Tony's new party pals

David Lister arts notebook
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The Independent Online
When Tony Blair invited a bunch of showbiz folk to party at No 10 this week, there were numerous reminders that he was following in a starry prime ministerial tradition. Harold Wilson was always having The Beatles in to Downing Street soirees, after all. Well, up to a point. The Beatles weren't there all that often. But I dimly recall that Kenny Lynch was on the Wilson guest list a lot.

Kenny who? Exactly. Amiable middle-of-the-road singer, did a bit of panto latterly. Prime ministers are not always the best star-spotters. And, like the rest of us, they tend to confuse artists and the roles they play.

Mr Blair has invited actress Jennifer Ehle, for example. But we all know that he hasn't really. The person he actually wants to meet is Elizabeth Bennet in the hope that he can make a better first impression than Mr Darcy on the witty, incisive brunette. Now he will find out that in real life Jennifer Ehle is sick of talking about P and P, can't speak in Jane Austen aphorisms without a script, and is blonde.

Noel Gallagher of Oasis is a canny choice. Well, cannier than Liam, who would have brought Patsy and, well, what is a Prime Minister to do? But the one time I shared an aperitif with the Brothers Gallagher, they made it clear they would only drink from the bottle, not the glass. So Mr Blair faces a baptism of fire with his first luvvy party. Swigging the beer with his new Oasis chum while uttering acerbic witticisms to Miss Ehle from the side of his mouth. Tea and sandwiches with the TUC would have been a lot easier.

The South Bank Centre is to be renamed. A gift of around pounds 17m from the publisher Paul Hamlyn towards the centre's proposed redevelopment has inspired the board to change the name to the Paul Hamlyn Centre. There is no doubting Mr Hamlyn's generosity. But surely one of the concert halls could have been named after Mr Hamlyn rather than the whole London landmark. Surely the Arts Council, which funds the Centre and owns the land, should have been given a chance to discuss the name-change. And what if the Arts Council does not approve a National Lottery award for the Centre's redevelopment? This sounds a little like a decision made to hurry the Council into signing over the lottery millions.

On Wednesday afternoon, I was sipping champagne with Sir John Gielgud in the garden of Dame Edith Evans's childhood home. (Well, if you had a line like that wouldn't you flaunt it?)

Sir John, at the age of 93, had just given what could be his last public performance. And performance it certainly was. He was unveiling an English Heritage blue plaque in honour of Dame Edith Evans at her childhood home in Ebury Street.

He ambled towards the microphone at the porch of Dame Edith's former home, used just one finger against a railing as support under the baking sun, eschewed any form of script or notes, smiled impishly, looked out into the street and conjured up the scene 80 years before.

"I can see her now, walking along Ebury Street with the young, ambitious Noel Coward escorting her home from the theatre."

Obliging the photographers, he leant through a window and banged his head on it with a rather sickening thud, but shrugged it off. He was back on a public stage and even the greatest actors collide with the props occasionally.

In the garden afterwards, I asked him how he was. He sighed mellifluously. "Oh, my hearing's not good, you know. I go to all these doctors and they tell me all these things that are wrong with me. The stage is out for me. Just couldn't do it."

And films? "Oh, I'm doing a film next week, and there are some more in the pipeline."

And television? "Oh, of course, television."

Let's hope his doctors are as active at 93.

Art illuminates the human condition at the Hayward Gallery's "Running Time" exhibition. In a darkened gallery, artist Tatsuo Miyajima has 40 illuminated miniature cars careering round the floor. Critics have seen the cars as portraying the way we move through life at different paces, pursuing random, unpredictable paths. One car was motionless, stark and challenging in its obdurate separateness.

Did this, I asked the gallery guide, signify death, the frailty of human existence or non-conformism?

None of these, he answered sheepishly. The battery had run out.

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