Diary – July 5, 1994


Since Malcolm Rifkind is in the mood for ordering inquiries into the exorbitant cost of MoD official residences, he might like to cast his eyes towards Chelsea where, included in pounds 25.78m refurbishment of the Duke of York’s barracks, is a new three-bedroom flat for Brigadier Peter Bowser (retd), secretary of the London Territorial Army, the cost of which is undisclosed.
Drawing my attention to the matter is Lady Wynne-Jones, head of Friends of Chelsea society – a group which is up in arms, apparently, against the building’s refurbishment, since it considers it part of a long-term plot to sell off the barracks. Since Lady W-J believes that the premises, built in 1801 as an Army school, is public land, she finds the idea horrifying.

The secret cost of Bowser’s flat , she says, adds weight to her argument – although many, including Tory MP Andrew Robathan, who spoke out yesterday against the exorbitant formerly undisclosed cost of Air Chief Marshal Sir Sandy Wilson’s official residence, say that in Bowser’s case there is no cause for complaint.

‘I’m very keen that the Government should look after its historic buildings,’ he said yesterday. ‘If it is necessary, it is money well spent.’

Army spokesman Charles Winstanley concurs: ‘His (Bowser’s) flat is very much in line with what a brigadier would receive,’ he said yesterday.

Much jollity last Thursday evening at the annual meeting of the Nanking Club – named after the treaty ceding Hong Kong to Britain. Discretion forbids me from saying which Hong Kong wallahs were present, but they were minds capable of the most puerile humour. Take the menu as an example. Courses included: Grilled Duplicitous Dumplings; Chris P Lame Duck with Westminster Pancakes; Foreign Office Chicken Doubt and Lowing Hurd Beef Steak with Red Pepper Sauce. The remaining dishes are unrepeatable but I may divulge that the evening ended most successfully with Pass-port/liqueurs.

Malicious rumours concerning the sudden disconnection of Sir Edward Heath’s mobile phone may cease. Contrary to scurrilous Fleet Street whispers, Sir Edward has abandoned his mobile phone – not because some prankster kept calling it and hanging up – but because it was too expensive. ‘He has a new, slim-line version,’ explains a secretary, adding (unnecessarily) ‘in conjunction with his modern image.’

The launch of Bill Bryson’s new novel, Made in America, on Monday night, was a roaring success with one exception: the author was absent. Bryson had been struck down by a virus the week before and was told by his wife that if he wasn’t able to totter to the door, he couldn’t attend. Reasonable conditions really – but nonetheless one attending the bash, actor Kerry Shale, was bitterly disappointed. Shale, it transpired, has abridged and read two of Bryson’s books on Radio 4.

‘I was hoping to meet him for the first time,’ he explained. ‘We’ve written to each other for years.’ Ironically the evening resulted, nonetheless, in an advance in the pair’s professional relations: in Bryson’s absence, Shale was asked to sign copies of the book.

Hostile relations between Nuclear Electric and Greenpeace reached a nadir at the weekend when the band at the Kent Institute of Art and Design’s Annual Exhibition, Diploma Day and Ball, refused to play because the event was sponsored by NE.

The group, suitably entitled Cajunologie, arrived hotfoot from the Greenpeace boat My Solo, keen to perform, until they realised who the sponsors were. For a nasty moment it looked as if the proceedings would have to be cancelled – when suddenly two award-winning students shinned up the marquee pole, removed the NE banner and replaced it with a Greenpeace flag.

The show went on but, understandably, feelings are frosty back at NE HQ. ‘I don’t think I’ll comment,’ said a spokeswoman yesterday.

Why did Chris Green, head of Scotrail, miss Monday night’s BR briefing for transport correspondents?

A: Because he took the plane; it was delayed for one and a half hours and he lost his luggage to boot. . .

(Photographs omitted)