William Donaldson's Week: Max scrutinises the manuscript

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I'M WITH Judge Harkess and the old slappers who have retained Max Clifford. In fact, I've just retained him myself.

What's wrong with that? Things are not going so well - coughing a bit, legs turning blue - why not pick up an easy pounds 150,000? Jet off to Ibiza with Roger from Chicago, write our painfully honest novels ('Dos cafes con leche, por favor, Pedro - we'll start tomorrow') - our efforts sustained by our immediate superiors, Alice and classy Cressida, airlifting themselves in from time to time with the English papers and sausages from Jermyn Street.

My potential windfall arises from the discovery that my name crops up occasionally in volume II of Sarah Miles's brilliant memoirs, to be published in September by Pan Macmillan.

Miss Miles, apart from being a superb actress and a gifted writer, is a loyal and honourable friend, and I'm sure she hasn't said anything unkind about me in her book. Which isn't to say that Max Clifford, who at the moment is going through the manuscript with a toothcomb, won't find something in it to be turned to my advantage.

Meanwhile, why does everyone want to get into show business? Well, not everyone, perhaps. Tired of the set-backs ('Get Miss Gaynor Goodman's agent, would you, Miss Casparry? Rachel Garley is refusing to wear a blonde wig to play the part of Frankie Fraser's friend, the lovely Marilyn'), Mr Alway and the partners of Oswald Hickson, Collier & Co have thrown away Spotlight and returned to the law; but their grip on my affairs - specifically, this column and El Independo - has been taken over by the Press Complaints Commission, not least my aunt, Dame Mary Donaldson, CBE, JP, and Baroness Dean of Thornton-Le- Fylde.

The upshot is that, having been the only extant young journalist to be edited directly by lawyers in Fetter Lane, I am now the only ditto to have his column written for him by the PCC.

Here was the way of it. Recently, some chap quite mistakenly assumed that certain jokes here were aimed at him. He complained to the PCC, who, after lengthy deliberations and having read all my columns for the past six years, pronounced them the blandest things they had ever come across; further, that anyone taking offence at such toothless stuff was off his rocker.

'We must ginger it up a bit,' said my aunt, Dame Mary Donaldson, CBE, JP. 'And let's get cracking on El Independo. This Rachel Garley - an excellent artiste but she's not the only pebble on the beach. Fetch me Spotlight, if you'd be so good, Miss Zamit.'

So, why is everyone so keen to get into show business? I should know, perhaps, since I was in it once myself: wore an overcoat, mixed with skinny satirists, was lunched on one occasion by Peggy Ramsey, the formidable playwrights' agent, at the Ivy.

I can't imagine why she bothered, since she couldn't possibly have thought that the curtain would go up on any play produced by me. I can only suppose that she was grateful to me for a small walk-on part I carried off in the celebrated Dirty Play Row of 1964, which, you remember, involved Michael Codron's production of Joe Orton's Entertaining Mr Sloane.

No sooner had the play opened than various daft old parties, including Emile Littler, the panto king, and Peter Cadbury, who at the time was chairman of Keith Prowse, the ticket agency, pronounced it an insult to family values.

I was rung up at the office one afternoon and invited to debate the matter with Peter Cadbury that night on News At Ten, under the chairmanship of Reginald Bosanquet. A car, I was told, would pick me up at 9.45pm and take me to the studios of ITN.

I ran home in a state of some excitement, keen to impart the news to Sarah Miles, with whom I happened to be living at the time.

'I'm to be on News At Ten]' I said.

'No you're not,' said Sarah, who, apart from having a natural reluctance that anyone should share the limelight, could think more quickly on her feet than anyone I've met. 'They've just rung up to say that they've found someone more suitable. You've been cancelled.'

I went to bed shattered, I can tell you; I was still more shattered when, at 9.45pm, the car arrived from ITN. Sarah laughed fit to burst and I, wearing a dressing-gown over my pyjamas, got to ITN's studios in the nick of time.

I managed, in spite of the state I was in, to wipe the floor with Mr Cadbury, calling him a horse and suggesting that he could be the judge of what was a suitable play for his family and I'd be the judge of what was suitable for mine.

'Entertaining Mr Sloane is an obvious masterpiece,' I said. 'Not that I've seen it.'

This was ruled later to have been something of an own goal, but it is clear to me that you don't have to see a play to know it has merit if dubbed dirty by the incorrigibly ignorant - a view that has persuaded me to take over in September as drama critic at the New York Times, even though, once Max Clifford has been through Sarah Miles's memoirs, I'll be living in Ibiza with Roger from Chicago (while my aunt, Dame Mary Donaldson, CBE, JP, writes this column and gets El Independo off the ground).