Diary – Monday 27 March 1995


Paul McKenna, the hypnotist with the grating voice, has succeeded in working his magic charms on British television producers. At least so say most of Britain’s hypnotists, who are livid at what they see as McKenna’s manipulation of two programmes about hypnosis last week. First, Carlton showed a programme that purported to be a serious documentary on the art of hypnosis, but which, in effect, turned out to be what our own television critic Tom Sutcliffe describes as “a tawdry, appalling puff for McKenna and his work”.

Second, Central Television ran a chatshow about hypnosis on Friday night, which featured only people that McKenna permitted to appear with him. When Central suggested rival stage hypnotists, including sceptic hypnotist Martin Taylor – who publicly professes that he does not believe that hypnosis alters the state of the mind – McKenna refused to appear with them. “It shows unbelievable bias on the part of the programme-makers,” says Taylor. The programme-makers themselves, however, were unavailable for comment – hypnotised, doubtless, into a state of muteness.

What a relief that the Daily Mail has finally tracked down Luce Danielson, the companion of Winston Churchill MP. Not, I hasten to add, because I was on the edge of my seat waiting to find out who she was, but because I felt sorry for friends of mine who live in Tite Street, Chelsea. They were growing fed up with the Mail journalists who ensconced themselves there as long ago as Thursday. At that stage the search for Ms Danielson looked far from promising. “We’re ringing every doorbell in the vicinity,” the reporters told my friends from the doorstep, “because we don’t know her name.”

A final word on Mary Ellen Synon, the mistress who bonked in the Bank. Facts that you don’t already know: 1) “Roo” actually put down the deposit on her ivory tower in Ireland (a desperate attempt to get rid of her perhaps?), and 2) if only he’d listened to some of her previous boyfriends, he’d have realised the ploy wouldn’t work. “M E [her nickname] clings like ivy,” says a man who has known her for 20 years. “A friend of mine who’d tried endlessly to end a relationship with her many years ago, thanked his lucky stars when, by dint of the gods, he was posted to New York. Phew, he thought, I’ve escaped. But no sooner was he seated at his desk than the telephone rang. “It’s Me,” said M E. “I’m here – at JFK airport.”

The first sign of the type of pendantry which occurs when institutions get privatised appears in the letters page of this month’s issue of Local Transport Today. Simon Eden, a press officer for one of the 25 newly founded train operating groups, writes: “Your story headlined `First Eight Franchises on Offer’ refers to Network South Central. For the record, we are in fact Network SouthCentral … ”

To the Lloyds Private Banking Playwright of the Year Awards at the London Marriott Hotel, where my knees turn to jelly upon encountering my thespian hero, Jeremy Irons. In most unBridesheady fashion he embraced the prospect of a future Labour government. “It will provide much-needed funding for all those young people currently struggling,” he said. Coincidentally, their number includes the singer Emma Cooper, daughter of the chairman of Lloyds Private Banking, James Cooper. Ms Cooper, 25, is understudying Marti Webb in the title role of a touring production of Evita. “That’s why she wasn’t available to take part in the cabaret which followed the prize-giving,” said her proud father, adding hastily, “although I wouldn’t really have approved of such obvious nepotism.”

Sadomasochistic opera lovers are doubtless revving up for the ENO’s forthcoming production of Schnittke’s Life With an Idiot, an unusual opera which contains defecation, decapitation, masturbation and buggery on stage. At least the ENO has the sense to warn the audience in the programme: “The production contains strong language and scenes of sexual violence, which some members of the audience may find offensive.” In Edinburgh, however, where the production goes next, they clearly expect a more dubious audience. “Life with an Idiot,” the programme says, “contains scenes and language which may cause offence to some people and will give pleasure to others.”

Speaking of sex, a friend was driving his son, six, and a chum to school yesterday morning when the Today programme mentioned the fact that the ITC is upholding a complaint that advertisements featuring a transvestite and a teenage sex survey respectively were shown during a recent screening of Home Alone. The boys nudged each other and my friend’s son whispered: “D’you hear that? They mentioned `sex’ on the radio.”

The sporadic timing of this week’s Radio 3 series Diary of a Composition – the taped thoughts of composer Simon Bainbridge as he wrote his latest work, Ad Ora Incerta: Four Orchestral Songs from Primo Levi, to be premiered at the Festival Hall on Wednesday – is causing Italian speakers some amusement. Instead of putting out the diaries, as promised, at 9.30 every evening this week, each episode is at an entirely different time from the others. “Ah well,” sighed the producer, “it’s entirely in keeping with the title.” It means, after all, “at an uncertain hour”.

Whether it’s because they know my Alma Mater, Cambridge, is superior, or because they are bored, the Oxford boat crew has resorted to some unusual training tactics this year. A week before the big race they attended the West End musical, Ain’t Misbehavin’, where they were spotted clapping along to “Spreading the Rhythm around”. “It’s the only way I can get any rhythm into them at all,” said long-suffering cox Abbie Chapman afterwards.

Thank goodness for the Prime Minister’s brother, Terry Major-Ball, with whom I lunched on Friday. “Elizabeth Hurley,” he mused when I touched on her recent court case, “now, which one is she?”