Then on to the music hall to see something called Gaites de Montmartre. We had scenes of Apache life, a Burmese belly-dancer, and Famous Love Scenes through the ages, not to mention a final can-can. There was also a conjuror and a 'Mr Memory'. There are little numbers at the side of the stage saying what act is on, rather like the hymn board in church. Gussy knew the conjuror so we went backstage and he took us to a pub next door, with six of the chorus girls in all their make-up, v. jolly.'