Nautical language ... who's so vain? ... and furry bikinis


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THE CAPTAIN doesn't know much about the theatre, but he does like a good show. An invitation to the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, then, for the opening night of Zorro, the Musical! was a bit of a pull. Jolly panto business, boos and hisses, Zarzuela music, a big black horse, a man in a mask, bad jokes, who could ask for anything more? But there was: Joan Littlewood, founding mother of the theatre, arrived unannounced, 20 years after she shook the dust of Sparrers Can't Sing, A Taste of Honey, O What A Lovely War, and left for France, too upset by the death of her husband and partner, Gerry Raffles, to carry on her carrying on with a moral. She had come back in tribute to the late Ken Hill, her pupil, successor and Zorro's Stratford begetter. She sat in the Green Room afterwards, not down in the bar, sipping champagne, wearing the famous black cap and red mac, receiving and insulting old friends, complaining about the tea in France, praising the trains, wondering where she might sleep the night, mocking luvvie kissing, complaining about too much money being spent on paint, and telling stories involving Lionel Bart, Kirk Douglas, a fall, Tiny Tim's crutch, hospitalisation, a demand for salt beef sandwiches, meeting the Marx Brothers and very much doubting them when they claimed they had never heard of the commedia dell'arte. She had come back, she said, because Hill's death had completed the circle begun by Raffles, because she wanted to be there with Hill's wife, Toni Palmer, one of the best things in Zorro. The language was as nautical as the cap as ever, but it seemed a worryingly mellow Littlewood. Except that when she had arrived, before the show, to general stun and awe, she had surveyed the scene, the curtain waiting to go up, the small auditorium complete with its chandelier, the one Ian Albery had lent from Wyndham's Theatre before they fell out and never managed to get back; and she had said, her first comment after 20 years: "Still got Albery's f---ing chandelier then.''

n AND you thought all advertising people were hard-hearted, money-grubbing cynics who think compassion is a new soap? So did I until my health services correspondent, Bedpan, telephoned with the tale of the agency charged with a £400,000 campaign on behalf of the Department of Health. It seems that the government people involved, including the junior minister, Tom Sackville, got themselves into a bit of a dither about what the campaign should be about, how big the ads should be, that sort of thing. It finally became all too much for one creative type when he brought back a new, improved, bigger newspaper ad for inspection, only to be told by Sackville that it was now a radio campaign. "Why don't you just," demanded the exasperated CT, "go out and hire 50 more junior doctors instead?"

DON'T come running to me for political analysis. Go to the sages inside, Watkins and Arnold. I prefer the unconsidered trifles, myself. This week: Paddy Ashdown's hair. I noticed it while he was making his doomed, romantic bid to force a referendum on Europe (you know, the vote Sir David Steel couldn't make because he was already in Europe, taking part in the Monte Carlo Rally. Really). The Ashdown coiffure looked longer, more bouffant than usual, in fact, sort of, you know, Blairish. So I rang his office, where a charming spokeslady confirmed that yes, something was going on. "It's slightly longer. We've managed to persuade him not to have the razored services' style he's so fond of." She went on to confide: "All men are vain, and Paddy does worry about his hair." He had, apparently, been caught short of his brush while campaigning in Islwyn the other day, with the result that it had gone all "curly and bouncy. We told him he looked 10 years younger''. Mrs Ashdown is said to be the principal mover. I append a picture of Paddy au Blair (left) to show you what we could be in for. Go for it Paddy, I say.

n A PACKET docks at Canary Wharf, bearing more mail. One is from a Colin Johnson, submitting an article on issue politics and direct action for favour of publication. His letterheading bears the legend: "Consultant Philosopher. Terms by discussion." Well, well. Can you just ring him up and ask, "Colin, what it's all about?" . . . "Colin, who did Descartes think he was?" . . . "Colin, what about this Soren Kierkegaard, then? Was he right?" ... "Colin, what is right?" ... "Colin, Ludwig Wittgenstein, charismatic, yes, but did he actually take us anywhere? And just how cynical was Michel Foucault?'' . . . "Colin, let's discuss terms. Is the categorical imperative tautologous? Are there any illogical fairly positivists?" I ring him. His telephone is out of order. What can it mean?

