Same Sloanes, new Range: Ten years after their handbook was a bestseller, Owen Slot finds Caroline and Henry are still doing OK, Yah

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Indy Lifestyle Online
MARK Phillips (the LBC broadcaster, no relation we believe) was on the radio recently discussing Sloane Rangers. The King's Road in London, a barometer of youth fashion, he explained, was once the home of the hippies. They disappeared when punk arrived, and in the early Eighties, the punks vacated and the Sloane Rangers moved in.

The inference was that the Rangers were pretty well extinct, that the hordes of cords were just another passing trend in the shop window. Yet in 1982 The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook warned, in only its second paragraph: 'Sloane Rangerhood is a state of mind that's eternal. You might believe it's all different now, that nobody's like that any more. You'd be wrong.'

Ten Christmases ago, the Handbook had just outsold any other non- fiction book in the land (it had been the biggest seller of the whole year) and its spin-off, The Sloane Ranger Diary, hadn't come far behind.

And while the Handbook established itself as lavatory-side literature, the way of life it described tapped into a whole class's consciousness. Peter York, one of the two authors, remembers realising this at the Handbook's signings: 'It was only then that I cottoned on. People were saying 'I went to X or Y school. Is that all right?'

It is probably not insignificant that the boom in sales of Barbour jackets, listed in the Handbook as essential Sloane wear, coincided with the sales boom of the book itself. Though it was never the intention, says Peter York, Rangerhood gave many something to relate to or even aspire to. 'It was an extraordinary, wonderful, bizarre blip in British social history,' he says.

York is convinced that the phenomenon, though no longer watched by the media, continues unabated. You might not hear the sound of 'OK Yah' resounding round the pubs of SW7 any more, but 10 years on, he says, the Sloanes are still out there: 'Precise choice of restaurants and clothes have changed, but they are a long-term phenomenon.'

But whither the original Sloanes? Whither the battalions detailed in the Handbook for their pink cheeks, their sensible hair, their riotous dinner parties ('games, tricks and jokes') and Hooray hilarity?

First of all, they hate to own up - Rangerhood as aspiration and vocation rapidly became terribly uncool. Those photographed in the Handbook now shrink at the association and prefer not to discuss it. A quick flick through the book with various pictured Sloanes has every last one of them swearing their innocence.

Page 67, May Tennant, in prep- school uniform with her twin, Amy, and their nanny, Barbara Barnes: 'We only really got into the book because our nanny was to become Prince William's nanny. I don't mix with Sloanes and I don't really come across them. Actually, I was very embarrassed about the book. People would presume you were one and it would drive me mad.' Page 99, Lucy Hall, wine-glass in hand under the section title 'The Sloane Ranger At Large': 'I'm not a Sloane. I was never asked about the photograph and it's haunted me ever since.' Page 119, John Abdy, wearing black-tie: 'I didn't fulfil all the requirements. I was a trainee accountant, not a banker or a stockbroker. I'm not at all Sloane now.'

Even the Handbook's front-cover girls shrink from the limelight. In the centre was the face of the Princess of Wales, the 'Super Sloane'. Below her, in a headscarf, was Carola Bird, who complains at the Sloane curse that has followed her ever since. 'I actually worked at Harpers and Queen (who produced the book) at the time,' she says, 'I only stepped in when their Sloane Ranger dropped out.'

Bird's former colleagues at Harpers, those who observed the Carolines and Henrys (so the Handbook named its Sloanes), are undivided in their belief that the Sloanes still range. There have been changes over the years, they say. It is more fashionable, for example, for Caroline to go to university (the Handbook talks of her 'contempt' for it); and she and Henry now bravely venture beyond the bars and restaurants of SW3 and SW7 to the bars and restaurants of SW6 and SW10. But they are still out there. 'I know they are, I see them,' says Peter York. Many, though, prefer to go under cover, deciding not to wear their Ranger roots on a tweed sleeve.

Lucie Clayton College, listed as the Handbook's top secretarial college ('good fun and convenient for Harrods'), reflects the changes. Its numbers have dropped mildly, the college has become more career-orientated, and the Sloane accent is no longer taught - 'It's become a joke, we now teach what's called 'accepted south of England' or BBC accent,' says Leslie Kark, the college head. Yet the 'straight-forward grooming course' is still going. 'The same sort of people still want to know how to deal with asparagus,' he says.

And the same sort of people are still apparent to Ann Barr, the other author of the Handbook. She recalls with relish recently being sent a photograph of a group, organised by Sothebys, to drive a truck of aid supplies to Bosnia. 'There they were in their flat hats and their trilbies. They'd hardly changed at all. Just all the same Sloanes. It was absolutely sweet.'

The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook is out of print.

RANGING CHANGES

THEN

Where they went (mostly SW3 and SW7)

Pubs: Admiral Codrington, Australian, Marquis of Anglesey, Hereford Arms, Windsor Castle. Bars: The Pheasantry, Beachcomber in the Mayfair Hotel. Restaurants: Parsons, Foxtrot Oscar, Peppermint Park, Tootsies, Hard Rock Cafe.

What they wore

Caroline: 'When Diana Spencer hit the lenses, she pepped up the Ranger wardrobe and boosted morale.' Result was shirts with white ruffle collars, knickerbockers, flat shoes. Other staples: navy husky, the crucial pearls.

Henry: 'No fashion and limited expression in the kit.' Father's or grandfather's suit in the City, corduroys, striped shirts, brogues, Barbour ('smells of dogs and has couple of spent cartridges in pocket').

University: Oxbridge, Edinburgh, Exeter, Durham. Anywhere else with a a cathedral.

Fun things to do: 'Do some crazy thing which will go down in the Hooray annals as a Historic Act of Hilarity'. Drunkeness, being sick on things, wearing traffic cones on head, kidnapping live sheep.

NOW

Where they go (further afield, SW6, SW10)

Pubs: White Horse, Phoenix (year-off Sloanes, still), Fulham Rd's Pitcher and Piano bars (Munster Rd-end P&P for younger, 'sharking' Sloanes; Chelsea-end for older, chess- playing set). Bars: Poo Na Na (select at weekends), Da Vincis. Restaurants: Parsons (still), El Metro, Blushes (lunch).

What they wear

Caroline: Sexy almost permissable. Ladies in lycra may even have cleavage. Individualism estabished with something from Mexico (Australia is old hat as year-off venue). M&S navy sweaters (still), black velvet 'scrunchy' in hair.

Henry: Rules have loosened remarkably. Posers having easier time of it. Baseball caps, Ralph Lauren or Thomas Pink shirts, funny waistcoats, suede loafers, maybe even leather jacket. Style in City-wear also acceptable.

University: No change. But Manchester in, East Anglia out. Cathedrals still good.

Fun things to do: Exhibitionism still good. But there are limits. Play Buffalo (left-handed drinking game): if caught drinking with your right hand, someone shouts Buffalo and you have to do down-in-one. Very hearty.

(Photographs omitted)

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