Diary – Monday 20 February 1995


The celebratory party following last week’s installation of Oscar Wilde at Poets’ Corner is likely to have long-term beneficial effects for at least one of the party goers, long after the post-prandial chit- chat has died down. Richard Ingrams, the musical editor of the Oldie magazine, is to have one of his lifetime ambitions fulfilled. His Jimmy Saville appeared in the form of Martin Neary, the Westminster Abbey organist, who, after a few minutes of obligatory small talk, promised him a spin on the Abbey’s organ in July. Ingrams, who plays the organ in his local church in Berkshire and whose dedication to the instrument is described by friends as “fanatical”, is said to be ecstatic.

That Madonna should have exerted so much effort to come over here for last night’s Brit Awards surely signals only one thing: that her career is in the doldrums. She was once so revered that the only Brit to gain access to her was the former newspaper editor Andrew Neil, who happily gave up his day job to sit crooning at her feet, Hello!-style, for a couple of weeks. But that’s all over now. Instead, we hear about how much her various bits of clothing fetch in American auctions, how she is reduced to modelling for Versace and how she now gives interviews galore to tacky magazines. There’s no new book, no film and no best-selling album. If only the same could be said for Andrew Neil …

Brian Sewell, the art critic who became an overnight celebrity last year after publication of a letter signed by 25 art bigwigs calling for his resignation, is upset again. Zwemmer, Britain’s leading group of art bookshops, is not stocking his latest book, The Reviews that Caused The Rumpus and Other Pieces. Sewell, I hear, suspects censorship. However, when I rang the Litchfield Street branch of Zwemmer, someone very charmingly told me it was merely out of stock. Strange, though, that a bookish local swears he’s never seen it on the shelves there …

Last week I met a miracle man: Paul Sherwood, a doctor specialising in “physical medicine” whom Michael Caine, Roger Moore and Biddy Cash, wife of the Tory Euro-sceptic Bill, all swear cured them of back pain after years of failure at others’ hands. So what’s so special about Dr Sherwood?

“I recommend people not to wear too many clothes,” he says, deadpan, “and in my latest book, Asthma and Beyond, I recommend that we all eat food after its sell-by date. The body needs a bit of bacteria, you see.”

Dr Sherwood proceeds to tell me what happens to people who do not take his advice – a famous example being the actor Peter Sellers. “I’d already cured him once … but then didn’t see him for a while,” he explains. “Later I took one look and told him that unless he did as I told him he would be dead within 12 months. He didn’t, and he was.” Suffice to say, it was short shirtsleeves for me at the weekend … but the mouldy chicken breast putrifying at the back of the fridge went straight into the dustbin.

I am delighted to be able to solve a mystery that has been puzzling Serena Sutcliffe, head of wine at Sotheby’s. She has been perturbed by the complete inactivity of the security beagle at JFK Airport, New York.

“I wouldn’t want to get the dog into trouble,” said the solicitous Ms Sutcliffe, “but I don’t understand it at all. Every time I pass it just walks around wagging its tail, taking no notice of anything. Frankly, I could do a better job of sniffing out drugs myself.”

In the interests of international security, I called JFK. “Ah, the beagle,” a spokeswoman giggled. “Yes, it’s a common misconception – she’s not actually used for sniffing out drugs but for sniffing out vegetables.”

Latest backstage whisper at the Royal Opera House: flu jabs are to become compulsory following the dire depletion of the cast of Der Rosenkavalier. No sooner did a spokesman come on stage last week to declare jubilantly to the audience that for the first time the opera would be sung as cast, than a day later Aage Haugland, the bass singing Baron Ochs, fell ill.

A point of contention among the ailing opera crew, however, is why the ballet lot should remain fit and healthy. Hopes were raised momentarily when the principal dancer Jonathan Cope withdrew from a performance of Romeo and Juliet, only to be dashed when they were told the damage was muscular.

There were twitching lips at the What the Papers Say awards on Friday when the Scoop of the Year was awarded to the Sunday Times Insight team for their cash-for-questions revelation. Why? Because all those who worked on that story (which, if you remember, caused a certain amount of moral outrage since some of the journalists had disguised themselves as businessmen) have been “relocated” to other parts of the paper. Maurice Chittenden, who went up to receive the award, was not given an opportunity to speak on account of television timing difficulties. Any thoughts, I asked him, as to what he would have said, given the chance? “No,” he replied. It must be that he doesn’t want to be “relocated” again.

Last week’s burglary at the Department of Transport did not cause anything like the internal stir it might have done, primarily because tongues there are wagging over a far more important matter: the proposed Americanisation of the staff canteen.

Traditionally, the DoT, like all other government departments, has had a subsidised canteen. “Mushy peas, frazzled sausages, baked beans – that kind of thing,” a mole blithely informs me. But a few weeks ago a questionnaire was circulated to staff, asking them what they would prefer to eat once they move to their new premises in Greatminster, Horseferry Road, later this year.

“We could tick boxes beside Pizza Hut, Burger King, etc,” says my mole. “We were amazed. It’s the first time this kind of innovation has ever entered Westminster.”

Sadly for lovers of the thick crust with extra cheese, Pizza Hut did not receive enough votes. But sufficient variety was requested for the powers that be to recommend a Yankee-style food mall. My mole is quite ecstatic at the thought. A brief look at his waistline, however, had a sobering effect. “I suppose,” he moaned wistfully, “that we are all going to get very fat.”