Londoner's Diary

The Evening Standard 21-09-1983 – 17-11-1986

De Gaulle Joins The Blue Plaque Brigade – 15-05-84. Revival Of Interest In Bruno Hat – 10-12-84. Bespeaking Out Of Place – 17-11-86. Lady In The Pack – 25-09-86. Last Chance For A Box – 23-10-84. The Whitehall Underground – 07-06-84. Georgie Sets Her Set A Fine Example – 26-08-86. Observant Artist – 21-09-83.

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De Gaulle Joins The Blue Plaque Brigade

While even the most dedicated Francophile would have to concede that the famous entente is not quite as cordiale these days as its instigators intended, efforts are still being made to paper over the cracks and foster goodwill.

Early next month the Queen Mother is due to unveil a blue plaque commemorating General de Gaulle on the north wall of the former Free French HQ at 3/4 Carlton Gardens, SW1.

Her Majesty, no doubt, will be as careful as the chief organiser of the ceremony, Sir John Russell, to let us forget the trials and tribulations between de Gaulle and Churchill – to say nothing of the French leader's paranoid distrust and dislike of Roosevelt.

In a famous remark Roosevelt said: "I'm fed up with de Gaulle. I am absolutely convinced he's been, and is now, injuring our war effort and that he's a dangerous threat to us."

Churchill, more magnanimously, said of him: "A great man? Why, he's selfish, he's arrogant, he thinks he's the centre of the universe ... he ... Yes. He's a great man."

Stalin thought de Gaulle was "really a simple man" – which by Russian standards he probably was – and which is probably how the plaque committee would prefer us to remember him. More intriguing is what has become of the Free French HQ overlooking St James's Park today.

Four separate enquiries disclosed the information that four separate government departments have business there. A fifth enquiry about what business elicited the response: "Quite honestly it would be more than my life's worth to tell you, Sir."

Revival Of Interest In Bruno Hat

One of the funnier achievements of London's Bright Young Things in the 1920s was a famous hoax at the art world's expense in 1929.

Evelyn Waugh, Bryan Guinness (later to become Lord Moyne), Brian Howard (the model for Anthony Blanche in Brideshead Revisited), the artist John Banting and a handful of Mitfords were among those who successfully convinced the art establishment that they had discovered a brilliant new talent in the shape of one Bruno Hat.

The Hat paintings were real enough – some remarkably mundane rope-framed pictures discovered in a junk shop.

The talented Mr Hat, however, was of more dubious origin though that did not prevent him becoming an overnight success with the experts who turned up to a private view of his work at a house in Buckingham Street (now Palace Street) in Belgravia.

Hat's credibility was enhanced by the involvement of Tom Driberg (the first William Hickey), then a fledgling journalist, who was in on the conspiracy. It wasn't long before a guilt-stricken Bryan Guinness (then married to Diana Mitford) owned up.

Half a century later, it seems that Tony Peto, editor of Art Magazine, has discovered another two unsung heroes of the easel, namely Bruno Breton and Andree Hat, whose remarkable work will be celebrated at a party next week.

The coincidence of the name is not all. The private view of their work will take place, purely by chance you understand, at the very same house in Palace Street, and among the guests invited to admire the pictures will be Auberon Waugh and Jonathan Guinness and their daughters, Sophia Waugh and Catherine Guinness, among 100 others.

"I quite agree that it does rather sound as if history is repeating itself," says a poker-faced Tony Peto, who is organising the event.

"The fact is that Art Magazine is always on the look-out for new talent and it is not our fault if the two finest unrecognised talents just happen to be called Bruno Breton and Andree Hat. If you have any doubts, I am sure you will find that their work will speak for itself."

Bespeaking Out Of Place

After Big Bang there's been a small explosion elsewhere in the City at the smart firm of bespoke City tailors Couch & Hoskin. There have been two victims, a young trainee fitter there and a director of the large insurance brokers Jardine Glanvill.

The JG director, who asks me not to name him, makes his millions, as he puts it, "on a pair of crutches with a pair of callipers on his legs". He rang the tailors the other day asking if they'd run him up a new morning suit. He explained his disability and said he'd pop along.

But on arrival the fitter refused his order, blaming the customer's disablement.

"I got the impression that they might perhaps have made me an ordinary suit," the understandably angry man tells me. "But they drew the line at morning coats. Perhaps they feel the disabled shouldn't get married."

The tailors are now very apologetic. "The junior who has been with us only two years had absolutely no right to say what he did," says the manager, a Mr Becker. The boy has been reprimanded, he adds.

But will C&H serve the disabled? Yes, but with reservations. "We have one client in a wheelchair and another on crutches but frankly the fitting is so difficult we're often not happy with the results," I'm told.

Lady In The Pack

Whether or not one was a lady was rather to the point last night at the Foreign Press Club. There, Lady Colin Campbell – divorced some years back from the Duke of Argyll's brother after a brief childless marriage when he discovered his wife had apparently been brought up as a boy – was surrounded by friends to celebrate her first book, Guide To Being A Modern Lady - a sort of contemporary Noblesse Oblige.

