Quentin Letts - Theatre critic and diarist - Press Gazette

Quentin Letts - Theatre critic and diarist


First task: the papers. Selfishly check that the Mail ran my sketch
and last night’s theatre notice (Edward Scissorhands, Sadler’s Wells).
Skim the diary columns I supply. Then upstairs to the library at my
Mayfair club to send off a few “pigeons”. This is how I think of diary
stories. Like to despatch at least three a day. File for the Mail’s
Friday arts section, including one reheated review from last week which
hit the spike. Generally the Mail is very good about running reviews –
unlike the FT, which has become astonishingly lax.

At Westminster, the Health Select Committee hears from one man
called Crisp, another called Bacon. In the Commons, Alan Johnson, trade
secretary, is taking questions.

Man to watch, Johnson. But does he have too much of Walker, the spiv in Dad’s Army?

booked for a Channel 4 quiz tonight, but cancelled when it was going to
clash with a play in Newbury. Then the play fell through, so the TV gig
was binned unnecessarily.

Blast. We freelances hate to lose a
fee. File Parly sketch from the train heading west and get home to
Herefordshire in time to do the school run.

Knackered, but stay
up for BBC1’s Question Time. David Dimbleby skilfully lets the ghastly
Margaret Hodge do an M25 – i.e. go on for ever. Blair would surely sack
her if she hadn’t wormed her way into Cherie’s affections.


Big headlines on Blair’s offer to dilute our EU rebate. This story
is surely a gift to the Tories, but the broadcasters are using UKIP’s
leader for anti-Blair comment. Michael Howard finally makes it on to
Today programme at around 8.30am.

Pigeons. Receive a “yes” from Country Life editor Clive Aslet to an
idea I pinged him last night. British Industry magazine gives me a

Do an hour of relaxing admin before starting work on a
Mail feature about, ahem, mince pies. Suddenly phone line goes dead.
Bugger! Gum boots on, I stomp up the lane to find an engineer on the BT
post. He Italian and no speak Inglish.

Matey has his hands full of BT wires like spaghetti. Won’t come down his pole. My morning has been kyboshed.

busman’s holiday. Daughter Eveleen (aged seven) is singing the solo in
her school nativity play. Last year she played Mary and dropped the
infant Jesus on the floor.

This year a child playing a cow has a fight with an angel.

Eveleen sings beautifully. All the mums and dads have a quiet blub.


Talk to a man from the Lake District who is an expert on medieval mince pies. Rather interesting.

Take the family to the Courtyard Theatre, Hereford, for Cinderella.
Solid provincial panto. Claud (aged eight) bored by the love scenes,
but happy when an ugly sister hurls sweets at the audience and a large
chocolate lands – plop! – in his lap.


No Sunday newspaper deliveries here. Nearest shop five miles away.
Don’t bother with all the Sundays, but I like to see which pigeons have
landed safely.

More than 20 people at church. Not bad for a village of 100. We
manage this without any of the African whoopydoop espoused by the new
Archbishop of York. Jo, our organist, is still getting the hang of a
second-hand electric instrument acquired at a rural auction. She pulls
one stop and the organ starts making a noise better suited to an
“instant sale” in TV’s old Sale of the Century.

Lunch party at a
friend’s house. A woman from the north of the county says she gave up
on the Mail when Princess Diana died. Now she has stopped taking The
Times because she hates its fat tabloid. Is thinking of The Daily
Telegraph or maybe going back to the Mail, so long as it doesn’t get
its knickers in a knot about Camilla.


Am driving the children to school when my pager vibrates.

LBC radio wants to talk about David Cameron, pronto. Stop the Land
Rover in a skiddy lane full of cows and do the interview via mobile.
Presenter Nick Ferrari is assured, professional. I’m just worried about
all the moos.

Train to London is 45 minutes late. Once in town I
do broadcasts for German TV and World Service about Blair’s rebate
policy, before dashing to Gordon Brown’s pre-Budget statement. These
occasions are always a nightmare for sketchwriters. None of us (except
Simon Carr of the Indy)n understands economics. Wet-eared George
Osborne, shadow chancellor, does well.

Stuffy Tennessee Williams play at the Lyric. Halfway through I see one of my fellow critics snoozing contentedly.

Heavy eyelid syndrome is always a danger – particularly with Williams. File overnight review by 11pm.


New Tory leader Cameron’s big day. Pigeons. Morning punditry for ITV
and the BBC Asian Network before leader conference at the Mail. I like
to go in to HQ once a week.

Discussion about how long Met police chief Sir Ian Blair can last. Gone by Easter?

to SW1 for a News 24 slot before waddling to Piccadilly for the Tory
leadership result. Big-quid donors there in large numbers. Japanese TV
in attendance, too. Sky’s Adam Boulton is at the back of the room, up
on a stepladder.

He looks like a bookie at a racecourse.

smooth, plausible. I talk briefly to his family – mother, siblings.
They’ve plainly been told to say nothing to any hacks. Oh well. Worth a

Tonight was meant to be in Stratford for Great Expectations
(theme of the day!), but the Tory launch made that impossible. Patrick
Marmion covers for me. I’m left with a disco musical off Leicester
Square, all about sex and science fiction. By the way, last night’s
snoozing critic gave the Williams play a rave.


Up before dawn for Five Live/World Service talk about Cameron. My pager keeps quivering with interview requests.

ITV, BBC Northern Ireland, even a nibble of interest from Richard
and Judy. There was none of this excitement when Hague/IDS/Howard did
their first Prime Minister’s Questions.

Up Cameron gets at midday
– and slots the ball in the back of the net. He didn’t ask about the EU
rebate. Instead it’s education and eco-stuff. Soft image everything.

End exhausting day with Jack and the Beanstalk at the Hackney Empire. Glorious palace of dreams. Just like the Commons, really.