William Donaldson's Week: Big business on the No 22

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The Independent Online
I'D NOT want to be in the shoes of Marcus Plantin, ITV's new central controller. He's about to get a visit from Lady Leighton. I've not mentioned Lady Leighton before, I think, and I wouldn't mention her now had she not, for the time being, taken over my affairs from my temporary literary agent, Cat Ledger.

Cat Ledger is flat to the boards at the moment checking her Bupa policy and has made it clear that she has no time for anything else. Her friend Charlotte got appendicitis this week and was thrown into the street - still attached to a drip - when it was discovered that her Bupa policy had lapsed.

'Poor Charlotte,' I said. 'Is she all right?'

'I've no idea,' said Ledger. 'I'm flat to the boards here checking my own policy. Kindly get off the line.'

Be that as it may, I was straphanging on a 22 bus to Sloane Square on Tuesday, and thinking what a smart route this was (Lord Joseph and Lord Rawlinson, the distinguished Tory lawyer, who live in the area - though not together, I think - were sandwiched as usual between growling madwomen with carrier bags and young men wired for sound), when I spotted Lady Leighton straphanging a dozen places down.

Lady Leighton, a confident, organised woman who was a Lucy Clayton model in the days when models stared witheringly at the camera as if it were a cigar impertinently lit before the loyal toast, is now the type who would tell you to pull your socks up on a bus - in front of Lord Rawlinson and at five yards' distance - so I tried to hide behind the latter's paper. Too late, alas.

'Ah, there you are,' she shouted. 'Where do you live these days?'

'Never you mind,' I said.

Don't get me wrong. I've got a lot of time for Lady Leighton, always have had, but she's not the sort of woman who you'd want to know your whereabouts. If Lady Leighton knew your whereabouts, she'd try to get you organised; she'd ask you to dinner parties to meet the so-and-sos. Knowing everyone herself, she's keen that you should know everyone, too.

'I can't hear you,' she shouted. 'Speak up.'

'I said never you mind.'

'Oh. Do you have a job? What do you do?'

Here we go, I thought. Lady Leighton knows exactly what I do; once, indeed, she gave evidence against me for the prosecution when some chap tried to prove in court that I couldn't have written a book I'd written on the grounds that I couldn't write fiction.

'I'm a writer,' I said.

Lady Leighton was thunderstruck, though the rest of the bus took the info in their stride, Lord Rawlinson included.

'Still?' she shouted. 'What are you writing?'

'A book.'

'Another book?' She would have taken two steps back had she not been so firmly wedged between a madwoman with a carrier bag and a young man wired for sound.

Extraordinary, isn't it? Confronted by an accountant who'd just successfully submitted ICI's accounts, you'd not express astonishment on being informed that he was now toiling away on this year's set - and I said as much to Lady Leighton.

'If I'd done ICI's accounts last year,' I said, 'you'd not ask me how I was now employed.'

'That's right,' said Lord Rawlinson. 'You tell her.' I seemed to have an ally here.

'I would if you were ICI's accountant,' said Lady Leighton. 'What is the book, in any case?'

'A TV tie- in,' I said, 'more accurately, perhaps, a TV tie-out. Not that we want my publisher, Geoffrey Strachan, to discover this. Last September, Central Television commissioned me to write a new Root series set in England.'

'Really?' said Lady Leighton. 'I'm astonished.'

'I'm not,' said Lord Rawlinson. 'I thought Root Into Europe a most interesting breakthrough, certainly Mark Chapman's best work to date and a fascinating change of pace for George Cole. He was superb.' Lord Rawlinson turned to the madwoman straphanging on his left. 'What did you think?' he asked.

'I wasn't bothered,' she said.

'Anyway,' I said, 'Marcus Plantin, ITV's supremo, isn't making any decisions at the moment, so it looks as if the book of the series will appear without the series. As I say, a brand new concept - a TV tie-out.'

'A tricky situation,' said Lord Rawlinson. 'Not a word to Geoffrey Strachan, I think.'

'Quite so,' I said. 'My sympathies are with Marcus Plantin. It's a difficult business, scheduling.'

'Nonsense,' said the madwoman with a carrier bag. 'Saturday 8pm? Cilla Black. She'll do. 8.30? Beadle. 9 o'clock? The other one. A child could do it. The mugs would never know the difference.'

'I agree,' said Lady Leighton. 'I'll call on this Plantin fellow and tell him to put a wriggle in it. Do you have an agent?'

'Cat Ledger,' I said.

'A difficult woman,' said Lady Leighton. 'I'll tell Plantin to get in touch with her.'

'He won't get through,' Lord Rawlinson said. 'She'll be checking her Bupa policy.'

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