Diary: The king is dead: long live the censor

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SAUDI ARABIA has been coming in for some criticism recently, not least from this newspaper, over its alleged links with the Conservative Party and the increasing number of executions taking place there. Now, I gather, another possible source of friction between the two countries is with us. This time the issue is a British biography of the first King of Saudi Arabia, Ibn Saud, which has been banned in Saudi Arabia because of its treatment of the King's private life.

Macmillan, the publisher of Leslie McLoughlin's Ibn Saud, Founder of a Kingdom, told me yesterday that the book was probably being read in Saudi Arabia, but in an under-the- bedclothes-way. Tim Farmiloe, Macmillan's publishing director, said he presumed the Saudi Arabian royal family had taken exception to the book because of the 'passing references' to the King's private life. To people in the West, such treatment of a historical figure who died, after all, some time ago (1953) would be perfectly acceptable. But not in Saudi Arabia. In 1981 a similar book called The Kingdom, by Robert Lacey, caused similar offence, although it was eventually passed by the censors after 180 changes. Mr McLoughlin feels aggrieved that he has not been given a similar opportunity to ensure publication. 'They saw his book before they published it, unlike mine, which they haven't seen at all,' he said.

THE STRAINS of his presidency are beginning to tell on Bill Clinton, who is now following the example of some of his predecessors by taking an afternoon nap. According to his aides quoted in US News & World Report, Clinton 'hits the wall about 3pm' for a 30- minute sleep. Calvin Coolidge, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were other great White House sleepers, as, of course, was Ronald Reagan, who once joked that he had ordered his staff to wake him immediately whenever 'anything important happens anywhere in the world - even if I'm in the middle of a cabinet meeting.'

A QUIET ACHIEVER

John Major, newspapers would have it, is finally being acknowledged (again) as a world leader, following the breakthrough in the Gatt trade talks in Tokyo. Perhaps, but someone should pass on the word to the G7 officials. After Wednesday's talks were over for the day, the leaders adjourned for the official banquet, the last one to leave the conference centre being the Italian prime minister Carlo Ciampi.

Or so the officials thought. Not noticing the besuited man in spectacles lagging behind the Italian PM, the officials waited for Signor Ciampi to leave the centre and then took down the security barriers on the roads, allowing the general public to resume their journeys home. Within minutes Tokyo's traffic was at a standstill, a source of considerable frustration to Mr Major who was stuck in the middle of it - and who had to apologise to his host, the Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, for late arrival at the banquet - without any recourse to a Citizen's Charter.

NOT EVERYONE thought Quaglino's, the London restaurant, would be the roaring 8,000-diners- a-week success story it is today, and certainly not Laurence Isaacson, deputy chairman of Groupe Chez Gerard (owner of Chez Gerard, Soho Soho, Cafe Fish and Chutney Mary) who rashly bet Joel Kissin, the MD of Conran restaurants, which owns Quaglino's, that it would fold within weeks. If 'Quag's' folded, Mr Kissin would stand Mr Isaacson a meal at his restaurant (presumably before the kitchen closed) whereas if it survived and prospered, Mr Isaacson would take Mr Kissin to the eaterie of his choice.

Mr Kissin has done rather well: the wager won, he not only enjoyed a slap-up meal at the Connaught, one of London's most expensive restaurants, but he also secured a valuable booking. Mr Isaacson is so impressed with Quaglino's that he is to take 25 of his own staff there.

POLITICAL PRUDENCE

One senior British businessman who has avoided the controversy over political funding is Sir Allen Sheppard, the chief executive of Grand Metropolitan - but not, I hasten to add, because of any prescience on his part. Three years ago, he floated the idea of political donations at an annual general meeting but the idea was rejected by shareholders. 'I will never try that one again,' he told them. He has been true to his word. I am not suggesting which party he had in mind, but the beers in the company's Chef and Brewer pubs have recently been changed. Webster's Yorkshire Bitter has been replaced by that estimable rival brew, John Smith.

A DAY LIKE THIS

9 July 1939 Sir Harry Luke, Governor of Fiji, visiting the island of Abemama, writes in his diary: 'After dusk a few of us went out after flying-fish in three sailing canoes. This is a fascinating and picturesque sport. Your illumination consists of flares of dried coconut leaves, held by the man in the bows, and you have to try to catch the fish with a sort of butterfly net as, startled by the light, they rise from the water and skim swiftly across your path. It is more difficult than it sounds, and you have to be pretty quick with the eye and wrist. One canoe got back to the ship at 2am, one of the others not until six, but it was the greatest fun although I myself only got a few small gar-fish for my pains. Perhaps I shall have better luck or be less clumsy next time.'

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