Diary – May 16, 1994


In an attempt to disguise what is possibly its most embarrassing find, the British Museum is executing a cover-up operation to save a few blushing faces and curb public laughter. A few weeks ago, 70 yards of some of the rarest, most spectacular (and most valuable) Egyptian raiment dating from circa 2000 BC were discovered by a curator, immaculately preserved inside an Egyptian mummy case – which had lain, unnoticed, inside the museum for 80 years or so.
The case, thought to belong to an Egyptian royal or noble, had been collecting dust anonymously on a shelf when the curator decided it needed a clean and peeped inside. Despite the well-recorded Egyptian practice of enclosing clothing and bedding with their dead, it seems no one had thought to open it earlier.

‘We’re not sure what the cloth is yet, but it is in a very good state – perhaps the best ever found,’ explained another curator ecstatically. ‘There are reams and reams of it.’

In view of such excitement, I find it hard to account for the museum’s official line: ‘It’s just a few fragments really at the bottom of a box,’ said a spokesman.

The concept of rivalry is seldom publicly admitted by London’s more genteel sporting establishments. It would not be seemly, after all, for Charles Swallow, managing director of the pounds 1,549-a-year Vanderbilt Racquets Club, to admonish the Princess of Wales never to play tennis at nearby pounds 730-a-year Queen’s Club. I am amused, therefore, to see a far more subtle form of attack from Monsieur Swallow in the form of an invitation to celebrate the Vanderbilt’s 10th anniversary next month – right in the middle of Queen’s Club’s most prestigious tournament, London’s international precursor to Wimbledon, the Stella Artois. ‘There is no reason why we should have chosen that week for the party,’ insisted a Vanderbilt’s spokeswoman. . .and equally, sceptics might quibble, no reason why not.

Consolation for the red-faced members of the ENO’s publicity department, responsible for a recent appeal leaflet which included a reference to that little-known work: ‘Verdi’s Tosca’. The team at Brighton Festival Opera is not doing too well either. Posters have gone up advertising: ‘Rossini’s Magic Flute’.

Despite the presence of luminaries such as Anthony Sampson and VS Naipaul at last week’s literary award ceremony hosted by the Society of Authors in the Middle Temple Hall, the proceedings took a dramatic tumble, as spontaneously and uninvited, a young man leapt on to the stage, seized the microphone and begged the crowd: ‘I need to be discovered.’ Astonished editors, authors and poets turned as the man, one James Glasse, continued blithely: ‘I’m writing a novel. . . I think its quite good. . .I’m looking for an agent called Bill Hamilton. . .Is he here? I’ve heard he is quite famous.’ Quite where Mr Glasse, 32, developed such marketing tactics, is beyond me. Presumably not in the Civil Service, where he hails from. Personally, I consider his methods refreshing, but on this occasion, it seems his audience lacked humour: ‘You won’t get discovered like that, young man,’ hissed one author. ‘You’ll never get published now.’

Aggravating, surely, the already-soured relations between the Ulster Unionists and the Tories, caused by the Downing Street Declaration, is the latest Euro-campaign strategy of Tory party chairman Sir Norman Fowler. He is planning to visit Northern Ireland next month to promote the province’s sole Tory Euro-candidate, Myrtle Boal.

Ms Boal, 55, is delighted by such high-profile backing. With less than ten per cent support in the polls, she hopes Sir Norman’s presence will draw out the closet Tories, including some Ulstermen, whom, she says, Northern Ireland Secretary Sir Patrick Mayhew, is urging to convert.

‘They’ll soon fall foul of the electorate of Northern Ireland,’ said Jim Wilson, secretary-general of the Ulster Unionists, adding: ‘Any time they send over bigwigs from Smith Square they leave the kiss of death behind.

(Photograph omitted)