Next year I'll be sending cards

Please read this column as one of those annual adverts in the Times in which Lady So-and-So explains her decision not to send Christmas cards this year but to give the money saved to charity.

Like Lady So-and-So, I decided not to send Christmas cards this year, but, unlike her, chose to spend the money saved on an office do at the Cumberland Hotel's celebrated Carvery (crackers, funny hats and help yourself) for people who might further my career in 1995.

Well, not only people who might further my career. Invitations were also sent to people I like, and - a third category - to people I judged good-looking enough (Rachel Garley, Debbie Mason, personnel from Tiger Aspect Television Ltd) to cheer the others up.

Further, and because I have decided in future to be socially more aggressive, I also asked two people who, while otherwise unclassifiable, without a doubt have contacts: the chap recently encountered who lives with his mother and a trouser-press but who for all that knows Stephanie Powers and is off to Hong Kong in the New Year; and Lady Lytton, who one day upped and left her husband and the children - thereby losing everything - but yet contrived (as women do)

to have herself appropriately housed in SW6, where she now gives dinner parties at which you might find on an average night a Pole, a loud, travelling woman with an eye-patch, a matinee actor from the Fifties and Jack Tinker, if not Christopher Biggens.

Which isn't to say, of course, that these categories are, or were, mutually exclusive. It's true that some of those invited squeezed in under just one heading. For example, Seamus Cassidy (Channel 4), the Corpse at the BBC and Mr Rod Ellis of North Street, Clapham (who is toiling away still on How To Tell If Your Parents Aren't On Drugs - "Arriving at a Christmas do, they do a Groucho Marx impression and then try to raise a contact on their mobile phones'' and 101 Things Streetwise People Do - "Attempting to nick a mobile phone, they get punched in the face and spend the rest of the holiday in casualty") were welcome only under "Career-Friendly 1995.''

Others, however - Michael O'Mara, Geoffrey Strachan, Craig Brown and Young Andrew from Radio 4 - got in under "Career Friendly 1995'' and "Likeable''; some - Mr and Mrs Sommers of the Tiger Aspect Television - were acceptable under "Career-Friendly 1995'' and "Good-looking" (indeed, even after a bottle of Rioja each, and wearing funny hats, they both looked as if they'd just come off a trampoline); while a select group - Frankie Fraser, the lovely Marilyn and David Stevenson (Channel 4) were welcome under all three headings.

What can be said with truth is that if you didn't get an invitation of any sort you're badly off the pace, disastrously unlikeable and you don't even look very nice.

Or you're Mr Alway. For the past year, Mr Alway has checked this column for slurs, torts and defamation, and as a rule our relationship is cordial to say the least. Last week, however, he upset me so much that I decided to ban him from this column's Christmas do.

He rang me up and said he couldn't make head nor tail of what I'd written. The stuff about the Sixties was very boring, he said, and, more seriously, the anecdote about Oscar Brown Jr and the one involving lunch at the Post Office Tower with Anthony Powell and Osbert Lancaster seemed to have no bearing on each other. What I should have done, he said, was drop the latter anecdote and, in the space reclaimed, describe what had happened to the show starring Oscar Brown Jnr, and for which I'd imported him from America at vast expense.

Well, it's never too late. The show was an outrage - mainly due to a faulty revolve, which, on the opening night, spun Mr Brown into view, failed to stop and spun him off again - thereafter, and like the revolving restaurant on top of the Post Office Tower (and this, of course, was the connection - albeit one I failed to make - with the anecdote involving Mr Powell and Mr Lancaster) continuing to spin him on and off. Indeed, he might still be going round and round had not the stage manager, Griffith James, run on with an axe and smashed the thing to bits.

The show closed immediately and since I had guaranteed Mr Brown £500 a week for three months I took him to lunch at Chez Victor in Wardour Street and asked him what he'd like to do. That was a mistake. On the spot, and using the condiments as timpani andbass, he performed his musical, Kicks & Co, full in my face.

"Permit me to introduce myself,'' he sang, "my name is Mr Kicks. I live in a dark dominion, way down by the River Styx.''

Even a man of the theatre such as myself doesn't care to have a musical performed full in his face in the early afternoon. If you pay to see a musical, then you can bale out at half-time, return home and watch something decent on television. But I was stuck.

As stuck as the BBC's gifted Head of Entertainment, Mr David Liddiment ("Career-Friendly'' and "Good-looking'') was at my Christmas do when Young Andrew from Radio 4 sat down opposite him and performed a musical set in Japan and recently completed.

"Leave off, Young Andrew,'' I said. "Mr Liddiment hasn't come here to listen to your musical. He wants to know how El Independo, my satirical soap for BBC2, is shaping up; specifically, whether Rachel Garley has agreed yet to wear a blonde wig to play Frankie Fraser's friend, the lovely Marilyn.''

"On the contrary,'' said Mr Liddiment. "I like a musical. Carry on, Young Andrew.''

"Once in LA,'' said the chap who lives with his mother and a trouser-press, "Nat King Cole and I ...'' at which point, forgetting that you shouldn't mix alcohol and Prozac, I fell asleep. When I woke up the place was deserted except for Mr Rod Ellis of North Street, Clapham.

"Where's everyone gone?'' I said.

"Back to Lady Lytton's,'' he said, "where Jack Tinker is expected to be playing `Barbara Streisand Sings Broadway Hits'.''

Next year I'll send Christmas cards, I think.

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