Don't marry a television celebrity: Fame affects character, as Ruth Inglis discovered when her husband became a well-known Granada presenter

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
I WAS married to the late Brian Inglis for over 15 years from 1958 to our divorce in 1974, one decade of which encompassed his television fame in the Sixties as presenter for All Our Yesterdays and What the Papers Say, programmes often running concurrently in similar weeks.

I had married a shy, charming, 42-year-old Dublin bachelor, 12 years my senior, who attracted me initially by that combination of what culture guru Grey Gowrie describes as 'the (Irish) use of formal English syntax of the old school laced with obscenity'.

Brian had sung a ditty in a Florentine square one night in June 1954 about the incredible bristling, boar's-hair condom of the Celtic king Brian Baru which had captivated me, seated as I was by my first husband who was a jazz drummer, more rhythmic than melodic; tone-deaf, in fact.

Being a Spectator wife was not challenging in the first year of marriage in 1959-60 when Brian was deputy editor and Ian Gilmour the editor. It represented nothing more arduous than rolling up in my Morris to the offices at 99 Gower Street, Bloomsbury, with home-cooked (by me) ducks or geese and various accompanying risottos for the weekly beano. Outside contributors and the odd sinuous Asian actress were asked to conflab over the feast with the brilliant nugget of writers who were giving the magazine lift-off (Alan Brien, Bernard Levin, Katharine Whitehorn, Jonathan Miller, and others).

Wives were invited only once a year. Katharine Whitehorn, as she admits, objected to wives at the 'Wednesdays' and she had clout. Gloria Steinem had not yet entered my life so this seemed 'fair do's' to me.

I was only rendered down-hearted when Cyril Ray, the wine and gourmet feature writer, plucked a tin of apple puree from the car boot as he gathered up the glazed, cooked birds and said: 'Everything but that,' wrinkling his nose and placing it back in the boot.

After my three years as a Spectator hostess, being pleasantly groped by paralytic Trinity lecturers in little cubicles off the Georgian living-room where an annual bash was held (wives allowed), my husband left the editorship, which he'd held for two years from 1960, soon to become one of the jewels in Granada TV's crown.

With his steady appearances, women, in particular, began to treat me cattily. A brunette thirtysomething, for example, at a London book party said: 'I've always liked you in green . . .' while another ambled over to my husband and said, 'If I ring you at home, will you sometimes be there?' A Sussex squire's wife asked me merrily if I thought the back of the horse I'd mounted wouldn't break under my weight.

This is not to say that marriage to a TV presenter didn't have its perks. We moved from a smallish W1 maisonette to a four-storey Georgian house in Paddington. Our daughter, Diana, now had a twin-bedded room and 'bathroom en suite'.

Cocktail parties held in the living-room with its French windows and small balustraded balcony were gassy, and I went to town on the canapes as I had done formerly on the game birds and fowl for the Spectator lunches. It was prosciutto and melon balls and smoked salmon in tissue-thin brown bread, washed down with Bollinger. The guests were stunning and diverse: Jilly Cooper, John Updike, Paddy Campbell, Jennifer Johnston, Norah Ephron, Arthur and Cynthia Koestler, Mary and Michael Parkinson.

I learnt that some celebrities of the radical-chic variety were like chunks of raw meat, and that to manoeuvre them into the centre of the room was similar to throwing an uncooked roast beef on to an open-air stall on the North End Road in September - people were drawn to them like swarming wasps.

Tom Wolfe, complete with dandy white suit and floppy fringe, was the winner at one mid-Sixties soiree. I don't delude myself that it was my beautiful eyes that brought these luminaries to my hearth. It was my TV husband and this was perfectly acceptable.

A fat wallet and fame meant lush holidays as well as glittering parties. But my husband, while supplying us with these goodies, had become public property by virtue of television. Though he may have appeared as staunch and solid as an attractive bank teller to me, he looked like Valentino to many of his female friends and viewers. He was being pursued and didn't seemed to be running very fast.

Love letters and hotel room receipts appeared in old suit pockets due for the cleaners (the classic 'discovery' mode). An English child psychologist was the front-runner. She said my three-year-old son had amazing 'spatial awareness'. Well, not too aware for a while, I hoped.

Our red-headed housekeeper, too, had become a bit tetchy , I noted. She developed a habit of donning purple, 4in stiletto heels when he was in residence, leaving what looked like ricocheted bullet holes on the parquet floors. When Valentino departed for Manchester and Granada TV, she would revert to her dusky-pink slippers. His effect on people was startling. But for most of the time, he was oblivious of it.

Much has been said about how power is an aphrodisiac but little about how television personalities tend to give people a little rush to the gonads when merely confronted in the same room in the flesh.

When Jon Snow walked into a Mayfair women's club where I was lunching recently, the elderly Girton graduates looked startled, panicky - as if a sniper had entered their midst. The young waitresses squeaked and tittered, dropping rolls. It took me back to the days when I would see women's faces become incandescent when their eyes landed on my husband's pleasant but unexceptional features.

It is this combination of ordinariness and absolute (for the most part) unavailability that makes TV personalities so tantalising. If they're in my living- room, why can't they be in my arms?

At the same time that I was experiencing awe at my husband's new-found effect on people, I was researching one of my own rather worthy books about children's media. It was then that I came across a phenomenon known as the 'halo effect', described by Dr Hilde Himmelweit, the media sociologist. She believed that anyone seen constantly on television would achieve such a glow - a one-way gleam from the magic box. The thrill is in the eye of the viewer. The phrase had extraordinary resonance for me.

As wife of a TV celebrity, you can feel like the dupe of this halo effect, with faintly deranged men and women helping themselves to chunks of your life via your telephone, postal address, and sometimes uninvited access to your home (we were burgled at least three times at Hyde Park where we lived for nine years.)

Brian said that no tele-journalist worth his salt would be 'ex-directory' so we were open to calls from any quarter. One woman rang constantly, maintaining that she would knife herself at a Bournemouth bus stop if the tele-star did not arrive there as they had planned. Obscene calls flooded in, too, and they had an eerie way of occurring on the nights when my husband was away presenting What the Papers Say. I felt sure that these callers must have known that the show was live.

Marriage to a TV person when you have decided to stay at home with only freelance work is comfortable, but this is not really enough. You find yourself in an Alice Through the Looking Glass world, wondering about reality and unreality.

I made a decision to leave when my daughter completed her O-levels and my son would be able to go to school by himself (which entailed a three-year, white-knuckle period of time-biding). In 1972, I headed south-west to Pimlico where my son could walk unaccompanied to his private day school.

Two years later, Brian and I got a divorce, which was free of acrimony. Subsequently, we both embarked on what TV's Dr Ruth would probably call 'meaningful relationships'. My chap, an on-again, off-again chef, made casseroles for us when I got home from my job as a journalist on Fleet Street, and my son from school. It was an industrious life; not glamorous but free of hassle.

I've never regretted leaving the 'celebrity-by-proxy' spouse role. There are nettles inside that TV halo.

(Photographs omitted)

Comments