Diary – Monday 22 May 1995


Yesterday saw the launch of Michael Crick’s unofficial biography of Jeffrey Archer, Stranger than Fiction, at the Travellers Club, where Crick’s old English teacher, Peter Farquhar, was among the throng, presumably to reprimand his 36-year-old pupil for any grammatical errors. Archer was not present – but then he and Crick have not enjoyed the most cordial of relationships over the past three years while Crick has been researching his book. Crick recalls one moment in 1992 when he and his family arrived at Archer’s house in Grantchester to visit the garden, which was open to the public. “There was Archer, sitting at the entrance, collecting the money,” explained Crick, “and he instantly recognised me. Given that it would not be seemly to actively obstruct us, he merely turned to my daughter, Catherine, and said: ‘You don’t want to come in here, do you?’ Catherine, then four, sagely said nothing.”

Speaking of the Archer biography, I fear that should she read it, Archer’s wife, Mary, may feel differently about going to Archer’s old school, Wellington School (the one in Somerset as opposed to the smarter Wellington College, Berkshire), to give out prizes at speech day in July. In his introduction Crick notes that at first the school was “very dubious about helping me” – until he pointed out that the work was not authorised. “Oh well, in that case,” said a spokesman, “we can help you with anything you want.”

The coming bank holiday will have overtones of the last (huge crowds, security and general bonhomie) in one area of the country – Birmingham, where the BBC is having a three-day epic musical broadcast, Music Five Live, including celebs such as Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tammy Wynette, Elaine Paige and Jools Holland. It is thought to be the biggest musical broadcast ever mounted. Yet, despite two years of planning, the event has been very nearly kiboshed by the West Midlands police, who, a few weeks ago suddenly demanded to be involved on the Sunday, when the city centre will be closed – for a fee of more than pounds 50,000. The BBC was furious, not least because Showsec, the security company it had hired (and which managed the VE Day celebrations in Hyde Park) has been organising events such as these for more than 30 years and charges a quarter of the police’s fee. The matter has been resolved and the police ostensibly placated, but not before an article mysteriously found its way into last weekend’s regional press, stating that the police feared for crowd safety at the event, which might have to be banned. “Rubbish,” is the BBC’s pithy comment.

A colleague went to the football writers’ annual dinner (the Royal Lancaster hotel, Bayswater, for gawd’s sake, and “lounge suits” – not my kind of do at all). But despite the presence of dazzling stars such as Sir Bobby Charlton, Gary Lineker and Jurgen Klinsmann, the evening’s most intriguing sight was Piers Morgan, editor of the News of the World, huddled in a corner in deep conversation with George Graham, the recently sacked manager of Arsenal. While the rest of the company busied themselves getting or signing autographs, these two were locked in earnest discourse for nearly an hour. It turns out that Graham, who has some old scores to settle, had wandered up to Morgan, who is in need of a respectable scoop following his recent public admonishment for running a story about the illness of the Countess Spencer. I’ll give you one guess as to what they could possibly have been discussing …

“I’m looking forward to meeting the people of Croydon,” announced the veteran comedian Jim “Super, Smashing, Great” Bowen on a press release billing a one-off performance scheduled for last Friday night at the Clocktower theatre. Unfortunately, it appears that the townsfolk of Croydon did not reciprocate his feelings. Only 10 people bought tickets – eight for pounds 20.00, to include dinner, and two at pounds 8.00 for just the show. Now the event has been cancelled. “It is a very great shame,” said a Clocktower spokeswoman. “We just can’t explain it.”

An unusually sombre note to end with, I’m afraid, but one of importance to all choral concert lovers. This week the Vaal Reef choir from South Africa starts its debut tour of Britain at Bath, from where it moves to Salisbury and thence to Birmingham and Croydon. It was at the Vaal Reef mine in South Africa that there was a tragic accident involving the deaths of 102 miners two weeks ago. If the 47-strong choir had not been in rehearsal for the British tour, its members, too, would have met their fate that day, since they worked in the very same shaft. The choristers, whose music is mostly African folk songs, spirituals and ballads, had to think long and hard before deciding to embark on their tour. They eventually agreed to go ahead, but money from all the ticket sales will go to a memorial fund, to which many will want to contribute.