Anyone who thinks the Mousetrap is the longest-running show in London has clearly never been to the annual summer party at 56 Doughty Street. What's 53 years next to the Spectator's 177? It may not have transferred to the West End from its modest premises in Bloomsbury, but it has never had any difficulty finding an audience. For lovers of sexual intrigue and political skulduggery, the Spectator is still the hottest ticket in town.
Admittedly, at last night's jamboree the cast was somewhat depleted. Nearly all the dramatis personae that turned this modest little production into the most talked-about extravaganza of last year were absent, including Kimberly Quinn, David Blunkett, Petronella Wyatt, Rod Liddle and Alicia Monckton. Like Sienna Miller, they had stayed away rather than face the phalanx of photographers waiting at the stage door.
Still, as with any successful show, there were plenty of stars on hand to step into the breach. Among the "names" waiting in the wings were Sir David Frost, Amanda Platell, Nicky Haslam, Andrew Gilligan, Dominic Dunne and, of all people, Tina Brown.
What was the former editor of Vanity Fair doing at 56 Doughty Street? Was she, by any chance, thinking of taking over from the Spectator's leading lady? It wouldn't be the first time a fading star from across the Atlantic has accepted a role in London to give her career a much-needed boost. Was Tina Brown about to follow in the footsteps of Brooke Shields?
Alas, there's no vacancy in this particular show. According to a well-placed source in the production office, Kimberly Quinn has made it clear she intends to resume her role as the Spectator's Roxie Hart in October. Apparently, the one-time host of Topic A With Tina Brown was just passing through on her way to interview Charles Althorp for her forthcoming biography of the Princess of Wales.
In the absence of the usual array of Spectator stars, it fell to Boris Johnson to carry the show and, as he's proved during his guest appearances on Have I Got News For You, he's more than up to the task. Indeed, there was something almost heroic about his performance, given the lack of a supporting cast. Following the replacement of Conrad Black by the Barclay Brothers as the show's producers nine months ago, it was rumoured that he might be replaced by a less flamboyant star. But after last night's tour de force that seems a very distant possibility.
As Boris stood there facing a horde of paparazzi, a look of stoical determination on his face, I was reminded of one of Kipling's tests of manhood: "If you can meet with triumph and disaster...And treat those two impostors just the same." With the faintest flicker of a smile playing about his lips, Grub Street's answer to Laurence Olivier was every inch a leading man. Even the Spectator's notoriously hands-on stage manager, Andrew Neil, didn't feel the need to put in an appearance.
If I have one complaint it's that the running time was slightly too long. The curtain went up at 6.30pm and didn't go down until 9.45pm, by which time several members of the crowd were clearly overcome with emotion. Still, as the last few stragglers were helped into waiting taxis, no one was in any doubt that this event represented another triumph for Britain's most dependable crowd-pleaser.