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The pay's the thing at the Arts Council

WITH the emergence of Sir Ernest Hall, the wealthy founder of the Dean Clough arts and business centre in Halifax, as front- runner to replace the wealthy Lord Palumbo as chairman of the Arts Council next March, I hear grumblings about an appointments system weighted towards giving the job to the man or woman with the most money.

Both Palumbo and Hall have the advantage of not needing a salary to do the job, a state of affairs envied by another front-runner, Lord Gowrie, who would like the position but cannot take it without a salary (he gave up his job as Arts Minister because the Government didn't pay enough).

Trying to beat the system, I gather, are two new names who would both demand remuneration: Beverly Anderson, who chairs the Book Trust and is an Arts Council member, and Frank Dunlop, former director of the Edinburgh Festival and founder of the Young Vic theatre. Their odds are only about 20-1: Anderson's socialism might not be appreciated at a time of grant-cutting, while the Arts Council may not yet be ready for a real arts practitioner such as Dunlop.

Dunlop, I'm sure, would not have approached Sunday night's Prudential Awards for the Arts in quite the apocalyptic manner of the job's present incumbent. Drawing the attention of the (rather embarrassed) arts fraternity to the contrasting chaos of Eastern Europe, and the death and destruction of former Yugoslavia, Lord Palumbo consoled himself with the fact that the 'beacon' of the Prudential Awards still shone through.

BOOK shops have clearly been relishing the display of Baroness Thatcher's memoirs. As I noted earlier this month, W H Smith at Waterloo station placed the memoirs in the 'True Crimes' section; now Dillons, Chichester, has positioned the lady between the Bette Davis biography More Than A Woman and Tolkien's Dragons and Monsters.

Writer wronged

AS THE author Michael Dobbs considers suing Melvyn Bragg for libel over accusations that he has offended the Royal Family through implicit parallels in the BBC screenplay of his book To Play the King, the more appropriate target for Bragg's ire, Andrew Davies (he wrote the script), is moving onwards and upwards, having just signed a deal for a Hollywood film of his highly acclaimed 1992 novel, B Monkey. Bragg clearly failed to do his homework before lambasting Dobbs for the passage in the series which relates to the king and prostitutes. Davies admits that his new project contains large amounts of sex and violence but hopes it will be less controversial than To Play the King. 'This whole thing has been blown right out of proportion. Melvyn Bragg is barking up a tree without first looking carefully to see what's up it.'

ATTRACTED by the bright lights, a ram wandered from nearby fields to the forecourt of Shell's petrol station in Okehampton, Devon. All was calm beside pumps three and four - until the ram glimpsed his reflection in the shop's glass doors. Bedlam ensued as the ram took umbrage with the 'intruder' and charged. Obligingly, the automatic doors opened, enabling the ram (observered by an assistant cowering behind the till) to deposit itself with a crash among the Coca-Cola cans. Only a mild concussion, I'm glad to say.

Making a meal of it

WITH National Schools Meal Week starting on Monday, no local council is more anti-chlosterol and more pro-lean cuisine than Wandsworth, in south London. It has even entered an international campaign to change the eating habits of all schoolchildren from the age of three. Unimpressed, however, is CCG Catering, the company that serves up the fare at Wandsworth School. So unimpressed, in fact, that the menu for 1 December - National Schools Meal Day itself - has already been planned. To start: fish fingers, beefburgers, baked beans and chips. To follow: chocolate sponge topped with chocolate custard.


23 November 1914 W N P Barbellion writes in his diary: 'The test for true love is whether you can endure the thought of cutting your sweetheart's toe-nails. Or whether you find your Julia's sweat as sweet as otto of roses. I told her this tonight. Probably she thinks I only 'saw it in a book'. On Sunday went to the Albert Hall and warmed myself at the Orchestra. It is a wonderful sight to watch an orchestra playing from the gallery. It spurts and flickers like a flame. Its incessant activity arrests the attention and holds it just as a fire does - even a deaf man would be fascinated. Heard Chopin's Funeral March and other things. It would be a rich experience to be able to lie in your coffin at rest and listen to Chopin's Funeral March being played above you by a string orchestra with Sir Henry Wood conducting. Sir Henry, like a melanic Messiah, was crucified as usual, the Brahms Hungarian Rhapsody No 2 causing him the most awful agony . . .'