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Diary: Criminal tendencies

It was, they said, strictly a do for the writers. No squawking PRs, no pompous publishers, just an annual jolly for authors and friends in the mellow 18th century grandeur of a bookshop on Piccadilly. The Hatchards Authors of the Year reception is indeed a rare affair.

And the promise of a PR-free zone clearly works wonders with our shy wordsmiths. Through the door poured a veritable flood of the great and the good - Harold Pinter, Lady Antonia Fraser, Ludovic Kennedy, David Attenborough and Ken Russell, pausing only to sign the visitors' book - the single formality of the evening.

So how grand did you need to be, not to bother signing in? As grand a former Cabinet Minister as Lord Jenkins and Kenneth Baker (above) conspicuously declined to write their names.

The signing-in formalities over, guests were slightly startled by the late arrival of two burly uniformed police officers. Could they be the latest hot authors to watch - or were they checking up on their erstwhile bosses' after-hours drinking habits? Nothing of the sort. This, I was told, was Willy - the local PC, book launch habituee, and "the best read policeman in all of London."

"Oh," boomed Willy, "I never miss one of these, nor a book signing. And I always have a chat with the author. I got into a right row with Jeffrey Archer when he was here - terrible, he is. Writes crap. I reckon I should nick him for impersonating a novelist."

Community policing at its finest.

Things could have been worse

Sir Edward Heath has not lost his skill at the one-line or even one-word put down. In the Commons tea room yesterday, the Conservative MP Alan Duncan was holding court despite his less-than-brilliant performance masterminding the Staffordshire South East by-election. Sir Edward, however, refused to engage in conversation with him, but merely said, "Congratulations".

That was followed by ribald laughter all round by Duncan's Tory chums. There was a 22 per cent swing to Labour in Staffs South East.

Just one more rant...

Rule number 34b of journalism is never give a writer just one more column, directly after sacking them. They generally take the chance to say all the wrong things. My old friend Mat Coward, whose schizophrenic activities include humorist with New Statesman And Society, and activist with the Labour Party in Pinner, is not to be part of the new Ian Hargreaves regime at the Statesman. But he is given one last column in today's edition. And he lets rip, with a non-humorous column in prime position at the front of the journal. Blair and the Blairites "were never Labour. They don't come from Labour families, they don't share Labour values ... they set out to abolish the Labour Party and replace it with an updated version of the Tory party." Not quite the message Ian Hargreaves intends to promote, when he officially takes over next week, I suspect.

Jazz and the Jackson factor

Playing an instrument is no handicap to getting to the White House as those who have listened politely to President Clinton and his saxophone will know. But we weren't dropping any hints to American civil rights campaigner Jesse Jackson when a piece about him here yesterday was accompanied by a picture of jazz trumpeter and composer Quincy Jones. It was, as they say in the best jazz and political circles, computer error. Our apologies. The real Jesse Jackson is pictured here.

Netting a bargain

They're all becoming computer buffs on Humberside. Hull's municipally owned telephone network charges just 5.5p for local calls, regardless of their duration. A fine civic gesture, until you remember that the Internet works on the basis of a local call charge. The Communication Workers Union magazine Voice reports that one local "anorak" stayed on line for eight days for his 5-and-a-half pence.

Stakes are high when luvvie meets bookie

Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's wife, Madeleine, as well as inspiring the occasional piece of swirling romantic music by her spouse, is also well-known as a racehorse owner. I suspect she is the inspiration for Sir Andrew's Really Useful Group taking over much of the card at Newbury races on Sunday 19 May. Thus we find such sponsored races as The Jesus Christ Superstar Rated Stakes, which a spokesman for Newbury chairman Lord Carnarvon describes as "a nice touch for Sunday racing."

In addition, local school choirs will be frightening the horses, singing hits from the Lloyd-Webber oeuvre. The members' enclosure will be seething with theatricals and their guests, headed by Sir Andrew. And I look forward to witnessing the culture clash as luvvie meets bookie. The latter, I should warn the Really Useful Group, are not renowned for air kissing.