All gathered couldn't help but overhear her lanky publisher, Graham Lea, remark that it was a real pleasure to work with "a real lady" at last. What could he have meant ? He is the philosopher/geologist turned books man who brought out Sara Keay's little romance about life and times with Cecil Parkinson.

Afterwards, Lea, who's bent on publishing full-time, told me mysteriously that bringing out Miss Keay's effort "hadn't been a very pleasant experience".

Surely he was disappointed that that, his first venture, hadn't done well. No, it wasn't that. He just hadn't felt a free man then, he said, before closing the shutters on the subject.

Last Chance For A Box

The ultimate status symbol in cultural one-upmanship is up for sale – Grand Tier Box No. 11 at the Albert Hall. A cool £80,000 will secure the almost centrally located box and its 10 seats for the next 882 years. And an important piece of history goes with it.

Box 11, along with the Queen's and one other owned by an anonymous woman, is one of only three still owned by the families who originally bought them when the hall was founded in 1864. That unbroken line still allows the three a say in the management of the place.

"It is very rare for something like this to come onto the market," says Richard Hanlon of Cluttons, the agents selling the box. "We have had quite a lot of interest from companies and a hotel group. The box is in a wonderful position, very near the bar and, God knows, one sometimes needs the bar at the Albert Hall," he says.

The Whitehall Underground

While Second World War veterans re-invade the Normandy beaches, Continental tourists are launching a comparable assault on the Cabinet War Rooms museum deep under Whitehall. However, what many of the foreign visitors do not know is that they are only seeing a fraction of the subterranean rabbit-warren used by Churchill and his chiefs of staff during Britain's darkest hour.

Beyond the steel doors and concrete walls lie acres more hush-hush corridors and almost untouched departments of wartime derring-do. Not on view is Churchill's underground dining-room, Mrs Churchill's bedroom, the chief of staff's underground conference room and numerous bedrooms and other offices.

Asked whether there were plans to reveal more of the war rooms, curator John Wenzel said: "Not as far as I know. We do explain to visitors that they are only seeing the war rooms as they existed prior to 1941."

[See also: Sorting Out Sir Winston.]

Georgie Sets Her Set A Fine Example

A woman with a penchant for making a splash is Lady Colin Campbell. Born and bred in Jamaica, she was divorced a decade ago by the Duke of Argyll's brother, Lord Colin Campbell, after a five-day courtship and a nine-month, childless marriage. Now she's written her first book, a kind of latter-day Noblesse Oblige which I suspect she hopes will cause waves of unease in high places.

It's no coincidence perhaps that 36 year-old Georgie Campbell's book is published by a new company set up by Graham Lea, the shadowy figure who brought out Sara Keay's kiss-and-tell memoirs, A Question of Judgment.

Titled A Guide To Being A Modern Lady – inside it skirts over whether a well-behaved modern lady should attempt this kind of project – Lady Colin Campbell's chatty tone revels in indiscretions and "inside information on how high society works". She has chapters on Picking Up The One-Night Stand and how not to pass AIDS on, and more straight-forward guidance on Royal Ascot and Country Weekends.

Her section Out Of Bounds (or how to be a good flirt without sharing it) singles out the Queen Mother for "captivating" the opposite sex tastefully. Princess Michael of Kent, she maintains, drove the Countess of Dudley round the bend on a trip to America "because of the way she was behaving with Senator John Warner".

"Titles," she writes, "bore me stiff" – and then goes on to write many pages on their use and abuse and how she and her former husband, Lord Colin Campbell, should be addressed.

But she skips over the circumstances of their divorce. He claimed at the time that she didn't tell him about her youth in Jamaica where, apparently, she was brought up as a boy. He "couldn't forgive her" when he discovered.

"I don't think it'll annoy any of my friends – but friends is the operative word," she tells me. "I enjoy writing and am going to carry on."

Observant Artist

Having already earned herself a devoted London following of buyers and admirers, artist Liz Wright may now win the approval of Battersea Power Station preservationists.

The threatened landmark features, appropriately, as the largest and most prominent painting in her latest exhibition at the Sullivan-Williams Fine Arts gallery in New King's Road, Fulham.

Renowned for her meticulously detailed and primitive Battersea landscapes, peopled with village cricketers, Morris dancers and bowler-hatted City gents being herded by sheepdogs, her work has attracted collectors as diverse as Clare Francis, Lord Weymouth and Anouska Hempel.

The latest collection, on show until Saturday, marks a departure from the vivid style and colour of Miss Wright's immediately recognisable past work. She now paints whatever she sees around her – including a still life in which a rolled-up copy of the The Standard is a principal ingredient.

"I've just moved back up to London so I read the paper and it was just there when I painted the scene," she said. That's how she knows about Battersea Power Station !

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© (1983-1986) Christopher Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
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Christopher Long

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