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Off to spend more time in Seattle

IS IT a coincidence that now the date for publication of the district auditor's long-awaited report into alleged gerrymandering on Westminster City Council is set for 13 January, both the council's managing director, Merv Montacute, and solicitor, Matthew Ives, have resigned?

The council has been beset by difficulties recently. Four years ago, under the leadership of Dame Shirley Porter, it was accused of selectively selling designated council houses to the private sector, thereby excluding homeless and poorly-housed families, who tend to be Labour voters, from eight marginal wards.

Mr Montacute, who became managing director in 1991, says that his resignation, announced this week, is for personal reasons. 'I arrived after the episode,' he said yesterday, 'and I am moving to live in my wife's home town - Seattle.' Likewise the press office says that Mr Ives is changing jobs 'for all the normal reasons that people do change jobs'.

Meanwhile, the council has encountered further internal problems. On hearing that the date was set for publication of the report, the Labour group planned to hold a press conference that morning - on council premises. Both Mr Montacute and council leader Miles Young have refused to allow it. 'Such an action would be party political,' says Mr Montacute firmly, and without even the teeniest shade of irony.

VERDI traditionalists could be in for a bit of a shock tonight at the Royal Festival Hall, when Lorin Maazel, the highly- charged maestro who fell foul of the Vienna State Opera in 1984 after prematurely quitting his job as its director, conducts the composer's famous Requiem.

In a flash of inspiration he is making half the chorus hum rather than sing part of the work - the Libera Me. Many are excited by the prospect, at least one member of the audience-to-be was a little dubious: 'Sounds like Hollywood coming to the South Bank,' he said gruffly.

Driven mad

THE IRASCIBILITY of the former trade and defence minister Alan Clark has not been helped by the attention he has been receiving from members of the media camped outside the Scott inquiry at Number 1, Buckingham Gate.

He particularly objects to having his picture 'snatched' by photographers. It was in an attempt to avoid this that he drove, at high speed, up a cul-de-sac off Buckingham Gate on Tuesday evening. To the glee of all the waiting snappers, he was forced to do a rapid U- turn before speeding out again in a scene captured by the BBC and shown on the Nine O'Clock News.

What was not shown, however, was Mr Clark's car colliding with a parked BBC van as he angrily tried to turn. It did little damage, but the BBC driver reported the incident to the police who, later that evening, called to interview the ex-minister.

Unsurprisingly, the incident has not improved relations between Mr Clark and the Corporation. 'Interview?' he barked at a home affairs correspondent the following morning. 'You must be joking. Your people shopped me to the police.'

MUCH mirth at Tuesday's Women in Film and Television awards lunch at London's Dorchester hotel. The chairwoman Brenda Reid announced that next year there would be a new prize - for the ITV company that had done the least for equality. It was, she said, to be named after 'The American President who had done the least for women - Richard Nixon' - hence its title: 'The Little Dick Award'.

Nuclear humour

THOSE who doubt that people in the nuclear power industry have a sense of humour should have attended a party the other night at the London headquarters of Nuclear Electric in Pall Mall. As they left the premises each guest was handed a packet of lime green Silly Putty. It bore the helpful explanation: 'It glows in the dark.'


16 December 1943 Iris Origo, living on an estate in Tuscany, writes in her diary: 'Two other fugitives turn up - an old Jew from Siena and his son. Both of them, clad in the most unsuitable of town clothes and thin shoes, are shivering with cold and terror. The father, the owner of an antique shop, produces from an inner pocket, drawing me aside, a little carved ivory Renaissance figure which he wishes to exchange for food and warm clothing. We supply the latter, and suggest that he keep the figure for future needs. He and his son wish to walk through the German lines to Naples - and to all our dissuasions (since it is clear that the old man, who suffers from heart disease, will die upon the way) they only reply - 'We have no choice. We must.' After a rest and some food they start up the hill in the snow, the old man groaning a little as he leans on his son's shoulder.'