Ken is and Hugh isn't. Says who?

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The Independent Online
The new edition of Who's Who has just been published, an event which is always greeted on BBC news bulletins as if it were another version of the honours list, instead of just a list of curricula vitae. Solemnly we were told yesterday that among the new additions to the list of distinguished people were the athlete Sally Gunnell, the actor Richard Wilson, the comedian Lenny Henry, though presumably if Sally Gunnell were that well known, we would not have to be told that she was an athlete...

But very often the interesting things about Who's Who are not the inclusions but the exclusions - the missing people, the missing marriages, the missing experiences. I have gone browsing through the new Who's Who myself, and it was not the inclusion of the actor Richard Wilson that caught my attention, it was the absence of the actor Hugh Grant. Why? Kenneth Branagh is in there, as you might expect, whom I first saw in 1982 in the West End production of Another Country. He was good. He was not the lead actor, though. The lead actor was Rupert Everett. Rupert Everett is not in Who's Who.

Lenny Henry is in there all right, but not Alexei Sayle or Rik Mayall. In fact, there are no Sayles at all and there is only one Mayall, namely, Professor James Bardsley Lawson Mayall, who has been Professor of International Relations at the LSE since 1991 and gives as his recreations "cooking, gardening, watching cricket, walking the dog".

That is the kind of person whomakes up the backbone of the world of Who's Who, the professors and the major-generals and the chairmen of companies and the back street politicians, all the people that you would never want to look up unless a) you had to introduce him or her for an after-dinner speech, or b) you had to know something about somebody for an article. Take Sir Christopher Bland, for example. Who is he? Had you ever heard of him? Nor I. But suddenly, there he is, the newly elected - I am sorry, I nearly said elected - the newly appointed chairman of the BBC Governors. Why him?

As someone said to me yesterday, "Why are they picking a successor to Marmaduke Hussey now? After all, it doesn't take a giant to succeed Marmaduke Hussey, does it? Anyone could do it! Maybe the Tory government is planning ahead. Maybe if they think they are going to lose the next election, it would be helpful for them to have someone at the top of the BBC in sympathy with them, so let's install him now..."

But is Sir Christopher Bland in sympathy with the Tory establishment? Will he be their man during the long years of Labour rule to come? Who's Who is silent on this point. The brief Bland biography says nothing about his fortune, his politics, or his personal integrity. All it says of interest is that he was a member of the Irish Olympic fencing team in 1960, even though he seems to have no Irish connections apart from that. Mysterious. Further down the same page, incidentally, is Blandford, the Marquess of, who appears from his brief biography to have led a perfectly blameless life and to have had no recreations, which I think sums up the shortcomings of Who's Who. If you want another illustration of how Who's Who can be caught short, I might mention the case of Emma Nicholson, MP, who is listed as being a life member of the Blyth Conservative Club.

There are, incidentally, four people called Michael Howard listed in Who's Who. Three are perfectly respectable members of society, who must get depressed at being mixed up with the other one, our oleaginous acting Home Secretary, the man who does what the Saudi Arabian government tells him to do and deports anyone who might annoy it to Dominica. This he justifies on the grounds that it safeguards British jobs, even though the only job he has ever shown the slightest interest in safeguarding is his own.

Mr Howard, as is well known, never admits to being wrong about anything. It will be interesting to see if he ever owns up to being wrong about the correct way to say "Dominica", which is not pronounced "DomInica", as he says it, but "DominEEca". If he ever gets it right, it will be the first time he has even tacitly admitted a mistake. I hope it will be recorded in Who's Who next time round.

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