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A headmasterly internal memorandum thuds on to the mat at University College London. Some departments, thunders Dr Derek Roberts, the provost, 'must do better'. A recent study of the quality of research work done in Britain's universities placed UCL third, after Cambridge and Oxford. 'I offer (nearly) all of you my congratulations,' Dr Roberts says in his memo. But 'what is clear to me . . . is that we could have been second' and 'should seriously strive to be top in 1995' - the next time the Universities Funding Council compares academic performance. All UCL departments that scored less than five (on a research rating of one to five) must, he says, 'identify the individuals whose research assessment is likely to have been the cause'. Once the culprits are fingered, thought will be given to how their careers should continue. Those unlikely to improve their performance may be asked to move into another department, such as health and safety or pastoral care. Most ominously, some may even have to move 'outside UCL'.

UNEMPLOYMENT may be nudging 3 million and rising, but that is no excuse for cynicism. A billboard in Islington, north London, advertising the Daily Telegraph's appointments section, promises 'over 500 new directions every Thursday'. To which a dour graffitist has added: 'All leading nowhere.'


More great ideas from British Rail. Right up there with privatisation (sorry, franchising) and tying employees to trackside posts to test the effects of trains passing at 140mph, come blue flashing safety lights. These will be worn by teams of night-time signalmen and track repairers on the front of their uniforms as part of a four-week trial in the West Midlands. A BR spokesman said yesterday the lights will ensure that a look-out man always knows where his colleagues are, but: 'They may not help very much if someone is about to be run over by a train.'

TO WHAT do we owe the unexpected pleasure of Penthouse and For Women banishing telephone sex ads as of March (of course, we only read them for the many and varied pieces on vintage cars)? Penthouse's editor, Derek Botham, explains: 'We felt the sex advertising was out of place with the lifestyle editorial content now prominent in both magazines.'


The Home Office, that scourge of criminals, illegal aliens and documentary film makers, has added a new target to its hit list: smokers. Sir Clive Whitmore, the permanent secretary, has conducted a review of the department's policy towards the nicotine habit among its own staff in the wake of the recent ado about passive smoking. His decisions? Short term: smokers will be confined to designated rooms. Long term: the Home Office will become a smoke-free zone. Which should delight one regular visitor to St Anne's Gate: the cheroot-puffing Home Secretary, Kenneth Clarke.

OUR MAN travelling the subcontinent reports that Indian television is regaling its viewers with programmes on homelessness and poverty - in Britain.


From Clare's Kitchen to creamed potatoe (sic): hard on the heels of that New Statesman story comes the highly libellous accusation that the Hon Labour Member for Birmingham Erdington, Robin Corbett, has adopted the creative spelling of 'potato' favoured by Dan Quayle. The diarist in Parliament's in-house journal, the House Magazine, this week says the mistake flowed from Corbett's typewriter and advises him to 'stick to four-letter words like 'spud' in future, old sport'. The alleged Quaylism arose during the Labour MP's latest parliamentary campaign: to reinstate creamed potatoes to the menu of the Members' cafeteria. To the relief of democrats everywhere, the campaign has triumphed; MPs can once again savour puree de pommes de terre. But is the Hon Member's reputation as mashed as his beloved tats? 'I didn't misspell potato(e),' a miffed Corbett says. 'I used the plural.'


3 February 1818 John Keats writes to J H Reynolds: 'We hate poetry that has a palpable design upon us. Poetry should be great & unobtrusive . . . How beautiful are the retired flowers] How they would lose their beauty were they to throng into the highway crying out 'Admire me, I am a violet] Dote on me, I am a primrose]' Modern poets differ from the Elizabethans in this. Each of the moderns, like an Elector of Hanover, governs his petty state & knows how many straws are swept daily from the Causeways in all his dominions & has a continual itching that all the housewives should have their coppers well scoured; the ancients were Emperors of vast provinces, they had only heard of the remote ones and scarcely cared to visit them.'