AND now, the one Walworth Road has been waiting for: the results of Captain Moonlight's Clause IV competition, the one which asked you for the pithiest, sharpest rewrites of the troublesome article. At stake, a bottle of Bollinger and the future. Entry, large. Some were, I regret to say, cynical (thank you, Ms Perrin of Surrey: "Whatever it takes to get elected"). Others were in the best tradition of Wilsonian pragmatism: Mr Hampson of Stockport thought it should read, "Separates Clause III from V". And the winner? Well the judges were impressed by Noel Nowosielski, residential social worker, youth and community worker, who suggested: "To bring ambiguity into public ownership". They liked, too, this, from Mr Thornton of Aberystwyth: "To re-unite `fair' with `shares for everyone' ", a theme taken up by Mr Lambourne of Worcester with plain "Fair shares" and Mrs Withers of Launceston with "Equality at the Trough". Good, but not as good as "FAIR DOS", which seems pretty near perfect to me, and was submitted by both Lynne Curry from Clevedon and Helen Evans from Hitchin. Tony: call off your search immediately, the new Clause IV is over here. Curry and Evans: Bollinger.

n RAQUEL WELCH warning: not long to go now before the sultry Sixties siren and superstar whose son married Freddie Trueman's daughter electrifies Guildford with her interpretation of the eponymous role in Shaw's The Millionairess before opening in the West End in May. What a long, strange trip it has been from that fluffy fur bikini in One Million Years BC. Shavian, almost, you might say. Stand by for lots of interviews featuring words like "motivation" and "serious" and "body of work" and "exhausting". Meanwhile, talking of cleavages, the Chippendales will open on 22 April at Shepherd's Bush for their 30-date major city tour. I didn't know we had 30 major cities. And then there's Comic Relief, on 17 March, highlight: Phil Collins singing "Old Macdonald Had A Farm" with Goldie Hawn as a duck, Emma Thompson as a pig and Hugh Grant as a cat. I notice Stephen Fry will be doing something as well. And Julio Iglesias will be here in June. But there is one encouraging note. The other week, in a bid to determine general knowledge, we asked a panel to name Hugh Grant's girlfriend. Subsequently a postcard arrived, featuring a fine colour photograph of The Avenue, Bournemouth. It is from Mr and Mrs Barker, who live in that lovely town, the Nice of Dorset, as I recall, and it bears a simple query. "Who," it asks, "is Hugh Grant?''

AS resolute readers will know, I do try to be fair-minded. So when glib opinion suggested that a new MEP, Sir James Goldsmith, and democratic practices would prove an uneasy mix, I kept my counsel. I am naturally saddened, then, to report that Sir James took it upon himself last week to order the European Parliament's broadcasting unit to cover a speech he had decided to deliver on Friday despite this being a day on which the unit does not operate. Demur was to no avail; Sir James's demand was upheld by Enrico Vinci, the parliament's secretary-general. Thus was Sir James recorded on Friday morning, addressing an assembly principally composed of a couple of Tory MEPs teasing him about his lust for coverage. Captain's conclusion: teasing and a low turnout are unlikely to have much effect on Sir James; this is the man, after all, who "didn't notice a thing" when a wheel fell off his private jet on Thursday as it was coming in to land at Strasbourg.

I could lie to you. I could pretend that this is a picture of a couple planning to row the Atlantic in a leaky bath. I could pretend that it is two employees of an equal opportunities plumbing firm preparing to deal with a nasty case of rust in the pipes. But that would leave me with a few problems. What, you would ask, about the rabbi in the background? And why, you might continue, is the woman wearing a veil? So I have decided to come clean, principally because what is going on here is impossible to improve on. It is the wedding in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, on Valentine's Day, of Cheryl Minikes and Matthew Mandell, both 22. Rabbi Goldman is officiating in what is described as a "non-traditional" ceremony. Yes, that is chocolate in the bath. The couple chose chocolate because they thought it "the most passionate of foods". It was Shakespeare who wrote: "Lord, what fools these mortals be!", and he had never even been to Brooklyn. Photograph: AFP

The Captain's catch-up Service

OUT OF touch? Worry not. My unique weekly news digest can help ... A gang of bathroom salesmen went on a drunken rampage in Bradford after the wife of one of them was insulted at their annual party. "It was like trying to deal with 100 Eric Cantonas," said a police spokesman. "You'd expect this behaviour from lager louts, but not from bathroom salesmen" ... A man escaped from court in Norristown, Pennsylvania, while his lawyer was arguing he was unlikely to abscond ... Six convicts escaped from prison in Celeya, Mexico, after warders allowed them to move their trampoline nearer the wall ... A New York divorce hearing was told that the wife involved woke her husband every day for 15 years with a bugle blast in his ear ... And, finally, the world was 2 per cent less strange in 1994, said the Fortean Times, the journal of strange phenomena. There were more miracles reported, but fewer strange deaths, although the American Association for Forensic Science reported the death of a man killed by an accidental shotgun blast from a ninth- floor window after he had jumped off the roof of the 10-storey building intending to commit suicide.

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