Diary: Wanted: boards fit for the Bard

Monday 02 August 1993 23:02

Sam Wanamaker's determination to re-create Shakespeare's Globe Theatre on London's South Bank gets stronger by the year - 23 of them now - and it needs to be. His plans are being hindered again, not by an anti-elitist Labour council or lack of cultural interest, but by a shortage of weathered British oak.

I gather it is the Japanese - who will make up a large number of the visitors if the theatre is built - who are causing the shortage. Back home they are building an Elizabethan village, for which only English oak is suitable. With their unlimited funds, they are buying up British trees, leaving Mr Wanamaker 500 short of the total needed.

With the completion date set for next spring, Mr Wanamaker has so far used up to 250 trees. 'It's up in the air,' (again) says the American actor-director, who has so far been relying on the Forest of Dean and the New Forest for supplies. Now he is appealing to private landowners, specifying that the wood must be green oak, at least 33 feet long, and one foot wide.

In the meantime, he needs an additional pounds 11m, but his fund-raising is being hampered by the proximity of the rival Rose Theatre Trust. 'We are very polite,' is how Mr Wanamaker describes relations. Frostily so, I would imagine.

FOLLOWING my recent note about the (hidden) sense of humour occasionally found among staff on the Economist - unbeknown to readers, the features of Bill Emmott, now the youthful bearded editor, had been appearing in a cartoon for two years - readers might like to scrutinise the front cover of a recent issue (10-16 July). The judge you see there is not actually a judge, but Keith Colquhoun, the magazine's writer on Asian affairs. 'The art editor decided that I had the stupidest face,' he says bravely, 'and that I would therefore make a wonderful judge.'


As a newspaper editor, Max Hastings is easily bored - he cut back on the Daily Telegraph's general election coverage in the run-up to the 1992 count because of his low ennui threshold - so I'm not surprised to learn that he has no truck with the less accessible type of modern novel.

In the diary of the current Spectator, he admits to finding many of them unreadable (he singles out Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis and Peter Ackroyd) and muses on why the London literary set is so reluctant to transport its private opinions of a fellow member's work into the public domain.

Mr Hastings is not the only one to feel this way. I refer him to a communique from the Neoist Alliance - a nihilist organisation whose aims include fostering the cult of the ugly - that hit my desk the other day.

Inviting people to take part in 'a psychic attack on the book trade', the alliance says:

'It's high time book bores like Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis and Julian Barnes wrung their own necks.'

TROLLOPE, that's different. Few could find the Victorian author unreadable, although John Major's championing of Barchester Towers et al has caused a few problems for Trollope-admiring opposition MPs. One of these, Chris Smith, says Trollope 'has probably been turning in his grave during the last few years as a result of being championed by as conservative and dull a cause as John Major'. Despite this, he is taking Trollope on holiday to Spain.


Whatever happened to the he-man, Yorkie-crunching lorry driver? United Parcel Services will tell an industrial tribunal tomorrow that it dismissed Steve Gilbert - because he had a beard.


3 August 1870 Flaubert writes to George Sand at the start of the Franco-Prussian War: 'What, chere maitre? You, too, demoralised, sad? What's to become of weak souls, then? My heart is oppressed in a way that astonishes me. Is it a result of my repeated griefs? Perhaps. But the war has much to do with it. I feel we are entertaining black darkness. Whatever happens, we're in for a long setback. Perhaps the wars between the races are to begin again? Within a century, we'll see millions of men kill each other at one go? All the East against all Europe, the Old World against the New] Why not? Great international enterprises like the Suez Canal are perhaps, in some other form, outlines and preparations for monstrous conflicts we can only guess at? Ah, we intellectuals] Mankind is far from our ideal] And our immense error, our fatal error, is to imagine it is like us and to want to treat it accordingly.'

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