A prize-winning book must surely soon be written about a book prize. Aspiring novelists could do worse than study the fallout over last week's Whitbread Prize. One of the judges was Sir Julian Critchley MP, a champion of the biography of Gladstone by Roy Jenkins, chancellor of the University of Oxford. Sir Julian wrote in the Daily Telegraph: "We wuz robbed," adding that the corps of lady novelists on the judging panel plumped for the eventual winner, Kate Atkinson, on the grounds that "we novelists must stick together."
The chairman of the judges, Richard Hoggart, no lady novelist he, revealed that Sir Julian had phoned him to lobby for Lord Jenkins, a fact I gather that he is less than happy about.
In the eventual judging, Roy Jenkins's Gladstone received only one vote - Sir Julian's, obviously - while Kate Atkinson's novel Behind the Scenes at the Museum, received four votes. Salman Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh received the other two votes.
What intrigues me more is the way I understand Sir Julian argued his case to his fellow judges. My judging-room mole tells me they failed to see the literary relevance when Sir Julian waxed lyrical about Oxford, his alma mater, and told them that a vote for Gladstone would make the claret flow in celebration among the dreaming spires. He added that a win for the Oxford chancellor would be a fillip for the university.
Book prize judges of the future be advised. Whatever the merits of the books in question, you know your duty. Lie back and think of Oxford.
Wife in law?
Martin Mears, president of the Law Society, experienced some embarrassment following revelations that he was not married to his partner, yet had attacked the Family Law Bill for making divorce too easy. He now believes he has found a scapegoat in that age-old punch bag - Who's Who.
"I never said that Susan [Greenwood] was my wife," he confided at the monthly meeting of the ruling council of the Law Society last week. "and when Who's Who sent an entry form, I left the wife slot blank."
According to Mears, the reference editors wanted more (he'd said he had seven children - can you blame them?), so they looked up newspaper cuts which said that he was married. "I myself," he said proudly "never claimed as much."
The only problem with his thesis is that journalists who interviewed him when he attained the presidency of the Law Society (which is when he entered Who's Who) distinctly recall him referring to Ms Greenwood as "my wife". Perhaps it is just a term that lawyers use.
There was head-scratching at London's Imperial War Museum when administrative staff realised that a scene worthy of James Bond - stuntmen carrying guns and wearing balaclavas were planning to swing down from the balcony and stage a raid on the place for the launch of Spycraft, an interactive espionage CD-Rom game. The problem? The Imperial War Museum, home to all kinds of armoured memorabilia, bizarrely enough, does not want to be seen "glorifying violence''.
"They asked us to remove the fake guns, and instruct the stunt men to wear woolly hats instead of balaclavas," says a spokeswoman for the game. "In addition, in order not 'to frighten' people we were asked if the assailants could have a struggle with pretend security guards and let the security guards win."
A fax, authorised by solicitors, arrives on my desk stating that rock 'n' roll legend Jerry Lee Lewis is "adamantly opposed" to a new musical production about his life - Whole Lotta Shakin' - about to open in Coventry before coming to the West End. It states that Mr Lewis will back all efforts to stop the show, written by Todd Ristau, from opening to the public until "an acceptable arrangement can be made".
It appears that the problem stems from writers' rivalry. Charles White, author of The Killer (Lewis's official biography) is aggrieved that the Coventry-based Belgrade theatre company was given access to his source material, but that Ristau wrote the play instead of him.
"Mr White has now written his own version, which will be on in the West End soon," his spokesman now says. One West End play about Jerry Lee Lewis is plausible; the idea of two succeeding sounds, to use the vernacular, like great balls of fire.
Producers of BBC's Songs Of Praise were bemused by a special request from Sir Harry Secombe when he recorded an edition at Wormwood Scrubs prison, to be broadcast next Sunday. Sir Harry said he did not want to do "Bless This House". Could this be anything to do with painful memories from a prison concert Sir Harry gave some years ago, when he included that tune? When he got to the lines: "Bless these walls so firm and stout, keeping want and trouble out," his captive audience burst into hysterical laughter.
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