Let's hear it for the great John Osborne

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The Independent Online
A POOR WEEK for literature. Michael Grade told the members of the Writers' Guild that they must all expect to work in teams of 20 from now on, churning out sitcoms, while Enoch Powell told the Oldie that Shakespeare was written by committee. This confirms something I have long suspected about Powell, namely that he has no feeling whatsoever for the English language. He is one of those curious people - Anthony Burgess is another - who has acquired a reputation as a stylist, simply by holding forth loudly and often on the subject of style. His background as a classicist helps (as does Burgess's as a polyphone) because people who don't care too much about English tend to believe that a sprinkling of fusty Latin tags or tired boulevardier's mots is a sign of good writing.

Meanwhile the best stylist of our age, John Osborne, was widely mocked for being drunk at the Writers' Guild dinner and making an incoherent speech. Some of the Grade toadies in the audience even booed him, prompting Alan Bleasdale to declare: 'Those people aren't fit to lace the ribbon on John's typewriter.' Hear hear. I hope the booers will find themselves writing sitcoms in committee for the rest of their lives - and I bet they won't produce the works of Shakespeare.

KELVIN McKENZIE once told me that Garry Bushell was a brilliant television critic but the trouble was he always wanted to write about his own political views. Well now he has done - 'My plan to save the nation' in Thursday's Sun - and it didn't seem particularly extreme. He wants interest rates halved (why not?), the House of Lords abolished, the Civil List reformed to exclude extraneous royals, and a referendum on Europe. All fine by me. Rather surprisingly, he also wants to welcome all the Hong Kong Chinese into Britain on the grounds that they will work hard and boost the economy. (I would suggest giving them the Isle of Dogs, as a sort of mini Hong Kong and letting them expand from there.) After that, his views get dodgier - scrapping foreign aid, slashing public spending, beefing up defence - but at least he doesn't suggest: 'Let's drive the country into recession and then gamble away our currency reserves.' That would be extreme.

BUMPED into Bruce Gyngell of TV-am who asked if I'd seen The Big Breakfast and when I said no, urged me to watch it on the grounds that, 'You thought we were downmarket . . .' So I watched it and now of course I'm totally hooked, and I'll never get to work early again. I learnt how to milk a cow, I thrilled to the dog dating service, I discovered that Paul Keating was not an art forger after all, I succumbed entirely to Chris Evans's charm and I saw - I'm sure I saw, but others say I must have been hallucinating - the Bishop of Gibraltar advising how to ensure an empty plane seat next to you, by placing a Bible upon it. I know it's not saying much, but The Big Breakfast is certainly a vast improvement on any breakfast programme we've had before. However, the last television programme I raved about was Style File . . .

ONE IDLE afternoon this week I decided to do what I have been meaning to do for years: namely, change my bank. I signed on at a central London branch of Lloyds a dozen years ago because it happened to be near my office and must have visited it at least 500 times since. On no occasion has it offered me anything approaching personal service; no cashier has ever recognised me, no manager has known my name, no one has ever greeted a request for travellers' cheques as anything other than a lunatic caprice. The final straw is that they have belatedly cottoned on to the fact that I am well- off, and now ring me at the office any time they feel like it to 'put me in the picture' about their wizard new investment schemes and pension plans.

OK, so who knows a good bank? Nobody at all it seems; all my friends just whimpered piteously that if I ever did find a decent bank they'd be glad to know of it. It occurred to me that, all other things being equal, albeit equally bad, at least I could do my bit for Opportunity 2000 by choosing a bank with a woman manager. Simple, surely, to compile a list and then choose the nearest? Uh huh. Unfortunately, the information is so heavily classified that there is no way of obtaining it as a private individual. Even switching to journalist mode, and phoning the banks' press offices, the reaction was still hysterical alarm followed by long delaying tactics. Many of the press officers gibbered about 'security factors'; NatWest gave me some pious sentiments on 'tokenism', while Barclays went into an incredible

angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin routine about how you defined a manager and how you defined a branch, refusing finally to admit to having branches or managers at all. Anyway, NatWest has three London branches managed by women - Liverpool Street, Chiswick and Mornington Crescent; Midland has four - Angel Islington, Holloway Road, Marylebone Road and 39 Tottenham Court Road; and Lloyds another four - South Kensington, Clapham, Putney and Temple Fortune. All the banks say that they aim to have 33 per cent women management by the year 2000. They have a long way to go.

WHAT IS to be done about people who ring up and say they 'just wanted to touch base with you'? Presumably it is some sort of sporting metaphor (rounders? tiddlywinks?) but in practice, it seems to mean they just want to boast for a bit. Anyway, I have discovered an infallible way to get rid of them. Say, as lewdly as you can manage, 'You can touch my base as often as you like' and they're gone in a trice.