Diary: Tell-tale bundle of the unexpected

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A BUNDLE of papers belonging to the late Roald Dahl was supposed to be auctioned in Swindon today - and extremely interesting reading it would have made, too. One signed letter beginning 'Forgive the handwriting but I preferred not to dictate this to my secretary' is followed, according to the catalogue, by 'highly unusual arrangements for diverting funds from the film The Passage through an intermediary . . . contracts, the establishment of a Lichtenstein company, letters from the Inland Revenue, etc, etc.'

Further enlightenment will not be possible for a while - because the owner has mysteriously withdrawn the bundle from the auction at the last moment and is now said to be in the United States, negotiating with the Dahl estate.

'At first he wanted to rush the sale through - then he suddenly withdrew it,' says the auctioneer, Dominic Winter. 'I don't know whether the family was aware of the existence of such documents. Certainly they are not mentioned in the new biography of Dahl by Jeremy Treglown, which only came out earlier this month. It would appear, therefore, that the documents are indeed of a scandalous nature.'

Although Dahl's screenplays were initially unsuccessful, and he had difficulty at first in finding an English publisher for his children's books, he was a rich man by the time he died in 1991 - and his books still earn pounds 2m a year.

JOHN MAJOR's classless society is developing apace, with top jobs so far being held by, inter alia, himself (son of a trapeze artist), and the Archbishop of Canterbury (son of a hospital porter). Now the new Chief of the Defence Staff, Field Marshal Sir Peter Inge, can be added to the list of VIPs who have won their spurs the hard way. Before Sandhurst, the young Inge ran errands for his father's butcher's shop in Sevenoaks, Kent.

Operatic justice? WEARINESS with corruption scandals may not be the only reason for Italy's change of government, at least as far as Romans are concerned.

The Minister of Culture, Alberto Ronchey, has outraged the city's opera fans - there are an awful lot of them - by banning their summer festival from the Caracalla baths, where it has been held for the past 56 years. The effect of musical vibrations on what is left of the 1,700-year-old leisure complex of baths, gymnasiums, saunas and libraries is the reason for the ban.

Talk of moving the festival, founded by Mussolini, to the Cinecitta Film studios - of Federico Fellini fame - has not pacified the fans from all over the world, for whom Ronchey is fast becoming a marked man. Last year he nearly caused a riot when he banned camels from Verdi's Aida for the first time in 53 years.

IF John Redwood is reshuffled this summer, Sir Wyn Roberts, his trusty deputy, will be hoping for a new boss with at least a vestige of a Welsh connection. Since the new secretary of state took office last year, the Welsh- speaking Roberts has been working overtime - signing letters to members of the public which Redwood should be putting his name to, but won't because he cannot understand them.

Bowing in ON HIS death bed in 1987, the American virtuoso violinist Jascha Heifetz entrusted his bow to his biographer, Herbert Axelrod, with strict instructions to 'give it to the right guy'. Seven years later, Axelrod has found his man: a 19-year- old named Maxim Vengerov, who is seen by many as Heifetz's natural successor.

'It's a case of passing on Arthur's Sword,' says a spokesman for Vengerov. 'Axelrod knew Vengerov was meant to have the bow when he saw his New York debut.' Vengerov himself says he won't use anything else with his 1727 Stradivarius. 'I almost felt the ghost of Heifetz when I played,' he said.

A DAY LIKE THIS

30 March 1918 Katherine Mansfield writes to John Middleton Murry from Paris: 'I suppose the blockade has started for no post has come today. It is raining fast and the bombardment is frankly intensely severe. The firing takes place every 18 minutes as far as I can make out. I won't try and tell you where the bombs fall - it is a very loud and ominous sound, this German super cannon. I am not frightened by it even though I have been extremely near the place where the explosions have taken place, but I do feel there is a pretty big risk that one may be killed. There is no warning as to where the next shell will fall - neither is it frequent enough to make one stay in the icy cellars. Also one must go about to consuls etc, etc to try and get away. If it were not for you I should not care whether I were killed or not. But as you are there I care passionately and will take all precautions.'

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