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John's naked truth uncovered

A COLLECTION of drawings by the late British bohemian painter, Augustus John, is to be exhibited for the first time later this week when 26-year-old Cassian de Vere Cole, the painter's grandson, turns his dining room in Notting Hill, London, into a saleroom.

The collection, which includes other British masters, contains drawings and the kind of stylised portraits that made John famous. Most unusual is a nude portrait of Gwen John, the artist's sister, whose talent as a painter is now held in greater esteem than her brother's. 'I wouldn't like to swear that this is the only picture of her nude,' says De Vere Cole, a former employee of Christie's, 'but I've never seen any others.'

Although John enthusiasts will love the exhibition, De Vere Cole would have prefered to have keep the paintings from the outside world. He inherited the drawings through his grandmother, Mavis Wheeler, a long-term mistress of John, and somewhat infamous for shooting a peer - the fifth Baron Vivian survived - while in her cups. He is selling, apparently, because of his father, Tristram, the son of John and Mavis, who was conceived while Mavis's first husband, Horace de Vere Cole, was in France. 'My father wants me to sell for financial reasons,' he told me sadly.

TRAVELLING BY train to Blackpool on Monday, John Patten, the Education Secretary, asked Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, if he could take the seat (first class) opposite him. Sorry, said Mr Clarke, but the seat is already taken. At journey's end, however, the seat was still empty, affording Mr Clarke's long legs plenty of space.

Speeding, to boot

JOHN PRESCOTT loves his cars - a Tory once demanded: 'For God's sake, how do you drive a Jaguar?' to which he replied: 'I stick the key in the ignition and turn it. What do you do?'. May I suggest, however, that if he wants to become Transport Secretary in a future Labour government (he is currently transport spokesman) he would do well to reduce his speed on the motorways.

Chatting on his car telephone while driving on the M1 last week, he told a colleague: 'I'm going to have to hang up because the police are right behind me.' Duly stopped (he is getting used to it, having been stopped for speeding three times before), Mr Prescott apologised for driving a little fast, but said he was late for a constituency meeting on the Sheehy report (which his people were not at all keen on, he added, artfully, as an aside.)

'That's all right Mr Prescott,' the sunny officer replied. 'We just wanted to tell you your boot was open.'

IN the Yorkshire Post, an advertisement appears for a 'temporary full-time teacher of English who is capable of teaching the subject up to GCSE'. Presumably one who can spell, unlike the prospective employers: Bradford Grammer School.

Mirror image

DELIGHTED with his spoiler operation on the Thatcher memoirs, the Daily Mirror's David Seymour yesterday accepted an invitation to appear on the BBC's breakfast television programme to discuss his scoop. But at the last moment the BBC, a tactful bunch, withdrew the invitation before unleashing Sir Bernard Ingham on the story. 'Poppycock' and 'where are the quotes to back up the story?' were just two of his on-screen observations that spring to mind. All sour grapes, of course. Huw Edwards had appeared on Panorama the night before with a copy of the memoirs gripped tantalisingly in his hands. However, the BBC had signed an undertaking with Baroness Thatcher's publishers, HarperCollins, that prevented the corporation using material from the book. So near and yet so far.


6 October 1870 Jules de Goncourt in Paris, beseiged by the Prussians, writes in his journal: 'This morning I went to get a card for my meat ration. It seemed to me I was looking at one of those queues in the great Revolution which my poor old cousin Cornelie used to describe to me, in that patient line of heterogeneous individuals, of ragged old women, of men in peaked caps, of small shopkeepers, cooped up in those improvised offices, those whitewashed rooms, where you recognised, sitting round a table, omnipotent in their uniforms, officers of the National Guard and supreme dispensers of your food, your far from honest tradesmen. I came away with a piece of blue paper, a typographical curiosity for future Goncourts and times to come, which entitles me and my housekeeper to buy every day two rations of raw meat or two portions of food cooked in the municipal canteens.'