To Daphne’s for lunch. The interior gloom is pierced by a blitz of camera flashes at the window and Miss Menem is among us, pretty and smiling in white. No Prince Andrew in tow. No story. On the damp pavement, the reporters are hungry. `What’s she eating, Michael?’ Definitely not 365, the Falkland Islanders’ daily diet of mutton any way you like it. Did you know that President Menem is of Syrian parentage, I ask a familiar face with an empty notebook, and that Menem is an Arabic first name? Blank look. The Nikon choir blast me with their motordrives for the effrontery of telling them something they have no wish to know.
The new BBC newsroom at Wood Lane is where I used to park my BBC Escort on the cinders. Very smart and no coffee rings on the equipment, yet. A lovely welcome from Anna Ford, Andrew Harvey and Michael Buerk. I’m on Hard Talk, usually presented by Tim Sebastian but with Nick Gowing subbing. Tim once told me he had really wanted to be a vet. Nick is clearly a frustrated taxidermist. His 25-minute struggle to fill me with sawdust is `very entertaining’, says his charming producer, Julie Salt. I take that with a pinch – I avoid the obvious and say I’ll let the viewers in Gambia and Qatar be the judge of that.
Louise Woodward was the star turn at the Inner Temple Media and Law weekend at Highgate House, Northamptonshire. She was svelte in a long black spangly gown. She’s studying law. She wants to be a barrister. As a convicted felon, she’s almost certainly disqualified but could become a solicitor. That does shake you. A person with a criminal record cannot get a licence to drive a London taxi but can be a solicitor. I’m on after dinner making up a Question Time panel with Mr Justice Eady – `Call me David’ – Hugo Vickers and Marcel Berlins. When Lord Wakeham retires, David Eady might make an excellent chairman of the Press Complaints Commission as I have rarely heard the individual’s rights to privacy and to know balanced better. Hugo deserves the Royal Victorian Order for his willingness to go on television to calm the latest royal storm raising the tiles of St James’s Palace. Marcel should be a recorder at least for making lawyers easier to understand. Driving home from Harrods on Friday nights, I never missed his Law in Action programme, especially as so many leading cases now have the name Al Fayed on the brief. There should be a golden statue to Mohammed in the Temple for all the money he has put into lawyers’ pockets.
I took a close look at the golden statue of Albert on his throne at Kensington Gardens. On my new talk show (Michael Cole on Living, 10.40 a.m. daily, but the editor has asked me to minimise the plugs) I have a guest, James from Southend, who has 63 DIY body piercings. His masterpiece is a `Prince Albert’, a length of stainless steel pinned through the tip of his penis and so called, he assures me, because Queen Victoria’s beloved consort had such a device attached by a chain to his ankle to keep everything tidy inside those stovepipe trousers. Can this be true? We know that Victoria enjoyed sex but loathed childbirth. I resolve not even to consider the possibility, as the Queen herself did if anyone dared to raise the prospect of defeat in the Crimea. Around 1956, Eccles in the Goon Show had only to say `the Albert Memorial’ and the studio audience howled with laughter. In that innocent age, we knew nothing of penile extensions. The Memorial was a pinnacle of everything that was ridiculous, but now we marvel at what a grateful nation did to commemorate a German prince they didn’t much like.
At Newmarket’s Diomed Stables the dashing Ben Hanbury has 75 horses and a novel scheme for unplutocrats to buy a bit of a thoroughbred. He knows I cannot afford one nail for one shoe but receives my family as if we’ve just bought the top yearling at Tattersall’s. The Rowley Mile course is to undergo a 15-million development to make it more punter friendly. In 1970, before the last rebuilding, I interviewed the old Duke of Norfolk and asked if the Jockey Club couldn’t make it a less blasted heath. `That’s Newmarket,’ he said. A few trees, perhaps? He fixed me with a watery eye. `No.’ The last time I was here, Woodrow Wyatt was presenting the trophies, a pickled walnut in a bow-tie. The scandal is not his diaries but the way he used his columns in the News of the World and the Times to trowel praise on the then home secretary Michael Howard, who renewed him as chairman of the Tote. Here’s one piece of patronage Jack Straw should forswear. If the Prime Minister can vet candidates for Archbishop of Canterbury, the Supreme Governor of the Anglican Church should be allowed to pick the chairman of the Tote; at least the Queen knows about horses.
To Ipswich and Radio Suffolk. I’m on the Nick Patrick show. Nick lives in `the Saint Country’, where every village is named after its church. He sometimes drives past our home and sees me walking the dog. Why not stop and say hello? ‘I would not want to disturb your peace,’ he says. Suffolk people are like that. However, in 30 minutes on air he uncovers my secrets by asking apparently simple questions and listening to the answers. I wonder if that might catch on with the `big foot’ presenters? No chance.
To Ipswich and Radio Suffolk. I’m on the Nick Patrick show. Nick lives in ‘the handsome hotel dining-room with no ‘wrong’ tables. The 27.50 lunch is among the capital’s better bargains, not least because of the perfect service, attentive but almost unnoticeable. My guest is Sir Nicholas Lloyd, a rare bird like me who runs his own PR company but also broadcasts, on LBC in his case. It seems we are the only people in London who did not know about Ron Davies. The rank at the Connaught was the favourite of my father, who drove a taxi for 52 years. He said the nicest people stayed at the Connaught and the linkmen were gentlemen. As in so much, he was right.
Copyright Spectator Nov 14, 1998
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