Diary – June 23, 1994


Every time Virginia Bottomley tries to take a hard line on the health service it seems something personal intervenes to trivialise her. First, the revelations of the illegitimacy of her eldest child, Joshua, caused some embarrassment. Second, she was found nipping in to M&S before opening hours; now the store has come to plague her again or, to be precise, a tin of luxury M&S biscuits has.
Branch members of the hospital union, Unison, at St George’s Hospital, Tooting, are seething publicly that someone was sent to buy a pounds 20 tin of luxury assorted biscuits when Mrs Bottomley came to open the new cardiac catheter laboratory suite earlier this week.

Gail Adams, Unison’s branch secretary, is reported on the front page of the local paper, as saying: ‘I’m appalled that pounds 20 was used to buy M&S biscuits when the daily cost per in-patient is pounds 2 for three meals.’

Inevitably the story, headlined ‘Bottomley’s Visit Takes the Biscuit’ was contrasted, with chuckles, to Mrs Bottomley’s announcement yesterday of new plans involving further health service cuts.

Too late, for PR purposes, the hospital defended its actions, saying the biscuits were not bought with NHS funds.

‘They were bought with money from one of our suppliers,’ explains a spokeswoman, adding: ‘Had Mrs Bottomley had time to stay for lunch they would have given her that too.’

I am surprised to see that an editorial in the Wandsworth Borough News supports the rail strikers. ‘Over the past decade of Conservative rule, the heady monetarist philosophy has blinded its leaders to the real value of public transport’, etc, it goes. A fair enough viewpoint, I suppose (if you are not one of the sufferers of the strikers’ actions), but the owner of the Wandsworth Borough News is wealthy Establishment figure David Dimbleby – thought, generally, to be a staunch Tory.

A footnote on rail strike sufferers: Great Train Robber Buster Edwards was to be found at his flower stall outside Waterloo on Wednesday evening woefully empty-handed. Sighing, he proclaimed miserably: ‘I haven’t taken a penny.’

Call me a cynic, but I cannot help but be alarmed by the ENO’s programme for the new season. Jonathan Miller’s Eighties production of Verdi’s Rigoletto is scheduled for January. . .and yet I distinctly recall the advertisement for the production last year: ‘See it – for the last time ever.’ The theory, I thought, was that the ENO was determined never to repeat Miller’s popular version – in which the characters are updated to mafiosi – because it had been done too often. ‘Ah,’ said an ENO spokeswoman yesterday, ‘but there has been a public outcry for it.’ Oh? Lots of letters then? ‘No, people have been screaming for it.’ Literally? ‘Well. . .it’s been mentioned.’ Ah, I see.

No mention, naturally, of the ENO’s worryingly dire financial state: it has the largest deficit of any public arts company in the country.

Overheard at the Groucho Club on Wednesday night, where directors, writers and actors gathered to discuss falling standards in the industry, were two better-known luvvies. ‘How are you? Haven’t seen you for ages,’ said one. ‘I see you’ve acquired a handsome moustache.’

‘Shows how long we haven’t seen each other for,’ replied the other, ‘I’ve had it for 25 years.’

With proposals for a book and film on Gloucester’s Fred West being booted about, Anthony Page, director of BBC’s Middlemarch, has chosen his moment to plan a feature film based on Brian Masters’ best-selling study of serial killer Dennis Nilsen.

Inevitably it has taken time to raise funding for the project which has resparked the old controversy about glorifying serial killers. Page, however, is insistent that Nilsen is a special case. ‘The interesting thing about him is how a man who was, to begin with, apparently quite caring, became a mass murderer.’ Now, with Japanese backing he just needs a star for the title role. . .the name Daniel Day-Lewis, he says, is on everyone’s tongue.

(Photographs omitted)