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WELL, it was not a Budget for Chancellors. As a drinking, smoking, driving and income tax- paying type, Norman Lamont can expect to be considerably worse off. His daily packet of Slim Panatellas will cost an extra 4.5p, and the three bottles of claret that cost him pounds 17.47 at Thresher's last November will now cost 16p or so more. And there's a further pounds 15 on the car tax for his Vauxhall Cavalier. But it wasn't a bad Budget for some political journalists. Ladbroke's offered odds of seven to four against Lamont speaking for longer than last year's 71 minutes. Since Downing Street told the lobby journalists at the morning briefing quite unequivocally that the speech would be 90 or more minutes long, the sharper among them realised that this is what is called in racing circles a sure thing. And so quite a number of hacks rushed off to the bookies, some of them placing as much as pounds 200. And since Lamont spoke for 111 minutes, such a bet earned pounds 350: enough to buy a few drinks for the cynics who had decided that the briefing was definitely just a wicked ploy of Lamont's to get his own back on his many detractors. Paul Austin, of Ladbroke's, was not unhappy last night: 'It was a bad result for us, but I suspect they all lost more on the Cheltenham Champion Hurdle.'

FOR SOME reason, the Daily Mirror is not happy that we're telling you this, but here goes: the exciting new star columnist who is to take over from the escaping Anne Robinson is none other than the breakfast television star Anne Diamond.


Poor John Birt has more trouble on his hands: he's got no wheels. For the past two weeks his K-registration company Range Rover has been hidden away at the BBC's transport depot in Kendal Avenue, west London. This is where lucky BBC executives have their cars serviced. But the word is that, when news of Birt's financial deal with the BBC emerged, he decided he'd rather not have newspaper photographers swarming round his home in Wandsworth, snapping the pounds 35,000 car. This need not have been a problem: Birt also has a chauffeur-driven Ford Granada for those more formal occasions. But that has been stolen.

CHEEKY Commons question of today comes from Phillip Oppenheim, the Tory MP for Amber Valley. He wishes to ask the President of the Board of Trade 'how many meetings he has had with businessmen before 8.30am in the last month'. President Heseltine, you will remember, promised his party conference that he would intervene to help British companies 'before breakfast, before lunch, before tea and before dinner'. Subsequently, as British business knows, he went on a no-meals diet.


Distinct ill-feeling exists between some people one might have thought to be civil, happy folk: for instance, classical music promoters. Victor Hochhauser, the doyen of the business, is 70 this year, and to celebrate, a charity concert is being given for him at the Royal College of Music on Saturday. Raymond Gubbay, a younger and rather brasher promoter, thought it would be nice to design an ad for the programme as a salute to his rival, showing the Gubbay logo tipping its hat to the Hochhauser one. (Hochhauser gave Gubbay, at 18, his first job. The interview, says Gubbay, consisted of three questions: where did you go to school; are you a Jewish boy; and can you start on Monday?) But Gubbay was surprised to have his ad (and cheque for pounds 460-odd) returned, with a message from the programme publishers that they were unable to include it. 'It's very petty,' says Gubbay, 'and it's the charities that will lose out.' Lilian Hochhauser, Victor's wife, told us yesterday that she knew nothing of all this, then rang back to say that Gubbay was 'stupid' and 'of course, his advertisement's going in'. So that's all right.

A LETTER from one Nick Downie appeared in the Daily Telegraph yesterday, suggesting that an article on the SAS last Saturday contained a couple of 'trifling errors'. This was laudably temperate of Downie, given that the article stated: 'Nick Downie was killed in Afghanistan.' Downie writes: 'For the benefit of my friends, colleagues and erstwhile comrades in arms (not to mention the Inland Revenue and my mother) . . . I am living peaceably in Sussex with my two daughters, engaged in nothing more hazardous than writing a novel.'


17 March 1942 Harold Nicolson, then Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Information, writes to Vita Sackville-West: 'I lunched with James Pope-Hennessy and he took me to see the devastation around St Paul's Cathedral. It is unbelievable. A great space as wide as Trafalgar Square laid low. I feel that at any cost we should retain it as a memorial to London's civilians. They deserve it, and it gives a magnificent vista of St Paul's such as Sir Christopher Wren would have given his soul to achieve. It is as if St Paul's stood where the National Gallery now stands. To get that permanently cleared is worth 40 million pounds in site-value and should be done.'