Diary: Union troubled by an oversight

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The Independent Online
JUST a year after his career switch from campaigner for freedom of information and for the Liberal Democrats to public relations man, Des Wilson is enduring embarrassment in his dealings with one of his newer and bigger clients, the Trades Union Congress.

Earlier this year Congress House apparatchiks employed Wilson's services, reportedly paying him pounds 50,000 for six months' work, to revamp their image. This has already led, inter alia, to the dropping of a 20-year ban on Conservative ministers addressing TUC conferences, and the Employment Secretary, David Hunt, is due to come before them in July.

There is no suggestion that TUC bosses are displeased with Wilson's work so far - but they did feel let down when they discovered that he was guilty of the ultimate Labour movement solecism: failure to belong to a union.

Muttering something about an 'oversight', Wilson has, I gather, now rectified this omission and renewed his lapsed membership of the National Union of Journalists. He is not out of the woods, however. Clearly alarmed by its discovery, the TUC has delved deeper, questioning Wilson on his political allegiances. Wilson now cannot even remember whether he still belongs to the Liberal Democrats.

THE animal lover Christina Foyle - she keeps 15 cats, six peacocks, six tortoises, three hedgehogs and a dog at her medieval abbey in Essex - will receive no visits from her accountant in the near future. He is recovering from his last attempt to run his rule over the bookshop's finances - when he was bitten in the leg by her dog.


In an interview in the Bookseller, that guru of all art gurus, Sir Ernst Gombrich, reveals how he was appointed Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford University in 1950. Dissatisfied with the layouts in his best-selling The Story of Art, Gombrich and Dr Bela Horovitz, founder of Phaidon publishers, set about a redesign.

In order to begin and end chapters in the right place, new material was needed, and a partner of Horovitz's, Dr Ludwig Goldscheider, suggested a photograph of the Gloucester candlestick in the Victoria & Albert museum. 'We can put that on a whole page if you write a few words about it,' said Goldscheider.

Later, an anonymous Times Literary Supplement reviewer selected those few words for particular mention. Says Gombrich: 'I now know that the reviewer was Tom Boase of Magdalen College, Oxford, who was a very good art historian himself. He was one of the electors of the Slade chair at Oxford, and the result was that, to my immense surprise, I was invited to take the chair to succeed Kenneth Clark. That was a turning point in my career.'

DR BRIAN MAWHINNEY, the health minister, was stranded for two hours last Friday when his new Rover developed a puncture in Peterborough. His spirits were hardly lifted when a mechanic passed on the other side, deeming it unpropitious to be seen assisting a Tory MP.


Adding confusion to proceedings in Bosnia the other day was Baroness Chalker, Minister for Overseas Development, who, after a series of official meetings, whipped out a copy of Teach Yourself Portuguese. When a courageous lad from the Foreign Office interrupted the minister's studies, suggesting that the subtleties of Portuguese phrasing might not be fully appreciated in Gornji Vakuf, she answered that her cleaning lady came from Portugal and that she was anxious to communicate.


5 April 1636 Thomas Howell writes to Sir Thomas Hawk: 'I was invited yesternight to a solemn Supper by Ben Jonson, where you were deeply remembered: there was good company, excellent cheer, choice wines and jovial welcome. One thing interven'd which almost spoiled the relish of the rest, that Ben began to engross all the discourse, to vapour extremely of himself, and, by vilifying others, to magnify his own muse. Thomas Carew buzz'd me in the ear, that though Ben had barrelled up a great deal of knowledge, yet it seems he had not read the Ethics which among other precepts, forbid self-commendation, declaring it to be an ill-favoured solecism of good manners. Be a man's breath ever so sweet, yet it makes his own mouth stink, if he makes his own mouth the conduit-pipe of it. Yet there is a reason that excuseth Ben, which is, that if one be allowed to love the natural issue of his body, why not that of the brain, which is of a spiritual and more noble extraction?'