Diary: My Queen ... noble members ... Whitty speech

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Big week, wasn't it? When not embroiled in the great identity card debate (see my picture, right, and above), I was also under a lot of pressure for my thoughts on the Royal Family modernisation plans. I understand there is going to be one of these leader columns in the soi- disant serieux part of the newspaper about it, but I would ignore that republican tosh if I were you, and settle down here for a bit of sense. And it's my view that the only encouraging proposal was the one about reclaiming the Crown Estates. Quite right! Very often, I find, the way forward is to go back. Which is why, judging by the way Michael Howard and his Home Office cronies are managing, the sooner we have Princess Margaret presiding over a revived Star Chamber the better! I would also propose giving the salt monopoly to Miss Sophie Rhys Jones. And what about Calais? Have you seen it recently? Dreadful mess. But now some good news. I quote from the front page of Friday's Daily Telegraph: "The sporting branch of the Royal Family notched up another notable success yesterday when Zara Phillips came second in her class at the Pony Club National Championships at Weston Park, Shropshire." Take that, you filthy Fabians!

n AND now, with ado, in one of the summer's bigger political exclusives, the Captain will publish the latest list of those noble MPs who have informed the fees office of the House of Commons that they will not be taking up the recent salary increase. Will I have enough space? Fear not. Ready? Tony Blair, Chris Mullin, Dennis Skinner, Peter Thurnham, the Tory who resigned the whip, and the latest, revealed here for the first time, the great Gordon Brown. Are there any more? Well, a few, perhaps, whose number must include David Mellor. The rest of the 154 who voted against the increase must be waiting until the hols are over. But do hurry up: a nice chap at the fees office said they were anxious to get on.

Indeed, yes, that's right: I have been away. Very nice, too, and only slightly marred by The Editor's little jeu d'esprit of handing the column over to a Yorkshireman in my absence. Sorry? Guernsey. Very pleasant. We went to the tomato museum, you know. Fascinating. And it started off a very interesting debate. Are tomatoes fruit or veg? The prevailing view was that if you can eat it with salt, it's a vegetable. Do write and tell me what you think. There was something else. Oh, yes, that's right. As we were boarding our ferry, the most obliging security lady searching our car pointed out that people always put pebbles collected from the beach on the left-hand side of the boot. Makes you think, doesn't it?

Let me try again. Last week on Today, the BBC radio programme, there was a rather lengthy discussion about what the first decade of the next millennium should be called. A lengthy, inconclusive discussion. The finest minds that the BBC could put together on a weekday in August came up with a blank. Let me try again. The Captain has already solved this one. Long ago. A pithy, sharp, catchy suggestion. The Noughties. Just pay attention. Next!

Listen, for my money, you can keep your Dimblebys and your Lynams. I like a touch of the different about my television presenters and commentators. Have you caught this Jeremy Vine chap yet, fronting (as we media types describe it) Newsnight? Remarkable. Some of us, too, remember the exuberantly newtish performance of my brother officer, Lt Commander Tommy Woodroofe, presenting the first radio outside broadcast, at the Spithead review, in 1937: "The Fleet's lit up! By which I mean it's lit up by fairy lamps! The Fleet's disappeared! No, it's all right, the lights have come on again!" The Commander also tried his hand at football commentating, eating his hat on air at the 1938 Cup Final just after this: "If there's another goal now, I'll eat my hat!" John "Motty" Motson, he's my kind of cat, too. I'm currently immersed in his new book, Motty's Diary - A Year In the Life. Under the entry for 24 September, we finally learn what Motty was doing the day that England won the World Cup: "My tale isn't all that interesting. I watched the match on television. But I broke a lampshade jumping up when one of the goals went in." Next week: how Motty celebrated that evening. The week after that: the truth about Motty and the offer to front They Think It's All Over.

For the benefit of anyone else who happened to be walking down the South Lambeth road in London on Wednesday night: the man in the top hat on the chair in the Portuguese restaurant giving the speech was Lord Whitty, the newly ennobled former general secretary of the Labour Party. Moonlight exclusive: Lord Whitty will be known as Lord Whitty of Camberwell. He was going to be Lord Whitty of Walworth, after the Walworth Road headquarters, but decided against on the scrupulous grounds that Walworth was the truculent Lord Mayor of London who struck Wat Tyler down in 1351 at the height of the Peasant's Revolt. Well done, Lord Whitty! That's what I call due deference for Old Labour.

