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Written off the Booker shortlist

IF YOU see one of the greats of modern British fiction later today, prepare a consoling shoulder. Sometime this afternoon the Booker prize jury will emerge from the Athenaeum with a shortlist of six novels featuring, it appears, just about none of our grand old people of letters. If you are a former Booker winner, or were in last month's feature in the Times newspaper of the first chapters of the 'strongest Booker contenders', you are very unlikely to be on the list. That means Malcolm Bradbury's Doctor Criminale will not feature, even though its first chapter is naughtily set at a Booker award gala. The much-touted P D James, with her deeply gloomy almanac of the year 2025, The Children of Men, won't appear; nor will the latest works of Anita Brookner, Martin Amis, Melvyn Bragg or Edna O'Brien. Only Rose Tremain, among the Times's top five contenders, seems to have any chance of making the list. Howard Jacobson - a celebrated scourge of the award - is also unlikely to make it with his biblical fantasy, The Very Model of a Man, despite the considerable eagerness of the Booker McConnell monitors to persuade their judges to turn the tables on their tormentor. So what will be on the shortlist? Is there anything left in print this year that these rough iconoclasts actually liked? Not much. The word is that they might even put forward something as crude as a - God forbid] - 'crime thriller'.

THE Duke of Westminster, the richest man in Britain, is calling a press conference today to discuss rural poverty and deprivation. The venue? Claridges.

Unlucky Mirror

DAILY MIRROR executives don't know what it takes to get a good story these days. Money won't do. Despite topping the Sun's pounds 70,000 with a bid of pounds 75,000, the Sun still got the new allegations about David Mellor's activities in Antonia de Sancha's bedroom. When peeved Mirror executives asked why the lower offer was accepted, de Sancha's 'friends' came up with this perplexing face-saver: 'We reckoned if we put it in the Sun, then no one would believe it.' Which can't have soothed the Mirror much. Meanwhile, Antonia de Sancha's 'friend' and supplier of salacious material to the Sun, the hedgehog-loving authoress Joanna Horaim Ashbourn, insists that she has not received a penny for her disclosures. But at Christmas, Ashbourn intends to publish a book: 'a modern novel', according to her publishers, 'showing the political scene, London, and the Bohemian life around Earls Court as the backdrop to an actress and a politician having an affair'. The novel is being written with de Sancha's help. Max Clifford, who handles the actress's PR, tells us: 'It will be a fictional piece and you can draw your own conclusions.' And will she get any money out of it? 'Of course she will. All we are trying to do is make the best of this situation. What's David Mellor done? He's got on with his career. That is what we're trying to do for Antonia while she's hot and in the shop window.' And to that end de Sancha will soon appear on a Spanish chat show for 'a considerable sum of money', while talks are under way with a US production company to make a film about 'sex, politics and the royals'.

WHAT a surprise] Columbia Tri-Star announced yesterday that it would bring forward the UK release of Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives from next year to next month. In it Allen plays a professor who leaves his wife (Mia Farrow) for one of his (teenage) students. And thus his rather less relevant tribute to German Expressionism, Shadows and Fog, originally scheduled for release next month, will now appear next year. A Columbia spokesman tells us with authority: 'The company is trying to avoid it looking like it has swapped the films and pandered to popular demand.'

Art of redecoration

LORD PARKINSON illustrated the trials of a peripatetic government minister at a lunch given by Moet et Chandon yesterday. In 1987 he took over Paul Channon's offices to become Secretary of State for Energy - 'They were particularly shabby, utterly uncomfortable and with four separate doors all fit for dwarves.' How, Parkinson asked the civil servants, had Channon made the offices habitable? Oh, they replied, the minister had put his Canalettos on the walls. When questioned, Channon admitted that this had been his method of brightening the workplace. 'But,' he assured Parkinson, 'they were very poor Canalettos.'

A day like this

9 September 1940 Cesare Pavese observes in his journal: 'I can see the scene. She is always wandering off changing her mind, getting up from the table, interrupting the conversation, going to the telephone, and so on. If anyone reminds her of her duties, she replies, 'It is your fault if you fail to interest me and keep me sitting.' Such an answer presupposes that inner hardening of adolescence, because it implies that things would have been different if her companion had been different. A fallacy one is prone to credit, in youth, but not later, when one grasps the truth that whatever happens is one's own fault.'