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The Royals are giving up the free gaspers. What else can they do without?

THERE'S SOMETHING comforting about a royal warrant. One of the nice things about the honorific was the way it brought the Queen into your own home. You could look at a jar of Robertson's jam and know that, if she ever came round for tea, your crumpets wouldn't make her feel depressed and homesick.

It also brought you into the Royal Household. There are more than 1,000 products with the royal warrant, including Brasso. It's made by Reckitt & Colman of London, which also makes air fresheners and laundry products. Goddard's Long Term Silver Polish, too. And they both say "By appointment to Her Majesty the Queen", so you know that it really is the Queen who polishes the silver on Sunday evenings while watching the telly.

It was the idea that the Queen was human - in express contradiction to her constitutional position as head of state - that made the royal warrant appealing even to republicans like myself. And so the removal of the royal warrant from packets of Benson & Hedges, Silk Cut, and other tobacco products made by Gallaher, is rather saddening. We could imagine The Firm of an evening, puffing on their fags, drinking Brasso from crystal glasses and pouring gin on the dogs, and imagine a vital link between ourselves and our ruling family. If the Queen drinks/ smokes/ spreads this fish paste on her toast, it can't be bad for you, can it?

Of course, there is no rule that a royal warrant is going to guarantee commercial success.

Hatchards used to have a royal warrant but lost it when they started selling what one newspaper describes as "soft pornography", whatever that means; anyway, it would appear that the royals don't buy books from anyone any more.

The problem with the Royal Family is that since the death of Diana, Princess of Wales it has suddenly become keen on the idea of bringing itself up to date. And while there is a rationale behind withdrawal of the royal warrant - that members of the family and their guests don't touch the weed any more - the withdrawal of the warrant from Gallaher appears to be very much in touch with the spirit of the times: this is one family desperate to at least look, sound and smell modern.

The irony being, of course, that if the Royal Family really wanted to modernise itself, it'd stop being the Royal Family and move to Sidcup.

Still, we should at least be grateful that the royal warrant survives on unhealthy products such as gin and guns (Purdey, naturally). A Suffolk sausage-maker called Musk's holds the royal warrant for sausages. Anton Laundry in Andover, Hants, washes the Prince's underpants and is now allowed to brag about this. (Employees make a 100-mile round trip to and from Highgrove, which either means that they are superb at their job - or else HRH should get a copy of the Yellow Pages).

W Forbes of Aberdeenshire is the royal taxidermist. The "At-a-Glance" Calendar Company makes the calendars. Valerie M Bennett-Levy of Hindhead makes its nosegays. Robin Tuke of Haslemere supplies Prince Charles's mobile phones, although I have a feeling that he hasn't always done so. (Think of Tampongate.)

As a marketing tool, it must be considered effective by the privileged few: they reckon that a couple of dozen free containers of jam or fags are well spent, since there are still a number of people who feel that the crest confers class, as well as those who acknowledge the quaint absurdity, the touchingly inept commercialism of the whole system.

But there is one area where the royal warrant is becoming highly troubling, far more so than the tobacco question. And that is in the case of purveyors of creative imagination to the Royal Family: in other words, the Poet Laureate. This, as a poem published yesterday by Tony Harrison makes clear, is a position he would run a mile in tight shoes to avoid.

Worse: his verse rejection is an impressive act of lese-majeste. He would, he says, rather be "free not to have to puff some prince's wedding,/ free to say up yours to Tony Blair,/ to write an ode on Charles I's beheading/ and regret the restoration of his heir."

That we can still read that and say it has taken balls to write it shows how far we have to go. And if, one day, a manufacturer can turn round to a royal at the counter and say: "If you don't mind, we'd rather not have your patronage" - that is, not to be associated with a world of unearned privilege, unearned wealth and unearned respect - then it will show that we are finally beginning to grow up.

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