A chuckle for Voltaire

22nd September 2000 at 01:00
FORGET the fuel and fisherman: this time the cross-channel fight is over the literary legacy of Voltaire, the French philosopher.

The Voltaire Foundation at Oxford University, established in 1967, has launched a fierce propaganda war against a new competitor, the France-based Societe Voltaire, founded last May by Andrew Brown, a former employee of the Oxford foundation. Bewildered academics have received letters from both organisations urging them to join or to ignore the claims of the other. It's a row that the author of Candide would have relished.

Another academic storm is brewing over the Royal Institution's choice of a "maverick" professor to deliver its prestigious Christmas lectures aimed at children. Kevin Warwick, professor of cybernetics at Reading University, is described variously as a "buffoon", a "joke" and a "media tart". To the dismay of academics, he will follow in the footsteps of Michael Faraday, the physicist and chemist, who deliered the first Christmas lectures in 1826. Professor Warwick had a silicon chip inserted into his arm two years ago, claiming he was exploring the possibility of humans becoming cyborgs.

Harry Potter's publicity machine knows no bounds. A set of JK Rowling first editions is on offer at an antiquarian book fare for pound;23,000. RL Stevenson's Treasure Island is a snip at pound;3,000, while a 1786 work of Robert Burns is a mere pound;2,500.

A near contemporary of the Scottish bard, poet and artist William Blake, is to be honoured 170 years after his death with an exhibition at Tate Britain. The pop world is jumping in with Blur, Billy Bragg and Patti Smith taking part in events to mark his birthday on November 28.

Pop stars were among the 15,000 to nominate a favourite word for the World Festival of Literature, starting tomorrow at London's Globe Theatre. "Serendipity" came top, "love", third, but Harry Potter struck again as "quidditch" came second.

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