Noel's news party ... apeing authors ... and hug warning

Click to follow
The Independent Online
BBBRRNNGG! Yes, it's Bert, the Captain's man at the BBC, who has sprinted to the telephone straight from the Council Chamber at Broadcasting House, where John Birt has been giving 40 senior editorial figures in news and current affairs the opportunity to respond to the criticisms about aggressive, tabloid behaviour he made in Dublin last month. "I've come to take my punishment,'' he announced on arrival; and then refused to do so. Leading the disgruntlement was Robin Oakley, the BBC's political editor. This was a little surprising, since Oakley was a Birt appointee, and one of those who publicly defended him during that little difficulty with his tax arrangements. Oakley's attempt to quote Birt's speech back to him was treated by the DG as a typical example of "taking a paragraph and turning it into an attack on a public figure"; asking him to say which programmes were the worst offenders was also treated as highly offensive. Bert's verdict: "Not long to go now, Captain, before Noel Edmonds presents Newsnight.''

n LIKE ME, you must have noticed that a former London journalist, Debbie Martyr, is mounting an expedition to Sumatra to try to prove the existence of the orang pendek, a 4ft-high primate she has spotted on previous trips. I append an artist's impression. "The first time I saw it I was so shocked I didn't take a picture," said Ms Martyr. "I saw something I didn't expect to see ... Here was a generally bipedal erect primate.'' Quite. But what disturbed me about the orang pendek was a resemblance I just couldn't pin down. Then, suddenly, it came to me. Of course, that smile: Lord Archer! As a result, I now have mixed emotions about Ms Martyr's expedition. No one is keener than me to welcome a new species. But think of all the bestsellers they will churn out.

STRANGE, beguiling tales reach the Captain through the mists rolling down the braes and along the glens of Perth and Kinross, where stags and stout country folk will shortly be startled by loud, braying people overly anxious to succeed Sir Nicholas Fairbairn as a Member of Parliament. Already, there has been talk of the Ulster Unionists fielding a candidate to embarrass the Conservatives, who are defending a majority of only 2,000 with a candidate condemned before the grave by Sir Nicholas as unelectable. And now, more naughtiness: a candidate is to be put forward by disgruntled Scots Tories under a "Conservatory and Unionist" ticket, standing for tax relief for new conservatories and no flirtation with devolution. Keen politicos will remember something similar happening in the European elections in Devon last year when a Literal Democrat candidate polled 10,000 votes and the Tory got in by 700. It may be a little difficult for the Tories to argue against the Conservatory and Unionist candidate, given their stance that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the Literal Democrat in Devon, but I expect they'll manage somehow. "Conservatories attached to every house in Scotland will be energy saving and granny friendly," claims the Captain's source within the new party, which is now looking for someone called Aardvark or Abbot to appear at the top of the candidates' list. Sir Nick, I feel, would have adored it.

n YOU KNOW Sir Georg Solti: Hungarian, octogenarian, excitable, handy with a stick. Sir Georg has just been given one of those wonderful interactive CD thingies, all disc and screen and programes. One of the first he pulled up will no doubt prove extremely useful: "Teach Yourself Guitar In Five Easy Steps." Tap! Tap! Silence, the man with the triangle, please!

BLAIR WATCH: a continuing series in which the Captain provides intriguing insights into the Labour leader. This week: clubs. You will recall the fuss about men-only London clubs, the mass resignations from the Oxford and Cambridge over its refusal to admit women to full membership. You will have seen, too, last week, that working men's clubs are about to have a vote on the rule that bars women from full membership of two-thirds of them, a rule which has been criticised by the European Commission. You will then remember, with pride, that Tony's Who's Who entry cocks a snook at St James's and lists under clubs: Trimdon Colliery and Deaf Hill Working Men's, Trimdon Village Working Men's and Fishburn Working Men's. And the attitude of this worthy north-eastern trinity to full women membership? Trimdon Village: full membership. Trimdon Colliery: not allowed on the committee. Fishburn: not allowed on the committee, not allowed in the bar. Cheers, pet.

n GREEN huggers: a warning. Subscribers to the gingerly correct embraces now recommended by the Green Party should, as a general rule, avoid Russians and the backstage areas of our leading places of entertainment. Anyone inclined to pooh-pooh the Captain's advice should attend to a recent incident involving both. Elena Prokina, Russian, diva, has been doing her bit in Otello at the Royal Opera House. She has a Russian husband, one Krill Chevtchenko. After the performance, Chevtchenko made his way backstage to congratulate his wife. Overcome with Russianness, he hugged and showered large kisses upon a costumed person he took to be his friend Vladimir Bogachov, playing Otello, but who, on closer inspection, turned out to be a liveried Covent Garden footman on bouquet delivery duty. Happen to anyone, I hear you say. Others will choose to follow the Captain's hugging practice, which is always to shake hands and inquire about the weather before getting down to it.

ANIMAL rights. Brigitte Bardot. Calves in crates. Vote against hunting. A Bill introduced by Tony Banks to promote vegetarianism, complete with the warning, "If people wish to eat meat and run the risk of dying a horrible, lingering hormone-induced death after sprouting extra breasts and large amounts of hair, then of course it's entirely up to them". But there are some people who remain unmoved by public concern. Take Michael Heseltine. Not only is he still in the Government, but on Thursday he was eating reindeer. At a lunch to celebrate Finland's entry into the EU. A hard man, no mistake. And pretty hairy, too, as it happens. Captain's warning: no point hanging up your stocking next Xmas.

n THE Captain, for one, has never paid any attention to those Jeremiahs who like to claim that the world is not safe in American hands. True, there have been some tricky moments, and they do have some rather odd habits, but the invasion of Grenada,

for example, proved an astonishing success. The unsleeping overseer of world affairs is, of course, the State Department, which was telephoned last week by my diplomatic correspondent, Norman Channels. Channels wished to write to a high-ranking official at the department, and asked for its address. The

person who answered the telephone didn't know the address. Neither did the next three people he spoke to. I have told Channels to relax, pointing out that we have succesfully avoided world war for 50 years now with these people in charge. But, privately, I have begun to wonder exactly how they find their way to work.