Diary – Monday 25 September 1995


I have news that should prove useful to dithering potential voters in the new Kingston and Surbiton constituency. Having failed ignominiously to be selected as the Tory candidate for the new safe Tory seat of Vale of York, as well as several others, Norman Lamont, the erstwhile chancellor and MP for Kingston-upon-Thames (to be amalgamated into Kingston and Surbiton at the General Election), is returning to fight for his former home ground. He has thrown down the gauntlet to challenge his neighbour, Dick Tracey, Tory MP for Surbiton. It is a desperate move. The past year has seen Lamont touring all over the country to avoid precisely such a power struggle. Now he is busily getting involved in constituency affairs to do a bit of last-minute canvassing. Alas, I fear he is too late. Last week he strolled into the Kingston Town Hall and headed for what he thought was the Conservative group room. “I’m sorry, Mr Lamont, you won’t find what you’re looking for in there,” he was told. “Why not?” asked Lamont. “The Liberal Democrats took over this council a year ago.”

One expects Britain’s late-night newsreaders to indulge their palates at lunchtime. After all, they can’t be out gourmandising with the rest of us at dinner time, since they are busily preparing their scripts. Alas, however, this thought had apparently bypassed one man who took ITN’s Trevor McDonald to lunch last week. Having collected him at ITN’s headquarters, the pair wandered down nearby John Street and McDonald’s companion paused beside a sign. There was a small pause, broken by McDonald. “You know,” he told the man, nudging him gently onwards: “I am not really a pub person.”

To take Mick Jagger boldly by the hand, lead him to the dance floor and slow-dance with him, when one has never met him, takes either great courage or colossal inebriation. My friend and colleague Esther Oxford, 26, swears it was the former. “I wanted to see what he felt like,” she told me rather breathlessly on Thursday morning, having gyrated against the rock star for 30 wondrous seconds at the Grosvenor House the night before. “He was just standing there, chatting, when I pulled him to his feet. He was so shocked he followed.” Unfortunately, at six foot, Ms Oxford is not the ideal physiological specimen to check out Jagger’s body contours. As a result of her experience, all she discovered was that “he felt rather short”.

The sight of Judge Stephen Tumim, HM’s wonderfully good-humoured Chief Inspector of Prisons, on the judging panel at last week’s Jerwood painting prize, reminded an old crony of a time when Tumim’s artistic streak (he is a former chairman of the friends of the Tate) was considered something of a joke – at least among the police force.

When first appointed to his current post in 1987, Tumim was required to have two Special Branch security men guarding him at all times. Being something of a philanthropist, he took it upon himself to educate them. “Look at the fine brush strokes of X,” he would say, having dragged them into an art gallery on a Sunday, “or the effects of the thick brush by Y”. Word of this soon got back to Special Branch, which decided enough was enough. It changed one of the security guards. Tumim immediately took him off to the Tate. “Don’t you admire X?” he began, only to receive a lecture on X’s work from the guard, “How can this be?” queried Tumim. “Sir,” replied his new guard “Special Branch chose me for this job precisely because I had an art history degree.”

Fear not all ye rock fans tearing your hair out for Iron Maiden, whose dreams of being the first Western rock band to make it into Beirut have been shattered. (The Lebanese government has refused them visas, with only two weeks to go before the show and 1,000 tickets sold, and Lebanese police have withdrawn their records from the shops. The excuse is that the group is a “bad influence”.)

But now a white knight is riding into the fray, promising to sort everything out. Wielding his influential club everywhere, but most especially in the Foreign Office, is the Tory MP for Harlow, Jerry Hayes. “Steve Harris, Iron Maiden founder member, is a constituent,” explains Hayes. “He has turned to me for help. And I am doing my best. I have advised the Foreign Office that they must do something. The matter is now in their hands and we are hopeful.

“Also,” adds Hayes, 42, who lists “practising the violin with my daughter” as one of his hobbies in Dod’s Parliamentary Companion, “the group is not a bad influence. In fact they are very good. I have all their albums.”

Further to my note last week about the Downing Street dinner for Lady Thatcher’s birthday being the wrong way round – dinner first, drinks later – I was reliably informed, by the grown-up children of one MP who is due to attend that function, that when at Downing Street, pater much prefers the unconventional arrangements to normal patterns of sociability. That was a paraphrase. His actual words to his children were: “Oh God. Imagine having to sit through a long dinner with that lot. Too awful!”

There seems to be a hitch with the latest fad at the Daily Telegraph: namely, writing pieces about Establishment figures who cannot reveal their true identities. Yesterday it printed a successful piece about the right- wing polemicist and prison doctor who calls himself Theodore Dalrymple – I for one intend to inspect the bald patch of every man I meet until I find the one that matches the accompanying photograph – and another, disastrous, piece about a hugely rich international art collector who did not want to publish his name for security reasons. It would seem, however, that the man reckoned without the Telegraph’s sub-editors.

The piece starts in the thriller vein of The Usual Suspects. We are given clues that indicate a villain-type character from a James Bond film. We learn he lives in rich, rich Switzerland. His name for the purposes of this piece is the harsh, mysterious “Werner M”. Next comes a Gothic description of his house – “a darkish hall corridor,” “flaming” (but of course) with pictures by Vlaminck, Braque, Leger …

As a piece of mystery writing it’s all going swimmingly until in the sixth paragraph, the tension is inadvertently dissipated. Somebody somehow forgot all instructions and slipped the collector’s real name in. I shan’t be unkind and reveal it. Let it suffice to say it isn’t Goldfinger.