Diary: Dream job for Major's saviour

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WHEN the Ulster Unionists came to John Major's rescue over Maastricht last month, there was much talk of deals behind the scenes, denied by the Prime Minister. But there has, I gather, been some post- Maastricht horse-trading with those other partners-in-crime, the Liberal Democrats, who voted with the Government in the early stages of the Maastricht process last November.

As a reward for their votes, Archy Kirkwood, the Liberal Democrats' chief whip, has been pressing his Conservative counterpart, Richard Ryder, for some suitable recognition of the part played by Sir Russell Johnston, the party's deputy leader, who did more than anyone else to persuade the Lib Dems to vote with the Government. Sir Russell is considering retiring from the Commons at the next election, and, I'm told, would like to work for the European Commission. He incurred the wrath of his own party in 1983, when he said he wanted to become an MEP while continuing to represent Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber at Westminster. Following the meeting between the whips, it is likely that Sir Russell's wish will be granted.

Yesterday, Sir Russell was reluctant to say too much about his prospects. 'I haven't made any firm decision about the next election,' he insisted. 'You describe great things. If someone was to make me such an offer, obviously I would have to think about it.'

ANDREW NEIL, the editor of the Sunday Times, will be seen reading the news in Michael Winner's latest blood-and-guts offering, Dirty Weekend. He took only three takes for his 10 seconds on screen, Mr Winner tells me, and is not one of the six people murdered in the film. That's good to know.


AS A (mild) dyslexia sufferer, Michael Heseltine hasn't fared too badly in politics, while another afflicted by the complaint, Sarah Miles, has done quite well in films. Neither, however, is likely to be a best-selling novelist, although the actress is determined not to let her dyslexia get her down. She has just completed the first volume of her autobiography, to be published by Macmillan in October.

'It has taken her an extremely long time to chronicle this, her first 18 years,' says a spokesman at Macmillan. 'She insisted on doing it all herself and refused to show it to her husband, the playwright Robert Bolt, because she knew it would be obvious if he tampered with it. Her dyslexia is so bad that I am not entirely convinced that she finds it easy to read even a menu.'

The volume, A Right Royal Bastard, tells of Miss Miles's royal illegitimate ancestry (she claims her great-grandfather was Prince Francis of Teck, brother of Queen Mary); her loss of virginity to the womanising author James Fox; and her first meeting with Laurence Olivier. 'It makes pretty scintillating reading,' says a spokesman. 'Although the steamier stuff (a corpse was once found in her bedroom) is yet to come.'

CHRIS AND LAVENDER Patten have finally settled in at Government House in Hong Kong, but not before a few disappointments. Mr Patten tells next month's Harpers & Queen that they had some immediate redecorating to do. 'It is better, but we've still got to get rid of all those Laura Ashley fabrics.'

Nor, according to one source quoted by the magazine, was Mr Patten overjoyed with the selection of wines he inherited from

his predecessor, Lord Wilson of Tillyorn. 'He fancies himself as a wine buff and asked to see the cellars at Government House when he arrived. All they contained was six bottles of Blue Nun.'

The Pattens' style is more extravagant. A la Jacques Attali, they have put down pink marble floors, at a cost of pounds 172,000.


At John Lewis stores, customers favouring red lingerie will be disappointed. It is company policy not to sell this colour - at least that's what a male colleague (assisting his wife) was told by an assistant in the branch at Brent Cross, London. 'But then why do you have a rack full of bright-red Gossard Wonderbras?' asked our man, already feeling a little out of his depth. 'Because, sir,' came the patient reply, 'that's not red. It's 'flame'.'


13 August 1820 John Keats, ill with tuberculosis, writes to his sister

Fanny from London: 'I am staying a short time with Mrs Brawne who lives in the house which was Mrs Dilke's. I am excessively nervous; a person I am not quite used to entering the room half chokes me. 'Tis not yet Consumption, I believe, but it would be so were I to remain in this climate all the winter; so I am thinking of either voyaging or travelling to Italy. Yesterday I received an invitation from Mr Shelley, a gentleman residing at Pisa, to spend the winter with him. If I go I must be away in a month or even less. I am glad you like the poems, you must hope with me that time and health will produce you some more. This is the first morning I have been able to sit to the paper and have many letters to write if I can manage them.' (He died in Rome the following February.)