12th April 1996 at 01:00
Political interviews can be fairly bizarre at the best of times, but a particularly surreal conversation is due to be screened soon, starring Gillian Shephard and daytime telly presenter Gloria Hunniford.

Ladies of the House is one of these BBC bright ideas in which Ms Hunniford - not previously noted for her Paxmanite tendencies - quizzes female parliamentarians about their lot in the Commons.

The Shephard interview was going swimmingly when up popped a question about Spitting Image. Was the diminutive Education and Employment Secretary aware that she had been cast in Latex as a cane-brandishing Miss Whiplash by the puppet satire, asked Ms Hunniford.

Mrs Shephard was not, but professed to find it incredibly funny. "It probably goes with schools, discipline and all those kinds of things," she reasoned sweetly.

Carborundum, once a fan of Spitting Image, could not recall the Shephard puppet and rang the production team. The person who answered the phone thought he remembered it, but went away to check. An expert was consulted. And back came the answer: "Frankly, she hadn't been in the news enough to warrant giving her an image."

Puzzled, Carborundum went back to the Hunniford team, where a researcher confirms that the background notes given to the front woman were innocent of any mention of Latex marionettes. "It must just have come from Gloria," came the baffled reply.

Carborundum has an explanation. In the old days before big power came her way, Mrs Shephard had a disarming way of introducing herself. "Hello. I'm the one who's not Edwina Currie," she would explain.

Well, they're both Tory MPs, women, and have short dark hair. An easy mistake to make, no doubt, but how kind of Mrs Shephard to help her interviewer gloss over it. And, we wonder, does the racey Mrs Currie now introduce herself thus: "Hello, I'm the one who's not Gillian Shephard"?

However, the Shephard milk of human kindness does not extend far to her fellow politicians. Quizzed in the same interview about the row over Labour front-bencher Harriet Harman's choice of a selective school for her second child, sisterhood is only skin deep when there are political points to be scored.

"She was treated badly because she is a woman," opines Mrs S, adding severely: "Where she went wrong is that she chooses to exercise choice for herself but supports party policies that would remove them."

However, Mrs S has little choice but to be nasty to the opposition, as demonstrated by her Easter habit of making emollient speeches to teacher conferences followed by press events in which she claims to have taken a hard line.

The Right of the Tory party would love her to be Miss Whiplash since education is now deemed a major electoral issue, and so being seen to be nice to teachers is off the menu once again.

But if the Right is less than enamoured, at least someone loves Miss Whiplash: the French press. Apparently the fluent Francophone impressed them so much at the recent Group of Seven jobs summit in Lille that she has been overwhelmed with interview requests. An aide has an explanation: "They tell me she reminds them of Edith Piaf."

Once upon a time, dead people were the stuff of which syllabuses were made. Dead poets, dead artists, dead musicians: no one was safe to teach to the nation's youth until they were six feet under.

Unless they were Philip Larkin, who is probably more approachable in death than life.

But all this has now changed. The work of living, breathing artists is now fair game in schools, colleges and universities - and the more popular (or curmudgeonly) are getting extremely fed up with the sackloads of begging letters demanding help with examination projects.

However, a fair few have entered into the spirit of the thing, into which category comes bleached Bradfordite David Hockney, the city's artist-in-exile.

When he received not one, but two, missives from Truro College A-level student Sarah Richards, he responded by sending her one of his drawings. By fax. All 37 feet of it.

The reaction of college staff no doubt awaiting important communications is not recorded, but young Sarah was delighted, particularly since Mr H had thoughtfully sent instruction on how to reassemble the festoons of paper into a 3ft by 4ft sketch of his dog, called Stanley, his studio and its view of the Californian sea.

Sarah is delighted, and Carborundum is intrigued. At least Mr Hockney works in fairly conventional media- pencils, paper and the fax.

What would have been the response of the more avant-garde artists to such a request? Presumably those who work in chocolate could simply send a bar of Cadbury's through the post, but there are wilder shores.

Sadly, the one Carborundum has in mind, Helen Chadwick, has just died at an early age, but her best-known work, "Piss Flowers" - a cast of the result of the artistand her boyfriend relieving themselves in the snow - remains for posterity.

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