Diary

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The hype for the "new" Beatles double CD - with a further two double CDs to follow - is proceeding in grand style. Articles, analyses, exclusive interviews with the surviving Beatles (though not, sadly, with Jane Asher about the day she accidentally threw away the lyrics to dozens of never-to-be-heard Lennon and McCartney songs in an over-enthusiastic burst of spring cleaning in 1965). The rock magazine Mojo even has three different covers of the group, in the hope that in 20 years' time there will still be collectors of Beatle revivalist memorabilia. It all whets the appetite for next month's highly lucrative release of all those hitherto unreleased tracks and out-takes from the Sixties.

I don't want to spoil the party, but throughout the hype an interview from long ago with the late John Lennon has been buzzing round my mind. It took place in 1971 with Rolling Stone magazine. In it, John was asked about those unreleased tracks and out-takes. They were, he replied, never put on record because they were not up to standard. "Everything that was good enough, we used," was the all-too-honest response, a quote which curiously has not featured in any of the advance publicity. What price the hype now? Or the three double CDs?

It's always refreshing, in a politically incorrect way, to hear a new and logically plausible argument in defence of alcohol consumption. Lunching with Allied Domecq, the international whisky and gin retailing company, I was much taken with an international comparison made by its head of corporate affairs, Tony Pratt. In France, he said, children are positively encouraged to have a glass of alcohol at home with the family at mealtimes. This removes any idea of drink being a virility symbol for youngsters. And it was significant, he added, that public order offences were far less common in France than in Britain.

What government could resist such a line of reasoning? Lower the taxes on wine and spirits and cut vandalism and juvenile crime at a stroke? And, by making dinner at home such an appetising prospect, they will also be helping to keep the family together. A vote-winning package if ever I heard one.

Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber tells me he has thoughts of building a new theatre with art gallery attached on London's South Bank, a few steps from the National. Under the cultural rationale of if you've got it, flaunt it, the art gallery would show Sir Andrew's own collection, and the theatre his musicals.

But he won't proceed until he is sure that the Millennium Commission will authorise a better link to bring people from north of the Thames. So far a new bridge and a cable car from Covent Garden have been proposed.

Is any capital city in the world, I wonder, so conscious of the divide between the two banks of its river? I, like most self-respecting north Londoners, would rather emigrate than live in the deep south. I imagine most south Londoners feel the same about setting up home in the north.

No research has been carried out on the reasons for this. But empirical evidence suggests that the north Londoners feel that south London consists of one huge, sprawling council estate where the police travel in threes, while south Londoners see the north as a chattering class in continuous session.

And so, though the South Bank already has the National Theatre, National Film Theatre, Royal Festival Hall and Museum of the Moving Image, this is seen not as a thriving arts metropolis which should by now have become the focal point of London, but as a problem - because people from the other side of the river can't stomach the thought of going there unless assured of on-site parking so that they can make their getaway as the curtain falls.

The divide, both social and cultural, does not seem to exist in Paris, where the French fearlessly visit galleries and theatres - and, doubtless, encourage their children to imbibe in restaurants - on both left and right banks of the Seine.

It looks as though the Prime Minister may have taken his revenge on an increasingly belligerent press corps. Journalists arriving for the lobby briefing at No 10 Downing Street yesterday were surprised to find that for the first time they were not allowed to use the front door. From now on they have to go round the side to a new briefing room, and "for security reasons" the door is locked while they are inside. Send them round the tradesmen's entrance and if there's some bad news don't let them out of the building. It must be every prime minister's dream.

At the weekend I paid my first visit for many years to Speakers' Corner in London's Hyde Park. I was surprised to find that the said speakers have been separated from their corner, and are being obliged to set up their soapboxes on a pathway nearby.

However, little has changed in the subject matter on which British extroverts want to harangue their fellow citizens. Out of the six speakers, four were tub-thumping about religion (addressing one's listeners provocatively as "hypocrites" remains de rigueur); one was sounding off about the French and nuclear outrages; and one had an appealingly surreal approach. He spoke for nearly half an hour without actually saying anything. His thesis was that those with the least to say attract the biggest crowds, and this was borne out by the increasingly large numbers that surrounded him.

After he had played out his linguistic games, he said proudly that this is the only country in the world where one can stand on two milk crates and speak to 300 people for half an hour about nothing at all. I felt perversely proud to be British.

Readers of a nervous or sensitive disposition should read no further; but others might enjoy this sighting of a poster for a David Bowie concert on his recent American tour. Bowie was backed by two new bands, Prick and Nine Inch Nails. The magazine Music Week spotted one venue which had the billing confused and proudly announced: "David Bowie with Nine Inch Prick". Well, I've always said he's the biggest star. Now it's official.

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