Quite the most important social event London will see for some time occurred at The Spectator last Thursday. It marked not only a change of ownership but also our impending move from Gower Street. In order to ensure that I will be continuing to enlighten you and Cyril Ray in these pages I spent a lot of my time oiling up to the new owner, Henry Keswick. The first taste of a disastrous evening happened when I tried to open a window so that the 'thirsty, sweating mass could breathe. There was a violent crack (and mutters of IRA) and my thumb was crushed. Kenneth Hurren, the associate editor, said I was lucky to be able to bear the pain because the last person to open that window ended up in hospital. But I knew I was going to end up in hospital anyway when I saw the number of Peregrine's enemies who were assembled. And indeed I did, suffering from later wounds in the Westminster Hospital.
Lord O'Neill of the Maine, frequently expressed concern about my thumb, said it should be well-lubricated, and offered the appropriate medication. Jeremy Deedes of the London Evening Standard, who duly reported this drama, said I should suck it. Hugh Leggatt, the art dealer, whom I had thought would never speak to me again after some things I've written, told me that time heals wounds — as my thumb became visibly larger and bloodier. With Peregrine thus wounded you'd think people would lay off but I was physically assaulted by Peter Paterson and had to keep a wide berth of Lord Longford. Bill Grundy of Punch said that his boss, William Davis, was going to turn up at 9.30 when I would be thrown down the stairs by Grundy because I wrote last week that Davis was freeloading on a Greek island when he was in fact paying for a holiday in Sicily. In the event, however, Davis didn't show up and Grundy was not in a state to thrown anyone except himself downstairs.
And Nigel Dempster was no less threatening. If I can't give an objective account of the Spectator party it is because of a frightful combination of alcoholic amnesia and concussion suffered from an unexpected quarter. As I bicycled past the House of Lords on my way home I attempted my customary shalom among the triangular no-parking bollards thinking they were the movable plastic kind, to prove to the idle, loitering policeman that I was sober. But the first one, which I hit full-on, was made of metal and very firmly attached to the ground. I flew over the handlebars and the first bollard and hit the second. The policeman very sympathetically recommended that I should not attempt further bicycling which was, in any case, impossible because the front wheel was tangled up in the pedals. My face was stitched up in Westminster Hospital and it was only the next day, when I looked at The Spectator's visitors' book and the hung-over faces in the famous dining room, soon to become another tedious London office, that I realised there had been an intellectual party in the best tradition of Addison and Swift and Harry Creighton, my only reminder being an eye that will not open and a hand that will not type.
When Lord Caradon, once Governor of Cyprus, introduced Michael Cacoyannis, producer of Attila 74, an emotive film about the Cypriot troubles, he said he knew his dad, Sir Panayotis Cacoyannis, and remembered Michael as quite a wee boy. (Sir Panayotis represented the Greek Cypriots when the then Hugh Foot was acting governor in 1943.) I thought this a rather patronising way of opening the proceedings with a lot of volatile Cypriots. But I was wrong. The British have somehow side-stepped the present bitterness and Cyprus is nostalgic for the days of Sir Hugh Foot. It was certainly a sad moment for him when the film showed the devastation in his former Government House. I thought this scene was, in one respect, funny.
Archbishop Makarios was demonstrapng how he made his escape out of a window of the palace during the coup, elegantly stepping over the rubble in his regalia without even taking his hat off. I've never been able to imagine Archie Makarios being chased by Nicos Sampson's bandits. At least Arianna Stassinopoulos, on my right, thought it was funny. The Cypriots on my left were crying. When I asked Tom Driberg afterwards if he thought the Makarios scene funny, he said, "Oh yes I know. He loves doing that. He's always doing it. He did it for me the other day." I wish I were as well-informed as the New Statesman's diarist.
It's been an awful week for nostalgia, more than a youngster like myself can'take. First I went to the launching of Radie's World, an autobiography by Radie Harris, at the Dorchester. A lot of very famous people were there. Or so I'm told. I didn't recognise any of them except John Mills, Margaret Duchess of Argyll and Russell Harty. But John Rydon, the ageing William Hickey reporter, told me that the place was bristling with big stories and frequently abandoned his place at the bar (more than I was prepared to do) to chat people up. The next day saw the Dame Vera Lynn lunch at the Savoy a feast of wartime memories indulged in by the most unlikely people. None of them more unlikely than Harold Wilson. One good thing about the war was that Wilson did not participate. All the familiar faces Harry Secombe, Alfred Marks, the Dame herself and a host of others. Even though I was born after the war, I had seen it all before at the Foyles lunch last week.
Nicholas Harman, once an anchorman on Panorama and my uncle's fag at Eton, has got himself rather a nice job. He has given up television and is working for the Commonwealth in Marlborough House opposite St James's Palace. Last week he laid on a party for the new Commonwealth Secretary-General whose name I can't spell (he comes from Guyana). He wanted to meet the Press. I had a very good time looking around the house that has been the Commonwealth's headquarters since its last occupant, Queen Mary, died. One of the footmen got a key and let me into a room full of Gainsboroughs. There is also a Turner just back from the Academy's exhibition. It seems a bit tough on Harman that, now that he's got himself installed in a place that's a whole lot better than anything the BBC has to offer, he has to surround himself with bores like Robin Day and myself for the pleasure of the Secretary-General. And Richard Compton Miller of the Evening Standard with his awful notebook.
