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A theatrical way to save Major's day

CORNERS don't get much tighter than the one in which John Major finds himself today. Faced with what could be the toughest challenge of his political career, Major has drawn on the talents of a motley crew to help him craft his speech. Nick True from No 10's policy unit has written much of it, but Sarah Hogg, the unit's head, Jonathan Hill, Major's political secretary, and Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare have also helped. More than ever, though, the PM will be relying on the ability of one man, the playwright Sir Ronald Millar, to produce gems such as 'U-turn if you want, the Lady's not for turning'. Sir Ronald, who since 1969 has doubled as an unpaid speechwriter for the Tory leadership, is confident: 'Margaret was in difficult positions many times but we pulled through.' However, he admits it will be a 'challenge'. 'Conferences are like the theatre - often a smash hit can emerge from something that started off as a disaster.' Whether his particular brand of theatre will be enough in the eyes of the nation to rescue Major remains to be seen. Sheridan Morley, the theatre critic, says: ' The kind of people you see at the Tory party conference are the same people who used to go to matinees of (Sir Ronald's) plays. I'm not sure the appeal goes much wider than that.'

THE National Association of Probation Officers yesterday issued delegates to its annual conference in Eastbourne a 10-page guide to politically correct language: '. . . avoid any references to physical attributes, or lack of them, in a metaphorical manner. For example, saying a leader lacks vision.' Absent from the guide, however, is an agreement from the union's last national executive meeting that members unwilling to strike should not be called 'scabs' as it could offend 'people with skin disorders'.

Quiz quandary THE treatment traditionally reserved for contentious editions of Panorama is now being meted out to BBC 2's top-rating comedy quiz, Have I Got News For You (hosted by 'TV's Mr Short', Angus Deayton). The BBC has demanded that the programme makers, Hat Trick Productions, include Conservatives among the guests for the new series, which begins next Friday. Ken Livingstone, Charles Kennedy and Neil Kinnock, are scheduled to appear, but as yet no Tories. Hat Trick did invite every member of the Cabinet, but they all declined. 'We must have either very funny MPs, like Charles Kennedy, or they must be very newsworthy, like Neil Kinnock,' a programme insider tells us. 'I can't think of one Tory backbencher we'd want on. If we could get any Tory MP, it would be David Mellor. There is a genuine nervousness at the BBC about the next few months and the negotiations with Peter Brooke (the new Secretary of State for National Heritage).' Similar pressure was exerted on the series earlier this year when Hat Trick was asked to drop an item on Jeffrey Archer's family history the week he was ennobled. The company refused.

ACCORDING to an advertisement in Southwark Council's weekly newspaper, the Southwark Sparrow, the council is prepared to spend up to pounds 27,000 a year for a new Communications and Information Manager. It will be money well spent. The advertisement gives two telephone numbers for the council's personnel office. Ring one and it connects you to a dry cleaning service. Ring the other and you get a doctor's surgery.

London Graceland FREDDIE MERCURY would have been tickled. A statue is to be erected to his memory in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, his former home. The musician Dave Clark, who is representing Mercury's family and estate, says it 'should be in place by the end of next year. I can't say where or what form it will take. It will be a tasteful memorial, not a publicity gimmick.' Joan Hanham, leader of the council, is wary: 'We do not want a problem like the Paris authorities have with Jim Morrison's grave. And it can't be like the Elvis Presley shrine in America. Memphis is rather different to Kensington High Street.'

JOURNALISTS at the Guardian are spitting over the appointment of a new weekly arts columnist: one David Mellor, the sometime Minister for Fun. Well, it could have been worse - he could have been asked to write about travel.

A Day Like This

9 October 1989 Derek Jarman writes in his journal about Glasgow: 'The views of distant woodland and barren hills down the long straight classical streets are at their best as the light fades. Every day brings spectacular skies: low fast-moving clouds silvered by the setting sun, deep pools of blue and violet rushing in from the sea. Further down this street there is a cluster of terracotta buildings, lushly over-decorated from an ornamental handbook. With their sooty patina, they hug the twilight shadows to themselves - cornices and cupolas of Mammon looming in the jungly dark. Many bars and shops have interiors unchanged since they were built, giving the city a lived-in feeling long since scrubbed away by profit in London.'