We all wanted to hold hands with Peter Mandelson. Alas, it was not to be
Is Big Son about to meet Big Brother? Richard Blair, adopted son of George Orwell, tells me that he is intending to write to the Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin, to ask him to release government files
on his father.
“They did surface some years ago, then disappeared back into oblivion,” Richard told me at the Orwell Prize awards ceremony at the Foreign Press Association.
“I am sure they would have something to say about Nineteen Eighty-Four. It would probably be superficial, but it would be of interest to know what they say.”
The Russian files would make fascinating reading, for historians and literary critics alike. Orwell used pigs to satirise the Soviet state in Animal Farm, and Nineteen Eighty-Four introduced us to the concept of Big Brother.
Adopted by George and his wife, Eileen, in 1945, Richard was brought up first in London and then on the Isle of Jura. When Richard once asked his father why he made pigs the villains in Animal Farm, Orwell replied that it was because he didn’t like pigs.
Perhaps, if Putin does not respond to his overtures, Mr Blair could ask Lord Lloyd-Webber to intervene. The composer struck up an unlikely friendship with the Russian prime minister after being invited to his dacha to discuss an end to the eastern bloc vote in the Eurovision Song Contest. Putin even promised his personal vote for the British entry. If Andrew Lloyd Webber can swing it for Jade Ewen, surely he can swing it for Richard Blair.
To the launch of Tristram Hunt’s biography of Friedrich Engels, The Frock-Coated Communist. In attendance were Lord Mandelson, Virginia Bottomley and Ed Miliband. “I have dedicated this book to my one-year-old son because I hope he will be the first member of my family to read one of my books,” joked the historian. Except he wasn’t joking. His wife conceded that she found his books heavy and unwieldy.
The author’s publisher, Stuart Proffitt, added that it was appropriate for the launch party to be held on the eve of International Workers’ Day and suggested that his guests should hold hands and sing a rousing chorus of “The Internationale”. The prospect of holding hands with Peter Mandelson delighted everyone.
Alas, it was not to be. In the spirit of journalistic inquiry, I asked the Business Secretary if he thought Engels a good egg or bad. Engels deplored homosexuality and rode with one of the poshest hunts, the Cheshire (alongside Earls Grosvenor, Cholmondeley and Crewe). In other words, not terribly New Labour. “And who the hell are you?” was Peter’s response. So: good or bad? “I’ll let you know when I have read the book.” I’m still waiting, Peter.
When the minister for international development Simon Foster announces in In the Loop that war is unforeseeable, the spin doctor Malcolm Tucker explodes: “He might have said unforeseeable, but he didn’t say it.” I had my Malcolm Tucker moment at the world premiere of State of Play. Before the screening at the Empire, Leicester Square, the director Kevin Macdonald thanked his producer, Working Title’s Eric Fellner, which mysteriously prompted a few boos in the audience.
I reported this the next day, saying that such bad manners were “disgraceful”. Next I received a call from Freud, the PR company handling the film’s publicity. “Your reporter might have heard booing, but there wasn’t any booing,” I was told. “Working Title drew up the guest list for the premiere, so nobody would have booed. Please can you correct it.” A second call came requesting an apology and explaining that Eric Fellner would be upset by the story. I explained that I had heard the booing, and conceded it might not have been malicious, but done in a spirit of jollity. Later that same afternoon Freud PR called back. Yes, there had been booing, agreed the spokesman. Eric Fellner’s 16-year-old son, Raf, was booing as a joke. I didn’t request an apology from Freud PR. Nor did I point out that Raf wasn’t the only one booing in the audience.
The pressure is on the new Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, to produce her first poem. Will it be on swine flu? The local elections? How about who stole all the sherry? Hearing how Andrew Motion never received his traditional “butt of sack” (which translates as 600 bottles of sherry), she is demanding hers up front. Good for her. Imagine the Poet Laureate going on strike for not receiving her dues.