As I had five or six lunches to consume last Tuesday, among them Vera Lynn's show, I tore a page from the Times Diary's book and sent a deputy to a lavish performance arranged by Sanderson's, the decorators, to Mark the reopening of their shop, off Oxford Street. She was Matty Marriott, a militant St Anne's Amazon, who is killing time waiting for the results of her Oxford finals. She was very, very hungry indeed, and wearing jeans so that it is surprising that they let her in. She uses words like "spruce" and "dapper" and "precious" to describe them. She parked herself in an alcove of one of the cheaper wallpapers (£3.62 a roll) and fought her way through champagne, salmon, strawberries and brie. She tried out the water-bed, listened to a rag-time band and tells me there are some lethal chairs made out of Caribou antlers which impale all vital parts of the anatomy simultaneously. She also heard some very tedious sailing stories from the Evening News diarist, Mike Perry. I'm glad I wasn't there.
Last week's Miss Pears 1975 competition had
It may have been merely of waiting for the right tranquil moment to recollect his emotions, but my thought is that playwright David Hare has taken an unconscionable time to sort out his thoughts about a certain May Ball at Cambridge in 1969. It is, I gather, the subject of his latest play, Teeth 'n' Smiles.
The piece opens the autumn season at the Royal Court (which didn't present any of his plays when he was resident dramatist there, except for a revival of the previously-seen Slag, which Michael Codron encouraged them to do). It is likely to stimulate comparisons with Ray Connolly's film, Stardust.
The, new artistic directorship at the Royal Court, by the way — shared between Robert Kidd and former Theatre Upstairs man, Nicholas Wright — seems to be in the `star' business. They've hired Helen Mirren (ex-Royal Shakespeare Company) for the Hare play, and have two former National Theatre stars, Constance Cummings and Michael Hordern, for their next, Howard Barker's Stripwell.
Meanwhile, I'm glad to see that the RSC, as a change from wailing about the inadequacy of one or two ideas which should be considered seriously by the organisers of the Miss World contest. In particular I admired the way the finalists, aged between 31/2 and 5, behaved before the winner, Sharon Anne Fitton, champion of the Lancashire, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire division, was crowned. A conjuror came on to try and fool the wily youngsters but they all acquitted themselves with much more intelligence than the more developed beauty contestants ever do. Could we not have conjuring tricks before the Miss World contest instead of that dreary questioning by Michael Aspel?
Young man with a political future: Nicholas Wolfers, merchant banker and personal assistant to Willie Whitelaw during the referendum campaign, has somehow bluffed his normally circumspect boss into signing a booklet How to fluff Your Way Through Politics — Instant Erudition, with the words, "Best Wishes, Willie Whitelaw." This is one of the appalling name-dropping tricks young Wolfers picked up when he was editor of Isis at Oxford. He will go far.
Russell Baker, the back-page columnist of the New York Herald Tribune, made this comment last week: "England's perpetually imminent economic collapse is boring. Harold Wilson may be the most boring man of the twentieth century." Well, can't you see, he's working on his next trick, the collapse of the British economy?
My friend and constant reader Cyril Ray, that well-known stickler for accuracy, has written to correct the score in our long-standing exchange of abuse. Mr Ray, who called me a toffee-nosed twit (I called him a pompous prawn), wrote last week "Thirty-love, do you think, so far?" Now he says he meant thirty-all and that it was extremely magnanimous of me their Arts Council hand-out, are doing something to, help themselves by sharing in the commercial presentation of their Aldwych hit, Travesties, for an eight-week season at the Albery — where The Gay Lord Quex is prematurely -folding. RSC productions have overflowed into West End commercial theatres before (e.g. After Haggerty and London Assurance), usually after a decent interval, but this time I'm told they're in for a larger slice of the action.
Though die Bristol Old Vic show, Tarantara! Tarantara picked up some nice notices on its arrival at the Westminster Theatre last week, I hope its sponsors aren't planning to settle in for a long run. The Moral Re-Armament people, who own the theatre, have other plans and two further productions are booked this side of Christmas. The second of them, A Song of Asia is MRA's special pride, and I hear that a few Buchman-sympathising MPs have agreed to entertain the company at the Commons.
Daphne Anderson, whose name is not to be found in lights, is one' of the busiest leading ladies in town, I understand. She is understudy to both Jean Simmons and Hermione Gingold in the musical, A Little Night Music, and it is not uncommon for one or other of them to be, as they say, indisposed. Miss Anderson's nightmare must be the possibility of them both being off on the same night.
to concede so many poi,nts. The latest missive, delivered by hand from his set in Albany, is a postcard entitled 'American Nude' — a Coca Cola bottle in voluptuous female form — to which Mr Ray has added a caption "Boobs and bottle — the tree-loader's dream." (As a wine-writer, he should know). Indeed, Mr Ray is now so inspired by reading my column that he has burst into poetry. His poem ends with the words:
Resume, dear boy, your blithe Peregrinations, Finding, as ever, the nicest things to say About your humble servant Cyril Ray.