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Times are tight at the Arts Council

ONE OF the problems with Lord Palumbo, millionaire property developer and chairman of the Arts Council, is that he doesn't really understand how the other half lives. And thus he's a little flustered by the grumpy reaction from various arts organisations to his latest initiative, a three-day conference in Brighton in October, titled 'The Odd Couple', on broadcasting's relationship with the arts. This is an admirable plan to help our poor arts companies learn how to squeeze a bit more out of the broadcasters. The only hitch is that a ticket to the conference costs in the region of pounds 300, without accommodation. Mary Loughran, of the Independent Theatre Council, says she will be surprised if more than 10 of her 300 members are able to attend. Among other things, the conference brochure offers the chance to sponsor a 'private' reception: an offer eagerly, if cheekily, taken up by Philip Hedley, of the Theatre Royal, Stratford East. He has written to Lord Palumbo suggesting that he be allowed to sponsor not a tea break, but a place at the conference for a pauper company. If this offer is accepted, he points out happily, Stratford East will be perhaps the first Arts Council-funded organisation to use Arts Council money to sponsor the Arts Council.

MEANWHILE, there are the exotic tastes of today's opera-goers to be considered. The garish leaflet announcing the Welsh National Opera's forthcoming production of Strauss's Elektra includes a warning: 'Please note the production is unlikely to contain nudity.'

Fitting end A WAKE was held last night for the Radio 4 programme Stop the Week, Robert Robinson's talking shop. Liked and loathed in equal measure by its listeners, it was finally axed last Saturday after 18 years. Not unsuitably for a show once described as 'like being trapped in the Garrick Club bar', the party was held in that very club. But this was not altogether a wise choice - the Garrick, after all, recently voted not to admit women to its membership. This, of course, did not affect the party or the attendance of past female contributors such as Ann Leslie, Dilly Keane and Brenda Maddox. Maddox told us: 'Oh, it's a fitting venue for the programme - it kept its male preponderance for a long time on the theory that two women's voices together were irritating.' Even Dennis Barker, one of the programme's founders, turned up, despite having written in bitter tones recently of Robert 'He always wanted to be Dr Johnson' Robinson and his 'court of self-reflecting cronies'. But Baroness Blackstone, not one to take the Garrick's dinosaur postures lightly, most pointedly did not.

FORGET journalism school, here, courtesy of Q magazine, is the secret of the television critic Garry Bushell's speedy entry into journalism. He was nervous, he says, when he did his first shift on the Sun: 'I'd never worked on a local newspaper, let alone a national one. I thought ooh, I need a little livener just to get me feeling confident. I didn't do a black bomber, just a line of sulph (amphetamine sulphate), and everyone said, 'Cor, I've never seen anyone work as hard as this, there he is sitting at a typewriter, banging out stories, give him a job]' '

Behind the portrait

THE painting: Harold Pinter, half-way down a red canvas, adrift in a sea of manuscripts. The unveiling: the National Portrait Gallery, yesterday. The playwright's suit: dark, a la Blues Brothers, plus shades. The playwright: 'When I first discussed the painting with Justin (Mortimer, a 22-year-old Slade graduate) I asked how many sittings would be necessary. He replied that 15 or 16 two-hour sittings would be fine. 'You do understand,' he said, 'that an unveiling is going to take place.' ' Justin: 'Hello everybody . . . I wanted Harold's head to look, like, organic against the red background. It was hard painting him, he's such an incredible man.' The playwright's wife (also famous writer): 'Harold looks serious, like he's thinking about East Timor or the Kurds. The Harold I know laughs a lot.'

TESSA SANDERSON - a supporter of random drug testing for athletes - will be facing the dope hounds with equanimity at the Olympics. At least she'll be expecting them. She says she's been got at by the little men with chemistry sets in the strangest places: banquets and 'they even did me in my dressing room at The Dome, Brighton, when I was appearing as the Genie of the Ring in Aladdin.'

A day like this

30 July 1952 T H White writes to David Garnett: 'The Duke of Gloucester flew over to shew the flag in Alderney. Really the Royal Family is a first-rate institution. There we stood, about a dozen of us, by the horse trough opposite the Marais Hall Hotel, while he drove by at 4mph, looking like an anxious porker which had escaped from the Cavalry Club. We raised a faint half-human cheer. I waved my spectacles. And the Duke was doing his royal best to make the party go. He industriously saluted us, he threw himself with intent, worried, workmanlike concentration into acknowledging the horse trough as if it were Trafalgar Square. He was putting too much work into it. Yet how good of them, how splendid to receive and return love, whether one is a porker or not. I won't believe he is ever dull again, whatever anybody says.'

RE TOES, the sucking of. In Sara Dale's excellent videogram Sensual Massage, Norman Lamont's ex-lodger endorses the practice of toe-sucking. Indeed, she assures viewers, 'men can reach full orgasm' if their little piggies are thus stimulated.