Diary

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THOSE IN THE BLACK MUST PAY THE TAX

Baroness Mallalieu was intrigued to discover that John Birt has been setting his wardrobe expenses against tax. In 1983, as a QC, Ann Mallalieu took her argument that the black clothing she and her colleagues had to wear in court should be a legitimate business expense as far as the House of Lords. She argued that she, for one, wouldn't wear black normally - it didn't agree with her colouring and made her look old. But she was unsuccessful. 'The revenue operates in a flexible way for actors and models - maybe director- generals - but never in my favour,' she said yesterday. Still, even with the revenue on your side, life as a freelance consultant (sorry, director-general) to the Beeb isn't such a feather bed. John Birt Ltd's annual accounts show he allowed himself only pounds 3,666 for his business wardrobe. That would have bought him a mere six super-100 worsted double-breasted suits by his favourite outfitter, Giorgio Armani - pounds 625 each at Harrods. Of course, he could have followed John Major's example and bought at M&S. There are very fine suits there at just pounds 125, and Birt could have had 29 of them. But if he keeps up his pounds 36,167 pension contribution, he'll soon have all the suits he needs. At 65 he will have accumulated pounds 3.8m - giving an annual pension, according to Legal and General, of pounds 496,000.

MEANWHILE, BBC staff yesterday were terribly grateful to receive a communication from their newest staff member. 'I'm grateful for the messages of support from staff I have received over these past few days,' John Birt wrote. Only problem - no one could locate anyone who would admit to having sent a message of support.

ALPHABETICAL ORDER

When times are hard, it's time to go down-market. Bloomsbury, the very proper publishing house that purveys the likes of the Booker winner Michael Ondaatje and the Nobel winner Nadine Gordimer, is launching a rather lower-falutin paperback publishing arm. Books for the boys is the idea: the new imprint is to be called '22', the regimental number of the regular SAS. And it will kick off later this year with a series of novelisations of stories of SAS derring-do, titled Soldier A, Soldier B, Soldier C, and so on. (You'll recall that whenever the shadowy soldiers' exploits land them in court, they give evidence from behind screens as Soldier T, or whatever.) The reaction from the army end is sceptical: 'They should be calling it 21, or 23 (the numbers of the Territorial SAS regiments, commonly known as the amateurs) - they're the sort who might actually buy a copy,' says one snooty regular officer. Bloomsbury itself was showing SAS-type caginess when questioned about the initiative yesterday: Press Officer T would say only, through narrowed eyes and gritted teeth: 'We'll send you a press release when the time is right.'

OF COURSE, the regiment that Bloomsbury should be novelising is the new Princess of Wales Royals - formed from the Queen's and the Royal Hampshires. Diana is its Colonel-in- Chief, and the regiment is now known throughout the services as 'Squidgy's Own'.

MIRROR CARP

Will there be any rats left on the good ship Daily Mirror? Anne Robinson, the paper's star columnist, is the latest to follow her former editor, Richard Stott, and other colleagues to Wapping and Today. Robinson, whose twinkly eyes and sweet smile have endeared her to viewers of BBC 1's Points of View, is shedding no tears over quitting Maxwell's old stomping ground, where she recently celebrated her 10th anniversary. 'Journalism has got to be fun and the Mirror has ceased to be that,' she says. Robinson describes herself as an 'unaligned radical' and says politics did not enter into her disagreement with the Mirror's new management. 'My objection is with the product. Just look at it] It has lost its sense of direction and the staff are totally demoralised. I no longer feel comfortable working there.' Robinson leaves behind an ex-husband, Charles Wilson, the Mirror's managing editor.

YOU CAN'T move for signs of the times, these days. But it's nice to learn that the Norwich and Norfolk Conservative Club is being sold to the Salvation Army, which wishes to turn it into a centre for the city's jobless and underprivileged.

A DAY LIKE THIS

2 March 1924 Gabriel Fallon attends the dress rehearsal of Sean O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock in Dublin: 'I arrived at the Abbey Theatre at 4.30 and found the author there before me looking rather glum. Lennox Robertson arrived, shortly followed by Yeats and Lady Gregory. As soon as I had finished my part I went down to the stalls and I had an opportunity of seeing the play from an objective point of view. I was stunned by the tragic quality of the third act. But it was the blistering irony of the final scene which convinced me that the man sitting two seats in front of me was a dramatist of genius. I sat there stunned. As did the others. Then Yeats ventured an opinion. He said the play reminded him of a Dostoievsky novel. Lady Gregory turned to him and said: 'You know, Willie, you never read a novel by Dostoievsky.'

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