Londoner's Diary

The Evening Standard 12-09-1983 – 02-02-1984

Dimbleby's Demands – 30-01-84. Stubbed Out – 06-12-83. Escape To Brompton Road – 08-11-83. Sir Noel Coward – 02-02-84. Task Force – 26-09-83. Surreal Encounter – 12-09-83. Inglorious Twelfth.

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Dimbleby's Demands

Evidence mounts that the strike at his Richmond newspaper is rattling the already irascible David Dimbleby. Delay at the opera recently roused the tyro media baron to begin barracking from the stalls.

An official of the Coliseum took to the stage to announce that a principal in Friday night's performance of The Turn of The Screw had yet to arrive. This was ten minutes after the curtain should have gone up.

From halfway up the stalls Dimbleby demanded the identity of the dilatory star. "Tell us who! Name names," shouted the famous television interviewer. Interestingly, Jonathan Miller, who produced the opera for the ENO, was sitting several rows in front but managed to keep quiet.

Forty minutes later the show began without any culprit sneaked on by the management. However, I can reveal it was Lois McDonnall who, in the part of a ghost, wore thick enough white pancake makeup to hide any blushes.

Stubbed Out

The Thomas Cook travel book award speech was nearly brought to an abrupt halt the other night when the wife of the Royal Geographical Society's director, Dr John Hemmings, launched a sudden attack on one of the guests who had dared, inadvertently, to drop a little cigarette ash on her floorboards. Sukie Hemmings accused him of trying to burn the prestigious building to the ground.

Clearly she had not heard that this year's award winner, Vikram Seth, had achieved a unique hitchhiking journey through China, the basis of his book, entirely thanks to vast quantities of cigarettes, used to bribe Chinese lorry drivers from Nanjing to Delhi.

Seth, flown in specially for the occasion from California, picked up a cheque for £1,500 from Sir Donald Barron at the Royal Geographic Society reception. His book, From Heaven Lake (Chatto & Windus) gave the judges few problems. Lord Shakleton, Sir John Cuckney, Frank Delaney and Edmund Swindlehurst were unanimous in their decision according to fellow judge William Cooper.

Escape To Brompton Road

The RAF Escaping Society, long located at the Duke of York's regimental headquarters in Chelsea, moved house at the weekend to an address that not even a thriller writer would have dared introduce into his plot.

The location above ground is innocent enough, 206 Brompton Road, a building belonging to the Ministry of Defence, as indeed did the society's previous offices.

But beneath is a ghost Underground station, disused since the Thirties as a station, but very much in operation in World War 11 as the secret headquarters of London's anti-aircraft defences.

"Wherever you are in London you are almost bound to be sitting on top of some historic spot," is the philosophic comment of Mrs Elizabeth Harrison, the RAF Escaping Society secretary.

The Society, she emphasised is emphatically not an Old Boys' club but a charity. Its main function is to help those foreign nationals who helped RAF personnel shot down over enemy occupied territory make their way home.

Altogether 2,803, of whom only 50 managed to escape from German prison camps, were so helped by about 14,000 Allied civilians in nine countries, of whom 5,000 are still alive [in 1983].

Sir Noel Coward

The tablet in memory of Sir Noel Coward, to be unveiled by the Queen Mother in the South Choir Aisle of Westminster Abbey on March 28, is already under wraps in a small room within the precincts.

Made of black marble and giving the dates of Sir Noel's life, the legend contains the line that has always so aptly summed up the man's achievement, 'A Talent to Amuse'. How many remember that the line is taken from a Coward song If Love Were All! in his musical Bitter Sweet, produced at Her Majesty's in 1929?

Task Force

Fifteen months after the event, the Falkland's War has claimed another victim. Task Force, the band of young Londoners who do odd jobs for house-bound pensioners, has decided to change its name to Pensioners Link Ltd.

"We had to," explains Jon Plummer, the group's director. "The Falkland's Task Force was the first time our name was taken in vain, but then Reagan sent a task force to Central America, and now the privatised dustmen in Wandsworth are also calling themselves Task Force."

Surreal Encounter

When Victor Spinetti toured Edinburgh Assembly Rooms in the guise of an elderly curator for the benefit of BBC 2's cameras, he was brought up with a sharp shock by an armed terrorist.

The self-same terrorist, the creation of American artist Kathleen Barratt, is likely to cause similar reactions in London now that her exhibition of surreal and symbolic paintings transfers for two weeks to the Chenil Art Gallery, in King's Road.

Miss Barratt's work has met with critical acclaim three years running at the Edinburgh Festival and her second annual show in Chelsea should be just as successful as the first. This time she brings a collection entitled Mirabilia which is much preoccupied with urban violence – not surprising, since she was brought up in Chicago and recently came face to face with real armed terrorists in a restaurant in New York.

Although her themes and subjects are strongly transatlantic, her subtle sensitivity goes down well in the Third World and in London, which she regards as the most and civilised capital in the world.

Surreal Encounter

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