Diary

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A nasty taste in the palette

AN EXTRAORDINARY quarrel between two of the art world's more eminent figures has escalated into a public row, causing considerable embarrassment at the Royal Academy. So hostile have relations become between the art critic David Sylvester and the RA's exhibitions secretary, Norman Rosenthal, that the latter was seen spitting at the former during the opening of the controversial current show, entitled American Art in the Twentieth Century.

The cause of this hostility may be discovered in an article by Sylvester in this week's London Review of Books. He explains how, in 1990, the RA invited him to co-

curate the present exhibition, together with Rosenthal: 'After three meetings . . . I realised that I had to resign rather than go on . . . I was not replaced. Evidently no other student of the subject could bear to work with them either, or they couldn't bear to work with any student of the subject . . .'

Sylvester believes that the resulting exhibition, which has been heavily criticised for its omissions, is extremely badly 'hung' - and 'hanging' is precisely what Sylvester, responsible for the 1992 Magritte show at the Hayward Gallery, is renowned for. Rosenthal is not going to respond. 'I see it as a compliment,' he tells me. 'My most famous exhibition, A New Spirit in Painting, was insulted like this; now it's legendary.'

IMAGINE the disappointment of Laurie Caple, chief executive of the Northumbria Ambulance Service, when, having personally ordered six new Chevrolet ambulances at pounds 70,000 each - the London service makes do with the cheaper pounds 41,000 Sherpa model - he discovered, on the arrival of the first, that it was too tall for their garage. 'I don't know where it's gone,' says a local, 'but I think they've been told to get it out of sight.'

Play it again, Tom A TUNEFUL surprise greeted health department officials celebrating their move to new headquarters in London's Elephant and Castle with a lunchtime concert there on Monday. Tom Sackville, a minister at the department, gave a charming piano recital which included the catchy numbers 'A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square', 'Ain't Misbehavin' ' and 'I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter'. Sackville, who says he prefers playing 'cocktail music' or 'schmaltz', had never previously played before colleagues. 'It was his first, and last, performance in front of us,' says a spokesman, adding hastily, 'not that he played badly, but he says he does not want to make it a habit.'

AFTER 11 years leading the pop music industry, the record producers Mike Stock and Pete Waterman, the remaining duo of the SAW production company (Stock, Aitken and Waterman), are to part. Responsible for kick- starting the music careers of Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan, SAW nearly beat the record set by the Lennon and McCartney for having singles in the charts continuously; SAW managed three and a half years without a break.

Now, with accusations of 'tacky' ringing in his ears, Stock is said to be starting his own, more serious label. 'He wants to produce more adult songs,' says a former colleague - which, according to Stuart Bailie, an assistant editor at New Musical Express, is no bad thing. 'At present they produce conveyor-belt garbage . . . suitable for the rubbish bins.'

French betters EDWARD LEIGH, the Conservative MP who was demoted from trade and industry minister to the backbenches in June because of his opposition to the Maastricht treaty, has been spotted dropping off his children at the pounds 500-a-term Lycee Francais in London's Cromwell Road. 'I'm not against other cultures - just submerging our country into them,' he told me jovially. 'In fact I'm very fond of the French - they run their country much better than we do.'

A DAY LIKE THIS

20 October 1944 James Agate writes in his journal: 'Went again last night to Richard III. Olivier has heightened and deepened and widened his production out of recognition; it is now a masterpiece of gouaillerie, and the death scene is as tremendous as, judging from Hazlitt, I take Kean's to have been. Took Larry and Vivien Leigh to supper afterwards, when the Cafe Royal provided a banquet of roast partridge washed down with burgundy, which I can't drink, and champagne, which I find I still can. V L turns out to be as intelligent as she is pretty. Over and over again she said how much she preferred theatre to screen, and was backed up by Larry saying that film-acting is no job for an actor. He denied that Jock, who has arranged the text for the Henry V film, has painted the leaves of the trees yellow. 'It is going to be a very green Agincourt.' '

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