Diary

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A private sale of languishing nudes

THREE YEARS after the national outcry over the proposed sale of Canova's The Three Graces (matched only by the national outcry when nobody bought it), the statue is on the market again.

Luc Hafner, a Swiss lawyer who represents the Cayman Island company which owns it, told me yesterday his clients were 'starting from scratch'.

This I took to be a reference to the aborted and controversial negotiations that appeared to have been resolved in May 1990, when the company, Fine Art Investment and Display, thought it had sold the statue to the J Paul Getty Museum in California for pounds 7.6m.

In fact then trade and industry secretary Nicholas Ridley refused to give it an export licence, delighting those people who wanted the statue to remain in this country.

Those same people were then horrified when the owner failed to do a deal with the Barclay brothers, the British hotel and property investors. That left the statue, which depicts three nude nymphs, languishing in a storeroom in London, instead of on public display.

Speaking from his office in Geneva, Mr Hafner said the owners would be trying to sell the statue 'through private channels' and did not rule out the possibility of a foreign buyer. 'We don't have anybody in particular in mind,' he said.

The Three Graces was carved around 1817 by the Italian sculptor Antonio Canova for the 6th Duke of Bedford, it stood in a specially designed temple at the Duke's family home, Woburn Abbey, for 160 years. Heritage groups, such as Save Britain's Heritage, would like the statue returned to the abbey.

I TRUST Alan Clark's diaries are more accurate than those of former Southend MP, Sir Henry 'Chips' Channon, who did a similar hatchet job on political colleagues who worked with him after the Second World War.

In the A Day Like This that appeared at the foot of this column on 8 June, the Diary quoted a Channon anecdote about a young couple who, he claimed, were caught 'in flagrante delicto' on the Foreign Secretary's office sofa in 1940. The culprits (a young typist and a young man in the cypher department) were discovered, apparently, by a night warden, who 'jabbed the sofa, and was startled by a feminine scream'.

Now the true story can be told. I have received a letter from the typist in question. I will withhold her name to spare her blushes, though she assures me she has nothing to be embarrassed about. She writes: 'I was the cypher civil servant involved, but was alone, and not 'in flagrante delicto'] '

Labour of love

I DON'T know Keith Vaz's views on the Social Chapter and working conditions (partly because he was so intemperate on the telephone yesterday that I didn't get a chance to ask him), but this I do know: the rewards for working for him are not lavish.

Advertising for an assistant, the Labour MP has posted the following requirements on the walls of every university career office: 'Computer literacy, particularly word processing, DTP . . . filing, photocopying, stuffing envelopes . . . meeting and escorting vistors, taking messages, typing letters, taking minutes of meetings, attending ministerial meetings . . . holding a driving licence . . . long hours . . . being based in London. .'

Mr Vaz, like all MPs, has an office allowance of pounds 39,960, so depending on how many assistants he already employs (and he certainly wasn't going to tell me that yesterday) there should be a bit of cash for the newest member of staff. Or so I thought, until I read: 'Travel expenses only can be provided.' WHO WAS the one journalist in Copenhagen who was not asked by his office to question John Major about the future of Michael Mates? ITN's diplomatic editor, James Mates, son of the above.

IT HAS, however, always been open season for bringing down Tories, or at least since this 17th-century nursery rhyme:

Ho] Master Teague - what is your

story?

I went to the wood, and I killed a

Tory.

I went to the wood, and I killed

another,

Was it the same, or was it his

brother?

A day like this

23 June 1821 Charles Greville writes in his journal: 'The other day, as we were going to the races from Oatlands, the Duke of York gave the history of the Duke of Wellington's life. His prejudice against him is excessively strong, and I think if he ever becomes King that the other will not be Commander-in-Chief. He does not deny his military talents, but he thinks that he is false and ungrateful, that he never gave sufficient credit to his officers, and that he was unwilling to put forward men who might claim some share of credit, the whole of which he was desirous of engrossing himself. He says that at Waterloo he got into a scrape and allowed himself to be surprised, and he attributes in great measure the success of that day to Lord Angelsea, who, he says, was hardly mentioned, and that in the coldest terms, in the Duke's despatch.'

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