Diary – Monday 30 October 1995


Mountaineers have been angered by an advert in this month’s Climber magazine for Sprayway, a mountain-clothing manufacturer. It is a two-page spread, one half of which is a large picture of Alison Hargreaves before her tragic death on K2 earlier this summer. Beside it is a blurb starting: “It is better to have lived one day as a tiger than one thousand years as a sheep.” It ends with the tribute: “A tiger in a world of sheep.” At the bottom it states that the advert has received the backing of Ms Hargreaves’s family.

Mountaineers who knew Ms Hargreaves feel it is tasteless in the extreme. “Both the principle of making money out of the dead and the idea that the rest of the mountaineering community are “sheep” are scarcely ones which appeal,” says one.

The magazine’s editor, Tom Prentice, who has himself just returned from the Himalayas, has been deflecting the complaints. “I did not actually see the advert until I read the magazine,” he says. “It’s important to bear in mind that Sprayway will have booked the ad before her death and will have had to adjust their campaign.”

Sprayway is taken aback by the reaction. “The reference to ‘sheep’,” says the managing director, John Hunt, “was meant to refer to non-climbers. The advert is a tribute to Alison, which is why the Sprayway logo is very small.”

In the Middle Common Room at Newnham College, Cambridge, an idea has been toyed with that is far more radical than the current proposals to ban Trinity’s Great Court Race after an accident this year. In a bid for political correctness, Newnham’s postgraduates voted last week to cancel Christmas.

My source explained: “Several people on the committee felt that to hold a Christmas dinner would be offensive to non-Christians. By Friday their view was the majority view.”

The weekend, including perhaps a hearty roast on Sunday, has thankfully restored sanity to the group. “They have changed their minds. Christmas is now going ahead,” sang my spy jubilantly.

To the Travellers Club (where else?) for the launch of Simon Jenkins’s tome Accountable to None, The Tory Nationalisation of Britain (Hamish Hamilton, pounds 16.99), in which he accuses the Thatcher administration of totally failing to achieve decentralisation – and in fact achieving the opposite. It was left to the Oxford psephologist David Butler to point out the work’s main irony: that one so famously conservative as Jenkins should have penned a script so critical of the Tory government. “No one could be more Establishment than Simon,” he said of the erstwhile editor of the Times. “He is Mr Quango. Precisely because of this he gained access to all those he needed.”

Actually, Mr Butler, this is not quite true. Even for men as distinguished as Jenkins, the path of research does not run entirely smooth. There was one person, Jenkins grudgingly admitted to me afterwards, who had refused to speak directly to him. “But,” he added hesitantly, “it’s perhaps not fair to criticise them.”


“You see, she has actually helped all along in other ways.”

Longer pause.

“Well,” said Jenkins, now obviously uncomfortably, “she is the subject of the book …”

I have discovered that I have something in common with Olivia Gollancz, co-founder of the esteemed publishing company Victor Gollancz: we are two of the very few people in this country who have never seen thepantomime Cinderella. For me this signified confusion when everyone else laughed at the recollections of the Gollancz author Simon Brett,celebrating his 50th birthday and 50th publication at the Groucho Club last week. “Many years ago my first book, Baron Hard-up, had been rejected by five publishers,” he told his guests, “but Olivia Gollancz chose to accept it. What I had not realised was that she did not know who Baron Hard-up was. She later told me that she chose to accept the book purely on the grounds that she thought the title meant something rude.”

Here’s one for pedants to add to the Dictionary Disasters file. A colleague tells me that when loading the magnificent CD-rom version of the OED on to his computer, the machine, after copying over the relevant files, displayed a message saying: “This application has been succesfully (sic) installed.” Groan, groan.

At least it’s not as bad as Oxford’s Mini-Dictionary of Spelling a few years back that contained an errata slip apologising for the spelling of “litterate”.

On Friday a solitary fax arrived at the offices of Channel Five Broadcasting at the same time as they heard the astounding news that their consortium had secured the Channel Five franchise. It was from David Elstein, part of a rival consortium, New Century TV. “Congratulations,” it began, “it has been a long haul …”. Can it be any coincidence that Elstein, director of programmes at BSkyB, knows that his contract there ends in January and that Channel Five Broadcasting has not yet announced its director of programmes? Hmm. At Channel Five, they are in no doubt whatsoever.

The first European gallery to specialise in original film posters has opened in Soho. Thanks to Tony Nourmand and Bruce Marchant, you can now purchase an original advert for Charlie Chaplin’s 1914 film Laughing Gas for a mere pounds 25,000. “These posters have risen in rarity value,” explains Nourmand (his cheapest are around the pounds 1,000 mark), “because throughout this century so many have been destroyed.”

He and Marchant believe that there are still hundreds out there whose owners simply don’t realise their worth. On their collecting excursions the duo came across spectacles of poster destruction that almost reduced them to tears. “In Oregon,” says Nourmand, “Bruce stumbled upon a butcher who had once owned the local cinema. Bruce asked where the posters were and to his horror discovered that the man was wrapping up steaks in thousands of pounds worth.” The rest of you have been warned.