Like me, I'm sure your summer has been immeasurably enriched by the showing early each morning on BBC2 of repeats of Lassie, starring the lovable, hyper-intelligent collie and a bunch of rather slower humans. To add to your enjoyment, I now append some key facts. 1) Lassie, although nominally a bitch, has been played by nine collies, all male, wearing hairpieces to conceal their appendages. 2) John Wayne won one of them in a poker game with the dog's trainer but gave it back after a week. 3) The present Lassie's real name is Howard. 4) The actor who plays Corey Stuart, the stolid, decent, Forest Ranger owning Lassie in the series now being shown, liked a drink. Frankly, I'm not surprised. 5) In Germany, Lassie's bark is dubbed by a German shepherd. (The dog, not the one with a flock.) 6) Lassie will be on every day into October. Woof, woof!

Crikey. I'm worried about Lord Rothschild. I thought he had a bob or two, money rolling in, no problems. Until I got this letter from an associate partner of The J Rothschild Partnership wondering if I wanted any help with my financial planning. My financial planning! If the Rothschilds have got down as far as the Captain in their quest for spondulicks, things must be worse than we thought. Excuse me a second, an Eddie George is on the line. Something about an interest-free loan, apparently.

Peter Mandelson. Doesn't get a very good press, does he? Odd, I have always thought, for a bloke without pretension and side. Still, once it becomes fashionable to knock somebody, inconvenient things like the truth go straight out of the window with the bath water, I find. But perhaps the tide might be about to turn on to a new page. Last week it was revealed that Peter was a bit of a closet royalist. Well done, Peter! And today I can bring you a heartwarming story away from the mocking metropolitan maelstrom, one that demonstrates the true feeling in the country. A Labour lady supporter, listening to a debate on the Mandelsonian merits in a North-eastern Labour club, interrupted: "I don't care what any of you say. I think both of them do a wonderful job for Labour!" She was then asked what she meant, exactly, by "both of them". "Peter and Mandy", replied the lady Labour supporter.

One of the joys of returning to work after a break is to encounter once more the provocative thought, deep wisdom and rich entertainment that make up my daily correspondence, particularly from my regular communicators. Many of you will doubtless remember Mr Stallybrass of Bognor Regis, who, among other things, memorably pointed out the extraordinary coincidence of lightning striking the fire station at Bognor Regis on the anniversary of Jung's birthday. And now, blow me, another one: "My wife and I saw Ursula Howells in the audience at the the Minerva Theatre in Chichester on Thursday at a production of Hedda Gabler. When my wife switched on the TV on Friday morning she saw Ursula Howells being strangled!" Thank you, Mr Stallybrass. By thunder, it's good to be back!

Fifteen quid? Do me a favour! The Captain today offers you an identity card which is cheaper, brighter, and far more informative than the pathetic Howard effort. For just FIVE pounds, you get the card illustrated, complete with corkscrew and stones out of horses' hooves facility. The symbols are self-explanatory. The green circle represents a Brussels sprout. The buttons? Press them for the following tunes: "God Save The Queen", "I Belong to Glasgow", "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen", and the Treorchy Male Voice Choir's version of "Satisfaction".

Where will it end? After the brouhaha that greeted the news that Sooty, in his next series, gets to boogie with girls, Moonlight cameras captured this remarkable photograph of an unmistakeable celebrity in the shadowier recesses of London's Soho last week. Moonlight Memo to Noddy: what were you doing near the Wigmore Club on Wednesday? Call me, sharpish.

Photomontage: EMMA BOAM

The Captain's Catch-up Service

And now, the weekly news review that boldly goes beyond all the others ... Owners of Jack Russells were warned to hide their pets after Olga, a Steppes eagle with a particular appetite for the terriers, escaped during a flying display at the UK Falconry Centre near Thirsk ... A goldfish survived more than 12 hours among 100 piranhas after vandals threw it into a tank at the Sea Life Centre in Great Yarmouth ... Finnish police have developed a 4ft steel harpoon with which to ram stolen cars. "Usually we put out spiked mats to halt escaping vehicles, but Finnish drivers are pretty handy in hazardous conditions and just swerve round them," said Constable Markus Kiiskinen. "As a last resort we can shoot out their tyres, but unless the driver is exceptionally good that can be dangerous. This looks like a perfect solution" ... Michael Wilson, "The Tattoo Man", who appeared decorated with more than 10,000 tattoos in a Coney Island sideshow, died. To enliven his act, Wilson would sometimes eat a box full of live crickets and hammer a nail through his tongue as an encore.

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